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Top 10 Aircraft Carrier Alternatives

April 1, 2010

There are few naval vessels on earth more versatile and powerful than an American nuclear supercarrier. Therein lies the problem, in that only the US Navy has been able to afford a fully functional carrier fleet (aside from a few light carriers) since World War 2,and even she must now strain sparse resources to the utmost to field a shrinking numbers of large decks. That is regrettable since naval airpower is still essential for maintaining sea control and projecting power from the sea. Over the years New Wars has proposed numerous substitutes which, thanks to the continuous advancement of technology that gave us the carrier in the first place, can duplicate her many functions at drastically less cost. Here are the Top 10:

  • #10 Air Force Bombers– Other than carrier-based airpower, the only combat aircraft initially able to reach land-locked Afghanistan supporting Marines and Special Forces on the ground was the USAF’s venerable fleet of long range bombers. Such weapons, able to deploy intercontinental ranges within hours, instead of days or weeks for a highly visible carrier strike force, can perform against heavily defended SAM sites using precision stand-off weapons, or perform carpet bombing or close air support against enemy troops.
  • #9 UAV Carriers– The Defence Viewpoints Blog has proposed a small UAV carrier that could also perform the functions of destroyers and frigates “These ships would be roughly half the size again of a current destroyer and would combine all the abilities of Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) and Naval Gunfire Support (NGS) through a range of weapon systems, including a squadron of 12-18 assorted UAVs and a helicopter platform airborne surveillance and for the transportation a small groups of personnel (as well as other roles).”
  • #8 Airborne UAV Motherships-Following WW 2, the USAF experimented with parasite fighters to use as escorts for its strategic bombers. The idea seems tailored made for the unmanned aerial vehicle, since you don’t have to worry about losing a vulnerable pilot, as we wrote in 2008 “The UAV Mothership would not necessarily be a long-range bomber, but perhaps other aircraft would suffice such as C-17 or C-130s cargo planes, or even a converted airliner. New dirigibles currently undergoing testing might work, or long-range missiles and rockets.”
  • #7 Submersible Aircraft Carriers-The UAV is continuing to prove its versatility, and has even been launched from US Navy submarines. Imagine the possibilities… “The US Navy is very close to possessing… a “flying Sub” in the Tomahawk Block IV cruise missiles. The latest version of the highly effective Tomahawk that is fired from torpedo tubes has the ability to loiter for hours and change targets in mid-course…Plans continue for launching unmanned aerial vehicles from submarines in the War on Terror. Northrop has proposed using the sub-launched Tomahawk’s vertical tubes for UAVs from a stealthy affordable capsule system (SACS). Raytheon plans a similar test (in 2009), launching the craft from a submerged submarine’s trash disposal unit!”
  • #6 Arsenal Ships-It was thought in the 1990s the Navy could build an affordable missile barge at about half the cost of a destroyer, but with over 5 times the firepower. In 1995, the NY Times wrote “Prospects for that ship, which is still on the drawing board but could be in the fleet within five years, raise questions about how many new carriers the Navy will need. A carrier costs $4.5 billion to build and $440 million a year to operate. The new ship, essentially a floating missile barge, might cost only $500 million and just tens of millions a year to run. The new ship would fire Tomahawk cruise missiles, long-range artillery shells or rocket barrages against ammunition dumps, command posts and artillery, for instance, the same targets that warplanes flying off the carrier Roosevelt were bombing in Bosnia …”
  • #5 TLAM Warships-Another idea would be to use existing missile firing warships more effectively, as we posted on recently “We contend that the TLAM (Tomahawk Land Attack Missile) is the best weapon to take advantage of the new precision warfare of one bomb or missile, assuring one hit. This doesn’t just balance the cost effectiveness of the two platforms either, but completely blows the carrier out of competition. Currently the USN has in service 130 TLAM ships–80 cruisers/destroyers and 50 submarines–positioned around the world… Far from being as efficient as a legacy manned warplane, they don’t need to be, just effective. Meanwhile, advances in technology are constantly upgrading the cruise missile until it is as versatile, still without the monumental expense of deploying naval air at sea.”
  • #4 Land-Based Fighters-During the recent crisis between Argentina and Great Britain, we noted how the presence of a handful of RAF fighters based on the South Atlantic Isles were probably deterring a renewed war there “a mere 4 Royal Air Force Typhoon fighters are currently guarding the British Overseas Territory of the Falkland Islands. While the Navy would certainly be on call in force should the unthinkable happen, invasion from the Argentine mainland, the Mount Pleasant Airport, constructed soon after the 1982 Conflict would be the key to the island’s defenses…Given time, Mount Pleasant could expect reinforcement planes from Britain including more Typhoons.”
  • #3 Harrier Carriers-The near-40 yr old Harrier V/STOL jet is still an amazing aircraft in frontline service. It’s most famous use has been from light carriers, giving small navies a strike capability they wouldn’t otherwise have, as I noted back in 2005 “Since the 1982 Falklands War, Britain has proved that small aircraft carriers with Harrier V/STOL aircraft can hold their own against fixed wing jet fighters. Likewise these planes have proved ideal for launching from the US Marine’s big assault ships during Operation Iraqi Freedom where they were dubbed “Harrier Carriers”.”
  • #2 Light Aircraft Carriers-Also known as medium carriers, other than V/STOL ships, I think a smaller catapult warship of about half-the tonnage and cost of current supercarriers would be most useful “The airwing would consist of 3 squadrons of 12 planes each, for 36 fighters, a mix of F/A-18 Super Hornets and the F-35C Lightning II JSF as the latter becomes available. Since all carriers typically sail with helicopter equipped escorts, the need for an ASW wing would be negated, save for a few utility choppers. The electronic warfare “Grizzly” complement might be reduced to 2, as would the EW Hawkeyes, though certainly no more than 3, and perhaps advances in technology might integrate the essential missions of both aircraft.” Note that 40 strike planes is now typical of what the giant Nimitz class deploys.
  • #1 Influence Squadrons-It is becoming increasingly evident that massive, hard to build, and nearly impossible to afford supercarriers are just not needed for most problems of modern seapower. Very often, the lighter footprint of soft power is all that is required, as well as being drastically less expensive. “Instead of Carrier Strike Groups, we would send “Influence Squadrons” as recently described by Commander Henry J Hendrix in a Proceedings article titled “Buy Ford, Not Ferrari.“ Such a unique and versatile fleet as proposed would include an amphibious mothership, missiles escorts, high speed–shallow water catamarans, a littoral combat ship, and notably M80 Stiletto stealth craft. Such a smaller, less vulnerable, less costly fleet makes much more sense than risking so much of our national treasure in giant flattops, in the type of insurgency conflicts we so often contend with where a “Ford” will fit in just nicely.”


84 Comments leave one →
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  2. January 2, 2014 7:02 pm

    An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a coworker who had been conducting a little research on this.
    And he actually ordered me dinner because I stumbled upon it for him…
    lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!!
    But yeah, thanks for spending some time to talk about this matter here on your blog.

  3. January 22, 2012 5:23 am

    Well versed written and expressed beautifully described =)

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 18, 2010 3:18 pm

    Trooper, thanks for the ideas!

  5. Trooper permalink
    August 18, 2010 3:15 pm

    I remember reading a book many years ago that theorized about a jet fighter able tot take off from the US fly out into space like an ICBM to any spot in the world and linger long enough to function in a proper fighter role.

    Maybe also an alternative, get rid of the need for carriers or the need for landingstrips.

  6. April 27, 2010 12:41 am

    I agree with Campbell. Getting the military to move to solar powered aircraft would benefit them however, what about night time and bad weather conditions…can the aircraft sustain enough solar power to make its runs?

  7. Matt permalink
    April 13, 2010 2:16 pm

    Hi all — here’s a quote from recent RAND testimony regarding vulnerability of US airbases and carriers in the Pacific in the event of a China-Taiwan conflict.


    “Were Taiwan’s air force badly damaged by Chinese attacks, the U.S. would find itself facing a
    difficult, perhaps impossible, task trying to protect Taiwan’s airspace on its own. U.S. Air Force fighters lack well-situated bases from which to operate; those bases that are close to Taiwan, like Kadena, are threatened by Chinese missiles while those safe from the missiles, such as Andersen on Guam, are a long way from the fight.”


    Key takeway from above: fixed fighter airbases have to be close to the fight and are thus highly vulnerable and largely irrlevent against a high-tech foe.

    Of note, the article is not completely rosy in favor of carrier air. The threat posed by ASBM which would essentially push carriers out to 1,000 nm or more from Taiwan. This is definitely a problem — considering both the F-18 and F-35 have a combat radius of around 600 nm!

    I would think UCAV (X-47B) with a mission radius of 1,300 nm or more would be a great step towards addressing this problem.

    The full report can be found at:

  8. Chuck58 permalink
    April 11, 2010 10:59 am

    Well-spoken, Matt. I had never considered the precise math involved, and it is pretty staggering. The searching “through a soda straw” is pretty graphic [thus, effective]. Thank you for adding much clarity.

  9. Matt permalink
    April 11, 2010 10:50 am

    One last thing — if we’re talking about the Pacific, the potential disparity in carrier size vs. search area can get ridiculously large.

    The Philippines Sea (ocean mass between Guam and Taiwan) is over 500,000 nm2. In terms of surface area, a Nimtz carrier accounts for just 0.0000014% of that area…. or 14 parts per ten million. We’re talking particle physics small here.

    It all comes down to big ship but very much bigger ocean.

  10. Matt permalink
    April 11, 2010 9:03 am

    Here’s a scenario: You are a bad guy and want to find a carrier in order to target it. Assuming you have a rough idea of where the carrier is located, and so you start searching a 200 x 200 nm chunk of ocean (40,000 nm2). A carrier’s surface area is approximately 0.00896 nm2 (1,000 ft x 250 ft). Using the scenario above, it constitutes only 0.000024% of the size of the area you have to search — very much a needle in a haystack


    I noticed a small error in my math.

    A carrier is roughly 1,000 ft x 250 = 250,000 square feet. 250,000 square feet = 0.00677155 square nm.

    Using the 200 x 200 nm search scenario above, a carrier’s surface area constitutes only 0.000017% of the size of the area you have to search…. or 17 parts per million.

  11. Matt permalink
    April 11, 2010 8:35 am

    Jacob – I’d argue that finding carriers was plenty difficult in WW2. We had to flood localized areas of the Pacific for days at a time with very large numbers of patrol planes in order to find Japanese carriers. We only knew where to search for the Japanese carriers at Midway because we had cryptanalysis which indicated roughly where they would be — and even then we got very lucky with a PBY patrol.

    Here’s a scenario: You are a bad guy and want to find a carrier in order to target it. Assuming you have a rough idea of where the carrier is located, and so you start searching a 200 x 200 nm chunk of ocean (40,000 nm2). A carrier’s surface area is approximately 0.00896 nm2 (1,000 ft x 250 ft). Using the scenario above, it constitutes only 0.000024% of the size of the area you have to search — very much a needle in a haystack!

    But that’s just the basic math of the problem. The real question is by what method you are going to search for the carrier:
    (1) UAVs and maritime patrol aircraft have a relatively slow search rate, and have fly fairly near the carrier in order to locate it with sensors. Assuming the carrier has its Hawkeye up, it’s fairly easy to detect and defeat these by combat air patrol (CAP).
    (2) Satellite recon is not optimized for search. Essentially you are looking through a soda straw. And as others have stated in this forum, there’s no guarantee that satellites will even be available in wartime.

    But assume somehow you’ve managed to detect the carrier, and now want to keep constant tabs on it in order to generate a targeting solution. Not an easy problem against a ship that can go 30+ knots.

    Compare all this to the detection and targeting problem vs. a land base. I know exactly where say Guam airbase is located — and it ain’t going anywhere. The Japanese attacks on Hickam and Clark airfields in December of 1941 illustrate the inherent vulnerability of fixed airbases.

  12. Chuck58 permalink
    April 10, 2010 7:10 pm

    Well, two things on spotting the CSG at sea:
    [1] WE have recce satellites and UAVs and such, but that does not necessarily mean that a potential opponent would have them, or would have them in the general vicinity of the carrier group. [2] Assuming a shooting war had started, the other guys’ satellites might not be long for the world. Neither would their UAVs, which are essentially pilotless aircraft, right? So, by extrapolation, if all of their UAVs start disappearing in a region of ocean, one could rightly assume that something pretty bad is out there. Enough to get a targeting solution from it? Probably not.

  13. Jacob permalink
    April 10, 2010 12:43 pm

    “To hit a carrier at sea, you’ve got to first locate it in tens of thousands of square miles of ocean.”

    I can’t imagine that this is terribly difficult in the modern age. In WWII you had to send out search planes from ships and land bases, and even then your pilots might botch the recon mission. Today we have spy satellites and UAVs, and a capital ship sticks out from the fog of war like nothing else.

  14. Matt permalink
    April 9, 2010 9:55 am

    To hit a carrier at sea, you’ve got to first locate it in tens of thousands of ocean. Then you’ve got to maintain a targeting solution against a vessel that is moving at 30+ knots.


    I obviously meant to say:

    “To hit a carrier at sea, you’ve got to first locate it in tens of thousands of square miles of ocean.”

  15. Matt permalink
    April 9, 2010 9:16 am

    They are more practical for a specific reason, their bases cannot be sunk. They can be put out of action, true, but if a carrier is sunk it can’t be repaired.

    Many of my proposals aren’t just about cost, but practicality.


    Sure, an island can’t be sunk — but a base can be destroyed or put out of action.

    It doesn’t take much to destroy a hangar or crater a runway. The same ballistic missile which you’ve touted as a threat to carriers would be at least as useful against runway — which is usually 2-3x bigger than a carrier. And unlike a carrier, an airbase can’t go anywhere.

    The key challenge in modern warfare isn’t the destructive capability of weapons. It’s quite easy to build a weapon system which (if it hits) can sink or disable a target. The key challenge is locating and fixing the target in order to deploy the weapon. That’s why we’re spending so much of our budget on manned and unmanned ISR systems.

    To hit a carrier at sea, you’ve got to first locate it in tens of thousands of ocean. Then you’ve got to maintain a targetting solution against a vessel that is moving at 30+ knots.

    All you need to target an airbase are the coordinates from Google earth. And last time I checked, airbases don’t move at 30+ kts.

  16. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 9, 2010 8:30 am

    “(land based bombers) and #4 (land based fighters) are extremely vulnerable to the revolution the missile has brought on warfare.”

    They are more practical for a specific reason, their bases cannot be sunk. They can be put out of action, true, but if a carrier is sunk it can’t be repaired.

    Many of my proposals aren’t just about cost, but practicality.

  17. Matt permalink
    April 9, 2010 7:00 am

    Jarhead -You me, and a few others see the revolution the missile has brought on warfare. The rest are still fighting WW 2!


    Mike, your options #10 (land based bombers) and #4 (land based fighters) are extremely vulnerable to the revolution the missile has brought on warfare.

    Land-based bombers (#10) are in theory intercontinental, but it is operationally ineffective and cost prohibitive to fly them intercontinental distances to deliver a single sortie. It took several dedicated tanker sorties to get a single B-2 from CONUS to Afghanistan and back.

    In the event of a crisis, bombers are going to have to be based in theater — all signs in the Pacific point to Guam. It’s pretty easy to target a runway with an ballistic or cruise missile; much easier than an aircraft carrier.

    Land-based fighters (#4) have even shorter legs than bombers. They have to be even closer to the fight to be effective, and are thus even more vulnerable to missile attacks.

  18. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 8, 2010 8:06 pm

    Jarhead-You me, and a few others see the revolution the missile has brought on warfare. The rest are still fighting WW 2!

  19. jarheadtalker permalink
    April 8, 2010 4:42 pm

    The carrier, and other large assemblies of men and materiel have been made less useful across the spectrum of conflict and adversaries by inexpensive anti-ship missiles.

    In fact, I think those inexpensive missiles may have brought on the end of battalion vs. battalion or ship vs. ship warfare by technologically advanced foes.

    But what the carriers can really help with is a campaign launch platform in a more benign environment. What we need to make the carrier really useful to SOF, Army and Jarheads is a better/bigger personnel transport. I want to use the carrier’s landing deck instead of an airfield ashore to fly in soldiers and Marines to link up with pre-positioned equipment.

    No permissions for overflight required….the ocean is still free. Just missing the C-130 that can land on the carrier…easily…I’ve seen the JATO pictures too!

  20. christopher whicker permalink
    April 8, 2010 2:52 pm

    Thanks chuck 58

  21. Chuck58 permalink
    April 7, 2010 8:18 pm

    Times have changed in regards to fleet losses. What we accepted as the norm in WWII would cripple us today, for a number of reasons. Ships are so much more complex and so much more expensive [subjects which Mike Burleson has been hammering on] that they are nearly irreplaceable; even with only aging contributing to losses of ships, we cannot even keep our fleet numbers even [speaking US on this]. With costs and building lead-times [not to mention national will – our society no longer has the ability to accept losses], we could easily run out of ships in the event of catastrophic losses.

    So, in terms of battlegroup composition, I still like the US model best as it affords both the best ability to strike/project power, as well as the best ability to protect itself. Something on the order of CVN, CG, DDG, DDG, FFG, SSN with auxiliaries and such. [Don’t get me wrong – the more the merrier! CVN, CG, CG, DDG, DDG, DD, DD, FFG, FF, SSN, SSN would be great but those days are long in the rearview….]

    Now, for the RN, I see enough ships to have a strike group something like the above [counting the QE/Prince of Wales to somewhat reprise the CVN role – not sure the AEW coverage would be just as good though]. The problem is in manning up such a group, there’s just not enough ships left to exert much sea control elsewhere [kinda one of the running themes, here].

    Major world conflict? Well, I sorta think we’d be side by side, and the quality side
    [namely, us] would win out. Hope we never have to see it.

  22. christopher whicker permalink
    April 7, 2010 7:15 pm

    Thank you chuck 58.
    that was a bad day in 82. but in a bigger world conflic could we afford lose these ships..
    and do you then think the royal navy does then need to be much bigger in not only protecting them, but protecting themselves.

  23. Chuck58 permalink
    April 7, 2010 6:08 pm

    Criss, constructing and operating supply submarines [in my opinion] would be so costly as to be cost-prohibitive. Ya simply couldn’t afford enough to make a difference.

    I feel that surface resupply is safe enough in most cases [certainly so in the case of a CVN
    Carrier Strike Group]. I might be mistaken, but I have heard that back in ’82, Atlantic Conveyor got hit [and sank] when one of the warships, upon picking up missiles inbound, popped chaff which decoyed missiles away [but when the missiles came through the chaff cloud, they re-oriented on Atlantic Conveyor closely below].

    That might be an old wives’ tale [Old SWO’s Tale?], but regardless, my opinion is that surface resupply is the cheapest, best way to go.

  24. christopher whicker permalink
    April 7, 2010 2:43 pm

    Im just saying, we have the astute 7, odd tons . what abt say 12,000 to 15,000 tons
    just slowly sneaking along the bottom of the sea. Hopefull getting to your destination Safely .
    At least the enemie would never know where you are. Or who’s out their.

  25. christopher whicker permalink
    April 7, 2010 2:34 pm

    ok. So What abt larger submarines. I mean big enough to carry smal vehicles and troops.
    So rather than say a couple of / container ships or Surface Ships . some big subs .
    how could do you think . We can do this without being over weight . would this then help with the problem of getting their safely. Rather than container ships that keep getting sunk as they are so vulnerable. So transport it under the sea…..criss

  26. Matt permalink
    April 7, 2010 7:55 am

    I never said you didn’t post it. I’m just trying to offer equal coverage to an alternative view.

    I disagree with your post in that article re: Falklands War. The reason the RN needed so many escorts in ’82 was because it’s small carriers and their airwings lacked the capability to adequately protect the SATF from air attack.

    If you want evidence, just take a look at how many RN ships lie at the bottom of Falkland Sound.

  27. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 7, 2010 4:30 am

    Sure Matt, and I posted on that same article when it appeared:

  28. Matt permalink
    April 6, 2010 10:36 pm


    Since we’re throwing around articles from Proceedings (“Buy Ford, Not Ferrari”) in the interest of providing a contrasting viewpoint, I thought it would be worthwhile to post a recent article discussion the value of large carriers.

    The author is obviously biased, but then again so is CDR Hendrix. This article hits on some of the same points I’ve tried to emphasize. In particular the concept of a CVL is not new or revolutionary. CVL has been looked at objectively time and again and shown to possess little merit.


    From “It Takes a Carrier: Naval Aviation and the Hybrid Fight” (RADM Terry Kraft, Proceedings, September 2009)

    ” Smaller ships, more vertical take off and landing (VTOL), and other power projection methods have been examined. After much time and taxpayer money is spent on these studies, the results have always been nearly the same: to project enough force ashore to make a difference, you need about 4.5 acres of flight deck carrying around 50 strike-fighters and support aircraft. The key comparative issue centers around keeping a sufficient number of aircraft airborne and on station for extended periods of time. Repeatedly, studies show that a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier provides anywhere from 2.5 to 5 times as many ground support aircraft when compared to a smaller carrier, despite carrying only twice as many aircraft.”

  29. Chuck58 permalink
    April 6, 2010 5:30 pm

    Numbers DO count, Criss. One super-duper warship cannot be in two places at once, it is true. On the other hand, quality nearly always trumps quantity. In a concentrated fleet action, we [US + GB, for instance] would go through China’s fleet like crap through a goose.
    Another good example of that was Desert Storm, where Saddam’s legions outnumbered the Allied effort. We remember how that worked out….

  30. christopher whicker permalink
    April 6, 2010 5:21 pm

    Gente men thank you for your replies . the little bebate was interesting. As this all concerns not only the forces, but all of us. [yes im british.] but tell me , just how far do you think the navys can go, in advancement. im sadend that the once great royal navy is shrinking. and hope one day it will grow.. but if im correct. The united states navy is already cutting back on ships. the russians are slowly inceasing, as is india, and china. Now i realise that India and Russia are having problems, but China is slowly growing. How then will [if it comes] the west compeat with this growing force. Th latest russian ship [on line] looks very impressive , when i then look at our type 45- and the future type 26. this ship seems to be bristeling with guns.
    or do i have this wrong . thanks…criss

  31. B.Smitty permalink
    April 6, 2010 4:21 pm

    Matt said, “All very true – and illustrative of why I have a problem with a CVL whose airwing is all strike aircraft with no room for surveillance, AEW, ASW helos, etc.

    I have the same issue with the “CVL as CVN replacement” idea.

    I think the “CVL as LCS replacement” has more conceptual upside. Instead of a two- or three-ship LCS group forming the basic unit, maybe pair a CVL with one or two smaller vessels focused on deploying surface assets like RHIBs, USVs, and UUVs. FSF-1 jumps to mind as a candidate.

  32. Matt permalink
    April 6, 2010 3:23 pm

    Actually TAFFY 3s problem was that there was a significant enemy force in the neighborhood that no one was keeping track of. Had surveillance been properly maintained, the Japanese would never have gotten in range. Same for when Glorious was sunk by battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau


    All very true – and illustrative of why I have a problem with a CVL whose airwing is all strike aircraft with no room for surveillance, AEW, ASW helos, etc.

  33. Chuck58 permalink
    April 6, 2010 3:03 pm

    I don’t see the CVL Group as an “either-or” situation; meaning, you’d use a CVL Group where you could get away with doing so, and save the CSG [CVN Group] for the major, fleet on fleet action. BUT, the Navy would still have both tools. In essence, using CVL’s to stretch the fleet in the absence of more CVNs. Of course, the way costs are skyrocketing, the CVL Group might not see much of a savings…

  34. Chuck Hill permalink
    April 6, 2010 2:57 pm

    Actually TAFFY 3s problem was that there was a significant enemy force in the neighborhood that no one was keeping track of. Had surveillance been properly maintained, the Japanese would never have gotten in range. Same for when Glorious was sunk by battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.

  35. B.Smitty permalink
    April 6, 2010 1:47 pm


    Two of the original LCS missions was to combat subs and mines in the littorals. Helicopter aviation was to play a central role in each mission.

    IIRC, in virtually every mission envisioned for the LCS, rotary wing aviation played a major role.

    So I don’t see how you can say aviation is a “specialized function”.

    In fact, even in your favorite topic, counter-piracy, wasn’t there the quote, “The capabilities I want are a helicopter, a boat and a boarding party”?

    You don’t necessarily need large numbers of ships to perform the tasks you mentioned (protect large number of merchant vessels, patrol vast areas, and defend against small boats), you need to optimized persistent, broad area surveillance; optimize responsiveness to potential threats; and optimize how rapidly you can engage large numbers of small craft.

    That doesn’t automatically point to lots of small patrol boats, IMHO.

    Aerial surveillance can cover much larger swaths of sea, far less expensively than patrol boats.

    A single, airborne fighter aircraft can be anywhere within a 125+nm radius in 15 minutes. A single, airborne helicopter can be anywhere within a ~35nm radius in 15 minutes. A single patrol boat can only travel 7.5nm at 30kts in 15 minutes.

    So you would need 37 patrol boats to cover the same area with a 15 minute or less response time as 1 fighter orbit.

    Now if you want 1 persistent fighter orbit, you probably need at least 5 or 6 aircraft and a place to keep them. So the cost of each option is more complex to measure.

    As far as dealing with small craft swarms, aviation has always had the ability to swarm itself, and far more rapidly, to greater range, and with greater effects than any small boat.

    MSO aside, assuming a useful CVL could be produced at a 1:1 or even a 2:3 or 1:2 ratio to the current LCS variants, and if aviation could be provide to fly from them (yes a big “if”), I think the carrier offers far more in terms of high-end warfighting capability, flexibility and value for the money. We don’t have to call them carriers, if the CVN crowd objects to encroachment on their turf. We can call them fixed-wing capable DDHs.


    Wasn’t the problem with Taffy 3’s carriers that they didn’t have the proper aircraft and/or ordinance to attack warships?

    Harriers can carry Harpoon and LGBs. F-35Bs could be modified to carry Harpoons or a future ASCM.

  36. Matt permalink
    April 6, 2010 12:58 pm

    Matt, if America is the only navy that can send naval forces to sea, with her vanishing numbers of carriers, then seapower must be obsolete, because no nation can sustain the burden you are placing on it.


    I don’t see where you get vanishing numbers of carriers. The latest Defense Bill still has the USN maintaining 11 through 2040. Yes, this is a decrease from 12 — but far from vanishing. I’d also point out that the carrier we shed was the ancient and overworked Kitty Hawk — not called the Sh**ty Kitty for nothing.

    Mike, all the solutions you’ve postulated to make the CVL more capable aren’t free — they are in fact HIGH-END solutions! For example, building a UAS AEW platform would not be cheap, and would still require deck space which would be at a premium on a CVL.

    You consider a CVL a battle-fleet warship? Need I remind you of what happended to TAFFY 3 at the Battle of Samar (1944)? Light carriers don’t hold up too well in fleet actions…

  37. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 6, 2010 11:54 am

    Straying a little here, but concerning LCS, the CVL could perform the aerial function. I see airpower as a specialized function, not always needed but decisive when used properly. The Navy would see every vessel equipped with a high end aerial platform, and increasingly the helos are pricing into the jet fighter ranges, many tens of millions. So there you are increasing your ship’s pricetag, reducing your numbers.

    For battle fleet type warships, and I count a CVL in this category, its OK for numbers to be low, they are so capable. For patrol boats, you need numbers high to protect large number of merchant vessels, patrol vast areas, and defend against small boats.

    The LCS tries to be both, a patrol boat and a high end aviation frigate. But if you split the function between a helo carrier and a patrol boat, you keep both numbers and capability.

    Matt, if America is the only navy that can send naval forces to sea, with her vanishing numbers of carriers, then seapower must be obsolete, because no nation can sustain the burden you are placing on it.

    I don’t think that is the case. Navies preceded the carrier, and will survive without it. I’m not exactly sure how as of yet, though I have ideas, as you see above. I am certain progress and practicality will win out.

  38. B.Smitty permalink
    April 6, 2010 10:13 am

    Rather than considering CVLs to replace CVNs, why not consider them to replace the LCS?

    According to the Internet, HTMS Chakri Naruebet “only” cost around US$365 million fully equipped in 1992 (maybe $550-650 million-ish today). It has an advertised draft of 6.2m (around that of Scott B’s Absalon).

    I would be interested to know how much its slightly larger Principe de Asturias cousin costed.

    The huge hangar and flight deck could be used to carry aircraft, helicopters, boats, USVs, or mission module equipment. Launch and recovery of boats/USVs could either be from davits via the hangar deck, or one or two larger flight deck cranes.

    Both of these CVLs are designed to warship standards, have very long range and endurance, and significant payload.

    Some modifications I would consider (besides the aforementioned cranes and/or davits) might include an integrated electric propulsion and acoustic signature reduction, a hull-mounted sonar and/or towed array, an 8-16 cell VLS, and a small phased array radar of some form. Small gun mounts could be added as well.

    Manning would be an issue, but if a smaller airwing was carried, perhaps the crew could be reduced some (with the option to go to full strength during surge operations). Plus since each CVL could perform the same mission as multiple LCSes, the manning disparity might not be as great.

    And having the option to operate Harriers or F-35Bs greatly extends the operational reach of the CVL vs even multiple LCSes (or Absalons) and provides greater mission flexibility including limited strike and AAW.

  39. Matt permalink
    April 6, 2010 8:25 am

    Mike – these are all very interesing solutions. Unfortunately none of them appear informed by reality.

    Sea King AEW was and is woefully inadequate — it can’t go far enough nor stay on-station long enough to give a force sufficient warning. A Harrier just doesn’t have the legs or carrying capacity, and the bandwidth to support a UAS solution just isn’t there.

    As to satellites: big ocean, tiny cruise missile. You would need multiple dedicated satellites watching every square foot for dozens of miles around a task force for an impending missile attack. And that’s assuming the bad guys don’t jam or disable them.

    But I think the litmus test is this: would I be comfortable sending my son or daughter in harms way in a task force built around one of your CVLs? I certainly would not. It would be Falklands all over again. We’d end up putting destroyers and frigates on the bottom because we cut corners on our CVs.

  40. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 6, 2010 4:15 am

    Matt said “AEGIS is great, but it won’t give you same radius of coverage as airborne AEW.”

    Absolutely true, and I wouldn’t see it as such, just an alternative in a crisis. It would have to be because you can’t have carriers at every point on the globe, especially considering the declining numbers of Big Decks. No other nation possesses 100,000 ton warships, so can we truthfully say only these vessels can deploy AEW at sea? The British proved you could do so in an emergency by placing AEW on a Sea King helicopter. Would it be such a stretch of technology for the mighty USA superpower to do the same on a Harrier jet or UAV?

    What about satellites? Can’t they track a tiny supersonic missile hovering a few feet above the sea? I just don’t want to see us limit ourselves, placing an impossible burden on the budget just for a single weapons system. Throughout the history of warfare, no weapon has been indispensable, except manpower.

  41. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 6, 2010 4:06 am

    Another thing Jacob, is the fact that the British would have lost these ships anyway even with fixed-wing aircraft carrier present. Not to the enemy though, but to the budget cutters, and proof of this is the consistent dismantling of the Royal Navy operating forces today to afford two new giant supercarriers and their very costly aircraft.

    Of course, it is better to not have the ships there at all than to see them sunk, but then they couldn’t be doing what surface warships do, which is sail in harms way, supporting the troops ashore, escorting vital transports and supply ships, clearing mines, fighting submarines and small attack craft.

    None of these essential functions of seapower can the carrier do by itself. It takes a Navy, not just airpower, and as Lord Guthrie pointed out, you can’t have a big navy with aircraft carriers.

  42. Jacob permalink
    April 6, 2010 1:16 am

    “And Matt, I also get it that in wartime, you lose ships. Part of the reason the Navy thinks it can get by with just a handful of giant but irreplaceable giants is that the “purpose of the Navy is not to fight”. I don’t think future enemies are buying it, such as the Iranians or the Chinese.”

    True, but isn’t the entire premise of modern warfare about expensive and irreplaceable platforms? F-4 Phantoms were complex and expensive, but at the end of the day there’s no way around this fact….you just can’t fight with P-51’s. We’re never going to fight another industrial war like WW2, so it would seem that current military doctrine emphasizes putting all your strength up front and leaving nothing in reserve?

  43. Matt permalink
    April 5, 2010 9:23 pm


    AEGIS is great, but it won’t give you same radius of coverage as airborne AEW. The simple physics means the radar horizon at 30 ft is much lower than at say 40,000 ft. To keep the same area coverage you’d need to place the AEGIS further out — which means you’d need more of them.

    I still think you’re providing short shrift to the ancillary tasks provided by the air wing. How about the organic air ASW? There are an awful lot of bad subs out there. What’s going to do the CSAR and close-in ASuW roles? How exactly are you doing any kind of persistent AEA with only 2 Growlers? And what about COD?

    I’m really trying to keep an open mind. I just don’t rate the utility or survivability of this light carrier as very high in a hot war — unless its surrounded by expensive CRUDES. I get the impression that you’ve got a target CVL tonnage in mind, while airwing size and capability are just an afterthought.

    The amateur historian in me thinks TAFFY 3 all over again. The wrong carriers, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

  44. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 5, 2010 4:21 pm

    Christopher wrote “why cant .or what effect the following would have. an aircraft carrier 230,000 tons.”

    You know, I honestly would not be surprised at that! We seem to be headed that way with each successive ship bigger than the last.

    Matt wrote “As someone else has pointed out before, there are certain “irreducables” to carrier flight operations that tend to drive for a larger airwing and thus favor a larger hull”

    I realize this, yet these seem to not take into account advances in technology, such as V/STOL technology, UAVs, cruise missile technology, precision technology on smart bombs, advanced sensors and Aegis technology allowing the surface combatant to do much of its AEW, plus satellites, and so on.

    Much of the work that is concentrated in the single vulnerable, over-deployed, and cost prohibitive aircraft carrier can be dispersed among individual platforms, allowing for greater survivability and affordability. As I wrote earlier, I see no single platform taking the place of the carrier, just as numerous vessels now perform the sea control, shore bombardment role of the older battleships.

    Note that in history, when new technology displaces old weapons, the new seems far less capable than the old. Steamships in no way possessed the range of a sail ship of the line. Aircraft carriers were just fragile hulls compared to the might and guns of a armored dreadnought battleship, as was its wire and canvass aircraft.

    Things are not always incapable as they appear but practicality often beats capability.

    And Matt, I also get it that in wartime, you lose ships. Part of the reason the Navy thinks it can get by with just a handful of giant but irreplaceable giants is that the “purpose of the Navy is not to fight”. I don’t think future enemies are buying it, such as the Iranians or the Chinese.

  45. Matt permalink
    April 5, 2010 2:19 pm

    #3 Harrier Carriers- “Since the 1982 Falklands War, Britain has proved that small aircraft carriers with Harrier V/STOL aircraft can hold their own against fixed wing jet fighters…”


    If by holding their own you mean losing 2 destroyers, 2 frigates, and 2 amphibs to a 2nd rate air force equipped with 1960s era jets, iron bombs, and a smattering of Exocets — then yes V/STOL carriers can hold their own.

  46. Matt permalink
    April 5, 2010 12:35 pm

    “#2 Light Aircraft Carriers-Also known as medium carriers, other than V/STOL ships, I think a smaller catapult warship of about half-the tonnage and cost of current supercarriers would be most useful…”

    As someone else has pointed out before, there are certain “irreducables” to carrier flight operations that tend to drive for a larger airwing and thus favor a larger hull:

    1. The majority of the ASW helos in a CSG are on the carrier not the small-boys — as are all of the combat search and rescue (CSAR) helos. This usually adds up to 8-10 helos.

    2. An airwing typically deploys with 5-6 AEW aircraft. I don’t think any CO would be comfortable reducing this to 2 or 3. Maintenance alone will usually take 1 out of the cycle.

    3. An airwing typically deploys with 5-6 Prowlers. I can’t see reducing the AEA component no matter how good the Growler turns out to be.

    4. The COD detachment is typically 2 C-2s. A must have if you expect to operate away from port for long periods.

    A quick back of the envelope shows that the your 40 plane airwing would probably have to be closer to 56-60 to operate effectively. I wouldn’t think this is doable on a 50,000 ton hull.

  47. Hudson permalink
    April 5, 2010 11:48 am

    “all ways seem to point to massive ships in space [poss cargo] or [military]
    we all know that one day this will come. Very soon after the first small ones .”

    Chris, I doubt this will happen. There is a huge difference between the imagination of sci fi writers and modelers, and the reality of propelling objects into space. Some of these sci fi “mothership” concepts are the size of Manhattan, utterly dwarfing the International Space Station. Way too big and expensive.

    You must also consider the difference between a weightless ship in space–no matter how large–and an object on Earth. Water does offer some resistence, and it would certainly take quite a bit of energy to get such a vessel underway, as noted, although it would have quite a bit of inertia once it did get under way.

    Maybe something like a gigantic catamaran, a floating island, might be possible, from which to launch aircraft. It would not be industructible. It might take quite a few hits before going down.

    You might look into the history and construction of the Japanese battleship Yamato and its sister ship as a cautionary tale about building super large warships.

    You show a good imagination. Interesting idea.

  48. christopher whicker permalink
    April 4, 2010 7:36 pm

    Thank you ShockwaveLover. A forum would i think be very interesting. Remember watching
    star trek in the 70s- 80s. Thinking star wars [impossable] yet today 2010.
    we are already getting their slowly, soon manned mission to mars. sooner or later [The first space explorer space ship] will go forth in say [The next 50-60- years] is it not true that exept for Speed. We have the technology to go forth. ???????? Because surely be todays standard are we /or will we out do ourselves , to a stage when we can go no further.
    Or advance no further with military equipment exept to go into space.[I mean a lot further advanced than we are now.] An interesting idea.

  49. christopher whicker permalink
    April 4, 2010 7:23 pm

    thank you chuck…. it was an interesting idea. i was just wodering what it would look like .
    but i was just thinking ahead and a big leap in size. [space ships] being serious .
    all ways seem to point to massive ships in space [poss cargo] or [military]
    we all know that one day this will come. Very soon after the first small ones .
    the difference in todays tonnage and the future…. but thank you for your reply it was very interesting thank you. [criss]

  50. ShockwaveLover permalink
    April 4, 2010 1:02 am

    Man, it’s times like this I wish we had a New Wars Forum. :P

    It’d make it a lot easier to have these discussions.

  51. Chuck Hill permalink
    April 3, 2010 8:08 pm

    Chris Whicker said, “two hundred and thirty thousand tons, [ some tankers are this size]”

    Size does have advantages in terms of survivability and of coursed room for operations. Long ships are relatively easier to drive at high speed in terms of horsepower per ton but there are practical limits to how big is viable.

    You should be aware that displacement is measured in many different ways. In merchant ships it is a measure of cargo volume, not weight. A 100,000 CVN is already very large, check the dimensions against a large merchant ship.

    The largest ultra large crude carriers face many restrictions on where they can go. The largest can’t even transit the English Channel. Many exceed the maximum draft of the Suez Canal which is 62 feet. Already American Aircraft Carriers cannot transit the Panama Canal which limits beam to 108 feet. There are also very few ports that can accept the largest ships, particularly when they are fully loaded and many must offload before entering port.

  52. Chuck58 permalink
    April 3, 2010 6:56 pm

    230,000 tons? Seems that would take an awful lot of energy to get going; probably wouldn’t maneuver very well. Big, big target. Can’t think of any added benefit to carrying its own destroyers and subs along [as opposed to, say, nuclear-powered escorts or even the standard CONREPPED ones of today]. Cost. This would be a wonderful platform for politicians to pork-barrel over [meaning, it would be at risk of being so costly as to be unaffordable, or at least so costly that we could not risk it in battle].

    Force field armor? Thinking reactive-explosive armor, perhaps? I think that only works to a certain size, and that this would be too massive – envision a directable ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead scoring [or, perhaps, a nuclear depth bomb exploding directly below, cracking the keel and allowing for the water around the hole to rush back in and submerge the ship afterward].

    My thoughts in a nut-shell: too big, too costly. Interesting concept, though.

  53. christopher whicker permalink
    April 3, 2010 6:01 pm

    may i put a fantasy idea forward .
    why cant .or what effect the following would have. an aircraft carrier 230,000 tons.
    two hundred and thirty thousand tons, [ some tankers are this size] with enough room to carry , say 2 destroyers-3 frigates- and other patrol ships in the stern. big enough to carry its own protection inside. in cluding a submarine. this ship could carry massive equipment , or anything else anywhere in the world. the british army is developing this new [force field]
    to cover armour, could this then not be incorperated to protect the carrier…..
    perhaps this idea is not feesable or just silly. but your expert reasoning would be interesting -for or against . [ just an idea]

  54. Distiller permalink
    April 2, 2010 11:00 am

    I think if someone would today start a Navy from scratch, uninfluenced from history and what others do, the carriers might be something like an UAV-carrying Ryujo, a light thru-deck carrier built to commercial standards, purely designed for land attack and ISR (and maybe a little ASW, but that’s optional). Closely working together with land-based long range ISR and attack units (manned/unmanned), and submarines.

  55. William permalink
    April 2, 2010 7:01 am

    Regarding the HMS Aboukir Bay:

    I think the design could be improved by:

    1) Extending the hangar fully to the stern of the ship allowing additional aircraft to be stowed.

    2) Stretching the VLS compartment to carry at least a DDG-51s worth (96) of VLS cells or more if desired.

    Additionally for a general purpose deployment I would replace TWO of the CB90’s with LCVP which would be more usefull for transporting supplies for humanitarian disaster relief.


    The CB90H has been successfully trialed with a stabalised Hellfire misslile launcher based on the PROTECTOR M151. See youtube below.

    I’m not sure if you could put a pair of NSM on the CB90. There might be stability issues due to their weight (2 x 410kg NSM verus 2 x 50Kg Hellfire). Additionally the NSM are almost 4 metres long. How would they be targetted?

    If it is possible than the CB90 will have had its role changed from an fast assault craft to a fast missile attack craft and would probably no longer be able to transport troops.

  56. Matt permalink
    April 2, 2010 6:13 am

    Tony — sounds like a hit a nerve. Was it the air farce comment? I’m no expert; just a former navy flier and current taxpayer who knows a thing or two about warfare.

    Satellites orbit at 22,000 nm. Blimps and E-2s orbit at 40-50,ooo ft. Not nearly the same level of exposure. And DARPA has been working on a dirigible that can say aloft for 10 years at a time – with the prototype to be fielded in 2014. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the point of this website was to look at new technologies and CONOPS?

    It’s so hard to hit a B-52 that we lost close to 30 over Vietnam. We’ve only got 20 B-2 (21 built but the USAF crashed one in ’08) so any attrition in wartime would be significant. We lost a supposedly invisible F-117 over Kosovo in 1999 – all the Yugoslavs had to do was adjust their radars a bit — if that’s any indication of how invulnerable the B-2 is to modern air defenses.

    I’m sure there’s no reason to suspect that the Chinese are spending millions of dollars to figure out how to neutralize our major bases in the Pacific. Why should we believe RAND, who sited vulnerability of US bases as a critical issues facing US commanders in the Pacific?

    But forget carriers, or the fact that we can escort and maneuver combat logistics ships to limit their vulnerability. Let’s just rely on masses of air farce bombers parked nose to nose — just like we did at Hickam and Clark in ’41.

  57. April 2, 2010 3:26 am

    Noting some other ideas put forth here:

    I like some of B.smitty’s analysis. I concur too with Solo’s first post, with a question only as to exactly how many more ‘America’ class LHA’s SecDef is supporting or envisioning for the future force structure? Zero? Any? :( One might positively ponder an America class loaded with 24 OV-10X (mini-S-3 Vikings Sea control/ISR and OTH targeting/ASW/anti-small boat protection) :)

    Campbell – ding ding… copy, Airship development front and center.

    William – I must admit, you’ve got me on the MSR w/ future Taranis ‘autonomous’ strike (N-UCAS’s wing span might be too much though, so USN would have to lease some Taranis). Dang. And with 4x CB90? Could you put a couple NSM launchers on the CB90? Nice concept (USN could maybe use the LPD 17 hull for similar layout?). I’ll transfer budget of 24 LCS for 8 of these directly, though.

    ShockWave – Agreed. Mix the above ‘MSR’ concept to complement/bolster 8 (I wouldn’t suggest dipping below 8 at least through a 2025’ish wait and see term) CVN fleet, mid-term. Perhaps Trade in 3 LCS per 1 MSR. Operational savings from Reduced 3 CVN fleet applied to operating something like 8 MSR?

    Arkady – I concur on not yet losing perspective of CVN’s future roles (e.g. N-UCAS) and strategic value, to at least some maintained level. And would concur in general to maximize the exploitation of more mission and capability out of the exisiting hulls. I also tend to agree with your logic supporting more Nuclear powered ships in future, for which I even support at the destroyer level (for future power generation related capacities, as a bonus).

  58. April 2, 2010 3:25 am

    Good top 10 blog, Mike.

    How about a Navy of 200+ ‘flex/synthetic-mix fueled’ C-HSV-X! (Combatant-high speed vessels) reconfigured top deck with a 100m ski-jump deck running along half the roof (capable of operating autonomous Predator-C (2 per ship) as well as keeping regular helo mission). Add 2 Mk41 VLS cells (one deep tubed) for modular loadout. Towed sonar array module. 3x AUV for counter-mine/ASW. 2x11m RHIB. A 57mm gun, a couple 25mm rws, Ship DIRCM, and a few IDAS missile launch tubes should do it (plenty of hull space and space for crew, unlike LCS). Top cover for pack of 5 C-HSV would include a 2-3 week endurance unmanned airship with comprehensive early warning radar/passive suite and OTH relay/targeting (for SM-6, N-TACMS, etc). For every 4 C-HSV in a group, a 5th stripped, specially adapted could act as ‘at-sea-refueler’ buddy-tanker (for the final 1,500nm haul)?? Thumbs up? Down? ;)

  59. Hudson permalink
    April 2, 2010 12:40 am

    The two platforms for experimental chemical lasers I have seen on YouTube (a fair sampling of what’s out there) are land-based and air-based. The weapon is in the nose of large aircraft. Of course, lasers can be fitted on ships too. But I think air-based might be more significant to the security of the battle fleet, and hence the viability of the super carrier in a high intensity battle environment.

    It could be that shoot-down capability from long range land-based planes will turn out to be more significant than shoot-up capability from the fleet’s escorts especially against swarms of skimmers aimed at the capital ships. A number of “ifs” for sure, but maybe not as many as we think now. It’s a worthy avenue of exploration.

  60. ArkadyRenko permalink
    April 1, 2010 11:04 pm

    I say first of all, don’t knock Air-Sea battle until you see it. Odds are, there is some serious work being done for that report and that it’ll bring some major changes. Probably many unpopular ones (such as: short range fighters will be useless in the Pacific, such as F-22).

    I agree with the general premise, that more systems is better than just one. However, I reject the idea that CVNs are bad ships. They are extremely expensive, that’s the downside, but they have advantages that the other options just cannot have.

    When comparing CVN survivability to Harrier Carrier survivability, CVNs have one crucial advantage. Range. In the battlefield of today and tomorrow, Range is King. ASMs now can go 300 km, and in the future, most likely 500 km. Only fixed wing, high powered fighters can push a CAP out that far. And only a big deck carrier can carry the AWACs to patrol out that far.

    About CVN vs. conventional: CVN’s don’t need to oil. That means, you need less supplies. That means you’ll need fewer supply ships. That means it’ll be easier to defend those supply ships, because there will be fewer targets. On the other hand, having CV’s means that there will be more unrep ships. Those will divide resources even more. Really, the Navy should not be moving towards more conventional ships, it should aim to make even more ships nuclear. That will make the fleet much more mobile and independent.

    Next, CVNs will be the best option for N-UCAS. The N-UCAS and its following planes will be catapult launched. Hence, they need a catapult launcher. That will only come from a large carrier. And, with carriers, bigger is better.

    If you go for many distributed carriers, that means you’ll need to defend many distributed points. At sea, there is nothing you can do to prevent the attacker from massing against one point, without bunching your ships into one giant group. Thus, with a smaller carrier, the demands on the escorts will be higher, and you’ll need more AEGIS warships. Given that the enemy will be able to launch one major raid every day to two days, you want your fleet to be able to survive a raid, not have more targets than raids. Because, even if you double the number of carriers (completely unrealistic by the way), they will be steadily destroyed unless their defensive power is scales with a CVN.

    The problem with small carriers, in conclusion, is that the defensive capability of a battle group against a cruise missile attack does not appear to be a strictly linear function or even have decreasing returns to scale. Instead, it appears that defenses have increasing returns to scale, i.e. doubling the number of defenders more than doubles the attacker’s problems.

    FInally, with expendable cruise missiles, future ones will need to be better and bought in prohibitive numbers, because the targets will be too many.

  61. April 1, 2010 10:00 pm

    well not exactly Tony. the Durandal was used in the anti-airfield role as was the JP233. additionally the SDB, if i recall correctly, has even been proposed as an anti-airfield weapon due to its ability to penetrate deeply into concrete….

    every system has its weaknesses…the issue with an airfield is that it can be precisely targeted and destroyed. especially those in the pacific. we have too few of them attempting to cover too large an area.

    air – sea battle is a piss poor approach being pushed by policy wonks as the next big thing. sadly it doesn’t do a thing to solve the problems with the real issues with our forces.

    this mix might help…but individually they’re no good…only in concert might it work.

  62. Tony permalink
    April 1, 2010 9:50 pm

    Matt wrote:

    “As I’ve told Mike countless times, when you’re talking UAS’s you have to consider the whole system. And the key vulnerability in the system is the C2 link between the air vehicle and its operators… Putting the control centers back in the US is a great idea — right up until the bad guys turn off the satellites…. It’s a fairly easy problem to run a comm relay from a ship to a high altitude relay (E-2, maybe even a blimp) and thence to the UAS. It’s a lot harder to do that when the operators are back in Omaha.”

    Obviously, Matt, you must be an expert on this subject, currently working on secret line-of-sight UAV communication technology. Because that would explain how you’ve cracked the problems of your E-2 or Blimp being just as easy to jam as a satellite, visible to observers, potentially giving away your location depending on your uplink technology (and the proximity needed to your surface ship) and limited to a certain altitudes or time on station unless you’re using revolutionary new DAPRA blimp tech that hasn’t even been rolled out yet. And if you transmit at anything like a strength capable of resisting jamming, you’re lit up like a Christmas tree, and burning up fuel.

    Matt said:

    “Mike, One thing that carriers have going for them over the air farce is their ability to overcome the “tyranny of distance”.

    *Sure* they do… And they don’t require constant replenishment of stores and fuel on auxiliaries that can be sunk in a hot war. No sir…

    It’s hard to hit a B2. Or a B52, for that matter – it costs millions in weapons, infrastructure, effort and training. It’s very much easier to hit a 40,000 ton supply ship, even with a rickety wooden dhow armed with fertilizer explosives. Fight anyone other than a third world country or a small tinpot dictator – say, someone with a navy – and suddenly the Airforce platforms look survivable. Even if a USAF jet is based in-theatre, unless it’s base is hit with a nuke, you can only destroy a vastly smaller amount of materiel for each pgm, missile or cluster munition you use on bases – not many weeks’ worth of an aircraft carrier’s replenishment.

    But it’s nice to know you thought this through.

  63. Chuck Hill permalink
    April 1, 2010 9:43 pm

    Of course to be far, we could not reproduce the Saratoga for the price of the Aboukir Bay.

    Equipped with F35s the old girl would still make an impression.

  64. Hudson permalink
    April 1, 2010 5:37 pm


    I wasn’t talking about a direct comparison between two ships from very different ages, but the relative efficiency. The Aboukir Bay is not efficient by contemporary standards, going by the one air craft per 1,000 ton rule, which was introduced on this board some time ago by Scott B., I think. It just isn’t. Nor is it a powerful cruiser.
    It has a beautiful symetry to it; it makes a nice diagram.

    But even in a stand-up fight between the two ships, as is, without cheating to bolster the newer ship, the Saratoga would still win. Start the battle, say at 50 miles apart. The Saratoga’s planes would overwhelm the Bay’s defences and get in a few torpedoes and bombs, and the planes would shoot down the Merlins before they could reach the carrier.

  65. April 1, 2010 5:35 pm

    I note there has been some talk of guns so I may be repeating something here; sorry if I am!!!

    But has anybody here mentioned yet guided artillery shells? The US trialled a light 8inch gun mount (Mk 71?) Wouldn’t this be an option for beach head CAS?

  66. April 1, 2010 4:57 pm


    Tell me if I’m wrong but that is a vulnerability on an ISR mission. But I’m talking pure dee strike. Preferably against a stationary, high value target. With that being the case the only uplink necessary would be to GPS sats…humans would still be needed to “be politically correct” but on a strike mission they go from being surrogates that need permission to essentially cruise missiles that just carry it out.

  67. Matt permalink
    April 1, 2010 4:53 pm

    (Solomon wrote) “Why would we need to go that large for a UAV carrier? I’m thinking we could go small again…remember the control centers might be in the US and not aboard ships…”

    As I’ve told Mike countless times, when you’re talking UAS’s you have to consider the whole system. And the key vulnerability in the system is the C2 link between the air vehicle and its operators.

    Putting the control centers back in the US is a great idea — right up until the bad guys turn off the satellites.

    It’s a fairly easy problem to run a comm relay from a ship to a high altitude relay (E-2, maybe even a blimp) and thence to the UAS. It’s a lot harder to do that when the operators are back in Omaha.

  68. April 1, 2010 4:43 pm

    That’s not logical Hudson. Make a couple of those Helos AH-1Z Cobras and she could sit outside the range of the anti-aircraft guns and lob penguin anti-ship missiles into the Saratoga all day.

    Add some MH-60R’s to the attack and suddenly you have helicopters conducting a pretty devestating anti-shipping strike on that carrier.

    Change the compliment a bit and put F-35’s on the deck and that ship is toast before they even know what hits them.

  69. Hudson permalink
    April 1, 2010 4:39 pm

    How would the mythical Aboukir Bay stack up against history? Not very well, it turns out.

    At 15,000t, Aboukir Bay can only field 1 helo per 3,000t of ship, not the expected 1 per ton. Good gun armament, but not sensational compared with the Lexington Class carriers, as built in the early 1020s. USS Saratoga (CV-3):

    4 X dual 8-inch guns
    12 5-inch guns
    91 aircraft

    At 36,000t, that’s almost three aircraft per ton.

    Saratoga gave up her 8-inchers early in the war, but added 5-inchers. It took the A-bomb to sink ‘Sara’. They just don’t make ’em like they used to.

  70. B.Smitty permalink
    April 1, 2010 10:38 am

    #10 USAF bombers can do a lot, and I fully support the development of a next generation, stealthy, penetrating bomber. However long distances and small airframe numbers limit sortie generation. Also, they can’t provide their own OCA (yet).

    #9 I think we’re putting the cart before the horse with the UAV carrier concept.

    There is no active STOVL UAV program that approaches the capability of manned aircraft. N-UCAS is still early in development and is shaping up to be a not-so-cheap air vehicle itself. A naval Predator C is still more concept than reality.

    So talking about replacing a proven concept (manned carrier air) with UAVs is a tad premature, IMHO. Maybe in 10 or 15 years, but not now.

    #8 Betting the farm on something as unproven as launching and recovering fighter sized aircraft from other aircraft seems a lot more risky than the other options.

    #7, #6, #5 are all variants on the same idea – shooting cruise missiles or semi-reusable, small UAVs from subs or surface ships. I support these ideas to a degree, but all have poor airframe recoverability. Once you shoot a TLAM, it either needs to hit a target or self destruct. I like the idea for Day 1 strikes against fixed infrastructure but that’s about it. Small UAVs have limited capability.

    #4 Since land-based fighters have the highest flexibility and potential for sustained sortie numbers and ordinance delivery, they will continue to be important. However, limits on foreign basing have proven very problematic. Sometimes they can carry the load, sometimes they can’t.

    #3 Harrier carriers haven’t shown anything, other than that they are better than nothing. Harriers aren’t in production anymore and restarting the line would no doubt be expensive. The Harrier’s replacement, the F-35B, may eventually prove itself. But it may also prove to be an expensive boondoggle.

    #2 Of these ideas, IMHO, conventional carriers (whether they are “light”, “medium” or “large”) offer the most promise to reduce the cost of deploying Navy air. However we still need to buy enough aircraft to fill their decks, and they retain the same vulnerabilities an limitations as CVNs.

    #1 Influence squadrons would have been next to useless in OIF, OAF, OEF,and ODS (aka, “wars we fight today”). They may have value, but not as carrier replacements.

    In the end, we need a mixture of systems. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. CVNs are proven, and have shown remarkable flexibility and capability in recent conflicts. Ignoring their contributions because we don’t like their price tag, or have a fixation on “small” or “unmanned” is dangerous and risky.

    Just MHO.

  71. William permalink
    April 1, 2010 9:49 am


    I suppose it depends on what one is trying to achieve.

    If one is trying to incorporate the functions & weaponry of a Destroyer / Frigate with a UAV / Helicopter Carrier then there is a trade-off in terms of the amount of space allocated for carrying the UAV / Helicopters versus weapon systems.

    However if one wants to maximise the number of UAVs / Helicopters carried for a given displacement then the traditional LPH / Harrier Carrier layout is more optimal.

  72. ShockwaveLover permalink
    April 1, 2010 9:45 am

    Mike, I love the ship William linked to above. I think 6-8 big carriers, a brace of America and Wasp class to support them, and then the HMS Aboukir Bay design as the workhorse of the fleet.Even better, with an American VLS installed, it could accommodate the TLAM, allowing more of them to be positioned around the world. And with the big deck and facilities, humanitarian missions and disaster relief would benefit immeasurably.

  73. April 1, 2010 9:38 am

    my bad…..

    i just looked at the pic and did a quick mental guess-timation of about 30,000 tons. that ships perfect then…and better defended than the LPH of old…

  74. William permalink
    April 1, 2010 9:31 am


    The Aboukir Bay is 15 – 17,000 tons full load, less than the 20,000 tons you suggested. But I like your idea of using a 20,000 ton LPH as a UAV strike carrier.

  75. April 1, 2010 9:22 am

    Why would we need to go that large for a UAV carrier? I’m thinking we could go small again…remember the control centers might be in the US and not aboard ships…

    With that in mind we could go back to the USS Iwo Jima class LPH …about less than 20,000 tons max wt…but filled with UAVs.

    The possibilities are stunning. What could happen? We could have one dedicated UAV strike carrier for each coast. We could reduce our big carriers by two and tailor their air wing to other tasks….we could get down to 8 big deck carriers…two UAV strike carriers and even save money by only surging them when needed. Pilots can practice on simulators and the ships could be maintained indefinitely because they wouldn’t get worn out by relentless cruises.

  76. William permalink
    April 1, 2010 9:15 am

    Your option #9 UAV Carrier is probably not too far from the HMS Aboukir Bay design if it was fitted with a towed array sonar:

    HMS Aboukir Bay


    ThroughDeck with Ski Jump

  77. April 1, 2010 8:47 am

    #8 yeah, yeah, I know…’s April Fools’ Day and all that……..but,

    there’s a famous Modern Mechanics (1934) cover showing a solar powered AIRSHIP aircraft carrier. While the concept was way beyond reason then, it is easily do-able now. Modern airships (not BLIMPS mind) constructed of carbon fiber with thin film photovoltaic covered hulls can become excellent additions to current carrier fleet. They offer immense advantages….less manning costs, unlimited range , amphibious ops (read blue water, green water, brown water, ice, mountain, desert), can be as stealthy as B-2……..and would negate the effectiveness of “carrier killer” ballistic weapons.

    Since the mothership airship carrier would be able to fly much closer to target than a surface craft might be able to, it would allow UCAVs’ to be smaller/lighter. More could be deployed; or, larger weapons loads could be carried instead of fuel.

    Current Army push to field the LEMV needs a comparative Navy program, with much greater vision.

  78. April 1, 2010 8:16 am

    Consider me a convert on this subject. I’m just wondering how NAVAIR will justify 11 semi-empty carriers.

    I’m not going to pound the subject but compared to the capacity in bygone years we’re sending carriers out understrength. The fight between the USMC and Navy regarding the LHA(R)…the discussions about integrating F-35B’s on deck…the slowness of getting the X-47B on carriers…

    All those point to a shatterpoint arriving pretty quickly. I don’t know what the outcome will be but it will be fascinating.

  79. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 1, 2010 8:07 am

    Solomon, thanks!

    I agree that individually none could probably substitute for the power and capability of a large carrier, except maybe number 2. But several alternatives taken together you may have something more survivable and affordable if the Chinese type anti-access weapons become widespread.

    Plus $12 billion per for the Fords? Thats only $1 billion less than the entire shipbuilding budget. It just can’t continue.

  80. Matt permalink
    April 1, 2010 7:56 am


    One thing that carriers have going for them over the air farce is their ability to overcome the “tyranny of distance”.

    #10 (Air Force Bombers) – are cost prohibitive for sustained operations at intercontinental ranges. Have you considered how many tankers and how much gas it takes to get a single B-2 sortie from Missouri to Afghanistan?

    #4 (Land Based Fighters) Work great right up until the bad guys schwack our bases. Since you’ve stated before that the bad guys can target and hit a moving carrier at sea with a ballistic missile, how hard would it be to hit a large, fixed airbase?

  81. April 1, 2010 7:02 am

    Some useful ideas but, land based fighters!!!?? – so utterly missing the point about flexibility and mobility of carriers with manned aircraft. If we are serious about radical options for getting value for money lets abolish the RAF and USAF.

  82. April 1, 2010 6:28 am

    The idea of “Harrier Carriers” is being reborn right before our eyes with the USS America class. The Air Force is desperately seeking a Bomber replacement and for all intents and purposes the Burke class is turning into a TLAM strike platform.

    Seems like your ideas or at least some of them are already in motion. As a matter of fact to be honest #’s 2,3,5,9 and 10 are being done.

    Congratulations. Seems like the Pentagon is finally listening:))


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