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Carrier Alternative Weekly

April 15, 2010

The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) comes alongside the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) for a refueling at sea.

Who Killed the Carrier?

Someone in the comments reminded us of the following Proceedings article. More than a justification for the large deck aircraft carrier, it sounded to New Wars like a prescription for obsolescence. The exert is from “It Takes a Carrier: Naval Aviation and the Hybrid Fight” by RADM Terry Kraft:

” 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.”

It is also ironic that historically, a weapon’s system unable to transform itself to contend with modern threats, and certainly modern defense budgets has usually been rendered obsolete by something better, usually cheaper but often considered “less capable”. Necessity being the mother of invention. By the admirals own refusal to consider alternatives, they are contributing to the demise of the large deck carrier, and they are vanishing, 11 and counting, 40 striking planes and shrinking. It has gotten to the point where the Navy has shorn itself of numerous and essential surface combatants, submarines, and amphibious ships, all sacrificed to the altar of naval airpower.

It bears evidence to what Lord Guthrie put so bluntly:

One way you won’t get a large fleet is if you have aircraft carriers.

The reformers who have offered alternatives apparently care more for the aircraft carrier than the admirals, since we are trying to salvage the concept in a new era of many threats and austere shipbuilding budgets. Still, I can’t help think of a single stealthy submarine armed with cruise missiles or a surface warship able to do most every function of the carrier, thanks to modern technology. Not as capable perhaps, but what vessel will ever be and do we need such capability packed into only a handful of $25-$30 billion carrier strike groups, or should it be spread among the fleet and around the world?

When Admiral Knight’s post appeared in 2009, New Wars had this to say in the weekly Carrier Alternative post:

It Takes  a Navy

My title is a hit on a recent US Naval Institute article titled “It Takes a Carrier“. While I do agree about the continued importance of naval airpower in modern war, I am against the notion you must do without essential fleet escorts, surface combatants, in order to deploy fixed wing air…

Again let me say, naval airpower is extremely important, else why would I be writing a post about “alternatives”?  We continue to require some type of airpower at sea, I only say the way we deploy manned air today is over-burdensome and unnecessary. It is the admirals’ fault for trying to refight old wars, and I mean World War 2 with an over-dependence, perhaps even an overconfidence in fixed wing carriers, that these can replace hulls in the water.

*****

It’s a Ripple Effect

The Big E, USS Enterprise is set to rejoin the fleet after a 2-year overhaul, which involved a 7 month delay and $140 million in cost overruns to keep the 50 year old giant in service a  little longer. Lance M. Bacon at Navy Times reveals the ripple effect this one carrier has on the entire fleet of flattops:

Because of the delay, Nimitz, which deployed from San Diego on July 31, saw its cruise stretched to eight months. The Dwight D. Eisenhower group, having deployed for five months in 2009, deployed again to the Middle East in January. The Harry S. Truman, which was fully qualified and ready to deploy in October, will instead deploy in April. It will conduct its second eight-month deployment in as many years.

Thats 4 carriers affected, with over 20,000 crewmen and families involved. Not counting the escort vessels involved and their crew. Imagine this being wartime. What would the loss in combat of a single 100,000 ton flattop do to the entire fleet?

*****

Gorshkov-From Farce to Scandal

The ongoing soap opera that is the Gorshkov carrier deal between Russia and India, just became a sleezfest. Story from the Press Trust:

A senior naval official associated with the project for acquisition of aircraft carrier ‘Admiral Gorshkov’ in Russia has come under the scanner after some “objectionable” photographs involving him and a Russian woman were received here.

“Navy has received information about a senior naval officer (Commodore Sukhjinder Singh) who has been involved in an act of loose moral conduct. The navy has instituted an inquiry to establish whether this had any influence on the performance of his official duties,” Navy spokesperson said.

Goes to show you the lengths some will go to keep multi-billion dollar warships deals, especially the troubled programs. Strategypage reveals the corruption is not limited to one official:

Other Indian naval officers have already admitted that they were partially to blame for the Gorshkov fiasco. They admit that, when they signed the deal in 2004, Indian engineers had not closely inspected the Gorshkov, and agreed, after a cursory inspection, that many electrical and mechanical components, buried within the ship’s hull, were serviceable. It turned out that many of those components were not good-to-go, and had to be replaced, at great expense. Shortly after the contract was signed, the Russians discovered that the shipyard had misplaced the blueprints for the Gorshkov, and things went downhill from there. Now there is growing suspicion, and some evidence, that this procurement disaster was helped along by some well placed bribes.

*****

How to Sink a Navy

Votes are also an enormous incentive to keep giant warship programs in production, out of all reasons in terms of cost and advances in warfare. Stewart Paterson at the Evening Times writes:

Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave a series of pledges on jobs, wages and the economy at the UK launch, while Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy dismissed suggestions that the carriers, employing hundreds at the Clyde shipyards, could be abandoned under a defence review.
He said: “We are giving a guarantee they will be built and completed by 2018.
“It is necessary to have the carriers. They are there because it is about the role of the UK in the world. It is crucial that the UK can project influence and power in a time of danger. We are absolutely committed to the carriers.”
Mr Murphy and Mr Gray launched the Scottish manifesto at Motherwell College on the old Ravenscraig site, at the same time as the UK version was issued by the Prime Minister south of the border.
Speaking at a hospital in Birmingham, Gordon Brown said Labour faced the “fight of their lives” to stay in office.

It is amazing that a single administration in just a few years has done what the Spanish, Dutch, French, and Germans failed to do in 5 centuries, bring down one of the great arbiters of world peace and prosperity, the Royal Navy.

*****

The Future Like the Past

John Arquilla in his book “Worst Enemy” ponders why the 70 year-old aircraft carrier concept remains virtually the same in an era of rapid change:

The ship of the line’s longevity stemmed from the lack of advances in naval architecture, propulsion, and armament. The carrier exists in an era of near-constant technological change in each of these areas, a time when there is a profusion of new types of vessels, missiles, mines, torpedoes, and aircraft. It simply beggars the imagination to believe that carriers can survive such a broad scope and rapid pace of change when all preceding capital ships in the industrial era have been superseded with such regularity. But it seems that, at the highest levels of naval leadership, sufficient imagination can envision a future in which the flattop remains the hallmark of U.S. maritime strength.

Here’s a prediction-In the very near future large deck aircraft carriers will be mostly useless in a war dominated by light but lethal projectiles, as we have been warned by defense analyst Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., among others. They will be superseded in future war since their survivablity is in question, but also more practical low cost missile firing ships, and long range UAVs will negate the requirement of giant floating bases, “4.5 acres of sovereign territory” for launching airpower from the sea.

*****

42 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    April 18, 2010 8:29 am

    Mike wrote “Imagine this wartime…”

    Where have you been the past eight years?

  2. April 16, 2010 6:26 pm

    The Anonymous below is from me, X.

    Sorry………

  3. Anonymous permalink
    April 16, 2010 6:25 pm

    Chockblock said “Of course defense analysts hate carriers. Most of the world hates them because the US has them and they don’t.”

    This reminds me of my security studies lecturer who basically inferred that by policing the supply of MANPADs rigorously that the West (read the US) was being somehow, shall we say, underhanded.

    Reading the rest of your comment reminds me of my own thoughts towards those who would do us, here in the UK, out of our splendid Trident submarines. Why shouldn’t we have them? If you want a nuclear submarine of your own, build one………..

  4. Matt permalink
    April 16, 2010 3:38 pm

    The anonymous post below was from me — forgot to put my name on it.

  5. Anonymous permalink
    April 16, 2010 3:36 pm

    Mike,

    Two-way satellite communications is the key assumption and obviously the critical fault in the TLAM system. Strategist such as Dr. Krepinevich and Michelle Flournoy have regularly stated that a near-peer adversary such as China would likely degrade or deny us that capability.

    http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/story.asp?STORY_ID=1950

    But for arguments sakes, let’s assume an environment where you did have satellite communications — say Iraq or Afghanistan. I’m still struggling with the CONOPS to use it as substitute for manned carrier aircraft in the missions I outlined. For example:

    1. How would TLAM be used to support convoy movement over roads in say Kandahar province When I was there, F/A-18s were orbiting overhead constantly so that if troops did make contact, they’d have on-call air support in minutes Having to call for a TLAM strike from a warship laying off Pakistan (700 miles away) would take a long time — would you just keep TLAMs loitering overhead constantly? Seems enormously wasteful.

    2. How would TLAMs be used to provide overland ISR? During the opening phases of OIF, they’d send F/A-18s to go scout the desert for Scuds with no clear idea of where the target. But because the controllers could not always guarantee targets that could be positively identified and attacked without risking collateral damage, an awful lot of those F/A-18s brought their bombs back. Having to expend a TLAM on a scout mission seems like a pretty wasteful as well. Plus, there’s the obvious concern of where the TLAM might fall.

    Mike, there are definite capabilities that naval aviation gives us, and using TLAM as a substitute just doesn’t pass the giggle test.

    No offense intended, but your concepts strike me as eerily similar to how Rumsfeld sold the revolution in military affairs (RMA): throw in some technological buzzwords, capitalize a few nouns for emphasis, and repeat ad nauseum. I think we all know where that got us.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 16, 2010 2:17 pm

    “little collateral ship ”

    Good one!

  7. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 16, 2010 2:15 pm

    Matt, your info on the Tomahawk is a little outdated:

    Tomahawk Block IV employs a two-way satellite data link that enables a strike controller to flex the missile in flight to preprogrammed alternate targets or redirect it to a new target. This targeting flexibility includes the capability to loiter over the battlefield and await a more critical target.

    With the impending use of UAVs at sea we will finally have in possession a “reusable cruise missile” that doesn’t require large decks to launch from. We very nearly have that now with the Tactical Tomahawk.

  8. sig permalink
    April 16, 2010 1:33 pm

    that little collateral ship is one expensive boat bumper

  9. Matt permalink
    April 16, 2010 11:37 am

    3. Cruise missile firing warships-Wait! We have those already! Taking into account the practicality of launching and deploying guided missiles at sea compared to the deploying of manned naval airpower, the cost effectiveness of TLAM ship blows the traditional carrier out of the water….

    ****

    TLAM warships are great. As long as you know exactly where the target is. And it does you the courtesy of not moving. And all you care about is blowing it up. And you’re willing to expend a $500K missile to do so. And your magazine of 50-60 missiles doesn’t run dry.

    But exactly how much capability does a TLAM-firing warship have in providing on-call close air support (CAS) to troops? Roving armed ISR? Overwatch of road convoys? How about providing a non-kinteic visible deterrent – i.e. jet noise -sometimes enough to deter bad guys in Iraq?

    All of these are missions that carrier aircraft are performing in today’s wars.

    Delivering ‘warheads on foreheads’ is only the end-result (and quite frankly simplest part) of what carrier air brings to the fight. One really needs to look at contributions across the entire kill-chain to see that there is just no comparison between a TLAM and carrier air.

  10. Matt permalink
    April 16, 2010 9:12 am

    Mike wrote: I have to go with Distiller on this one…

    ****

    1. Yes, the Navy kept building large carriers. These carriers eventually deployed F-4 Phantoms and A-6 Intruders which were used extensively in Vietnam and the Cold War.

    The point is that these aircraft types weren’t even on the drawing board when the supercarrier was first conceived. If we had gone to a light carrier force (and we did have some of those) we wouldn’t have been able to deploy them.

    2. I would once again add that you keep throwing out the term “naval UAVs” as if there is just one type or that they are all the same. They aren’t.

    An X-47B UCAV has essentially the same wingspan as a Super Hornet, and would not be able to be operated off a V/STOL carrier. A Fire Scout would — but the capabilities aren’t anywhere near comparable.

    UAVs are not some technological panacea! They have to abide by the same rules that govern manned flight. If you want capabilities such as range, persistence, and payload, you need a bigger and heavier airframe. A bigger and heavier airframe requires a longer runway, and more space to perform maintenance.

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 16, 2010 8:27 am

    I have to go with Distiller on this one. The Navy built the Forestall class in order to launch heavy nuclear bombers in competition with the USAF. They were seriously worried about funding allocations in those days, as today. I disagree with the strategy because almost immediately this requirement was negated by the building of Polaris missiles launched from nuclear submarines. Yet, the Navy kept building the bomber-capable supercarriers.

    Bringing us today. If the Navy would build an aircraft carrier from scratch, it would probably go like this:

    1. Light carrier 35,000 to 45,000 tons-Considering the advanced abilities of modern precision bombers, and the very few such high performance jets the military can afford these days.
    2. V/STOL carrier 10,000 to 20,000 tons-Again considering the amazing abilities of these unique aircraft, and their pricetag too. A little goes a long way. These are adequate for naval UAVs as well, as they become available.
    3. Cruise missile firing warships-Wait! We have those already! Taking into account the practicality of launching and deploying guided missiles at sea compared to the deploying of manned naval airpower, the cost effectiveness of TLAM ship blows the traditional carrier out of the water. The cruise missile probably matches the jets surface attack abilities, and it also possess an extraordinary land attack role, further breaking into the domain of the power projecting flattop.

  12. Matt permalink
    April 16, 2010 7:51 am

    Distiller wrote: The super carriers are not God-given. They are a result of the heavy nuclear attack requirement of times past (A3D vs SHornet: -30% empty weight, half the footprint).

    *****

    Don’t forget that in the not too distant past CVWs contained A-6 and F-14 with max takeoff weights of 60K lbs and 74K lbs respectively — fairly close to the 82K of the A3D.

    If I recall correctly, A-6 carried approximately twice the bombload of the A-4 — which really mattered back in the days of non-precision munition. And Tomact + Phoenix was the critical piec in fleed air defense. Both aircraft played a key role in the airwing and for the Navy, and would’ve been next to impossible to operate from light carriers.

    My point is that to portray the supercarrier as an artifact of the 1950s is a bit misleading. The A3D Whale was the genesis of the concept, but other capabilities also set the bar.

  13. Distiller permalink
    April 16, 2010 5:14 am

    The super carriers are not God-given. They are a result of the heavy nuclear attack requirement of times past (A3D vs SHornet: -30% empty weight, half the footprint). The Navy never graded down from the Caddy to the Chevy after ending carrier SIOPs. And they are peace-time optimized. For flexibility and survivability on a fleet level more but smaller carriers would be better. But also more expensive, especially because of the increased requirements for escorts. The Navy is caught anyway. Even if they’d decide to change today, it would take a generation before it’s done.

  14. April 15, 2010 10:32 pm

    Question to all.

    How many fighters would the Navy have been able to afford if they retired the Enterprise instead of refurbish her?

  15. April 15, 2010 9:44 pm

    The 4.5 acres of flight deck are controlled by the US, in a world that loves for us to come to their rescue, but hates actual Americans being around.

    Drones: need secure commo and are too light to pack the punch to hurt big nations like China and India.

    Close air support? Need a pilot. Strike? Need pilots and air bases?

    The world is mostly ocean. Carriers dominate the open ocean and by extension most of the globe.

    Of course defense analysts hate carriers. Most of the world hates them because the US has them and they don’t.

    And remembers, carriers are nasty because they are PART of a carrier battle group. Missile boats need carriers as much as the carriers need AEGIS and other missile boats.

    Frigate Navies are for Tonga and Fiji.

  16. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 15, 2010 8:23 pm

    Consider for a moment the apparent cost effectiveness of the carrier and how this has worked historically in practical terms. Over the years the Royal Navy has been able to maintain 3 carriers only by keeping 1 in reserve, two continually operating. Even these savings were not enough to prevent the mass retirement of the dedicated naval jets, the Sea Harriers, now replaced by RAF Harriers. A good plane but not quite so good as its predecessor. Furthermore, in order to afford the carrier replacements, the 2 Queen Elizabeth supercarriers, only one will likely be in full service at a time due to reductions in the JSF purchase order.

    The argument might be the Royal Navy is underfunded. What about the best funded and supreme practitioner of carrier warfare in history, the US Navy? Surely the world’s greatest fleet is not suffering from the affordability issues of her Atlantic cousin. Except the Americans must also stretch the bounds of ingenuity in order to create a viable carrier fleet, even during a budget bonanza. We noted recently how the carrier airwing has shrunk since the Cold War from over 50 to 40 combat planes. A further “stealth cut” recently occurred, with the Marine squadrons now filling up the 40 jet force, otherwise it would have shrunk to 30 planes on the “Nimitz class light carriers” and future Ford class CVN’s. Someone argued earlier this wasn’t a cut, but the aircraft available to the Marines have certainly shrunk. It is juggling resources in order to create an appearance.

    The oft used “large carrier is more cost-effective” mantra used to justify multi-billion dollar platforms which looks good on a Power Point slide has proven flawed in practice. The reports from the Navy and other experts of fighter gaps, presence deficits, of carrier reductions is a direct consequence of precious funding diverted to large decks, who can no longer deploy adequate airwings to justify its great bulk or expense. However, naval airpower is not obsolete, just our concept on how it is deployed in the face of advancing technology.

  17. B.Smitty permalink
    April 15, 2010 5:49 pm

    William said, “As has been suggested before – Why not have licence built QE2 class CVF’s for the USN as a cheaper alternative?

    I would like to consider re-jiggering the ARG to make room for a real CV instead of the LHD/LHA. Then I might be willing to reduce the CVN count to 8 or fewer.

    We could then independently task the 10 ARG CVs, or group them with CVNs if we want to consolidate escorts.

    Of course reducing the CVN count t0 8 might just drive up the per-ship price and not save anything anyway.

  18. B.Smitty permalink
    April 15, 2010 5:41 pm

    Solomon,

    The number of munitions dropped is just one measure. Bombers can only be at one place at one time. If you only have one aircraft on station and three units in contact in disparate areas, all calling for CAS, then you have a problem.

    Only having 8 total active carriers would not let you surge a force of the level we used during OEF or OIF, or have carriers in reserve, or maintain CVBG presence elsewhere.

  19. April 15, 2010 5:26 pm

    I though the USN said they need 5 carriers to keep 1 at sea?

    Merchantmen bigger than carriers go to sea with a crew of less than 20. Now we all know your average navy ship has other things to do than go from A to B, but what the USN has to ask what is all that crew doing? (I know what the USN think they are doing…….) But if you 20 per aircraft, 200 for ship and 300 extra numbers (for logistics, medical) I can see why more than 1500 sailors are needed.

    And who said fighting AK-47 wielding Third World militia men is the future of war? What about China? India? AK-47 wielding Third World militia men are only a problem because of the prevailing liberal (left leaning) political paradigm. Do you think out 19th century forebears would have our problems if they had access to our modern systems?

  20. April 15, 2010 5:11 pm

    A better look would be to examine the number of munitions dropped by platform. B-1’s and B-2’s contributed the major portion of the aerial firepower in the opening days. The time on station for the B-1 and B-52 was particularly useful. And don’t forget the amount of tanking and lack of endurance found in smaller aircraft. Add to that we didn’t have Reaper UAV’s that are now tasked as combat aircraft with an impressive combat load themselves.

    Hey guys, I’m not trying to kill the carrier. I am still in awe of them every time I see them…call me a fan boy but they’re technological marvels.

    But the point remains. The bean counters will be coming after our gear. All the services gear. Redundant capabilities (as identified by civilian leadership) will be up for grabs.

    Carriers will be targets of budget cuts whether we like it or not. Whether we name them after presidents or not. The issue remains. Will we be better served in a post Afghanistan world with 11 carriers or 100 visby sized ships?

    Consider me a convert but the manning requirements (did you know that personnel costs are the biggest driver of expenses in the US military?) and the throw weight available in that type platform will be invaluable in the near future.

    Piracy, Counter Insurgency at sea, regional conflicts in confined waters…that’s the future and if a major conventional war erupts then why would 8 carrier battle groups not be sufficient?

  21. Hudson permalink
    April 15, 2010 5:11 pm

    I watched a number of episodes of the 10 part PBS series “Carrier,” about the USS Nimitz Strike Group during a 6 month deployment in 2005. Though the group conducted 410 approaches, 286 queries, and 14 boardings, and flew 1,100 sorties over Iraq, the series provided little in the way of action–mostly post-op interviews with pilots and crew. In this, the series was disappointing.

    However, as I watched, I became increasingly interested in the crew and how the Navy handled daily requests for meeting space by social groups, infractions, disputes among crew members, etc. I was impressed by the skipper’s knowledage of individual crew members among the 6,000 crew and air wing–like the mayor of a not so small American town.

    I came to the conclusion that the Navy was doing a pretty good job of making a very diverse community hang together (the reactor engineers were an elite group), providing education and social skills to some of the less advantaged members of the crew, if you catch my drift. Though that is not the purpose of the Big Decks, it is nonetheless vital to their effectiveness in war.

    So before you send the Big Decks off to the ship breakers, you might consider the role carriers play in civilizing a fair swath of America, over time. It’s one of the last of the Old Boy networks, displaying their better side, teaching skills and values not found everywhere on land.

    The camera crews favored hypnotic, lulling telephoto shots of crew standing on the rolling deck in calm seas, facing the sunset–facing danger out there, but also peace.

  22. B.Smitty permalink
    April 15, 2010 4:46 pm

    B.Smitty said, “Carriers provided something like 65% of all strike sorties during OIF MCOs (the reference escapes me).

    Allow me to retract this statement. The percentage of carrier strike sorties was significant in OIF, but it may not have been the majority.

  23. B.Smitty permalink
    April 15, 2010 4:35 pm

    Solomon,

    B-1s and B-52s WERE used in OIF and OEF, but they couldn’t provide the number of sorties required. Flying once every other day doesn’t help.

    Six carrier battle groups participated in major combat ops in OEF. 72% of all combat sorties came off of a carrier deck. Only 701 bomber sorties were flown, compared to 4,900 carrier strike sorties (through Dec ’01).

    Take a look at this RAND product: American Carrier Air Power at the Dawn of a New Century.

    Carriers provided something like 65% of all strike sorties during OIF MCOs (the reference escapes me).

    Bombers provided the bulk of the tonnage in both conflicts but carrier air provided most of the sorties.

  24. Matt permalink
    April 15, 2010 4:31 pm

    OIF/OEF?

    Not really good enough. For the Afghanistan invasion, B-1 bombers which really have been underutilized could have carried the day with a much smaller logistical tail.

    ****

    USAF bombers were under-utilized because there weren’t forward bases close enough to support them. B-1s ended up flying out of Diego Garcia, which is 2,500 nm one way to Afghanistan. B-2s flew out of Missouri, over 6,000 nm away!

    And don’t forget that both the B-1 and B-2 required a lot of Air Force tanking to operate at those ranges. Tankers are not an insignficant logistical tail.

    It’d be interesting to look at effective time on station (ETOS) for carrier air vs. USAF bombers during OEF in 2001. I’ve got a hunch that bombers spent a much larger proportion of their time commuting to and from the fight. That’s a real problem when troops on the ground need close air support (CAS).

    I want to be clear that I’m not trying to say Navy air is always better than USAF air. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. The fact that a carrier can steam just about anywhere and commence flight ops immediately provides flexibility that is pretty hard for the USAF to match.

  25. April 15, 2010 2:56 pm

    ArkadyRenko mentioned Logistics.

    I know when I have mentioned here my preference for big hulls one of the reasons I often give is logistics. (Bigger bunkers giving greater endurance etc. ) How many extra oilers would more small conventional carriers need? Lots!!! All that would need to be protected, manned, built etc. etc. etc. So yes I think we need to discuss logistics here more often.

    I still the QE2 class are expensive. If the electronics/weapons suite of Daring costs £300million and a modern container ship costs £300 million you still have £400million pounds change of the magic billion pounds. £400 million would buy you more a lot of air craft lifts, additional fire fighting capability, and some very good accommodation. None of these systems would have to be “bent” into shape to fit a bespoke hull….

  26. Matt permalink
    April 15, 2010 1:55 pm

    Mike wrote –
    $14 billion for CVN-78 USS Ford = cost effective (which is roughly the entire shipbuilding budget)? I stand by my statement.

    ****

    No one’s arguing that CVNs are inexpensive. The question is, if we want to maintain or duplicate the capability that CVNs provide, are there more cost-effective ways to do so?

    My contention is probably not – at least not with small carriers.

  27. April 15, 2010 1:53 pm

    OIF/OEF?

    Not really good enough. For the Afghanistan invasion, B-1 bombers which really have been underutilized could have carried the day with a much smaller logistical tail.

    For the invasion of Iraq, land based aircraft were predominate.

    The point is this. The conversation is unpleasant because it will require a re-thinking of long held beliefs. But. If you believe like I do that our current amount of debt is not only unsustainable but also a direct threat to our national security then you have to start expecting cuts in defense.

    I think the Carriers are prime targets.

    I think that the USMC’s end strength of 202,000 is far too large for the future. I can see a reversion to 175,00 maybe as low as 165,000 if the debt crisis is as dire as some indicate.

    But to sum it all up, cuts are coming whether we like it or not. If we’re smart we’ll choose instead of letting the politicians do it.

  28. B.Smitty permalink
    April 15, 2010 1:42 pm

    Solomon,

    I think the Navy can sum up the case for carriers with two acronyms: OIF and OEF.

  29. April 15, 2010 1:29 pm

    Wow.

    The conversation about aircraft carriers will have to be had one day.

    With the USS America coming online, one of these Senators is going to take a look at foreign navies and ask why do we have 6 LHD’s that are the size of other nations aircraft carriers…that can only carry F-35’s and helicopters…and another 11 huge aircraft carriers.

    When that question is asked what do you think the response will be?

    Do you think that the same Senator won’t get word that those huge amphibs although not as effective can be used for more roles?

    Do you think that someone will point out that 11 aircraft carriers are equal to the air forces of Australia, Japan, S. Korea and Singapore combined?

    My point is this. Cuts are coming and unless we get better justification for why we have the number of carriers that we currently have then the question of who killed the aircraft carrier will be clear.

    The US Navy.

    Because they did not properly plan for the time period following sustained combat operations in Afghanistan/Iraq.

  30. ArkadyRenko permalink
    April 15, 2010 12:56 pm

    I find it a bit amusing, Mike, that you dismiss his comments so easily.

    He is talking about serious issues, flight rates, how many planes can be serviced, held in the air, etc.

    I think this blog could use some discussion about Logistics. What the super carrier has going for it is ease of logistics. As the oft repeated line goes “Amateurs study tactics, professionals logistics.” What would be a logical next step for the blog is a discussion of the logistics of small distributed fleets.

    The argument for supercarriers is that they are more capable then the next smallest ship, by a margin that outweighs the cost. I don’t see anywhere a discussion of the relevant issues.

    Sortie rates, repair rates, and airplane capabilities. Instead, its just the inane belief that smart weapons will make numbers irrelevant.

  31. William permalink
    April 15, 2010 11:09 am

    As has been suggested before – Why not have licence built QE2 class CVF’s for the USN as a cheaper alternative?

  32. Guess who? permalink
    April 15, 2010 10:50 am

    Eek those sort of costs make QE2 Class look incredibly cheap…

  33. B.Smitty permalink
    April 15, 2010 10:09 am

    That’s a shame. However how much of that is front loaded on the first or second ship? Maybe the recurring cost of the third ship is significantly lower. If that’s the case, then maybe it will work out in the loooong run. Also, the life cycle costs of the new class will still (hopefully) be significantly lower.

    I wonder what would happen if we went the other way and built one ever three years? Or if there would be any cost savings at all by building a conventional Ford class?

    Sometimes it seems like just about any change we make incurs such a large cost that it negates the perceived benefit of the change.

  34. Scott B. permalink
    April 15, 2010 9:40 am

    B. Smitty said : “$14 billion is for the first Ford class carrier. Subsequent carriers should (hopefully) be less.”

    Sadly, it won’t be the case :

    Gerald R. Ford-class carrier costs jump by $5.4 billion

    “The Navy’s estimated cost to build three Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers rose $5.4 billion, or 15.5 percent, since September 2008, according to a new Defense Department report.

    Built at Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Newport News shipyard, the three carriers now will cost a combined $40.5 billion, up from $35.1 billion in 2008, the report said.”

    And, of course, the best part is this :

    “A majority of the cost increase, about $4.1 billion, is due to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ move to shift carrier production to five-year intervals instead of four, according to the document, called the Selected Acquisition Reports.”

    Penny-wise, pound-foolish…

  35. B.Smitty permalink
    April 15, 2010 9:23 am

    $14 billion is for the first Ford class carrier. Subsequent carriers should (hopefully) be less.

  36. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 15, 2010 9:23 am

    Matt also wrote “Can you give an historic example — perhaps backed by say some data?”

    A great idea for a future post. Thanks!

  37. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 15, 2010 8:57 am

    Matt wrote “Alternatives have been looked at again and again and they aren’t nearly as cost effective as CVN.”

    $14 billion for CVN-78 USS Ford=cost effective (which is roughly the entire shipbuilding budget)? I stand by my statement.

  38. Matt permalink
    April 15, 2010 7:48 am

    It is also ironic that historically, a weapon’s system unable to transform itself to contend with modern threats, and certainly modern defense budgets has usually been rendered obsolete by something better, usually cheaper but often considered “less capable”. Necessity being the mother of invention. By the admirals own refusal to consider alternatives, they are contributing to the demise of the large deck carrier, and they are vanishing, 11 and counting, 40 striking planes and shrinking.

    ****

    I think you’re missing the admiral’s point. Alternatives have been looked at again and again and they aren’t nearly as cost effective as CVN.

  39. Matt permalink
    April 15, 2010 7:46 am

    “It is also ironic that historically, a weapon’s system unable to transform itself to contend with modern threats, and certainly modern defense budgets has usually been rendered obsolete by something better, usually cheaper but often considered “less capable”.

    ****

    Can you give an historic example — perhaps backed by say some data?

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