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Carrier Alternative Weekly

April 29, 2010

Ships from four nations sail in formation during the NATO Southern Region exercise Dragon Hammer '90.

Sea Control Vs. Power Projection Navy

In the 1960s, the British Royal Navy planned to construct two 55,000 ton supercarriers, the CVA-01 class to replace her few remaining war-built large flattops. These very expensive warships were to have been escorted by a large new destroyer and required new aircraft to fly off their spacious decks. After the world-wide financial difficulties of the 1970s (brought on mainly by the Arab oil embargo), it is interesting to see what type of fleet would have emerged had the Labour Government not canceled the new ships. With the plans ongoing for the current fleet of supercarriers, we can’t help but wonder if the CVA-01 would have been another ‘too big to fail” project like the CVF, that would entailed a mass retirement of still-useful hulls in order to pay for. A very different fleet of ships would have sailed to the Falklands in 1982, no doubt.

The primary naval threat of the Cold War was from Russian submarines, not from other aircraft carriers. Out of necessity, because of budget cuts, the British were forced to deploy a mostly ASW fleet centered around destroyers and frigates, with a modest power projection capability in the form of a few V/STOL carriers, the Invincible class. Initially the older HMS Hermes acted in the role of “Harrier carrier”, and was the flagship of the South Atlantic force, also accompanied by two older landings ships Fearless and Intrepid. In an extremely rare instance when the projection fleet was needed in the Falklands, the Brits were successful, though admittedly it was touch and go sometimes.

Now most logic, I would call it American logic, says you need to build forces to fight this type of expeditionary conflict, even though the Falklands was an extremely rare occurrence. It could only happen again if the Brits let down their guard, as we see the current RAF fighters standing watch on Mount Pleasant Airfield. You are then constructing a very expensive, smaller, and more complicated navy for an unlikely scenario, instead of the most likely.

The most likely current and future naval threat still seems to be from the submarine, but more urgently a COIN type conflict is possible, even ongoing, that would entail the purchase of many small and low tech patrol ships, with a few larger command vessels like RFA vessels for support. Logically, this is where the sparse money and resources should be spent.

What if the Royal Navy had deployed a fleet of supercarriers and a handful of destroyers and frigates instead, as is the common presumed lesson of the 1982 Conflict (and as is the ongoing construction priorities today by the British)? This would have deterred the Argentines in the 1980s certainly, but what if the Russians saw the UK’s lack of ASW capabilities and decided to attack? Recall, it was the Soviet submarines that were the major and most likely threat, not the Argentines.

Remember also, the Russians compensated for their own lack of power projection ships for most of this period by designing special carrier-killing submarines. While a handful of  Type 82 destroyers and some frigates would have been adequate to defend 2 supercarriers in 1982, what about the widespread merchant marine, vital for an import dependent Britain? The USN could manage to deploy a fleet of large carriers and escort ships only because she had a bigger fleet (not so much anymore, however). The RN had no such vast resources to construct essentially “two navies” in one, neither does she to this day.

So had the British deployed a smaller, but more capable fleet, heavy on power projection, weak on ASW defenses, they would be overwhelming in one capability, and lacking in the sea control mission. That last is the primary reason for having a Navy. They would not then be able to perform their main mission for weakness in the other.
But a fleet geared for sea control, not power projection can survive the loss of a land battle, as we recall the War with Napoleon, and the Dunkirk evacuation. With command of the sea you live to fight again.

Ironically, it was the Labour defence cuts of the 1960s that saved the Navy, not so much the Falklands of 1982.


Little Benefit Going Nuclear

 Noah Shachtman brings up a good point, and an inconvenient truth about the presumed usefulness of nuclear power in bringing on fuel savings:

It’s also useful to remember that a criticism of the carrier’s nuclear power is that the air wing and battle group still needed to be refueled (esp after demise of nuclear power CGs [cruisers]) and retained the need for the long logistics tails. Makes me think of the scenario of the CVN [aircraft carrier] speeding to the Arabian Sea, only to leave behind the battle group when they needed to refuel.


Aircraft Carriers versus the Swarm

Commenting on our recent series of posts “Can a Speedboat Sink a Carrier?” Pt 1 & Pt 2, J. N. Nielsen points out you don’t have to destroy the carrier to defeat it:

We cannot assume that a swarm will focus on suicide attacks, though we must reckon with the possibility. Similarly, the goal need not be sinking a carrier. In some cases, simply harassing a CSG so that it is somewhat tied down and unable to devote its resources to other matters might be sufficient to the military-political ends of those ordering such a swarming diversion. In a diversion, there would be less motivation for suicide attacks, and one would suppose the that attacker would wish to preserve the lives of his trained and talented forces.

The idea being, that simply sinking a carrier might not be so easy, because then you must face the consequences of “rousing the sleeping giant”. An example of this strategy might be the rather passive piracy struggle ongoing in the Gulf, in which the Somali freebooters perform hardly any killing, seeking rather hostages and loot. It has a significant effect in raising very little disturbance from Western governments so far. Here’s more from J.N.:

How might a nation-state such as Iran employ such a swarm, and how might the Navy and the US respond to it? Would a harassing swarm attack rise to the threat level that would justify substantial escalation? I think not…Would the US want to send in a second or third CSG if one has been attacked or harassed by a swarm? Would this show of force intimidate the enemy, or would the world media spin in so that more and more US forces were being “tied down” by a few small boats? As I noted before, this can become a David and Goliath moment. There might also be the perception that one CSG couldn’t defend itself and needed help. This could be potentially damaging to prestige.

Fascinating commentary. So the swarm by not attacking would actually win by default. The Chinese did this a while back to the USNS Impeccable, and the Iranians themselves performed like tactics. It is almost the same idea the Navy uses its giant ships for  which are “not meant to fight” but rather intimidate and deter a potential aggressor. The Iranians or whoever would be doing the same here with their much maligned and seemingly far less capable speedboats.

Which is why we call for small warships to manage these small warship navies, because in appearance we dare not give the impression of an overwhelming fleet “bullying” a weaker power. Unless they give us clear reason for retaliation of course, (as with the mining of the frigate Roberts in 1988) our vastly more powerful supercarriers are essentially helpless before this type of asymmetric warfare at sea. Amazing!


27 Comments leave one →
  1. Nomad permalink
    May 3, 2010 4:53 pm


    I am not sure that my English is well enough as the Russian naval colleges are not usually concerning in the matter. But I appreciated good kind of your irony.
    You see, turboprop planes designed as anti-rebel crafts showed resently two features that may have direct concept to the overall theme of thread. Firstly, the Argentinian IA-58 twin-engined turboprop had became evidently the last torpedo-bomber that had been tested in such a role with US-made Mk.13 aerial torpedoes in 1982. And then, the USMC OV-10 BRONCO was the aircraft able to carrier takeoff and landing without cats and arresting gears. Maybe you know that the Royal Navy again claims the “revolution” in the carrier affairs with their Ship Rolling Vertical Landing, designed for Harriers and F-35B. They evidently know nothing about USN BRONCOs’ experience. So just combine these facts in one kind of view and test the result on the deck of carriers. No proper way to bomb the North Afghan from the flattops lurked near Karachi, but adequate enough to control the coast and littoral waters of Somalia, isn’t it?
    Speaking honestly, the task of killing the person like Bin Laden or Dudaev are really demanding the high percision weapon. But it is not the war in direct sense and such an operations wouldn’t fill the core of the warfare as now as further, I think.

  2. Hudson permalink
    May 3, 2010 3:45 pm


    If I understand you correctly, you are saying that it is the soldier on the ground supported by long endurance air power, that wins the battle, especially concerning caves. That may well be true. As you are probably aware, the turbo-prop is making a comeback in the form of counter-insurgency aircraft like the American Texan II, based on a World War II trainer. And the Brazilian Super Tucano. Although these “new old planes” have yet to be tested in battle the way the A-10 and Su-25 have been.

    As I am sure you know from your history, Stalin considerd the Il-2 to have been the decisive weapon of the Great Patriotic War. The Germans called it the “Black Death.” They shot down thousands of Sturmoviks, but thousands more replaced them and exacted a terrible toll on the Wehrmacht. The nations that won the war also had air superiority, although of course millions of soldiers died in gigantic land battles on the Eastern Front.

    Some of your phrases are quite poetic, like: “coin curved missiles.” I’m teasing you a bit, but of course you know far more English than I know Russian. I live in Brooklyn, NY, near Little Odessa, and ride with Russians on the train into Manhattan, but don’t talk to them much.

    In any event, it’s a pleasure chatting with such a knowledgeable individual half way around the world.

  3. Nomad permalink
    May 3, 2010 3:00 pm


    Not the warbirds and not the coin-curved missiles win the land war. The soldier with the rifle do. And it is the permanent feature of the war nature. So the Russians based in their own experience are stating that this soldier is the key figure of the land war and all the other warfare means are serving to maintain and secure his efforts and sacrifice. Yes it is not the democratic way of events but just say me that the real war is the kind of democracy. The other warriors that hold with philosophy are Israeli soldiers.
    You may or may not win the land war holding such an opinion. It depends on many other things. But you evidently lose the land war trying to terminate all the enemies by the bombs and missiles rather than let the infantry to enter the full fire contact, because you’re not fighting but eliminated the fight.
    To the subject – in Russian philosophy the “modern Il-2” concept could ensure that all the commandos controlled the cave’s throats would stay on their stations if the blocked rebels will try to break free. It is the kind of air patrol under the FACs’ control. What instead? Helo – expensive, up to five times. Jet like A-10 lacked the proper time on position, in comparison with turboprop. AC-130 gunship is big and vulnerable.

  4. Hudson permalink
    May 3, 2010 1:32 pm


    You present fascinating information and opinions on Russian/Soviet equipment and capabilities.

    However, I wonder what you are really talking about when you say that more primitive aircraft than the A-10 and Su-25 are needed to attack the Afghan caves–the Il-2 with “modern communication, navagattion and targeting equipment?” Don’t A-10 and Su-25 have that? Didn’t US bombs and munitions seal the caves in Tora Bora in 2001? Yes, bin Laden escaped, apparently wounded in the bombing. But that is not to say that an Il-2 would have got him.

    Just curious.

  5. Nomad permalink
    May 3, 2010 8:27 am


    And last but not least. The Afghan caves, from the point of Soviet VVS fliers who fought then in 1979-88, demanded NOT the Navy aerial assets and, amazingly, NOT the USAF MOAB-bombs but rather the light commando units “closely air supported” by extremely reliable attack planes with strong survivability. It is not USAF A-10 and not Russian Su-25, and of course not the helos, very vulnerable in the circumstances. The best plane for the task is the modern version of Il-2 – hail to Chuck Hill with his memory of TBM – turboprop-engined, modern communication, navigation and targeting equipment and armed with good number of HVARs and reliable 20-30-mm guns with large stock of ammos. No precision missiles, no guided bombs, it all in Afghan mountains is absolutely useless. In other words, it make sense for the US Marines to recall the Skyraiders.
    Just to react to Afghan caves, no more.

  6. Nomad permalink
    May 3, 2010 7:15 am


    No way to make the modern navies less expensive. Simply no way. Look at the Swedish. Corvette Navy, probably the best corvette navy around the world, but by what the costs?? Note, Swedich simply can’t play with desirable but not compulsory toys such as modern LHD\LPHs, that Russians are trying to play buying the French MISTRALs. Having the sleeping Russian bear right over the house’s corner, Swedish navy forced to buy and create the real needed means only. But see to the VISBY. What kind of missiles the corvettes armed with? RBS-15 Block III is the best sea skimmers in the world (missile’s resistance to ECM is the best of the world’s such a weapon), but VISBYs still have not the missiles onboard! The launchers are empty. Why? Because it is very expensive! You see, the real warships of one of the reachest armed forces of the world are restricted in the weapon designed for, due to the cost. Let alone the aircraft carriers. Repeat: no way to create the navy simultaneously cheep and effective. Simply no way…

  7. Nomad permalink
    May 3, 2010 6:46 am


    The AEGIS is the primary shield from the AERIAL-based Russian missiles, such as Kh-22, and you probably know that Kh-22 is NOT the sea-skimmer and, deadly, NOT the antiship missile. You probably know that the Kh-22’s seeker must see the target when the missile is placed under the wing of the Tu-22M3 BACKFIRE. So the AEGIS as well as F-14\E-2 barrier is the shield against the aircraft but not against the directly the missiles. You spend the big money for AEGIS and it is not in vain. Seeing that, Soviets had decided to find some missile carriers other than the big maritime (land-based) planes. And found the big submarines. Their general main aim was not the creating of the different launch platforms, rather they wanted to kill the USN carriers. And now the Russian naval authorities considered as the fact that had they created the symmetrical carrier fleet instead of anti-carrier assets (SSNs, Maritime planes and big CGs), it would be much better from the point of view of reality.
    Harrier lessons& And what are the lessons, let me ask? To throw the expensive AIM-120s away just to land on the carrier in the tropical waters or to ditch the FA.2? Why all the boys are gladly saluting only to the Harrier’s victories and don’t see the evident fails?

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 3, 2010 6:05 am

    Nomad, thanks for an interesting perspective, which i always welcome. If the Russian missiles are as bad as you say, why are we spending some much on Aegis!! So the worst thing that can come from these is they help the West to bankrupt itself? Mission accomplished almost. My corvette navy is sounding better all the time. But the real threat is when the precision targeting in weapons like the American Tomahawk and smart bombs are added to the Russian/Chinese weapons. A “future obscure threat” i concede but lets keep it in mind.

    You also said ” So the Russians concluded: CV must be CV. Big, nuclear, CATOBAR-kind, swarmed by the huge escort.”

    No lessons from Harrier? I don’t think the choice is bankrupting the navy, and look at the troubles the USN, the Indian Navy, the Chinese, and Britain are having deploying incredibly expensive warships, and complicated specialized airframes, which are only modestly capable compared to their land based equivalents. I say modest because that is an enormously expensive way to bomb caves in Afghanistan, when a missile might do the same thing that just requires one ship.

    There are always alternatives, and the incredibly shrinking fleets will make us all the more aware of these, while pirates in skiffs and speedboats, backed by converted freighters, teach us the forgotten lessons: capability doesn’t duplicate availability.

  9. Nomad permalink
    May 3, 2010 5:38 am


    The Russians who were the only who had incarnated the “cruiser-carrier” concept to the notable degree, creating the KIEV-class (the first four ships, to be correct), are offering to all the other carrier operators the well-shaped outcome, and the name of this outcome is “mistake”. In reality, the ships were used as a CGs and no more. And it was just partially due to the inadequate shipborne planes, Yak-38s. It is not the time yet to confess that VSTOL-planes (manned) are inadequate at all, we all will see it a bit later, when the F-35B will prove itself as the equal epic fail, but it would take up to 10 years.
    The worst thing with KIEVs was the same that had been noted by the others at 1930s – such a ships usually concerned to such a great pool of tasks, that no one of those tasks would be done properly. ASW possibilities were restricted by the shortage of the ASW copters in favour of Yak-38s, the attack functions were restricted by the Yak-38 performance, the AAW (the real shortcoming) was greatly restricted by the lack of the EAW-planes onboard, and so on. So the antiship missiles P-500 were accepted as the primary weapon of the ships what automatically determined their main role equal to the role of the others CGs of the Soviet\Russian Navy. So the Russians concluded: CV must be CV. Big, nuclear, CATOBAR-kind, swarmed by the huge escort. Directly the same ship that US typical supercarrier is. Possibly it is not such a gold lesson to the US and NATO naval planners as for the Russians themselves, but in any case it is worth enough to keep it in mind.

  10. Nomad permalink
    May 2, 2010 7:53 am


    Don’t confuse the fears of the antiship ballistic missiles that with high probability doesn’t even exist, with the fear of the sub-based cruise missiles, which are exists and along with definite advantages have yet demonstrated the considerable weaknesses. Generally speaking, there is the strong mistake to name the Russian large antiship missiles such a GRANIT P-700 as a “Cruise Missiles”. Strictly, there are two parameters common for such an antiship missiles and original cruise missiles – relatively long range and relatively massive warhead. The main difference is the targeting system. For those huge Russian missiles the same active radar seeker takes place, that had been used in much lesser tactical antiship missiles likewise A/R/SGM-84 family. What Russians have improved radically is that the several missiles aloft could radiate and catch up the same target and trade this information between themselves via special links. But the didn’t equip these missiles with something like GPS, nor with IR seekers, nor with television or heat-vision control channels. Do you remember how much times the RGM-84 being fired had hit the surface targets and how often the missiles had failed? Remember for example Praying Mantis Operation, to say the least.
    I’m Russian, LtCdr (Ret). Let me shortly explain what is the really matter of danger in that the USN was (and still is) from the side of the Russain SSNs. It is the long range 65-sm torpedoes firing from the silent enough SSNs of Project 971 and 971A. The US (not USN directly) quite could be afraid from the real cruise missiles RK-55 GRANAT (not antiship GRANIT) firing from 53-sm torpedo tubes, if those missiles will ever be returned to subs from the shore storages. It’s all. The huge antiship missiles such a GRANIT could be effective quite from the surface platform only, such as the nuctear battlecruisers of the KIROV-class. Generally, the threat to USN CTFs from the Russians, if we are talking about some kind of reality, had existed only from the side of such a surface carriers – Guided Missile Cruisers of 1144 and 1164 Projects, as well as (to much less degree)VTOL-carriers of KIEV-class. Neither anti-CV subs (670, 675, 949 and 949A Projects) nor long-range Maritime planes (Tu-95, Tu-16, Tu-22)had been the real force to kill the supercarriers from the point of view of the proper targetinf – the Soviets and then Russians simply had (and still have) not the means to provide it.

  11. Chuck Hill permalink
    May 2, 2010 7:05 am

    There is a difference between being efficient and being effective.

  12. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 2, 2010 4:03 am

    Nomad, I can’t imagine the revolution in precision targeting revolutionized by the US will stay with the US. We see the accuracy from 20 years ago with missiles flying down chimney’s in the First Gulf War. One of the fears of the Chinese anti-carrier missiles is that targeting systems from the older Pershing missiles have been stolen by them for this purpose. And within the comments of another post someone pointed out how our Tomahawk cruise missiles have been captured and reversed engineered.

    Chuck, today we build mighty 100,000 ton warships because the fighter planes have gotten so big, even the USN will say this is the most efficient way to deploy modern naval air. This is true if you completely ignore some revolutions in airpower since at least the 1970s. These include V/STOL technology, precision weapons, and UAVs.

    For V/STOL, we see in the Falklands that ships around 10,000 ton light can be effective even in a surface strike role. With PGMs, you would also think you could reduce the size of fixed wing carriers, since today about 1-2 jets can perform whole missions which as recently as Vietnam required a whole airwing, but no one else seems to grasp this.

    UAVs are an problem for fixed-wing advocates, since increasingly in our land wars, the drones are doing missions which we once thought only the domain of fast jets and heavy bombers. Historically technology utilized on land eventually filters to the sea services, and I see this an impending. I think in the future we will be astonished at what we can do with a few aerial assets that once required an entire CVBG!

    About the only thing hindering the deploy of jeep carriers as you describe seems to be the AEW warning, which the USN will insist and nobody argues with, that only the E-2 Hawkeye with its huge radome. All the advances in senses, overheard satellites, Aegis, and land based planes all working in conjunctions, and we still can’t replace the E-2, the main reason everyone says we need giant fixed wing supercarriers and nothing else?

    The giant ship advocates are correct when they say the no ship is as capable as the supercarrier. My question is, considering the immense cost, do we really need all that capability in a single vulnerable package, and why not spread it out in many smaller ships, if they are very nearly as effective?

  13. Nomad permalink
    May 2, 2010 2:55 am

    You guys evidently are overestimating Russian threat from below the water, especially the threat from the anti-carrier SSGN of 949A Project. And of course the Chinese efforts in the matter of kill the carriers by the subs should be considered as the notable but inessential yet. Don’t worry – the main problem that subs have in the matter is the targeting problem. Except the enormous satellite recon net, that might consist of several dozens of satellites, there isn’t any means reliable enough to obtain the proper targeting for the submarine antiship cruise missiles. Neither Russia nor China even started to build such an orbital net. So relax and take it easy – the best way to employ the CVs for the next 50+ years is projection “sea to shore”, no doubt.

  14. Chuck Hill permalink
    May 2, 2010 1:12 am

    Reading “Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors” in dawned on me. We don’t need VERTICAL-TAKE-OFF.

    Almost 70 years ago, we had the capability to operate effective fixed wing attack aircraft off of 11,000 gross ton platforms with flight decks less than 500 feet long using arresting gear and compressed air catapults.

    Mike, why not use the Casablanca Class CVE/TBM Avenger combination as a baseline and ask how we can improve on it without making it bigger.

    Surely after almost 70 years its possible to make some improvements, but even the originals don’t compare too badly.

    The CVEs carried around 24 aircraft and had a range of over 10,000 miles.

    The Avenger carried a weapons load comparable to a modern attack helicopter and carried it farther, faster and to a higher altitude.

    Using diesels and an LM-2500 a modernized CVE should have a max speed of about 27 knots, which alone should allow it to handle aircraft of a higher gross weight. It could have even longer range on the same amount of fuel. An angled deck should make landings safer.

    Modernizing the Avenger concept, with modern electronics, propulsion, aerodynamics, and materials should allow it to keep the bottom end of the envelope in terms of low stall speed while carrying a greater load of fuel and ordnance with a higher top speed. It could even be made on-board-pilot optional so that it could be used as a UAV for the long, boring, or particularly dangerous missions.

    They could be made in a number of versions like the original avenger, AEW, ASW, and perhaps EW and tanker versions as well as attack variants.

    I think we should be able to make something Warthog-esque that could haul a couple of tons of weapons, with a max speed around 400 knots with true STOL capabilities that would be in demand all over the world.

  15. Guess who? permalink
    April 30, 2010 4:45 pm

    Mike, I’m aware Navymatters, however I disagree with all of those dates and figures, ’63 was still a Tory government and all defence projects were safe and infact it was still a 5 carrier project then, it wasn’t until after Labour came about (’64) that it became 4 and later 3, the first was nearing order when they were cancelled, the 2nd and 3rd would have followed at a later date… in sunnier economic climes and after Resolution class bombers, there was still a slight hope that if the Conservatives came back into power they’d re-start the project, however they didn’t but they did order her ASW escort cruiser on steroids (although 3 and not 5)… so Invincible isn’t directly linked to CVA-01’s cancellation at all, if Labour had won the election in ’70 it’s extremely likely that Invincible wouldn’t have existed either!

  16. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 30, 2010 3:31 pm

    Jed, welcome to my world! Just because I say we can do with less carriers, some construe this to mean I think we should do away with all of them! As you say, no one size fits all and everything has its place in warfare.

    Guess Who/ you seem to have left out some detail as well, that as cancellation neared the RN was prepared to sacrifice all even for one carrier. Please see the link from British blogger Richard Beedall at Navy Matters who follows the story to the very end :

    in early 1959 the Fleet Requirements Committee was asked by the Admiralty to consider the carrier replacement problem, it recommended that all five existing five existing strike carriers (the Ark Royal, Centaur, Eagle, Victorious, and the just completing Hermes) be replaced by five large new fleet carriers of 45-50,000 tons, HMS Victorious by 1970-2, Ark Royal by 1976 and the rest by about 1980, the last to go being HMS Hermes.

    Then down to 1:

    In Spring 1963 the proposed number of new carriers was reduced from four to just two by the Ministry of Defence, and finally just one was actually approved by the Treasury which believed (perhaps correctly) that the Admiralty’s latest cost estimate of £55-60 million per unit (barely double the cost of the refit which HMS Eagle was then undergoing) was more likely to turn out to be £100 million.

    I only left out the history of the ASW carriers for the sake of space, as my discussion mainly was about “what if the CVA carriers had been built”.

    The entire program seems eerily familiar to what’s ongoing today within the RN. Everything old is new again.

  17. April 29, 2010 4:09 pm

    See below!!! ; )

    {Sorry Mike B :( !!!}

  18. Jed permalink
    April 29, 2010 3:49 pm

    Mike there is no one size fits all solution to any requirement, I was not suggesting ‘capital ship only’ for sea control – I was stating that big decks CAN have a role in sea control – not that they were the best solution for it. As for aircraft, well I don’t know the endurance of an S3 with two underwing tanks and no weapons in the bomb bay, but based on the fact that sensor horizon is a function of height above sea level, they (or another aircraft for that matter) obviously play could play a very important role in sea control – finding and fixing the bad guy. Smaller surface combatant may well be more persistent, but they can’t be everywhere at once.

    Like I said, no one size fits all solutions !

  19. Guess who? permalink
    April 29, 2010 3:06 pm

    Mike you’re argument only details half of the facts…

    The carriers were cancelled in the 60s along with BAC TSR-2, P.1154 (V/STOL development, twice the range, twice the speed, twice the payload of the Harrier; the labour government ordered the inferior, subsonic P.1127 with the improved avionics that we now call Harrier)…

    There would have been AT LEAST 3 carriers (to replace Victorious, Eagle and Ark Royal)

    There was a class of escort helicopter cruisers(separate from T82) that existed simply because the carriers were smaller than the RN wanted and they decided to pack all of the rotary assets into an escort ship to allow for more fixed wing operations from the carriers and there would have been a small handful of these (the design was around 12,000T by the time the carriers were cancelled, the design eventually received Through-Decks and were commissioned as the Invincible class)

    so 3 large fleet carriers and a number of helicopter cruisers vs 3 ASW, helicopter carriers…

    The Royal Navy got the latter arrangement because of budget cuts IE: this money wasn’t distributed elsewhere in the armed forces but into other areas of public spending, so the RN would have infact been a more credible force on all fronts without the cuts…

  20. Hudson permalink
    April 29, 2010 1:22 pm

    This is a news item (see below) on Yahoo, but it impinges on the question of the most effective kind of ships, possibly including carriers, to stop this oil menace from ruining the southern U.S. coast. The idea is to burn off the oil and collect the resultant tarballs and get rid of them.

    Do we need helos to light the fires more efficiently and more surface ships to rope in the tarball patches? Can helos do both? Do we need a bathyscape to seal off the well head 5,000 ft underwater? Can Seawolf do that? Install alternative pipes and take the oil to the surface? This is a true national emergency. The military needs ideas now.

    “VENICE, La. – A massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that has become far worse than initially thought crept toward the coast Thursday as government officials offered help from the military to prevent a disaster that could destroy fragile marshlands along the shore.

    An executive for BP PLC, which operated the oil rig that exploded and sank last week, said on NBC’s “Today” that the company would welcome help from the U.S. military.

    “We’ll take help from anyone,” said Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for BP Exploration and Production.

    The Coast Guard has urged the company to formally request more resources from the Defense Department.”

  21. B.Smitty permalink
    April 29, 2010 1:15 pm

    Heretic said, “Aircraft may be great *at shooting* at things, but not so great at other times … and they can’t “hang around all day long” to provide persistent presence.

    Sure they can. It may take 5 or 6 aircraft to provide one persistent sortie, but they certainly can do it.

  22. Heretic permalink
    April 29, 2010 12:45 pm

    Sea Control is all about persistent presence on patrol. You can only achieve that with a surface ship, since for Sea Control to be established, your presence needs to be known and uncontested.

    Submarines cannot perform Sea Control. They can perform Sea Denial, in that they can prevent the freedom of navigation to adversaries, but they cannot “secure” areas of the sea (short of driving all adversaries into port).

    Aircraft cannot exercise Sea Control for substantially the same reason, but not exactly the same. Aircraft (themselves) are not persistent, although UAVs (and USVs) offer greater persistence than manned aircraft (fixed wing or rotary). Aircraft make for very good Strike Packages to attack targets, and they pretty decent for searching areas or providing surveillance … but they don’t provide persistent PRESENCE the way that a surface ship can. And much like submarines, not many aircraft are well suited to Board, Search and Seizure operations … which are the cornerstone of Sea Control when not shooting at people (ie. peacetime policing patrols).

    Aircraft may be great *at shooting* at things, but not so great at other times … and they can’t “hang around all day long” to provide persistent presence. They can *visit* but they can’t stick around for a long time (although UAVs admittedly have greater endurance so far).

  23. Marcase permalink
    April 29, 2010 11:59 am

    On CVN battle groups requiring conventional fuel – certainly, their airwing and escorts need (lots of) fuel, but a conventional CODAG carrier would need even more, thus either extra fleet tankers and/or more RAS ops, both of which are expensive and create extra links in the supply chain (and the longer the chain…)

    Also, CVNs can speed up freely to increase wind-over-deck for flight ops which could cause fuel shortage issues for conventional carriers. This btw doesn’t need to influence it’s escorts.

    It’s a different story if all of Navair (either US or Euro) would go total F-35B/V-22, but as long as fixed wing aviation is embarked (including E-2s, future UCAVs, and F-35C/NATF follow-on) nuclear carriers have an advantage.

  24. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 29, 2010 11:34 am

    “a ‘big deck’ is NOT just for power project, it absolutely does have a role in sea control.”

    You are not talking about sea control with aircraft carriers, but air control. What is the range of a helicopter? Can you ensure one is airborne at all times? Certainly carriers are important, which was the point of the Invincible class. But you still need ships for sea control, and the problem with a few expensive ships comes the rule” you can’t have a large fleet if you have aircraft carriers”.

    You can’t maintain sea control with capital ships alone, you must have many small “cruisers”. But if your sea control ships are tied to defending the carrier, then your carrier is just fine, but you have no control.

    I think the past few decades without a peer adversary has blinded us of this inconvenient truth, and pirates and smugglers are taking advantage of our navies distraction with fighting land wars.

  25. Jed permalink
    April 29, 2010 9:25 am

    Mike I really don’t understand your arguements. How are large carriers not able to support ASW or sea control roles ? I am talking theoretically, not practically, as your navy abandoned its fixed wing ASW platform (the superb S3 Viking) for budgetary reasons. However the CV01 would have carried more ASW Sea King’s than an Invincible class carrier, and it could have course also continued to operate both ASW and AEW versions of the venerable Gannet. Radar surveillance of broad areas of the ocean is a key element of sea control is it not ?

    I agree that there are some “many eggs in one (expensive) basket” vulnerability arguments, but a ‘big deck’ is NOT just for power project, it absolutely does have a role in sea control. As for COIN, I think the arguments on sortie rates and utility of air groups have been made here in the comments many, many times before.


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