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Super-Falklands Base in the Gulf

April 8, 2010

B-1 Bombers on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.

Several times I pointed out how the airbase of Mount Pleasant on the British Falklands Islands is so important to the defense of the small South Atlantic Dependency. As such it is an amazingly economical aircraft carrier substitute, with a mere 4 air defense fighters and the potential for many more in a crisis. Andrew Oh-Wilekke, the Washington Park Prophet, would like to see the US build a similar type airbase somewhere in the Gulf, but on a grander scale, to take the place of its shrinking numbers of enormously expensive Big Decks:

There is a very good chance that the U.S. could now secure a permanent Air Force base in the region similar to those in Aviano, Italy or Okinawa, Japan, and will have something like 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future in any case. In the past, this might have been seen as a threat to Iraq or other Arab states. Now, it would be seen merely as a precaution against Iranian military action that would disrupt the oil trade in the Persian Gulf.

It wouldn’t take a very large Air Force base to have superior capabilities to an aircraft carrier, and this kind of base could also be home to the Navy’s land based P-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft. Some smaller U.S. Navy ships might still remain in the Persian Gulf, but freed of force protection for an aircraft carrier as a primary mission, far fewer navy surface ships would be required.

Concerning the last statement, the British still see the need to send ships to the Gulf, for patrol missions since aircraft can’t do presence, search-and-rescue, boarding, etc. But he’s right about the lessened need for aircraft carriers.

I understand the vulnerability of land bases, especially in this missile age, to surprise attacks, but airbases are still very durable and effective. They survived during extreme wartime conditions, from the Battle of Britain, to Malta. The German home airbases kept up a fight against the Allies until they were overrun by ground troops. The tiny airfield at Stanley in the Falklands continued to operate throughout the 1982 War, despite heavy attacks by the Navy and RAF, including by long-range Vulcan strategic bombers.

Airbases are extremely durable and economical, in contrast to aircraft carriers which are getting harder to build and afford, and also seem to distract from other important functions of seapower such as anti-submarine, anti-mine, and littoral warfare. Andrew points out that :

Each aircraft carrier group and associated fleet costs something on the order of $30-40 billion to buy before considering the cost of aircraft, and more each year to maintain. So, reducing the number of aircraft carriers the U.S. needs greatly reduces the procurement burden on the U.S. military, and does so even more in the short term as we shrink that fleet simply by not fully replacing it.

The Navy admirals take advantage of the rare occasions in which no airbases are available in initial emergencies, such as Korea or Afghanistan, to populate its fleet with numerous expensive to build and maintain platforms. I still think we need aircraft carriers, but only on rare occasions, certainly no more than half of what we have since no other nation has anything to match one of our ships. Plus, considering the threats against them, they should be used sparingly.


23 Comments leave one →
  1. August 9, 2010 10:08 pm

    All you guys talking… It makes me frightened, it makes my hear stand. do you think, it possible to have World War 3?

  2. michael permalink
    April 10, 2010 8:04 am

    Mike Burleson/Tangosix.
    Having just read your headline article I feel I must apologise to you for involving you in something which appears to have got completely out of hand.
    In which case the only decent thing to do is to also apologise to Tangosix and fully retract my remark. Which I now do.

  3. April 9, 2010 5:30 pm

    Hello Mike Burleson,

    I tried to find a way of contacting you directly about this but could not find one so I contacted WordPress directly.

    I have no problem at all with people arguing points or even hurling the odd insult,but allegations of plagiarism are a serious matter.

    The laws on such things are very clear in the United Kingdom which is why I am hoping michael is resident there.

    However,I will give him one last chance to retract that allegation.


  4. michael permalink
    April 9, 2010 5:23 pm

    tango six.
    You are free to guess whatever you wish,are you suggesting that as a UK citizen litigation is possibly more of a grey area than in the U.S.
    Read what I said and try again,then get off your high horse post some original thoughts and I may forgive you.
    If you have any thoughts on taking this further be carefull how you gather your information,there are laws concerning this.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 9, 2010 5:16 pm

    Easy fellows. Nothing personal here. We’re just talking. I too appreciate everyone’s thoughts, whether I agree with them or not. Some of my best posts comes from being challenged.

    Thanks again for your interest in the blog and for keeping it civil. All are welcome.

  6. April 9, 2010 3:58 pm

    Hello michael,

    I am very familiar with the content I have posted here and even more so with who wrote them.
    Am I correct in guessing you are in the United Kingdom?


  7. michael permalink
    April 9, 2010 3:46 pm

    tango six.
    Yes it is a serious allegation,and no I will not withdraw it.
    Take a look at your recent and previous posts before you start making threatening remarks,you may find it enlightening.

  8. April 9, 2010 3:19 pm

    Hello michael,

    plagiarism is a very serious alegation.
    I challege to back that comment up or withdraw it.


  9. michael permalink
    April 9, 2010 3:11 pm

    Tango six.
    Whilst I do not agree with Mike’s convictions on such thing as land based air power,and small is better in warships I have to admitt that his arguments and commitment to them are refreshingly original.
    Your use of ‘cut and paste’ and the use of other websites for putting forward your arguments is not.
    Some time ago a contributer on this website said that he thought you ‘liked to research’ your articles, myself I would call it plagiarism.
    Your use of figures and statistics is dry and boring and does not take into account the ‘human factor’ however fallible that may be.
    I shall now be hypocritical by quoting a great American novelist who’s famous quote was:-
    ‘Lies,Damned Lies,and Statistics’.

  10. B.Smitty permalink
    April 9, 2010 9:55 am

    Mike said, “As the number of available aircraft carriers shrink, so will our reliance on airbases increase.</i"

    And that is a problem. There are only a handful of overseas bases that we can implicitly rely on (e.g. Guam, Diego Garcia). The rest are subject to the whims of a perhaps not so agreeable host nation. And as others have said, land bases aren't exactly cheap.

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

    Tangosix. concerning airbase economy versus the aircraft carrier, since ground bases have always been with us, I don’t think the carrier will make them obsolete. A carrier is certainly nice to have, but not always essential for every function, or available at all times. Considering their cost and complication, we may never have enough available for every function, so airbases are all the more vital. General Kenney in WW 2 at the Battle of Bismarck Sea proved you didn’t need carriers to deploy naval airpower, and the Prince of Wales and Repulse was sunk by land-based airpower.

    Numerous times in recent years there has been no carrier available for Gulf operations, even as major combat has been ongoing in 2 countries, while the threats from Iran seem ever with us.

    As the number of available aircraft carriers shrink, so will our reliance on airbases increase.

  12. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 8, 2010 8:09 pm

    Albert wrote “Don’t forget RAF Gibraltar”

    I did forget, thanks for the reminder!

  13. Albert Yome permalink
    April 8, 2010 4:10 pm

    Don’t forget RAF Gibraltar, another unsinkable aircraft carrier 10mins drive from a naval base with commercial dry docks nearby as well. Used sparingly now but can take the recently retired Nimrod, Tornado, Typhoon, Harrier and last year we even had a NATO AWACS conducting touch and go landings. We also host visiting RN and USN SSNs and other surface vessels. SF also use C130s to do wet drops into the Bay of Gibraltar, where they are picked up by RN RHIBs and quickly taken to the airfield to be picked up and dropped again. Chinooks and Pumas also collect Royal Gibraltar Regiment (1RG) troops and deliver them to Morocco for joint exercises with that country’s paratroopers.

  14. April 8, 2010 3:47 pm

    The only thing heavy about the RAF attacks on Stanley airfield was the use of fuel.

  15. April 8, 2010 1:06 pm


    that last post may not make too much sense in places as two of the three comments I have just posted are “awaiting moderation.”.
    Hopefully our gracious host can sort that out.


  16. April 8, 2010 12:59 pm


    now,with that posted for reference,back to the topic at hand.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Several times I pointed out how the airbase of Mount Pleasant on the British Falklands Islands is so important to the defense of the small South Atlantic Dependency. As such it is an amazingly economical aircraft carrier substitute, with a mere 4 air defense fighters and the potential for many more in a crisis.Andrew Oh-Wilekke, the Washington Park Prophet, would like to see the US build a similar type airbase somewhere in the Gulf, but on a grander scale, to take the place of its shrinking numbers of enormously expensive Big Decks:”

    There are two problems with the idea of the Falklands garrison being an economical carrier substitute.
    Firstly,the Falklands garrison costs far more than an aircraft carrier.
    Secondly,the small force based there is incapable of defending the Falkland Islands even for the few days it would take for reinforcements to arrive.

    The United States already has a massive network of airbases in the Centcom area.
    The development of bases like Prince Sultan Air Base and Al Udeid has cost thousands of millions of dollars:

    As they were located too far away from the combat areas (see my earlier post) these fixed bases restricted aircraft to low sortie rates during combat and imposed a need for massive in-flight refueling.
    The cost of the additional aircraft needed to make up for this tyranny of distance exceeds by many times the cost of maintaining a carrier fleet (for British forces at least,I have never worked the numbers for American forces).
    In addition,the land base has higher force protection costs,higher logistics costs and a need for extensive and expensive engineering support.
    The land base is also far more vulnerable to attack both by irregular forces with mortars and mines and by national forces with ballistic missiles.
    Most unfortunately,host nations can refuse to allow bases in their country to be used,which is why the United States built a new Combined Air Operations Centre at Al Udeid,shortly after the Saudis refused to allow them to use the new Combined Air Operations Centre they had just built at great expense at Prince Sultan air base.
    That is why American forces moved out of Saudi Arabia.

    In every major air war the United Kingdom has been involved in in the 65 years since 1945,aircraft carriers have been the cheapest,and often the only,way to apply air power.
    Air power is inversely proportional to the range at which it is applied.
    The cost of air power increases exponentially as the range at which it is applied increases.

    The cost of a British carrier group of two frigates,two destroyers,one carrier and one replenishment vessel is about $7,500 Million.
    Less than the cost of a single American Ford class carrier.

    Since 1945,dozens of air bases have been damaged,destroyed or overrun.
    Including many used by United States forces.
    Even the Taliban have succesfully destroyed British Harriers on the ground in Afghanistan.
    Over the same time period,not one aircraft carrier has even been damaged by enemy fire.
    Land bases are inherently more vulnerable to attack than aircraft carriers,which is why they cost more to protect.
    In 1954,the French lost 15,000 men trying to defend the airbase at Dien Bien Phu for example.
    American forces had similar problems in both Korea and Vietnam.


  17. April 8, 2010 12:46 pm

    In another 50 years who will care about the Middle East? As their is oil is used up, the ice caps melt offering a route across the pole, and indeed the growing importance of the sea bed.

    DG importance is more that it sits between China and Africa.

  18. April 8, 2010 12:14 pm


    those links have not worked in that cut and paste so I will put the maps here,in order:








    Some of the other links are now dead.


  19. April 8, 2010 11:59 am


    before I go any further,I will cut and paste something I posted elsewhere some time ago but which seems relevant to this discussion:

    tangosix said:

    “our fast jet needs can be divided into those aircraft required for sustained long term commitments and those needed to surge airpower for major war fighting operations.

    Sustained commitments includes 48 frontline aircraft for United Kingdom air defence,8 aircraft for Afghanistan and 4 aircraft defending the Falklands.
    That is a total of 60 frontline aircraft.
    Typically (it varies over time),for every 4 frontline aircraft the Royal Air Force has one aircraft in an Operational Conversion Unit (O.C.U.) and 2 aircraft in the depth fleet.
    Thus to field 60 frontline aircraft we would require approximately 105 aircraft.
    The current fast jet fleet is 330 aircraft.

    The other 225 aircraft then are required to surge air power for major war fighting operations.
    Since 1945 the only major air wars we have been involved have been Korea,Suez,Falklands,Kuwait,Kosovo,Afghanistan and Iraq.
    In every case carrier based aviation was either the only option or the most cost effective option.

    In Korea,all our tactical air power was provided by the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm,our carriers generated up to 4 sorties per aircraft per day.
    The Royal Air Force deployed only a handful of spotter planes and flying boats.
    Other nation’s air forces either flew from bases in Japan or from bases in Korea,many of which were overrun by the enemy on numerous occasions.
    Compare these maps,the first show air bases in Korea,the second shows the enemy advances and the third show the locations aircraft carriers and the Royal Air Force flying boats:…asesJB.jpg…WarMap.jpg…an+War.jpg

    After Korea,there was the Suez crisis,the Fleet air Arm operated alongside their Royal Air Force counterparts.
    However,the carrier based aircraft generated twice as many sorties per aircraft per day as the land based aircraft.
    They were also able to spend longer in the operational area which is important in both air to air and air to ground operations.
    The reasons for this are that the carriers were only about 55 miles off the egyptian coast while our land based aircraft operated from Cyprus (250 miles away) and Malta (over 1,000 miles away).
    This map shows the air base locations:…s+1956.jpg

    The next major air war after Suez was the Falklands.
    Just like their predecessors in Korea,the Fleet Air Arm’s Sea Harrier pilots flew up to 4 sorties per aircraft per day.
    Carrier based harriers and sea harriers flew nearly 1,600 sorties in total during that six week air war operating from about 100 miles East of the islands.
    Land based Vulcan bombers flying 8,000 mile round trips from Ascension Island completed just 5 successful sorties in six weeks,and those requird massive support from tankers and maritime patrol aircraft.
    Again a map explains why:…ds+War.jpg

    The next major air war after the Falklands was the Liberation of Kuwait,Operation Granby in 1991.
    Despite operating from bases in the country next door,the Royal Air Force fast jets generated far lower sortie rates than the American carriers in the northern Gulf.
    158 land based aircraft of the Royal Air Force flew 6,000 sorties.
    A rate of 0.9 sorties per aircraft per day during the 43 day air war.
    See here:…5D6B4.pdf.

    During the same conflict the American aircraft carriers in the Gulf were U.S.S.Midway,U.S.S.Ranger and U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt.
    See here:…01/a5.htm.

    U.S.S.Midway,with 56 aircraft aboard,flew 3,019 sorties.
    A rate of 1.25 sorties per aircraft per day over 43 days or 1.59 sorties per aircraft per day over her 34 operational days.

    U.S.S.Ranger,with 62 aircraft aboard,flew 3,329 sorties.
    A rate of 1.25 sorties per aircraft per day over 43 days or 1.59 sorties per aircraft per day over her 38 operational days.

    U.S.S.Theodore Roosevelt,with 78 aircraft aboard,flew 4,149 sorties.
    A rate of 1.24 sorties per aircraft per day over 43 days or 1.36 sorties per aircraft per day over her 39 operational days.

    This map shows the location of bases used by Royal Air Force Tornados,Buccaneers and Jaguars and the location of American carriers in the Gulf:…+Bases.jpg

    During the 78 day bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999 (Operation Allied Force/Noble Anvil),41 land based aircraft of the Royal Air Force flew 1,516 sorties.
    A rate of 0.47 sorties per aircraft per day.
    See here:


    During the same conflict the American aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt,with 71 aircraft aboard,flew 4,270 sorties in 55 days (she then sailed to The Gulf and flew another 2,600 sorties over Iraq).
    A rate of 1.09 sorties per aircraft per day.
    See here:

    and here:…ntent;col1

    Royal Air Force Tornados flew from Bruggen in Germany,900 miles from central Kosovo,with massive tanker support.
    A Tornado squadron deployed to Solenzara but only managesd to comlete a single mission before the end of the 78 day campaign.
    Harriers flew from Gioia Dell Colle,see map:…+Force.jpg

    The United Kingdom played only a minor part in the 2001 air war over Afghanistan.
    Some sources suggest the Royal Air force flew just 10 sorties per day and none of those were by combat aircraft.
    However,the Americans deployed both land and carrier based combat aircraft (French and Italian carrier based aircraft also took part) so let’s compare those.
    F18s on the carriers in the Arabian sea were flying 1 sortie per aircraft per day.
    Land based F15s flying from Kuwait flew just 1 sortie every 4 days,0.25 sorties per aircraft per day.
    Land based strategic bombers (B1 and B52) flying from Diego Garcia flew 1 sortie every 2 days,0.5 sorties per aircraft per day.
    It is a 1,300 mile round trip to Kabul for an F18 flying from a carrier in the Arabian Sea.
    The same mission was 3,000 miles long for an F15 flying from Kuwait and 5,000 miles long for a B52 flying from Diego Garcia.
    The land based aircraft needed considerably more tanker support as this map demonstrates:…tpaths.jpg

    During the 30 day invasion of Iraq in 2003 (Operation Telic/Iraqi Freedom),113 land based aircraft of the Royal Air Force flew 2,481 sorties.
    A rate of 0.73 sorties per aircraft per day.
    See here:…pr2003.pdf

    During the same conflict the American aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kitty Hawk,with 70 aircraft aboard,flew 3,000 sorties in 28 days.
    A rate of 1.53 sorties per aircraft per day.
    See here:…ry_id=7283

    This map shows the location of air bases used by the Royal Air Force,one bomber wing was based well forward in Kuwait,the second bomber wing was 300 miles from Iraq at Al Udeid while Tornado Fighters were based at Prince Sultan:…c+2003.jpg

    Iraq was our last major air war,since then we have conducted only low level sustained fast jet operations.
    For example,today we have 8 Tornados in Afghanistan flying just 6 sorties per day between them.

    It is noteweorthy that we deployed just 66 fast jets for the invasion of Iraq.
    If we add aircraft needed for O.C.U.s and the depth fleet to that number we get approximately 115 aircraft.
    Adding that to the 105 aircraft required to meet our long term sustained commitments gives a total of 220 fast jets.
    Our current fast jet fleet is 330 aircraft.

    If we compare the 0.73 sorties per aircraft per day flown by the Royal Air Force with the 1.53 sorties per aircraft per day flown by the American aircraft carrier U.S.S.Kittyhawk it is clear that the carrier can generate the same number of sorties with half the number of aircraft.
    The Queen Elizabeth class carriers will clearly allow us to get more expeditionary air power with far fewer aircraft than we operate today.
    As the above maps demonstrate the carriers will also dramatically reduce our demand for aerial refueling.
    Given that a single fast jet squadron costs more per year than an aircraft carrier and the Future Strategic Tanker costs nearly five times as much as an aircraft carrier,the cost savings from carrier aviation are immense.
    Investing those savings in an expansion of the army will rebalance our armed forces to meet the challenges of operations such as Iraq and Afghanistan.”

    tangosix said:

    “I stated £200 Million per year as the cost of the aircraft carriers,not the airgroup,without the carriers we will be operating a larger number of aircraft from land bases.
    The point I was making is that we currently operate 330 fast jets and once we have the aircraft carriers we will require far fewer aircraft and fewer tankers.
    As I stated in my reply to meridian,only a third of our fast jet fleet is required for our sustained commitments.
    The other 225 aircraft are needed for major warfighting operations and carriers allow us to perform those tasks with far fewer aircraft and less tanking support.
    Ideally we would have just one land based wing for sustained commitments and two carrier based wings for major war fighting,that would require about 220 aircraft,110 less than we operate at present.
    However,as we have already bought enough Typhoons for two land based wings,the best way forward is one carrier wing and two land based wings until the earliest Typhoons reach the end of their airframe lives around 2025.
    We currently spend about £3,600 Million a year on 330 fast jets,and (will be spending) £480 Million a year on 14 Future Strategic Tanker aircraft in addition to about £120 Million a year on the Invincible class carriers.
    That is a total of about £4,200 Million a year.
    Replacing that with 220 aircraft,two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and half the number of tanker aircraft would cost about £2,860 Million a year (assuming £11 Million per fast jet per year).
    That is a net saving of approximately £1,340 Million a year,enough to give the army an additional infantry division.
    As the carriers allow us to reduce the size of the fast jet fleet,there is no net cost for the air wing but a net cost saving.”


  20. Chuck Hill permalink
    April 8, 2010 11:41 am

    Is there anything more to this than somebody saying, “Gee, it would be nice to do that.”

    Did he even identify where it should be?

    Maintaining one base is certainly cheaper than an aircraft carrier with the same capacity, but to be where you need them, you need several bases. To be where you need them, a carrier needs a few days.

  21. Reuben permalink
    April 8, 2010 7:53 am

    You’re describing Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar to a tee:

    The US also routinely uses airbases in Bahrain and Kuwait and could probably convince KSA, UAE, and Oman to participate if need be (it has in the past, the US military occupied pretty much every usable Saudi runway in 1991).

    But your real battle will not be convincing CENTCOM that it doesn’t need CVNs, it will be getting around the 6 sitting Senators who currently have Carriers docked in their States.

  22. Matt permalink
    April 8, 2010 7:48 am

    The Navy admirals take advantage of the rare occasions in which no airbases are available in initial emergencies, such as Korea or Afghanistan, to populate its fleet with numerous expensive to build and maintain platforms.


    Mike, policy makers typically talk in terms of likelihood and consequence of events. Yes, the occassions when we need carriers are few and far between; but what are the potential consequences if we don’t have them?

    In the case of Korea it’s pretty straight forward. No carrier means US forces fighting in the Pusan perimeter would’ve been essentially bereft of close air support. And there’s no way we would’ve been able to mount the Inchon landings without carrier air.

    In the case of Afghanistan, no carriers means minimal air support for the special forces and Northern Alliance — not to mention the Marines who went in later. In my mind this means either delaying our attack – letting even more Taliban and AQ leadership escape – or going in anyways and taking greater casualities on the ground.

  23. Marcase permalink
    April 8, 2010 6:30 am

    Except for Bahrain, most Arab states still aborr an overt, permanent (land-based) US presence – see the difficulty with the Saudis in particular when asked for (logistics) support for both Iraq and Afghanistan.

    As long as the Arab public perception/opinion of the US as an imperial ‘infidel’ cannot be changed, I doubt Arab leaders would be willing to allow a massive ‘Okinawa’ on their territory.

    That said, the French pulled it off in the UAE.

    The concept of the mobile sea base has been scuttled, but such a floating, segmented, semi-mobile base would be the best option when ‘home ported’ at Diego Garcia, which in itself isn’t that large.

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