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Carrier Alternative Weekly

March 18, 2010

Artist depiction of Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov when in service with the old Soviet Union (Tbilisi).

Aircraft Carriers or a Navy?

Last week I posted a comment from British General Lord Guthrie appearing in BBC Radio on scrapping the RN’s 5bn pound supercarriers. Here is more from the former Defence Chief that appeared in a speech before the Centre for Policy Studies, a UK Think Tank:

The second area for consideration has to be the Navy’s plan for two ‘super’ aircraft carriers and a large fleet of F-35 fighters. Estimates today are that the carriers will cost £4 billion while the aircraft on board will cost over £8 billion. I am afraid that they should be cut from the programme. It would be great to have them but we really cannot afford them. They will distort the defence budget for years. And they come under the “nice to have” heading. The economic situation has changed since the last SDR. I also wonder how survivable they would be in 25 years time.

I certainly think that the Navy needs a larger fleet of relatively cheaper and smaller ships. Ships to keep the sea lanes open, to conduct anti-narcotic operations and to counter pirates. I was very struck by the size of the Navy when I was CDS. On one occasion, we had just one frigate responsible for Sierra Leone, for policing narcotic trafficking in the West Indies and for the Falklands at the same time. Whatever the penalties for cancellation are, it would be much cheaper to do without the aircraft carriers.

The Royal Navy is now smaller than at any point in the last century despite the rising number of demands on it. We could probably increase the numbers of the fleet if the carriers and their aircraft were discarded.


Think Defence’ F-35B Alternative

What else is there but the Harrier? From Think Defence:

The Harrier, like the Sea King, is an exemplar for the ability of military equipment to remain viable through constant upgrades. Speak to any UK FAC’s in Afghanistan and they will continually sing the praises of the Harriers in the care of the Joint Force Harrier, a superb Close Air Support combination.

Could the Harrier’s effective life be extended by a couple more decades with an affordable and modest set of upgrades, combining re-manufactured structural components that address fatigue issues with new avionics and other systems. We already have many of the sensor and avionic components available in the Typhoon design, take these and transplant them onto a new build airframe.

No composites, no supersonic speeds, minimal stealth and a few tweaks could be a model for cost effective capabilities that could be obtained in a quantity that provides for a worthwhile effect.


Carrier Predators

Without waiting for the expensive and untested X-47 UCAS drone, the Navy could be using other tried-and-true UAVs from carriers today, according to Strategypage:

The U.S. Navy has been interested in Predator C since the beginning of development. Thus the Predator C wings can be built to fold, for use on carriers, and have a tail hook, needed for carrier landings. The Predator C, unlike the larger Global Hawk, could operate from carriers. The Predator C uses landing gear from the F-5, an aircraft of the same weight class.

Dubbed the “Avenger”, a classic naval aircraft moniker! For $20 million each, not bad.


When the CNO says its alright, start to worry…

Craig Hooper gives us the heads-up on the Navy’s new EMALS launch system meant for the $10 billion Ford class aircraft carriers. The CNO Admiral Roughead says:

EMALS is on track for an aircraft demonstration later this year and is on schedule to support delivery of CVN 78 in September 2015…

But when pushed for further info NavSec Ray Mabus admits:

“…According to a Navy official, on Jan. 12 during a test at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst , NJ, the shuttle was commanded to move forward 10 meters, but instead reversed direction and slammed into the catapult’s deck tensioner, causing damage to the system’s hardware.

Yikes! Finally, I like this comment from Craig, who makes an apt point in a new era of warfare:

Is a higher sortie generation rate and consistent high-power cat shots THAT important?


Light Carriers-To Be or Not to Be

The following is from a golden oldie New Wars post:

The American supercarrier class will continue to see frontline service as long it only has non-naval landpowers to face and unwavering support from Congress, the shipbuilding industry, and naval leadership who resist change. The flattops have yet to face sustained attacks from computerized weaponry of the type the US Military has used against all her foes since the late Cold War. At the same time the nuclear attack submarine and new AIP (air-independent propulsion) boats have become awesome weapons of war. Invulnerable as they are to most of the new precision arms, they are the ultimate stealth platforms.

The unprecedented accuracy of precision guided munitions, “smart bombs”, have brought the naval bomber like its USAF counterpart to a peak of performance and utility. Now that one precision bomber can take out targets once required of whole airwings, you would think the time was ripe for the return of the light carrier, taking advantage of this time and cost saving ability. The Navy has done all sorts of studies, however, proving that building large supercarriers the only efficient way to deploy naval aircraft by sea.

Unable then to adapt to changing conditions of warfare, stuck in a untransformative rut, unable to reduce its size and hence its great cost, non-stealthy and increasingly unaffordable, we can only conclude that the days of the flattop aircraft carrier are numbered.

The Navy believes that only giant 90,000 ton decks can efficiently send naval air power to sea, as it is often said the British light carriers in the Falklands didn’t win the war in 1982 “good enough”. If so, then naval air power is dead if you note the floundering attempts the world over to deploy such vessels in this new century, but I am not so easily convinced.


$33 million Per Month Spent on USS Enterprise

An average $33, 150,000 per month is being spent to keep the 50 year old USS Enterprise in service for a few more years. The veteran supercarrier, the world’s first nuclear power flattop and before the Nimitz class, the largest warship ever constructed is currently in drydock at New Port News, according to Peter Frost at the Daily Press:

For the 10th time in 20 months, the Navy this week approved more spending on the 49-year-old USS Enterprise.
With $19 million more on the way to restore the oldest flattop in the U.S. fleet, the project’s total cost checks in at $636 million, 40.3 percent higher than its initial $453.3 million contract.

Every other month, the Navy has had to throw more money to fix a laundry list of unexpected problems on the aging ship that need to be repaired to prepare it for two final deployments.

Thats only 3 more years of service until the vessel is retired in 2012.


Outstanding Quote

Comes from Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, concerning the US Navy’s impending “fighter gap”, via Defense News:

Levin called it “a shortfall that’s large enough that if it were realized could cause us to tie up aircraft carriers at the pier for lack of aircraft to send with them.

Probably wouldn’t slow carrier procurement, sad to say.


Speaking of a “fighter gap”

The problems of shrinking carrier wings (in contrast to expanding carrier decks) is now compounded as the Navy’s current crop of airplanes are wearing out faster than expected. From Strategypage:

 The U.S. Navy has grounded 16 percent (104 of 635) of its older (A/B/C/D models) F-18 fighters. The reason is the discovery of cracks in the airframe…

The F-18E entered service about a decade ago, and was supposed to last 6,000 flight hours. But the portion of the wing that supports the pylons holding stuff (bombs, missiles, equipment pods or extra fuel tanks) is now expected to be good for no more than 3,000 flight hours. The metal, in effect, is weakening faster than expected. Such “metal fatigue”, which ultimately results in the metal breaking, is normal for all aircraft. Calculating the life of such parts is still part art, as well as a lot of science. Again, unexpectedly high combat operations are the culprit.

Here is an obvious lack of foresight in planners, who build warplanes expected to remain in service for decades, flying combat mission after combat mission with only periodic overhauls to sustain them. These aren’t just new-build models of an older design, but the SAME PLANE often 20-30 years old and much older! Back during the last World War, combat aircraft often had a lifespan of only a few months, even if they weren’t shot down. It is just unimaginable that planes can endure the stresses of war without being replaced soon afterwards, and America and her allies have faced persistent warfare since the first Hornet was introduced back in the 1980s.

Weapons which are increasingly harder to replace, which are fewer in number and less capable than those which they do replace are clear signs of obsolescence in a platform. If aircraft cannot be replaced on a reasonable basis, then perhaps  their time is passed and a new era is upon, that of the combat drone.


Waste Not, Want Alot

I thought the following statement from the above Strategypage post very revealing:

One specific reason for the problem was the larger than expected number of carrier landings carrying bombs. That’s because so many missions flown over Iraq and Afghanistan did not require F-18Es to use their bombs or missiles.

Which suggests the numerous sorties the Navy insists are required for modern carrier ops is extremely wasteful. The problem here is obviously a lack of persistence in the short-legged naval bombers, which can be solved by the use of heavy USAF bombers, which is an expensive solution. A more cost effective approach of course is the use of long-range UAVs like Predator, Avenger, and Reaper, that can literally stay airborne for days and don’t require the huge bomb-loads expected of legacy manned warplanes.


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  193. Matt permalink
    April 6, 2010 10:21 pm

    If we want to save money, perhaps we should simply cut down on the number of CVN’s and hold them back for when we really need them. The Air Force can take care most of the air superiority and strike missions in most conflict zones, and Operation El Dorado Canyon was the only example in recent history where carriers were actually needed to project airpower as opposed to being auxiliaries.


    You’re overlooking Afghanistan (OEF). Carriers provided 3/4 of the strike sorties in 2001. The air force’s fighters were no where to be found because there were no bases nearby. The first strikes on North Vietnam following the Tonkin Gulf incident were by carrier aircraft. And if we look a little further back in history, the same thing happened when North Korea crossed the Yalu in June of ’50.

    We need carriers partly because it’s cost prohibitive to maintain air bases within striking range of every possible contingency. A carrier can be there pretty darn quick with an awful lot of firepower.

    I’ve recommended the article below several times to Mike. I urge you to read it, as it goes a long way to demonstrate the proven historical benefits of large carriers and their airwings.

  194. Jacob permalink
    April 6, 2010 6:02 pm

    I dunno, I’m still inclined to think that only a heavy carrier can really provide enough air defense for itself. Even during WWII American carriers did not venture close to the Japanese mainland, and when they did it was only for quick raids. I doubt the USN would steam its CVBG’s straight into an enemy’s no-sail zone in a modern conflict either. Also, kamikazes were blunted only by the sheer quantity of CAP planes.

    If we want to save money, perhaps we should simply cut down on the number of CVN’s and hold them back for when we really need them. The Air Force can take care most of the air superiority and strike missions in most conflict zones, and Operation El Dorado Canyon was the only example in recent history where carriers were actually needed to project airpower as opposed to being auxiliaries.

  195. Jed permalink
    March 21, 2010 11:11 am

    X said “But I would take it a stage and say also because the RN at the time didn’t take AAW seriously”

    I would say that is not true – but the threat was considered to be Soviet Naval Aviation, Tu16 Badger, Tu95 Bear and Tu22 Backfire – carrying As4 Kitchen and AS6 Kingfisher long range anti-ship missiles.

    As4 and As6 came in at either medium altitude or high altitude and dived on their target – and they were big (and thus nice radar target) although they were supersonic.

    This is the threat GSW30 (Sea Dart) was developed to combat, and doctrine, strategy and tactics were all developed against this threat – NOT sea skimming anti-ship missiles such as Exocet OR enemy fighter bombers.

    However all this being said, the US had developed and deployed Phalanx CIWS by this time, and if all the obsolescent Sea Cat launchers had been replaced with Phalanx, then things may have been a little different. Same with EW – our jammers were not very good and not designed to be used against the Exocet type threat. Type 670 noise jammers were rushed into service after the Falklands, and eventually the Type 675 deception jammer was fitted to all Type 42’s (in photos its a porta-cabin between the funnel and the after mast).

    So we did take AAW seriously, and train for it – but for a different threat set and different scenarios.

  196. March 19, 2010 7:07 pm

    “All sunk because the SATF didn’t have adequate air cover.”

    True. But I would take it a stage and say also because the RN at the time didn’t take AAW seriously. Their Lordships were wholly pre-occupied with ASW in the deep Atlantic well away from land. In times of economic stringency there is only so much budget (Type 22 batch 1 lacking a gun is evidence of this.) But RADAR laid guns were a proven technology. The T42 were under gunned etc.

    {Interestingly actually in the same period the Army (despite the introduction of Rapier) didn’t take AAW seriously either. Compare the BAOR with the German Army with their SPAAG and missiles. Further I don’t think the RAF were interested either; they were just interested in long range (deep behind enemy lines) bombing. }

  197. Matt permalink
    March 19, 2010 12:09 pm


    It’s not a wishlist. HMS Ark Royal (R09) left the RN in 1978 – only 4 years before the Falklands War.

    If we’re talking costs vice budgets, I’d consider the tradeoffs between keeping Ark Royal in service for 4 more years vice the cost of 2 destroyers, 2 frigates, an LSL, and container ship. Not too mention all the lives and equipment lost (IIRC tlantic Conveyor was full of helos.)

    All sunk because the SATF didn’t have adequate air cover.

  198. Heretic permalink
    March 19, 2010 11:35 am

    Matt, your “wishlist” for large carriers seems to be completely divorced from the budget realities of the day, which produced the south atlantic task force in the form it actually took. You talk about having big deck carriers as if cost to own them was … free …

  199. Heretic permalink
    March 19, 2010 11:33 am

    ‘PLAN-C’ would be a new generation Harrier – this too needs looking at hard. One new technology at least that must be worth incorporating is lightweight composites.

    Hence my belief in the potential of a Pegasus engine inside a forward swept wing “all new” airframe. Forward swept wings, in and of themselves pretty much “mandate” the use of composites for the wings for mechanical loading reasons (among others).

  200. Matt permalink
    March 19, 2010 11:22 am

    “Matt, now lets imagine if the Argentines had actually gotten their bomb fuses right, which likely would have cost the British the war.”

    Mike, with Ark Royal’s (R09) embarked airwing of 12+ Phantom’s and 4+ Gannet AEWs, a lot less Argentinian aircraft would’ve gotten anywhere near enough the SATF to drop their bombs.

    “Also, while we are imagining, what if the Argentine’s German built submarine had actually found the carriers?””

    Ark Royal routinely embarked 7 Sea Kings — but with ramp space for 50 a/c, she could carried quite a few more — which would’ve helped with the ASW mission. She also operated fixed-wing Gannet ASW aircraft up until 1979.

    If I was the First Sea Lord, I’d much rather have 1 or 2 (relatively) larger carriers than 3-4 light carriers. Deck space means capability. Less deck space means less capability — which unfortunately contributed to 6 RN surface combatants at the bottom of the South Atlantic.

  201. steve coltman permalink
    March 19, 2010 9:36 am

    If Heretic is correct about the exhaust gases of the F-35B then the navies of Britain, Italy, Spain & the USMC have got a massive problem. The carriers of all these 4 services lack catapults and depend (to varying degrees) for their viability and justification on the F-35B. Indeed, the QE class, the Cavour, Juan Carlos and the USNs LHA’s cannot be fitted with steam catapults at all (I presume?) and EMALS is not ready even assuming it will be perfected and assuming the US are willing to sell it, and assuming the Cavour and Juan Carlos are not too small anyway.

    I think Britain needs a ‘PLAN-B’ asap. We should exhaustively investigate the possibility of adapting the Typhoon to carrier landings and fitting out the QE class with arrestor wires. In other words converting them into STOBAL Carriers. It may not be feasible or cost-effective to adapt the Typhoon but I think it warrants a good hard look at least. If the Typhoon does not have to stand up the the strain of being catapulted, only to the strain of arrested landings and ski-jump-assisted take-offs, does this make the conversion easier? (I find it hard to believe the Sukhoi-27 and MiG-29 were designed with carrier operation in mind but both have been adapted to STOBAL operations nonetheless).
    Converting the carriers should not be a problem. IF it can be done then Britain can cancel the F-35 order altogether. We have got more fast jets than we know what do with already. STOBAL carriers look like a bit of a compromise to me, not ideal. I have heard that the Sukhois on the Kusnetzov cannot take off with a full warload. However, I don’t think Britain is currently looking for an ideal solution, just the least worst of several unsatisfactory ones.
    ‘PLAN-C’ would be a new generation Harrier – this too needs looking at hard. One new technology at least that must be worth incorporating is lightweight composites. I was reading a book by a Harrier pilot who said the Sea Harrier was struggling with the weight of 2 AMRAAMs in hot conditions. He implied that AMRAAMs had been dumped into the sea to permit the aircraft to land safely. A lighter airframe leading to a greater warload would be good. Trouble is the Harrier was designed for CAS but the RN needed it for a much wider spectrum of duties. It seems to be asking a lot of a modest aircraft.

  202. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 19, 2010 7:24 am

    Matt, now lets imagine if the Argentines had actually gotten their bomb fuses right, which likely would have cost the British the war. Also, while we are imagining, what if the Argentine’s German built submarine had actually found the carriers?

    The RN would have lost all those ships anyway, perhaps more, because they could never been purchased along with the massive price of building large decks and their very expensive airwings. We see proof of this with the current British procurement problems, and even the USN struggling to afford enough adequate planes for its expensive ships.

    A marveleous capability, but if you have to sell off essential escorts and submarines to afford such giant warships, it isn’t worth it since your Big Ships can’t even leave port without them. Certainly they can’t seize a defended beachhead on their own as in the Falklands Conflict.

    But light carriers are enough without busting the shipbuilding budget. Also with cruise missiles, surface ships and submarines have their own aerial strike weapons, giving even less work for the last-century flattops to do.

  203. Matt permalink
    March 19, 2010 6:57 am

    Mike wrote: “… as it is often said the British light carriers in the Falklands didn’t win the war in 1982 “good enough”….”

    The South Atlantic Task Force lost 2 DD, 2 FF, an LSL, and a container ship. All losses were by air attacks from a 3rd rate regional power using 1960s era jets!!! Let’s flash back to 1982:

    First, imagine if the HMS Ark Royal (R09) with its Phantoms and Gannets had been available. With long-range AEW coverage and fighters with legs and speed, it’s likely that many of the SATF task forces losses could’ve been mitigated but with only 12 Phantoms, some might’ve still slipped through.

    Second, imagine if a single 1980s NIMTZ class with its Tomcats and Hawkeyes had been available. It wouldn’t have even been a contest — the Argies couldn’t have gotten close enough to launch an Exocet, let alone drop iron bombs.

    I agree with those who say that a light carrier is not “good enough” when it comes to protecting our ships and the lives of our sailors. I’d much rather pay for 90,000 tons of displacement above the water line than risk sending several thousand tons below.

  204. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 18, 2010 8:26 pm

    “The Harrier for all its faults has been one of the most successful warplanes ever constructed.”

    I agree, and I don’t think it fair to compare it’s capabilities with the high performance jet fighters. In its niche it is VERY GOOD. It can do one thing no other jet fighter in the world can do, which is the V/STOL, until the F-35B of course. Can’t do many things of a fixed wing catapult fighter, true, but isn’t it great to have if you need it?

  205. March 18, 2010 5:31 pm

    History interprets the sinking of Atlantic Conveyor as the “failed carrier attack.” Actually you could interpret every Exocet attack on the carrier battle group as an attack on the carriers. Let’s face it the Argentines didn’t have that many SSMs to start picking off RADAR pickets before going solely after the carriers.

    The Harrier for all its faults has been one of the most successful warplanes ever constructed. Look at USMC for a Gulf War 1.

    One of the things I do find amusing about the little plane is how enthusiastically the RAF adopted it. They bought on the grounds that airfields would be knocked out early on in WW3. The very airfields that a few years before were so safe as to be invulnerable when it came to the question of cancelling the CVA01 programme.

    Also remember Mike B without the Harrie there would be none of those JEEP carriers you are so fond of…………..

  206. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 18, 2010 4:52 pm

    Tangosix, you have to consider a lot of things have happened to change the face of warfare since 1998, and especially 2001, at least how the West is fighting on land has changed a great deal.

    Tangosix said: “Aircraft carriers were attacked with guided weapons during the Falklands War and escaped without a scratch.”

    Do you have the news report about that since I never heard that? Neither were precision guided munitions (smart bombs) used at all against RN ships, lucky for them.

    “Which class of submarine is invulnerable to modern torpedo’s like Spearfish and Stingray?”

    I didn’t think torpedo’s are “new precision arms’, though they are remarkably effective. SSNs are pretty invulnerable to cruise missiles and smart bombs, except when they are sailing on the surface, which isn’t often.

  207. Heretic permalink
    March 18, 2010 4:39 pm

    re: Alternative to the F-35B = Harrier+

    The unfortunate fact of the matter is that “I canna change the laws o’ physics!” comes into play when wanting something “bigger and better” than the Harrier … particularly if you want that whole “austere basing” thing to work. The F119 powerplant is proving this right now.

    There’s basically an upper bound to the amount of heat, exhaust velocity and thrust which can be safely output from a jet engine pointed at the ground. These values change depending on what you’re pointing the engine at, but the basic point is that it is perfectly possible to build an engine that’s “too hot” with an exhaust velocity that is “too high” producing a level of thrust that is “inadequate” to whatever the powerpoint warriors are fantasizing about.

    To reuse a quote from a congressional hearing of yesteryear:
    “Senator, there isn’t enough thrust in all of christendom for the F-111.”

    The F-35B is going to impose incredibly high demands for temperature resistant surfaces to land on. That’s because the F-35 (all variants!) is so overweight that it needs an incredibly huge engine running incredibly hot just in order to perform to minimum specs. In vertical flight, all that power is being directed straight into the ground … and as we’ve learned, this means Mach 1 speed at 1700 degrees centigrade powering into whatever’s underneath the F-35B. This is enough to spall concrete on the first landing attempt … which I suppose might be considered a FOD hazard in some quarters. Three guesses as to what this might do to steel ship decks (and the first two don’t count!).

    Not exactly … “austere” there, Chief.

    The Pegsus engine series has by this point a 50 year history of development and is known to NOT be “too powerful” to permit landing (and destroying in the process) a wide variety of materials surfaces … including natural items such as dirt, sand and grass.

    *THIS* fact, the upper limits of Ground Erosion, will impose a “maximum upper limit” on what is practical in a fixed wing V/STOL jet as far as thrust and warload (weapons and fuel) are concerned. So far, every indication is that the F-35B will *FAIL* this test … while the Pegasus engine has a long track record of sucess in this regard and is a well known and understood quantity. That’s why I’m personally persuaded that using a Pegasus engine as the heart and soul of a new airframe is bound to be a more successful development effort than the F-35B has been, or will ever be, with regards to basing flexibility and logistical support in the field.

  208. Heretic permalink
    March 18, 2010 4:14 pm

    The Harrier is a perfect example of how armed forces waste vast sums of taxpayers money on technological masturbation,it was the V22 Osprey of it’s day:

    It cost more to develop than a conventional aircraft.
    It cost more to build than a conventional aircraft.
    It cost more to operate than a conventional aircraft.
    It killed more of it’s pilots than a conventional aircraft.
    It was less capable than a conventional aircraft.

    The Harrier,wasting taxpayers money since 1960.

    It killed more of its pilots than a conventional aircraft … eh?

    I’ve seen the crashes per flight hours numbers (and don’t have the easily to hand, unfortunately) and sure, they look “bad” when aggregated in terms of flight hours flown. What makes those numbers deceptive though is that in their normal dispersed airfield operating mode, where the Harriers are positioned close to the front lines of a battlefield (which shortens response time!) the Harriers spend most of their time *parked* on the ground with the engine off, fueled and armed and waiting for a call for air support. This is called Cab Rank On The Ground, and it dramatically reduces flight hours and wear and tear on the engineering.

    It basically means that when operating from austere sites, forward deployed away from airbases (which when fighting a near peer adversary are the among the FIRST things to get attacked) the Harriers rack up a LOT of sorties, but few flight hours, doing lots of “quick hops” in response to calls for air support. The USMC demonstrated that a sustained sortie rate of 10 per day per aircraft could be maintained for as long as the logistics train could keep the dispersed sites supplied, and the Harriers were capable of surge sortie rates of 14 per day during spikes in demand for target rich zones. Compared to a contemporary sortie rate of 1.2-1.4 per plane in the Vietnam War and a sustained 4 per day and surge of 6 per day for conventional planes in the Israeli Six Day War spoke volumes about the Harrier’s ability to “carry the load” for CAS in any shooting war.

    The point being that Harriers were intended to be used as “short hop” quick responders, freed from the necessity of being based out of gigantic airfields with 5000′ concrete runways which were nowhere near the fighting. That meant an operational profile with LOTS of takeoffs and landings with short duration flights for quick turnarounds to rearm and refuel the planes. A lot of Harrier air support requirements were written around the notion that the same aircraft could return to a target for a second attack sortie within 30 minutes after the first call for air support came in. Pretty much no other plane in the inventory could take a call for air support, be overhead within 6 minutes and dropping bombs, return to its forward base, refuel and rearm, and fly back and drop a second load on the same target in around 30 minutes.

    Lots of take offs and landings … very short flight times.
    This was the intended mission profile the Harrier was designed to fight with when performing CAS. It was designed to attack the Fulda Gap in Germany and kill Soviet tanks and support NATO.

    So the fatalities per flight hour appear to be high for the Harrier relative to other conventional aircraft … because those other aircraft spend a lot more of their time “commuting” to the battlefield in a non-threatening environment, while Harriers were often used for “short flights” which skewed their statistics based on flight hours.

    Change the metric to fatalities per sortie and the numbers relative to other contemporary aircraft change dramatically. When looking at fatalities per sortie, the Harrier actually has a pretty good record. Yes, the plane has killed pilots … but a chunk of those were caused early in the USMC program before the USMC strengthened its standards for pilot training before transitioning to the Harrier. Basically, the USMC had set the bar “too low” for the necessary skills and experience level to fly the Harrier, and they (as a service) paid the price for it.

    And as for wasting the taxpayers money since 1960 … there was a little military operation with a hostile nation that would not have even been possible to mount without Harriers and Sea Harriers that happened in 1982. You might have even heard of it.

  209. Mczosch permalink
    March 18, 2010 1:11 pm

    With the X-47 UCAS, the DoD is once again pursuing a top-of-the-notch revolutionary concept instead of beginning with a basic concept, making evolutionary steps. Those precious UAVs will do nothing to improve the cost-per-kill-equation of military economics.

    The MQ-9 Reaper is working as a cheap and expendable bomb- and AGM-truck, how about using them as AAM-trucks flying 24/7-CAP-missions from a carrier. As the E-2D is getting Cooperative Engagement Capability, it can work as a sort of flying Aegis directing not just fighters, but UAVs.

    The whole “air defence logic” is focused on the ideal platform, the E-2. The UAV can be initially “dumb as nuts”.

    Problems I wasn’t able to crack to date are:
    – a F/A-18 on quick reaction alert is much faster in theater than a subsonic drone, so reinforcements will take longer, pushing the air-battlespace closer to the CSG
    – a drone can not have the same situational awareness as a manned fighter, the brain being the best fractal-of-a-second analyzer and anticipator; drones are therefore easy food in dogfights; as I don’t expect much dogfights taking place, not much of a problem
    – without EMALS, a Reaper cannot launch from a carrier.
    – can a Reaper land on a ship (not yet, but is it feasible)?
    – can a Reaper land with 2 or 4 AMRAAMs?

    Once the core capability is established, we can start “evolution”:
    – use X-47Bs as they get available
    – use Superbugs, F-35s, Apaches or even Seahawk as local command nodes providing tactical data.
    – add UAV (or a helo) with an (downscaled) APY-9-version as networked sensor-picket
    – add UAV (or a helo) with AGS-sensors
    – add integration of ASh-missiles, torpedoes, mines, AT-missiles, CBUs etc., to get a multi-role capability

    By using slightly extended, existing technology the whole cost-equation of [naval] air combat would have been changed. You would get a distributed solution, where you can add better drones, better missiles, more and better sensors without changing the core concept.

  210. ArkadyRenko permalink
    March 18, 2010 12:40 pm

    Quick point:

    Mike, for the Predator C to work, the Navy needs EMALS, only EMALS can give the low power shots necessary for a lighter drone.

    Continue as you were.

  211. March 18, 2010 11:24 am

    I thought the Lockheed Starfighter held the record for most pilots killed. I am lead to believe there was even a spoof record called “Catch a Falling Starfighter.” The Germans suffered the most with this odd aircraft.

  212. Jed permalink
    March 18, 2010 9:36 am

    Mike the question and your title should not be “Aircraft carriers or a navy?” it should be:

    “aircraft carriers or badly planned and resourced 10 year nation building effort?”

  213. March 18, 2010 8:17 am


    Mike Burleson said:

    “Last week I posted a comment from British General Lord Guthrie appearing in BBC Radio on scrapping the RN’s 5bn pound supercarriers.”

    Is this the same Lord Guthrie who as Chief of the Defence Staff came up with the 1998 Strategic Defence Review,the centre piece of which was two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy?

    Lord Guthrie said in 2001:

    “Take for example the carrier debate which raged during the sixties – a period of particular turbulence and uncertainty for defence characterised by budget difficulties and a redefining of the role of the Services. At that time a controversy raged over whether to replace the Royal Navy’s carriers or whether the Royal Air Force could handle all maritime air tasks from shore bases around the world. Military opinion was sharply, and for the period predictably, divided along partisan single Service lines. This led to a deplorable state of bad relations and distrust between the two Services such that one Government report commented that the Services should not be fighting each other but ‘be working together in trust, harmony and partnership’. Wounds were inflicted by the two Services on each other which took 20 years to heal.

    This contrasts starkly with the future carrier debate in the Strategic Defence Review. We had to strike a balance between the needs and aspirations of the Services and the needs and aspirations of defence; we had to prioritise our needs against the strategic backdrop. Would it have been helpful to pitch again the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force against each other? Of course not! I have no doubt the Royal Navy would have wished for a third carrier, but that was not affordable and was quickly discounted. Perhaps the Royal Air Force could have argued strongly against any carriers at all and instead pushed for a larger number of land based offensive aircraft – that also would not have been helpful. What made the difference was that the debate began with the First Sea Lord and the Chief of the Air Staff signing up to the ‘Joint Vision’. Thirty years on – trust and harmony clearly in evidence and a vital ingredient of the ‘New British Way’.”

    Lord Guthrie said in 2010:

    “I was very struck by the size of the Navy when I was CDS. On one occasion, we had just one frigate responsible for Sierra Leone, for policing narcotic trafficking in the West Indies and for the Falklands at the same time. Whatever the penalties for cancellation are, it would be much cheaper to do without the aircraft carriers.”

    Is this the same Lord Guthrie who as Chief of the Defence Staff came up with the 1998 Strategic Defence Review,which reduced the Royal Navy’s destroyer and frigate fleet from 35 ships to 32 ships?

    Think Defence said:

    “The Harrier, like the Sea King, is an exemplar for the ability of military equipment to remain viable through constant upgrades.”

    The Harrier is a perfect example of how armed forces waste vast sums of taxpayers money on technological masturbation,it was the V22 Osprey of it’s day:

    It cost more to develop than a conventional aircraft.
    It cost more to build than a conventional aircraft.
    It cost more to operate than a conventional aircraft.
    It killed more of it’s pilots than a conventional aircraft.
    It was less capable than a conventional aircraft.

    The Harrier,wasting taxpayers money since 1960.

    “Could the Harrier’s effective life be extended by a couple more decades with an affordable and modest set of upgrades, combining re-manufactured structural components that address fatigue issues with new avionics and other systems.”

    The Harriers life could be extended well into the 2020s by cutting Joint Force Harrier down to just the two Fleet Air Arm squadrons.
    This would save well over a hundred million pounds a year and reduce the rate at which the Harrier’s fatigue life is consumed.

    “We already have many of the sensor and avionic components available in the Typhoon design, take these and transplant them onto a new build airframe.”

    The Harrier almost certainly lacks lacks the internal volume,cooling capacity and power supply required for the Typhoon’s avionics.
    Such a transplant would in any case likely be extremely expensive.
    Fitting the Sea Harrier’s Blue Vixen radar in the Harrier G.R.9 would be far cheaper and more practical.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Without waiting for the expensive and untested X-47 UCAS drone, the Navy could be using other tried-and-true UAVs from carriers today, according to Strategypage:”

    How can the Predator C,which is still under development,be “tried-and-true” and the X-47,which is still under development,be “expensive and untested”?
    The Predator C was designed from the start for operation from large catapult equipped aircraft carriers,according to Aviation Week:

    “The aircraft was designed so the wings can be folded for storage in hangars or aircraft carrier operations if a naval customer is found. Cassidy, a retired admiral, has talked about a possible Navy role for Predator C since 2002. The Navy was interested in the Predator B’s capabilities, but didn’t want to introduce any new propeller-driven aircraft onto carrier decks. The UAV also comes with a tailhook, suggesting that carrier-related trials are planned. The inner section of the cranked wing is deep, providing structural strength for carrier landings and generous fuel volume while maintaining a dry, folding outer wing.”

    Mike Burleson said:

    “The flattops have yet to face sustained attacks from computerized weaponry of the type the US Military has used against all her foes since the late Cold War.”

    Aircraft carriers were attacked with guided weapons during the Falklands War and escaped without a scratch.
    In fact,no aircraft carrier has even been damaged in combat in any war since 1945.
    Over the same period dozens of air bases have been destroyed by air attack,artillery fire and even by infantrymen with entrenching tools.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “At the same time the nuclear attack submarine and new AIP (air-independent propulsion) boats have become awesome weapons of war. Invulnerable as they are to most of the new precision arms, they are the ultimate stealth platforms.”

    Which class of submarine is invulnerable to modern torpedos like Spearfish and Stingray?



  1. Taking away Loren Thomposon’s mealticket…
  2. Military And Intelligence News Briefs — March 19, 2010 « Read NEWS

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