Carrier Alternative Weekly
Short Term Savings, Long Term Problems
In its annual Defence Equipment Report, the British Parliament sounds a little miffed that they were mislead by the Ministry of Defence on the reasons for delaying its 5bn pound supercarriers, which brought on a major price increase:
The Written Ministerial Statement of 11 December 2008 which announced the delays stated that “We have concluded that there is scope for bringing more closely into line the introduction of the joint combat aircraft and the aircraft carrier. This is likely to mean delaying the in-service date of the new carriers by one to two years.”
In oral evidence to us in December 2008, the Minister for Defence Equipment and Support appeared to suggest that in fact the key reason for the delay was the need to make short-term savings, stating that “…this was an opportunity … to re-profile our spending plans in a way which involved no defence costs, but simply made the delivery date of the carriers rather more rational”.
Bailing on the F-35
“I think the Navy needs to walk away from the F-35C based on affordability concerns and continue with the Super Hornet,” said one congressional aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is still being intensely debated on Capitol Hill.
Navy support for the F-35C suffered in mid-March, when Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the service is open to buying more Super Hornets. The Navy had planned to stop buying Super Hornets in 2013 with the intention of replenishing the fighter fleet with JSFs starting in 2014.
But the admiral’s will stand by a flawed and exquisite platform to the very end. Typical since they helped create the mess:
That came just a week after Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead told Congress on March 11 that the Navy’s F-35C will not be ready for operations until 2016, rather than the previous target date of late 2014. Original plans for about 2,000 hours of flight testing may extend to about 3,000 flight hours.
During the same week, cost estimates for the F-35 soared. New calculations from the Government Accountability Office say the F-35s could cost roughly $112 million each, a large spike from the original estimates of about $50 million per plane in 2002.
Nevertheless, Roughead continues to voice strong support for the F-35.
Winslow Wheeler stands out as the voice of reason here:
“At some point, the Navy will have to bite the bullet and convert from the old ‘F/A-18s-are-too-old’ argument to the argument that the new F-35s are too expensive. I fully expect the Navy to bail out of the F-35 program.”
The Perils of a “Top Down” Fleet
From the same print edition of the Navy Times, same article, here is an interesting conversation with defense analyst James Hasik, who News Wars has posted on before:
“Before, there was talk of a ‘gap’ that would eventually close over time. But that presumed that they were going to get enough F-35Cs. Now it looks like the Navy can’t fill its carrier decks given the budgets they can possibly foresee in the future,” Hasik said.
If the Navy is unable to buy enough planes to fill out 10 full carrier air wings, then the Pentagon and Congress will begin to question the need for an 11-carrier fleet…
A withering fighter fleet could undermine the Navy across all communities.
“That will scare the crap out of the admiralty,” Hasik said. “If you don’t have all those carriers, then people say, ‘Well, why do you have all those guided-missile cruisers if you don’t have to guard as many carriers?’
“This is not a frigate Navy.”
$10 billion Carriers without planes. Over 80 missiles escorts soon with nothing to escort. Makes you wonder where the Navy’s priorities lay. Certainly it isn’t in fiscal reality or with current threats. I have a one word answer to all its woes:
Better Than Nothing. Sigh
That pretty much sums up Eric L Palmer’s post on the F/A-18 Super Hornet, and how it will likely be the Navy primary naval fighter bomber for yet another decade:
What else can we expect out of a large buy of Super Hornets if the Hill overrides a short-sighted and dysfunctional Navy leadership? Well, don’t count on the Super being very powerful against threats in the coming years that have high-end surface-to-air missiles and enemy aircraft. It is not up to that challenge.
With that understood, the aircraft can do a lot for U.S. defense posture in the coming years. It will be a capable bomb truck after high end threats have been subdued by other means. And while it would do badly near Chinese waters, the Navy doesn’t have to play that game because China won’t be able to protect interests outside of its immediate sphere of influence.
He sees no chance for the F-35C, but yours truly is still optimistic concerning the V/STOL version of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35B. Heck, we spent all this money we might as well get something out of the F-111 of this generation. Still a mediocre fighter true, but one with Veestol!
Here is ELP once again, this time on the F-35B and why the carrier admirals should worry:
With serious problems already here for the U.S. federal budget, the U.S. Navy flying club with their clubhouses of large deck carriers better hope for a not-so-successful F-35B program.
If the F-35B is successful—where the definition of “successful” will be majority of flights that have an equal number of take-offs and landings—the U.S. Navy will have small STOVL carriers forced down its throat. The Defense budget will be cut. The Navy will discover it can no longer afford big deck carriers. With that, we will see smaller air wings, each with only one squadron of 12 F-35Bs on deck.
So with 10 small carriers (120 F-35Bs) and then add in the training and test squadrons, you can see that the expensive F-35B even while riding the procurement death spiral wave, solves a whole bunch of problems for a Navy that will have to learn to operate with a lot less money.
I hope he’s right, but the admirals have managed to weather the force multiplying and astounding success of the Harrier for decades, even as their vaunted decks shrink under their own immense weights and costs. Even the Brits seem to have forgotten the hard-won lessons.
Checking out Admiral Gorshkov
Britain and America’s carrier purchasing woes pale in comparison to India’s deal with Russia for the former V/STOL carrier Admiral Ghorshkov (Vikramaditya). The plan was for a major conversion of the former Kiev cruiser/carrier hybrid into a full-fledged through deck vessel that could support fixed wing fighters, all for the bargain price of $1.5 billion US. Sounds good except the post-Soviet shipyards just wasn’t up to the task. Here is the Hindu News with “A peep into Vikramaditya“:
Now that a final price tag of $2.33 billion has been fixed on aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov) going against the proverbial caution, perhaps it is time to look the ‘gift’ horse in the mouth.
While arriving at the figure, the Indian Navy asserts that there has been no compromise, including on the much-required sea trials that will be conducted for 20-24 months before the aircraft carrier is handed over by December 2012…
It took an three additional and 13 supplementary contracts for the final price to be fixed ahead of the rescheduled delivery of the 45,000-tonne Vikramaditya, bringing the curtains down on the negotiations over the price, which was increased from $1.5 billion to $2.2 billion, with the final demand touching $2.9 billion.
Why do we feel this isn’t the last we’ve heard of Vikramaditya, concerning technical woes and cost overruns?