Skip to content

Carrier Alternative Weekly

May 13, 2010
tags: ,

Graphic of USN Aircraft Carriers versus Rest of the World. Used by permission

No More Carrier Versus Carrier 

Here is Strategypage adding to the question of why America deploys supercarriers while no one else has anything similar, not for a long time: 

We think World War II in the Pacific as the “war of the carriers” and the “beginning of the carrier age.” Well, that’s technically true. But keep in mind that only five carrier to carrier battles were fought during the entire war, all between May 1942 and June 1944. There hasn’t been another carrier versus carrier battle since the Battle of the Philippine Sea in June, 1944. That’s over fifty years, and another one doesn’t look too likely any time soon. The “carrier versus carrier” era lasted only twenty five months. In fact, the last carrier to carrier combat that was anything like an even fight was the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands. This was also the last time an American carrier was sunk in a carrier battle. In effect, the “Golden Age of Carrier Battles” lasted from May to October, 1942. Five months. Four battles. There hasn’t been a carrier battle since 1944, nor is there ever likely to be one. 

Thats a good point. The Navy might argue it needs carriers for other things, but the further question might be does it have to have 11, and are 100,000 ton, 1000 foot decks the only way to deploy airpower from the sea? The rest of the world navies say there are alternatives. 

After World War 2, and with no other fleet to challenge our large decks, the USN had to find something to justifying continued production of very expensive strategy of carriers and their equally pricey aircraft. They found it supporting land operations, first n Korea, later in Vietnam, and today in the Gulf Wars. Except experience in wartime against peer adversaries proved this is a dangerous way to operate, and most experienced British and American admirals shunned operating close to land bases: 

Although land based aircraft were two to three times as effective as carrier planes, the carriers could be swiftly moved across the vast expanse of the Pacific.It was this mobility that made carrier less effective. The carriers could not lug around as much avgas or munitions as a land base could stockpile. Operating at sea caused more damage to the aircraft, and the shortage of space on a carrier made aircraft maintenance more difficult. But despite these limitations, the aircraft carrier reigned supreme across the Pacific. As long as the carriers stayed away from more numerous land based aircraft (something the Japanese weren’t able to muster by 1944), the carriers could slug it out with anything they came up against. Note that the last American carrier lost in combat was a victim of land based aircraft. 

In a peer conflict with a strong airpower foe like China, the carriers would be less useful since their planes could not operate close to shore to be effective. As long as our adversaries are weak in airpower, as the Koreans, the Vietnamese, or the Iraqis, we can easily justify their use, just not the huge expense. Now, even low tech nations like the Iranians can deploy missile batteries, which further increases the likelihood that the carriers and their planes will be ineffective. 

A Nimitz class carrier, which is four times larger (by internal volume), costs $6 billion, and ten were built. Is the Nimitz eleven times as effective as the Essex? 

I’m not sure about that, but modern naval aircraft are drastically superior, thanks to precision missiles and bombs. Also, the 36,000 ton Essex class were utilized by the Navy through the Vietnam War and into the 1970s, on the frontlines. If such a small vessel today was married to modern precision airpower, we might disperse this marvelous new capability that the Navy prefers to concentrate on a handful of very expensive hulls, which might be easily taken out in a future war at sea. You could buy about 10 ten Essex carriers today with precision bombers for the cost of a Nimitz (many more for a Ford) which means a lot of capability you can play around with. 

With Nimitz class carriers, the navy can put accurate firepower on where most of the world’s population lives (near a coast). In late 2001, carrier aircraft provided most of the bombers over Afghanistan. But the navy won’t get enough money to keep eleven (it was twelve not too long ago) of these carriers in service. 

We don’t need more-capable ships today, but more hulls to deploy the more-capable weapons, the aircraft, missiles, and sensors of the microchip revolution. So does Secretary Gates, thankfully: 

Meanwhile, new technologies make robotic ships, submarines and aircraft affordable and effective. The navy is being told to buy more of this stuff. Robotic equipment is cheaper and, well, more expendable. If the navy needs this new gear, and is scrambling to find the cash to replace the old-school ships and aircraft, something has to give. 


What Sen. Webb Didn’t Say 

Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, currently in a fight with the state of Florida over the Navy’s shrinking number of Big Decks, trying to keep them in his home state, was none too pleased with Secretary Robert Gates call last week for fewer, not more carriers. Here is a statement from the Senator via Peter Frost at the Shipping News

“When someone says that there is a massive overmatch between our Navy and other navies around the world, I think that is a misstatement of why we have navies or how different countries field military forces. You don’t field a navy to fight another navy; you field military forces to protect your essential national interests. Our Navy, as I believe all of you would agree, is vital to the strategic posture of the United States and to deter malevolent behavior in a wide-range of hotspots around the world. That is an additional requirement in terms of fighting potential threats.” 

What was left out though, if Navy shipbuilding is somehow underfunded, now and in the future, isn’t this the fault of Congress, who holds the purse strings, and not the Secretary? Webb having been in Washington for decades, and a clear advocate for carrier power, is at much at fault as the Navy for producing the smallest fleet in a century, because as mandated by the Constitution it is he and his colleague’s duty “To provide and maintain a Navy”. 

Everything I heard from Mr. Gates seem to call for a bigger fleet, more widespread to deal with the myriad problems brought on by the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the demise of a single peer threat. Now there are many and varied challenges, calling less for a Cold War strike force in which power is concentrated in a few hulls, that may be at risk anyway. Senator Webb should be helping the fleet deal with the new century, instead of standing in the way of reform for the sake of tradition, or for jobs in his home state. 

I just don’t see how the platforms of the last century can still be relevant for the problems of today, seeing we can no longer afford them. There is also no getting around the fact that during his tenure in Congress, Sen Webb and his colleagues in the government have resided over the largest drawdown of American warships since post-Vietnam, seeing it reduced to historically low levels, and done NOTHING to stem the tide. In contrast he and others have helped to continue the slow death of US naval power, by buying warships of another era. 


Increasing Carrier Protection 

Last week we commented on the following letter by Donald A. Moskowitz, who was concerned over the lack of escorts for our fleet of 11 carriers. Here he is again in the Herald News

At times the carrier has only one escort because the other ships are dispersed to carry out “patrol missions, exercises and port calls.”  

The Navy is comfortable dispersing the ships because we are not “facing direct, hot war threats,” but what would happen if some rogue nation decides to launch surprise attacks against our carriers?  One escort and the air wing cannot protect a carrier from a large scale attack. 

One idea might be to increase the carrier to escort ratio, by halving the number of carriers.  Then the number of escorts for our fleet of vulnerable flattops would be instantly doubled. There would be an added benefit in all problems with a potential “fighter gap” considering the amazing shrinking carrier airwing, would be instantly solved! Just a thought… 


The Political Aircraft Carrier 

Paul Rogers at Open Democracy brings up an interesting conclusion about Britain’s plan for new large deck aircraft carriers. Because they are so expensive to build, equip, and maintain, they trap you into certain foreign policy ideas that may no longer be relevant, but certainly aren’t very flexible: 

The cost of maintaining the carriers and their aircraft will hugely constrain other military spending, and direct Britain’s defence spending very much into a “global-reach” posture. In this sense they represent a curious inability to overcome the notion of policing the world that animated Britain’s outlook in its age of empire…More generally, the carrier/F-35 programme is hugely indicative of “old thinking” – an attitude to defence that has simply not caught up with the emerging globalised and interconnected world of the 21st century… 

If the carriers are built to completion and the fighter-planes purchased, British defence policy will be channeled along a particular path that it will then long be obliged to walk, sail and fly. The potential to make a real difference over the acknowledged dangers of the coming decades would be closed for a generation. 

Sounding much like something New Wars has quoted, “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. 


Always Consider the Risk 

Strategypage is discussing the recent Iranian aerial spy mission over the carrier USS Eisenhower in the Gulf: 

On April 21st, an Iranian F-27 maritime patrol aircraft flew very close to the American aircraft carrier, the USS Eisenhower, in the Sea of Oman…But there is always the danger of a suicide bomb attack. The F-27 could be crammed with several tons of explosives, which would do a lot of damage to an aircraft carrier. With the F-27 only a kilometers away, a sharp turn towards the carrier would have the aircraft hitting the ship in less than ten seconds. Possibly enough time for the Sea Sparrow missiles from the carrier, or escort ships, to do enough damage to stop the suicide Fokker from arriving, but maybe not. 

Many attacks on American warships seem to come by surprise, thinking about Pearl Harbor, USS Stark, and more recently the USS Cole. It would be a great propaganda coup for a rogue Third World state like Iran to even damage one of our Great Ships. 


Reading Between the Lines 

Secretary Gates, in a week of eyebrow-raising comments, had yet one more shocker left. Talking to reporters he said: 

I might want to change things but I’m not crazy. I’m not going to cut a carrier, OK, Gates said. 

Rather than discouraging yours truly, I though it very funny, since it points to the bureaucrat in Gates. Being very diplomatic, the Secretary could not come out and openly say he is cutting something which the Navy and a great many politicians plus their constituents have billions invested in. In other words, pure politics at work. 

Gates is a man of his times, and like New Wars, is simply observing the trends, especially the budget trends in which funds for many extras that have little to do with current threats simply are vanishing. Since the end of the Cold War, we have been funding one type of military, yet using it to fight another kind of war. Despite the fact this makes no sense whatsoever, a high tech military to fight low tech enemies, we can no longer afford it. 

So this is out of Gates’ hands, and after him it will be up to his successors in the Pentagon to choose continued investment in an ever shrinking number of large decks, or a rebirth of the Navy, with enough hulls in the water to maintain its global presence, numbers even beyond the planned 313 ship fleet called by most “sheer fantasy”. What makes the current Secretary standout, he has chosen not to ignore the problems, which have been building for some time. 


Japan’s Destroyer Carrier 

David Axe, now in anime, details the JMDF’s newest capital ships: 

Basically 22DDH will be an enlarged version of the Hyuga-class helicopter destroyers. The size increase is on the order of 25 percent, with a flight deck around 250 meters long, and a displacement of 19,500 tons. That’s a very big … destroyer. The U.K.’s Invincible class carriers are just over 20,000 tons. 

Note how capital ships always come from the flotilla. The aircraft carrier was originally a scout for the battlefleet. The large V/STOL “Harrier carriers” were an evolution of the helicopter cruisers from the 1960s, the cruiser pre-dating the flattops as scout and screen. Now the destroyer, formerly the greyhound of the fleet, is getting aircraft, and with long range missiles, can rival the reach of the carrier. 


Experience Counts 

General Atomics wants to Navy to consider its intriguing Sea Avenger UAV for carrier ops. There a slight problem however, according to Bill Sweetman

Although the Avenger was designed from the ground up to be suitable for carrier operations (for example, the wingspan is held to 66 feet, and the wing design combined a thick and rugged inner section with easily folded outer panels) the Navy has historically been reluctant to buy aircraft from companies without carrier experience. 

That’s spreading the potential for diversity thin, with the shrinking number of carriers in the USN. Likely such experience will soon be a lost art. 


Speak no Evil of JSF 

Speaking of Bill Sweetman, it seems the military reporter has been banned by employer Aviation Week from discussing the troubled Joint Strike Fighter program. Ironically, Lockheed Martin is a major advertiser with the magazine. Here’s David Axe once again: 

The drama began with a Facebook update. In advance of a trip to Fort Worth, Texas, to visit Lockheed Martin’s F-35 factory, Sweetman posted this status update: 

“Gentlemen, your target for tonight is Fort Worth. Flacks are predicted to be numerous and persistent on the run-in and over the target, and (crap) is expected to be dense throughout the mission. Synchronize watches and good luck.” 

Sweetman, my former boss at AvWeek, was referring to Lockheed Martin’s and the government’s long history of lying about the F-35. Two years ago, an independent Pentagon auditing team found serious management and production problems inside the decade-old, $300-billion program to build some 3,000 F-35 fighters for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps plus more than a dozen allied countries. The problems would result in a two-year service delay and potentially tens of billions of dollars in cost increases. 

This has very disturbing implications, not only about Freedom of the Press, but also procurement reform, plus accountability in government and industry. It also casts a dark cloud over the whole JSF program, touted as a replacement for numerous legacy warplanes, including naval aircraft. Sounding more and more like the false promises from the immensely flawed F-111 Aardvark program from the 1960s. 

Bill, your sacrifice isn’t in vain, because such action proves the desperation the industry and its backer’s have reached to keep alive an increasingly unjustifiable weapon’s program. We have reached the tipping point, all downhill for JSF from here. 


No Carrier Alternatives 

After an ominous monologue examining the vulnerability of the large aircraft carrier to modern threats, advanced weapons which are cheap plentiful, light, and lethal,even invoking the memory of Pearl Harbor, E. Thomas McClanahan at Kansas goes on to suggest, “what other choice do we have”: 

Robert Haddick, a former Marine officer who writes at the Small Wars Journal site, noted that the answer to that question could be found in part on Okinawa, where residents are demanding closure of a major U.S. air base. Once that happens, Haddick wrote, a “big strategic hole” will open up in America’s western Pacific defense plans, and we will need our carriers even more to project force and deter aggression.
Okinawa isn’t the only problem. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to maintain bases in several other countries. Yet we have vital interests in far-flung regions such as the Persian Gulf, the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait. 

The principle excuse for keeping carriers, even though they may be at risk for sinking when they approach the land, is we may not have airbases to protect our troops and allies. However, if the Big Ships are unable to reach their destination anyway, for fear of the small threats previously mentioned, isn’t that the same as the closing of the land bases? So we have stalemate. 

I think that is basically what Secretary Gates was challenging the Navy to do, to find alternatives to vulnerable, probably obsolescent warships which we can’t afford anyway. Saying “we have no other choice”, settles you into an expensive rut which we can’t dig ourselves out of. Like a bad addiction, we know it is harming us in the long run (in this case bankrupting the shipbuilding budget) yet we can’t help ourselves. 

It also invokes images of the Allied generals from the Great War slinging masses of precious infantry against machine gun and barbed wire entrenchments because “they had no choice” to end the muderous war of attrition on the Western Front. Suicide isn’t good military strategy. 

New Wars insists there are alternatives to large decks, which are small decks taking advantage of the enhanced firepower and technology of modern warplanes, plus missile armed warships, and even long-range persistent UAVs which need less fueling, and can stay airborne for days without refueling. All this points to increasing redundancy of giant mobile airfields at sea, who are now so large and are easy targets for emerging technology, much of it borrowed or stolen outright from American precision tech, proven immensely accurate in the Gulf Wars. 


48 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott B. permalink
    May 16, 2010 4:20 pm

    Here is one reason why the “4.5 acres of sovereign and mobile American territory” should not be turned into razor blades (despite what our beloved Mike B. often recommends) :

    Okinawa residents protest at Marine base

  2. Nomad permalink
    May 15, 2010 10:36 am


    Ok. Pure lesson and clear evidence, just to escape the brain jamming of the Falklands and to avoid the complexity of the university-type studies.
    Look at the picture in the headline of the article.
    Divide all the ships to two groups:
    1. NATO navies’ carriers
    2. Non-NATO navies’ carriers.
    What can we see? The First Group consists of:
    CATOBAR supercarriers: the nuclear superflattops (USN except the Charless de Gaulle),
    2. Amphibious VSTOL: “Gators” for amphibious assaults (mostly USN, too), and
    3. ASW VSTOL: a few ASW carriers (RN, Italian Navy, Spain etc.)
    Now imagine what if all of the carriers of the first group are belonging to one enormous Navy? Understand? The united NATO Navy, has it been created, would be the well balanced carrier navy, with the proper ships for all the possible tasks.

    Now look at the Group Two. Throw away the ships built in the NATO countries – the Brazilian Sao Paulo and Thai Chakri Naruebet are the ships that the countries bought mostly due to the prestige. Neither Brazilian nor Thai ships had been created to fight the NATO Supernavy or the similar carrier navy. What remains? ROK Dokdo and… Russian Kuznetsov. Remove the Korean ship – the ROK Navy wants to project the force to its northern neighborhood and a bit to the China. It is the local ship tied to the local amphibious tasks

    Warning: question. You are looking at the remaining ship, the Russian one, created directly to fight the NATO Carrier Supernavy or simply NATO navies, as good as it gets.
    What does she look like? Variants of the answers according to the division of the Group One:
    1. CATOBAR Supercarrier
    2. Amphibious VSTOL
    3. ASW VSTOL

    What do you think, how much of the fellows will choose the 2nd and 3rd variants?

  3. Nomad permalink
    May 15, 2010 9:12 am


    You wrote:

    For “pure” battles, turn to movies and video games, and UFC or MMA cage fights.

    Good point for the young shiplovers but there always are a criteria to feel the difference between the scholastic studies and the battle lessons. Concerning the carrier battles the criteria are the main carrier aviation’s target and the main threat to the carriers themselves. There never was the situation carrier vs carrier, to speak honestly. There were the situation described as the “carrier aviation vs hostile carrier”. In case of the Coral Sea Battle it would be better to say that the other targets and threats except the “straight” and “vice versa” had not been present at all – there were carriers as a targets and there was the carrier aviation as a threat for all involved striking forces simultaneously. When the pure situation from the daybreak to the sunset was over, the battle was over too, and at least RADM Fletcher as an expert on surface warfare had preferred to cease the engagement completely.
    But most of the fellows in the discussion are trying to define that such a situation will NEVER repeat in the future. I.e. there never will be the pure situation carrier aviation vs hostile carrier. Amazingly the people doesn’t understand that if some carrier will be sunk as an outcome of such a situation, there would be destroyed not only the definite ship possibly completely unfitted to such a battle, but rather there would be destroyed the overall “projecting sea to land” philosophy, and all the naval authorities would talk about the “forgotten lessons of the previous wars”. The first chance for it had almost come at noted 2nd May 1982 and only well worn out BS4 catapult of the Argentinian carrier had become the reason to deny this chance. Do you have the strong proof that such a chance comes never twice?

  4. May 14, 2010 5:42 pm

    Not for nothing did the Marines rename SeaCat SeaMouse……

  5. Hudson permalink
    May 14, 2010 3:48 pm

    For me, the screaming, indelibile lesson from the Falklands War is that cruise missiles are deadly against ships, and anti-air missiles launched from land or sea are relatively ineffective. Even jets armed with dumb bombs flying in cris-crossing patterns at sea level were dangerous escept for defective fuses.

    Defensive measures have improved: SeaRam is supposed to be 95% lethal–but I have my doubts. Newer anti-ship missiles are more intelligent, more ferocious, and some fly at supersonic speed. The advantage still rests with the offence.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 14, 2010 2:35 pm

    Anonymous wrote “The main reason we won the conflict was the presence of our so called ‘carriers’, ”

    I agree completely. A lot more to it naturally, and even if the Navy had deployed every air defense in the fleet, fought its way ashore, I don’t think the government would have had the political will to conduct the operation without carriers, since these are and remain the Navy’s capital ships.

    I’ll pause while you get over the shock of me writing this, but its true. The carrier remains the core of the modern navy, at least by default, until we have a real war at sea to prove otherwise. They are very handy at projecting power ashore, and I don’t think we can do without some type of manned naval air for the foreseeable future.

    My principle argument is against the large deck crowd, those who say “if only Britain had conventional carriers instead of V/STOL ships” as if winning the war there wasn’t a glorious triumph and the justification of small decks, not an expose’ of its weakness. The RN had just the right mix of ships, and that is important. You must have balance, and just as you could say the war wouldn’t have been won without carriers, neither would the islands been retaken without destroyers, frigates, submarines, minesweepers, amphibious ships and the fleet train, plus the Marines, RAF, and Army.

    Carriers are a necessary burden, but they are not the final answer, and I think when we get to the point we can’t afford enough for our needs, we are there now, we should explore alternatives. This doesn’t mean we should cast off still essential surface ships and submarines, tamper with the health of our operating forces to do so. Carriers are still very important, but not all important, to the exclusion of operating numbers.

  7. May 14, 2010 1:20 pm

    Sorry Matt R. :( I should have know better. But to those of you who are too hardware orientated what I said is true.

    Hello Nomad!!! I was actually speaking (typing?) about the lack of modern (then) RADAR layed guns, T42’s being too small to carry SeaWolf, RAPIER being a bit dodgy, NATO’s finest infantry (and the Paras too ;) ) not having strong organic AA capability etc. etc. I am one of those who questions whether airpower is all conquering (mainly because I am awkward.) I reminded that Ardent sent a GPMG back because it was thought they had enough……

  8. Anonymous permalink
    May 14, 2010 12:53 pm

    Much has been said about the Falklands campaign over the last twenty five years or so,a lot of it by the commanders on the ground (or at sea) and much much more by people who weren’t.
    The fact remains that the UK managed to cobble together a fleet to retake the Falklands when the general worldwide consensus was against us doing so.
    All the rubbish that is spoken in regards to the UK never again being able to carry out such another operation is just that,Rubbish.
    The fleet that sailed south may have seemed to be a ‘Heath Robinson’ affair to even our allies but they forgot that due to our age old lack of funding for our forces we were in our normal state of ‘make do and mend’
    The main reason we won the conflict was the presence of our so called ‘carriers’, one ancient relic that was due to be scrapped and one mini carrier that wasn’t even built for the job it carried out.
    Ask the Argentine pilots what was their main targets,and it wouldn’t be Sheffield or the Atlantic Conveyor.
    No we will not be fighting ‘carrier battles’ in the future but carriers are not the sole domain of the USA. If your country thinks that eleven carrier battle groups are to many so be it your taxpayers are footing the bill.
    We in Europe need at least a couple of carriers capable of launching a reasonable amount of force to deter any aggressor or to protect ourselves from the same.
    France is the only European power who at the moment has this capability (and it hurts me to admitt that)
    We in the UK have just had our Parliamentary Elections and been force to form a coalition government,the one thing that has emerged already from this is that the two planned CVF’s are safe from the upcoming Strategic Defence Review.
    Both party’s have stated that they are going to be built.
    So are these politicians either stupid or naive or both, I think not and I believe they do have the interests of our country at heart.
    We may well be not be able to afford them but we have to have them.
    From what I have seen of the arguement for the ‘littoral concept’ it does not yet fill me with any great confidence,nor does it seem to be doing so for it’s backers in the USA.
    Obviously the majority of posters on here will be in favour of the ‘smaller and more of’ school of thought which has always seemed to me to disregard the future.
    I hope you are proved right and that no major threat will show up in the coming years,but I am afraid that you are going to be proven wrong.

  9. Anonymous permalink
    May 14, 2010 11:55 am

    X: MatR said re Antarctic Patrol Ship “bin it”

    X, I was being sarcastic! I dread the removal of the Antarctic presence, for precisely the reason you mention. Ditto I’m exasperated at the lac of slack in the navy, so we don’t have ships for the horn of Africa, and we’re binning so many useful vessels with a lot of life left in them. All of my rants on New Wars are pro-presence, pro multiple cheap hulls :o)

  10. Hudson permalink
    May 14, 2010 11:52 am


    I doubt very much we will ever see a pure battle between carriers and their aircraft ever again, taking Midway as your main example. Not enough naval powers have carriers, and even if China builds a few, there is little chance we would fight them hard over Taiwan or any other issue. Too much at stake. Our arms sales to Taiwan are mainly a business matter. We should be more concerned about our sophisticated weaponry falling into the PLAN’s hands through peaceful rejoining with Taiwan, rather than losing carriers to the PLAN in a real war.

    We might trade a few pawns with China in a brief phony war over the ROC. Unless we go completely bonkers, it will end there. We will not willingly trade San Francisco for Beijing.

    For “pure” battles, turn to movies and video games, and UFC or MMA cage fights.

  11. Nomad permalink
    May 14, 2010 10:07 am

    Moreover, it is not truely to say that all the five decisive carrier battles (Coral Sea, Midway, Eastern Solomons, Santa Cruz and Turkey Shot) were directly of “carrier”. At least Midway and Santa Cruz included considerable efforts of the land-based avaition as USAAC as USN\USMC, and the latter struggle in the Philippine Sea showed the same kind of liaison between the carrier and landbased aviation from the Japanese side. In these cases the strips on Midway Islands, Hawaii, Guadalcanal and Saipan quite could be considered as the “additional carriers in the area” but in reality these strips were the main prizes of the carrier battles.
    So there was the only pure carrier battle, without any sufficient participation of the land-based maritime aviation or its possible influence from the land bases in vicinity – namely the Coral Sea battle. The only carrier battle in history where the USN had lost its possibly mightest carrier due to the foolish mistake in DCFP matter, and the Japanese lost their ship under the attack of really good shaped USN carrier aviation attack.

  12. Nomad permalink
    May 14, 2010 7:52 am


    Unfortunately, the Chinese are stadying the carrier affairs just to understand what kind of a carrier may be useful for them and for them only. They are wisely beyond the dualism of the BlueWater\GreenWater navy as their chains of influence are laying across the ultimately hostile waters from the end of their EEZ. So the Chinese carrier would hardly be the multiporpoise ship likewise to USN super. Obviously no nuclear plant, no cats (rather ramp) and no more than 60000 tonns. So the main job for such a STOBAR carrier is not the strike and it is not the carrier to project the power. The way the USN had forgot from the end of WWII.

  13. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 14, 2010 7:30 am

    Let’s also send them the plans for the JSF. They’d surrender in a week out of frustration!

  14. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 14, 2010 7:26 am

    Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of China buying aircraft carriers, to keep their fleet small and siphon precious modernization funds for their military, as is happening in the West. I even say we help them!

  15. Nomad permalink
    May 14, 2010 7:04 am


    They would need a carrier directly to the same jobs I stated: EAW, CAP and ASW IAP. They have no proper assets to do the first and the third jobs (to say the least) beyond the near-future carrier-based aviation.

  16. Nomad permalink
    May 14, 2010 6:56 am


    Yes the Falkland War was the war with all the naval assets involved, and even carrier duel was at least ready and almost started. Moreover, there is no strong evidence that the ARA strike group from the ARA “25 de Mayo’ would make no dash through the screen to RN carriers at 2nd of May. It was the low level attack pattern, there were approx. 150 mns to the TF317 and had the group been launched around 09.00 (as had been planned), it would be over the target around 09.40, when only four FRS.1s were on the CAP duty aloft. It would not keep the Argentinian carrier from the sinking by RN SSNs further, but it shows that it is not as easy as it seems to state that the carrier battles are over for good.

  17. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 14, 2010 6:43 am

    X-I know! Like the American Civil War was also an exception and later the Boer War! Nothing to fear from those fast repeating and new automatic weapons. We’ll march to war just like Napoleon! Not…

    Nomad, considering the mainland is just 75 miles away from Taiwan, I can’t imagine why they would need a carrier to support any landings. And Unlike the USN, the Chicoms have quite a few land and sea based missiles prepared to prevent any American ships in the area. They have improved quite a bit since we last tried this in the 1990s.

  18. May 14, 2010 6:27 am

    Mike B. it always makes me laugh when people say the Falklands, the war which was fought, was the exception. When others wars remained thankfully in staff plans.

  19. May 14, 2010 6:24 am

    MatR said re Antarctic Patrol Ship “bin it”

    No you are underestimating the worth of presence. In international relations there is a lot to be said for simply being there, even if it is just a token. Other countries are investing heavily in polar and oceanic research as these place, the so-called global commons, are where tomorrow’s resources will be found. Sovereignty is abstract not concrete. In fact if anything that is the lesson of Falklands War. Argentina took the proposed withdrawal of Endurance as a signal of the UK’s disinterest in the region.

  20. May 14, 2010 6:12 am

    Smitty said “and allowed low altitude air defenses to come into play.”

    Which if were to be honest weren’t up too much.

  21. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 14, 2010 5:26 am

    Think Defence wrote “1982 is usually rolled out every time people try to defend carriers but in round 2 it just doesn’t add up’

    What you have is a very unlikely to happen again scenario which you have to build a very small but very expensive fleet power projection fleet. This is what is happening to the RN today. I agree if the British had large decks, they might not had to fight the Argentines, but also, considering the funds available, she would have possessed a much smaller fleet for the most likely scenario, ASW in the Atlantic.

    Today its low tech warfare, which entails a very large fleet of patrol ships for piracy outbreaks in the Gulf of Aden, against Iran in the Persian Gulf, smugglers in the Carib. Guarding the Falklands and watching a resurgent Russia.

    Good luck doing that with just one aircraft carrier, and the other in refit and the surface fleet and submarines gutted.

  22. Nomad permalink
    May 14, 2010 5:18 am

    Please imagine the situation when the PLAN carrier(s) are supporting the landing invasion on Taiwan being placed between the continental mass and the island. I.e. the Chinese carrier is in the close liaison with the land based striking airpower and is responsible for the EAW and CAP over the Formosa’s beaches, as well as ASW patrols to warn&defend the landing fleet. So, what the means the USN could use to sink her? The antiship variant of BGM-109 is not longer available. What else? Harpoons from the surface ships and subs are useless as the launchers have to be within the range of all the strike means of the Chinese. And actually the weapon to kill this carrier is the air-launched misiles and guided bombs. Is somebody sure that the USAF could solve this problem by its own means? I’m not. Please let me know what the USN can do to terminate this carrier threat without its own supercarriers in vicinity?

  23. Nomad permalink
    May 14, 2010 4:30 am


    I disagree that the “CV vs CV” format is in the past completely. After all, note that the last such an engagement quite may took place at 2nd May 1982, when ARA “25 de Mayo” had spotted the eight A-4Q attack planes with six 500# Snake Eye bombs apiece on the deck to attack the British TF317, and one such a plane armed with Sidewinder missiles to escort them. Moreover, the carrier even launched the S-2E (08.28 2nd May 1982) to track the target and give the proper guidance to the attack group. Even two A-4Q as a buddy tankers were prepared to launch too. Only the failure of the ship’s cat to launch the heavy loaded strikers was the main reason to close the “CV vs CV” era in the 42-44 frame. So don’t let the carrier duel to leave the tactical consideration. Neither Russian nor Indian navies stated that the time is gone for it.

  24. Joe permalink
    May 13, 2010 11:21 pm

    My earlier point wasn’t hugely impt in the context of what is being discussed in the thread, Mike, but you seemingly missed it altogether.

  25. B.Smitty permalink
    May 13, 2010 11:11 pm

    The last Anonymous was me.

    Warrant Diver,

    Sea Dart shot down all of, what, 7 aircraft?

    It’s greatest contribution was psychological. It drove the Argentinians down to low altitudes. This shortened aircraft ranges, complicated their engagements, and allowed low altitude air defenses to come into play.

  26. Anonymous permalink
    May 13, 2010 11:06 pm

    Think Defense,

    Circa 1982, the only “first rate” air forces were the USAF and Soviet Union. “Second rate” air forces would include European nations, Japan, perhaps China. Clearly the Argentinian air force didn’t compare to any of these, so I think “third rate” is perfectly appropriate.

    Their pilots may’ve been brave and skilled, but they didn’t have the best hardware.

  27. Warrant Diver permalink
    May 13, 2010 9:14 pm

    Think Defence-you are correct sir, the Sea Harrier air to air kill ratio was actually exceptional. I was not near any of my reference material, which is why I prefaced my comment with “I think”…no disinformation was intended. The stat that was stuck in my head that I incorrectly used was there was only one Sea Harrier kill by cannon fire…the rest were Sidewinders.


    If the Brits would have had a large deck with an AWACs and enough fighters to keep a real CAP airborne ’round the clock the Argentines would have been picked off before they came over the mountains and dove on the fleet in the harbor.

    And without a fleet with capable CAP and a heavy ground attack capability (which a large deck can give you but the HERMES and INVINCIBLE didn’t) the Argentines could have laid siege to the Falklands, bombing every day and preventing any reinforcement (surface ships with no air support can’t survive close to land air power, right?) so no matter how strong the defences were, the Falklands would have fallen. We have all kinds of history to show that. Corregidor, Singapore, Dien Bien Phu, etc. Good offense beats good defense almost every time.

    And B. Smitty-the SEA DART was uber-effective.

  28. May 13, 2010 7:55 pm

    Saying the Argentine air force was third rate does them a great dis service. They were skilled and very brave, flying at the edge of their combat envelope against Sea Harriers armed with the latest Sidewinders. Anti aircraft defences did perform badly, the Sea Cat for example was fired numerous times for a kill rate of zero, Rapier performed badly and so did Blowpipe.

    It was a wake up call for the RN and armed forces worldwide and I dont think any Navy anywhere in the world would have done any better.

    Yes the fusing of their bombs was an issue and we might have been even luckier had the news not leaked out through the press.

    Most of the ships were lost in the littoral, ironic as this subject is of great interest to this blog, where ships could not bring their weapons to bear.

    The poor quality of Argentinian forces is one of the great myths of the Falklands conflict, they were far from it

  29. B.Smitty permalink
    May 13, 2010 7:34 pm

    Think Defense said, “Figures are difficult to determine exactly because many different systems would have hit the same target but taken in the round, the Sea Harrier was extremely effective.

    While the Sea Harrier racked up the most kills, I have a difficult time considering ANY of the British air defenses in the Falklands “effective”.

    Losing six ships with many more damaged to a third-rate air force, operating at the limits of its combat radius, is hardly a resounding success. How many more ships would’ve been lost had the Argies properly fuzed their bombs?

  30. May 13, 2010 7:09 pm

    Mike, economy of effort is an entirely valid military objective. The 10,000 ft runway, roulement infantry battalion, FI Defence Force and the sneaky suspicion that there is a SSN lurking somewhere in the area is much more cost effective than sending carriers to gloriously retake the islands, don’t forget its not just carriers is it

    1982 is usually rolled out every time people try to defend carriers but in round 2 it just doesnt add up, they are flexible and useful of course, but not worth destroying you fleet for.

  31. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 13, 2010 6:36 pm

    Think Defence wrote “try and avoid doing amphibious operations to retake territory that could have been defended for a fraction of the cost in blood and treasure that it took to get them back.”

    Hallelujah! Thats so true. Talk about frugality in defense.

    Joe-The $500 million cost of the Essex was adjusted for inflation. Original price in 1940 dollars was around $50 million, more or less.

  32. May 13, 2010 2:42 pm

    Warrant Driver, sorry my friend but your history is a little hazy

    Sea Harriers were attributed with more than half of Argentinian aircraft that were destroyed in the air. The rest were downed by various combinations of Sea Wolf, Sea Dart, Rapier, Blowpipe, Stinger and AAA/small arms.

    The rest were destroyed either on the ground or in accidents

    Figures are difficult to determine exactly because many different systems would have hit the same target but taken in the round, the Sea Harrier was extremely effective.

    I don’t think Sea Slug was used.

    There are hundreds of lessons to be learned from the Falklands conflict but the first and most important one is to try and avoid doing amphibious operations to retake territory that could have been defended for a fraction of the cost in blood and treasure that it took to get them back.

  33. B.Smitty permalink
    May 13, 2010 2:39 pm


    Given the drawbacks of SWATH hulls (e.g. expense, weight sensitivity, maintenance difficulties) I don’t think one would be my first choice for a new carrier design.

    The big, traditional monohull still makes the most sense to me. It can carry the millions of gallons of JP-5 and thousands of tons of ordinance and aircraft without much drama.

  34. Joe permalink
    May 13, 2010 2:37 pm

    Mike said: You could buy about 10 ten Essex carriers today with precision bombers for the cost of a Nimitz (many more for a Ford) which means a lot of capability you can play around with.

    Mike…this stmt is yet more hyperbole on your part.

    Seeing here a figure that closely matches your math from above, you should keep in mind that that Infl-Adj figures only update the old build price for the effects of to-date inflation. It doesn’t speak to the new technology that you’d endow a carrier with, as opposed to what existed in the early 1940’s, would cost.

    If it did take new technology into account, why not also build some Iowa-class battleships? After all, they’d “only” run between $1.5 and $1.6 billion, adjusted for inflation from their approx $100M construction price. And, to seal the deal, they’d only be twice the price of an LCS.

  35. Heretic permalink
    May 13, 2010 1:48 pm

    re: B.Smitty

    Of course Mike will reply that there are “other, cheaper ways” to do this, without going into details other than to mention TLAMs and some nebulous, future, corvette-capable UCAV. :)

    Well, if Mike won’t step up to the plate, mind if I take a swing at it? ^_-

    Here’s what I’d want to see as far as an evolution of the carrier into the 21st century.

    Let’s start with EMALS … which if we’re honest with ourselves may not be “ready” in time for the first Ford CVN, but which *should* have the kinks worked out in time for any New Build Carrier which gets designed after Ford enters service (with EMALS). EMALS allows a carrier ship to evolve away from the use of Steam as the primary driver for launching aircraft (via catapults) over to electricity. This will in turn prompt a revolution in ship design towards the Electric Ship from the planning stage, which does all kinds of things to “what can be done” and where the machine spaces go. In fact, it is the “need for steam” which is one of the major drivers for nuclear power on board carriers, since nuclear reactors produce “plenty” of steam as a byproduct of their operation. Waste not, want not.

    So EMALS is going to be a major driver of evolutionary changes in carrier design … as will transitioning to the Electric Ship design philosophy and practices.

    The next “jump” in carrier design would be mating EMALS to ski jumps, to improve launch safety (see Upwards Trajectory when leaving pitching deck) and help reduce the “loading” required on EMALS for shooting aircraft off the bow. Note that having a ski jump at the end of a landing deck run would also dramatically improve landing safety in the event of a bolter due to a failed trap (again, see Upward Trajectory when leaving the deck). It would of course be best if these ski jumps could be incorporated into the carrier design from the outset. The “price” for a ski jump would be the loss of a helicopter landing slot (since the deck isn’t flat there), but the “payoff” would be in improved fixed-wing aircraft take-off weights and operational safety.

    Next … let’s talk SWATH.
    I for one would love to see a SWATH carrier with TWO parallel, redundant, axial flight decks topside, with the island located in the center of the ship, giving an all around view of flight deck operations. Each flight deck would be capable of handling launches and traps, but only rigged for one or the other service at a time. Launch starboard, land portside … or … launch portside, land starboard. Because the two flight decks are fully redunant for operations, should the EMALS for either launch or landing fail for any reason, the other deck could be quickly repurposed to support either launches or landings as needed. Also, because the two flight decks are parallel and side-by-side, the length of the twin catamaran hulls need not be 1000ft each. In fact, I’d argue that with a catamaran SWATH arrangement, it should be possible to have a pair of 350-500ft flight decks directly above each of the submerged buoyancy hulls. Depending on how widely spaced the two submerged hulls are, there might actually be an increase of available hangar deck space due to having a wider rectangular shape available relative what can be done in a monohull planform. Deck edge elevators for going from hangar to flight deck are located (well) forward and (well) aft of the island along the ship centerline, with topside aircraft marshalling areas being located around the island.

    I’m thinking that a SWATH+EMALS+Ski Jump carrier like I’m describing here would *not* be designed for the typical 30+ knots seen in most carriers since WWII. I would instead anticipate it being built for a more economical sailing speed of ~20-24 knots while conducting flight operations. The tradeoff here is quite literally one of speed for seakeeping, so as to be able to continue to conduct flight operations in heavier seas (see South Atlantic experience, 1982) with greater safety. Making such a tradeoff however opens up other possibilities as far as fuel endurance while underway as a result of the more economical speeds anticipated.

    I personally don’t have the shipbuilding and engineering skills required to know if such a design could be made to fit within Suezmax and New Panamax limits so as to be able to transit the Suez and Panama canals with ease … but if it can, that’s definitely something to try and achieve.

  36. Warrant Diver permalink
    May 13, 2010 1:43 pm

    MatR-you COULD turn the Falklands into an impregnable base for less than a carrier would cost…but then the enemy wouldn’t attack the Falklands, he’d attack where you didn’t fortify. That is where the carriers mobility comes into play. It is folly to count on the enemy attacking your strong points, you MUST prepare to be attacked where you are weak and have a plan to respond-the Nimitz class is a pretty hefty QRF.

    Mike B.-don’t let the success of the jump-jet carriers blind you, Britain DESPERATELY wanted a large flat deck with real jet fighters. I believe there was only one Harrier air-to-air kill from the carrier, the bulk of the air defense was provided by DDGs and FFGs with Sea Darts and Sea Slug SAMs. The jump-jet carrier (INVINCIBLE I think) was forced to stay far out to sea because it did not carry competent fighter protection. That you can only have with a large deck. The lack of fighter protection resulted in the loss of several small ships and the HMS LANCELOT (or GALAHAD, no book in front of me right now) landing craft. In summary, the lack of air superiority almost doomed the British-ask the crew of the SHEFFIELD, ANTELOPE, or ATLANTIC CONVEYER-and their lack of air superiority was a direct result of relying on a small carrier.

  37. MatR permalink
    May 13, 2010 12:01 pm

    New Wars: “If the carriers are built to completion and the fighter-planes purchased, British defence policy will be channeled along a particular path that it will then long be obliged to walk, sail and fly. The potential to make a real difference over the acknowledged dangers of the coming decades would be closed for a generation.”

    Bingo. Get the carriers, and we can watch everything else in our military go to heck in a handcart. Not just the navy. People keep bringing up the role of carriers in the Falklands, but for quarter or half a billion $USD we could make the islands an absolute fortress. We just don’t need $15 – $20 billion of carriers and new jets with this recession, with so many more pressing capability gaps.

    Antarctic patrol ship? Nah, bin it. Somali piracy patrols? Sorry, not many assets available to fight ’em. ASW? Let it slip. Minehunting? Well, who’s going to use cheap, effective weapons like those against us or our interests? Sell them off. Maritime patrol aircraft? Geez, we can do without them for a few years – it’s not like oil spills or ship sinkings ever happen. Nuclear subs sailing with dangerously poor maintenance? Ah, we can cut a few more corners. Oh, and let’s cut down our training ships too. You know, to prepare for the future. And for god’s sake, let’s see if we can sell another few ships to the Chileans – or maybe Argentina, yeah, they’d probably buy them…

  38. D. E. Reddick permalink
    May 13, 2010 11:21 am

    I can’t quite believe that the French Mistral class was missed:

    FS Mistral (L9013)
    FS Tonnerre (L9014)
    Dixmude – launched in 2009, but not yet commissioned.

  39. D. E. Reddick permalink
    May 13, 2010 11:14 am

    Besides missing the Italian CVH Cavour (550), the chart is also missing the Japanese Hyuga (16DDH). And the new Spanish LHD Juan Carlos (L61) has been launched and is expected to be commissioned in 2011, so perhaps it should be included in the chart. So, that’s three to add (or four, if you want to include the building Japanese Ise [18DDH]).

    Also, HMS Invinsible (R05) is almost an unusable hulk (reportedly) after decommissioning in 2005. Then, too – of the five Tarawa class LHAs, only USS Nassau (LHA-4) and USS Peleliu (LHA-5) remain in commission. So that’s four to remove.

    And do we even want to get into the three Russian carriers rebuilding (or to be rebuilt) for Russia, India, and China… ;o)

  40. B.Smitty permalink
    May 13, 2010 11:03 am

    Thank you Warrant Diver. I’ve tried to make that case here before to no avail.

    Of course Mike will reply that there are “other, cheaper ways” to do this, without going into details other than to mention TLAMs and some nebulous, future, corvette-capable UCAV. :)

  41. Hudson permalink
    May 13, 2010 10:58 am

    Unlike the LCS program, which requires immediate attention, the carrier debate does not need to go into panic mode. With the Wasp Class Makin Island (847 ft.) and America class (884 ft.), as mentioned by Marcase, we are already building down in small steps from the big CVNs.

    Certainly, none of these or any smaller carriers to come, can be considered as expendable, as if we can afford swarms of them like PT boats.

  42. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 13, 2010 10:57 am

    Matthew S-The chart is a little dated, but not by much. It also doesn’t have the Japanese Hyuga I noticed. Also Jeanne D’Arc there by Charles De Gaulle is no longer in commission.

    Warrant Driver wrote “Could Britain have taken back the Falklands without her jump-jet carriers?”

    I think the real point is Britain did not need a giant conventional carrier to take back the Falklands. Today, we must seek unconventional methods to handle unconventional wars. Nothing wrong with having carriers, unless you are neglecting other important, perhaps even more important military functions.

    You could further ask, could America have defeated the Japanese with just her carriers, or Britain conquered North Africa with just carriers. Silly question perhaps, but you have to have a balance in resources, and capital ships alone won’t get you there.

  43. Matthew S. permalink
    May 13, 2010 10:36 am

    The Italian Guiseppe Garibaldi is tiny. I knew it was smaller than Invincible class but wow. The chart does not show the Cavour however.

  44. Warrant Diver permalink
    May 13, 2010 10:22 am

    Forget the “carrier vs. carrier” debate, it is the wrong comparison and is only brought up by those who want to cut carriers. The carrier is for deploying air power over the beach. Could Britain have taken back the Falklands without her jump-jet carriers? Could Afghanistan air support have been done without our carriers? And don’t forget, during the opening stages of Afghanistan the USS AMERICA was turned into an Afloat Staging Base for SpecWar and became an Army helo carrier. Carriers are versatile, mobile, and survivable.

  45. May 13, 2010 9:47 am

    Just to be a pedant, was the Pacific the start of the carrier age?

    Sorry to take the discussion off track Mike but what about Operation Judgement

  46. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 13, 2010 8:43 am

    “such a ‘cheaper’ carrier may not turn out to be as cheap as expected”

    True, and since we already possess such an overmatch in such vessels, there’s probably enough to do us for the next 20 years or so, by which time something better may come along.

  47. Marcase permalink
    May 13, 2010 8:31 am

    About super size carriers, let’s not forget that the first of the ‘supers’ was the USS Forrestal, and the size of her was also dictated by the needs of the large Skywarrior and Vigilante, which both had a nuclear strike role. When those airframes were withdrawn, the need for nuclear propulsion still prevailed, and that required large decks.

    But I wonder if a tipping point has been reached. USS Makin Island and USS America are both classified as landing ships, but in effect are ‘medium’ carriers; especially LHA-6 America which lost its welldeck.

    If these prove to be effective with their embarked F-35Bs in a Sea Control scenario (backed up by land-based P-8s, AWACS and BAMS), there may be a return to smaller, relatively cheaper, conventional medium carriers.

    On the other hand, considering current US naval projects, such a ‘cheaper’ carrier may not turn out to be as cheap as expected.


  1. Military And Intelligence News Briefs — May 13, 2010 « Read NEWS

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: