Carrier Alternative Weekly
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.