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Carrier Alternative Weekly

June 3, 2010
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The British Royal Navy light aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal (R07) approaches Naval Station Mayport.

Naval Airpower’s Dirty Little Secret

The inconvenient truth that the Navy doesn’t want you to know from the 1982 Falklands War are the lessons learned in naval airpower. The fact is, two small, modestly capably and low priced warships carrying a handful of subsonic V/STOL aircraft defeated a larger, fairly modern land based air force armed with supersonic jets and cruise missiles. In contrast are the 11 USN supercarriers today, armed with over 70 high performance jets, pricing about $20 billion to deploy each, its only enemies being low tech air forces, or in the case of Afghanistan, no enemy  airpower whatsoever.

Ironically, the Navy has quietly deployed its own fleet of small aircraft carriers, which alone are more powerful than all the other world’s naval airpower combined. These are the 10 amphibious assault carriers used by the Marines, and individually larger than either of the two British flattops that brought victory in the Falklands. Each are also more capable, able to carry more than 20 Harrier fighters comfortably (compared to 10 on the Royal Navy vessels), and because they are longer, don’t require a ski jump for launching a fully armed plane, as on the smaller Invincible class.

This engagement in massive overkill in terms of carrier airpower has an ongoing detrimental effect on the service. Since the Cold War, ship numbers have declined until the fleet is half-sized and still sinking. Aging frigates and patrol craft, arguably the most useful contending with modern low tech asymmetrical threats and economical for showing the flag, continue to go without replacement despite decades in service. Anti-submarine warfare is in long neglect, and except for the occasional crisis which reminds us of the threat, this is likely to continue without drastic change in priorities.

Not only is the USN in an aircraft carrier building race with only itself in competition, it also competes with USAF and Army aerial forces, for the primary mission of power projection on land. The notion that the US fears to lose land bases for launching planes is an unlikely or at least manageable occurrence, that fosters an unbearable burden on the Defense Budget. It means neglecting ongoing problems of seapower, while we fret over an obscure future threat, the enemy we want instead of the one we have.

Propped up by a Congress jealous of the industry and government funds such titanic monuments bring to their respective districts, there is little impetuous for change. The lessons of smaller, less well funded fleets, which can project power ashore without breaking their budgets, stands as an ongoing reminder to shine a light on wasteful Pentagon spending, however dim that light currently is.


Weapons Seeking a Strategy

The Oxford Research Group is horrified at the cost of Britain 2 new aircraft carriers, and the rising cost of their already pricey airwing:

The two new carriers, the 65,000-tonne Queen Elizabeth-class ships, each nearly three times the size of the current Invincible-class ships, are large vessels capable of a range of uses, but the reality is that they are intended as force-projection warships equipped with an extremely expensive new strike aircraft. The combined total order for the carriers and the RAF is expected to be 130 planes at a cost per plane of £94 million, although this cost continues to rise. Along with escorts and support ships, maintaining and deploying the carriers will dominate naval capabilities for the lifetime of the ships.

Coming to the following conclusions:

The entire UK carrier/F-35 programme should be canceled. Replacements might include two much smaller sea control ships utilizing the rapidly developing UCAV (drone) technologies, with a much scaled down purchase of one of the F-35 alternatives currently available.

I would hope the replacement would be some updated Ocean class, a cost effective yet effective class of helicopter carriers, much like the French Mistral and Japan’s Hyuga. These type vessels have much potential and are very useful for navies on a budget.


Saving the carriers, one ship at a time

Speaking of helicopter carriers, Congress is trying to extend the service of two elderly Tarawa class assault ships, in an attempt to breathe life support into the shrinking fleet. Story is from Phil Ewing at Scoop Deck:

Mississippi Rep. Gene Taylor, chairman of the seapower subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, wants taxpayers to get their money’s worth for the final two Tarawa-class amphibs, Nassau and Peleliu. Even though the Navy current plans call for the ships to go away in fiscal years 2011 and 2013, respectively, Taylor wants them to serve for at much as 10 more years…

Here’s another pressing question: What would it take to the keep the ships in fighting shape for another decade? They’re old. Anecdotally, Navy Times heard from Nassau crew members more than than any others when we asked about sailors needing to buy their own gear.

A noble gesture, but the price of keeping two very old carriers would likely buy a whole lot of patrol vessels to fight pirates, compared to billion-dollar amphibs misused in this type of operations.


“most expensive helicopter carrier ever”

The EMALS advanced new catapult system just HAS to work, since it is the only major thing setting the so-called “transformational” new aircraft carrier apart from the half-priced but peerless Nimitz class. Here’s more from Lewis Page at The Register:

The so-called Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System, or EMALS, is now under development in a shore-based test facility at Lakehurst naval air station in New Jersey. However, according to reports, the test mass-driver installation suffered serious damage earlier this year in a mishap blamed on a “software malfunction”. Apparently the “shuttle” – which moves along the catapult track to accelerate a plane to flying speed – went the wrong way in a test shot and smashed into important equipment…

The next US supercarrier, CVN 78, aka USS Gerald R Ford, is now under construction and intended to join the fleet in 2015. Navy officials confirmed last year that it is now too late to amend the ship’s design and revert to steam catapults: EMALS must be made to work or the US Navy will receive the largest and most expensive helicopter carrier ever.

Somehow, even if the catapult didn’t work, I feel the Navy would find a way to justify a $14 billion helicopter carrier! I’ll bet if they didn’t buy all those silly jets, the carrier could be really affordable!


Shrinking the Gap

The Congressional Budget Office, via DoD Buzz offers some ways for the Navy to keep enough planes flying off carrier decks:

Alternative 1: Do the HFH minor repairs and inspection on the 509 suitable Hornets; at a cost of around $2.2 billion. This option would increase the number of aircraft by 71 over the 2011–2025 time frame.

Alternative 2: Do the HFH repairs and inspection on 220 Hornets and the more costly SLEP on 289 Hornets; at a cost of about $7.7 billion. This option would increase the inventory by 135 aircraft from 2011 to 2025.

Alternative 3: Do the HFH repairs and inspection on 509 Hornets and buy 126 more Super Hornets (beyond the 515 planned buy) and decrease the buy of Joint Strike Fighters by 93 between 2018 and 2023. The downside of this option is that it would increase costs by up to $11.3 billion in the short term, out to 2015. However, because it reduces the JSF buy, it’s only an increase of about $4.8 billion over the current plan in the longer term out to 2025. It would increase the number of Navy tactical aircraft by 174.

Alternative 4: Modify 509 Hornets through HFH and purchase 126 more Super Hornets, but don’t reduce the JSF buy. This is the most expensive option at about $12.6 billion. It would also net the most aircraft, increasing the total inventory by 191 above the projected shortfall; the total inventory would remain above 1,000 aircraft between 2011 and 2025.

Sadly, reducing the very expensive carrier fleet isn’t one of the options, that would bring instant savings, allow needed decks to be filled and release tens of thousands of sailors for duty elsewhere.

Stephen Trimble also likens an increased Super Hornet buy and life extension of available planes to a “Doomsday scenario for F-35B/C“.


India’s Sitting Ducks

The world’s most populace democracy is spending a huge amount in order to deploy a potent carrier arm in the next decade. The great expense may be all for nothing, according to the following post via DefPro:

Indian Navy has expressed delight at the Sevmash Shipyard’s progress in refurbishment of Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier towards a delivery in 2012. Unfortunately, being ignored is China’s rapid development of its anti-ship (read aircraft carrier) ballistic missile program. In March 2010 Wired reported a US Admiral Robert Willard, the head of U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM) told legislators that China was “developing and testing a conventional anti-ship ballistic missile based on the DF-21/CSS-5 [medium-range ballistic missile] designed specifically to target aircraft carriers.” The report further noted that since its development in 1990s, it is now at a testing stage. Due to the advanced technology in the missile even the U.S. may not have the technology to defend its carriers against such a strike, effectively meaning that aircraft carriers would be sitting ducks.

Refurbishment of the former Kiev class V/TOL cruiser into a fixed wing aircraft carrier has also suffered through delays and cost overruns, with the total price now standing at $2.3 billion US, from an original estimate of $974 million.


Aircraft Carriers versus Midget Subs?

According to Asian news sources, the US Navy is mobilizing major firepower in support of South Korea after the sinking of the corvette Cheonan by a Northern midget sub. Details from reporter Nam You-Sun at the AFP:

The nuclear-powered USS George Washington will leave its base in the Japanese port of Yokosuka on or around Saturday and arrive in the Yellow Sea early next week, Yonhap news agency said.
Major newspapers carried similar reports. Kim, the military spokesman, said US and South Korean ships would stage a joint exercise but declined to give details.
Sources said the enormous Nimitz-class US carrier was preparing to join the drill.

Thats a lot of power to chase subs in littoral waters, though we imagine it is all about “shows of force”, as if the corrupt Pyongyang regime respects symbols of law and order.


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  7. Mike Burleson permalink*
    July 21, 2010 4:03 pm

    yourconstitution-Thanks for your thoughts, which are filled with common sense, something we need more in military planning and purchases these days!

  8. July 21, 2010 3:13 pm

    As an old sailor, commercial fisherman, merchant marine and navy, I really respect Thomas Jefferson’s perception of the ocean. I also agree with Will Rogers view that “America has two great friends, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans”.

    And like you Michael, I had the same realization when that exocet showed what a sea missile could do in the Falklands war…. that, well, Naval power as we knew it…. was over. A teenager (OK a smart one) can figure out how to sink a carrier with weapons we have available today. Thus, thinking about about a new Navy is indeed good thinking, and thank you for this site.

    I came to realize the importance of the economic game long ago, and believe that, if one can project power, but cannot sustain it, then one is liable to become over extended and vulnerable. Especially if one is populating the seas with very expensive decoys and proving to all the world we cannot win a war in ten years time against a people that are 80% illiterate. But I digress. The short point is economics is key, and our profligate spending on military sector is not just unproductive, but counter productive. Sucking in our chest, even it is smeared with medals, is a wise new posture.

    Returning to Will Rodgers salient (or is it saline) thought, with the right navy we can be protected by those great friends, from invasion, and is that not what a military is for?

    But we must conceive of actual defense, instead of world domination with 262 bases around the world as though we were still fighting WWII, we might not want to put so many men and ungodly amounts of money at risk.

    I really want us to once again become a maritime power, especially in shipping, but we must give up our petro-dollar extortion conception of prosperity, so that we will not be object of revenge for young kids that are desperate because they have no future. Again, I digress. But maybe not. Imagine if once again we began to honor self-sufficiency. I want us to sail again, and there are some cool sailing rigs out there, have you seen the royal clipper, but we must be a more friendly world power, commercially as well as diplomatically as we once were, to have our shipping respected.

  9. michael permalink
    June 7, 2010 2:36 pm

    PAAMS is not working and we have a parliamentary report to that effect, could you be so helpfull as to point me in the direction of that report.
    I am fully aware that we have had two failures during the last testing period,put down to the makers as faults in the manufacturing process and being rectified.
    I also understand that PAAMS is and has been operational on the French carrier CDG and also the the Italian carrier Cavour, am I to believe that these two countries are happy sailing around with a a system that does not work.
    As far as parliamentary reports are concerned and the proffesional politicians that cobble them together,I have no confidence whatsoever.
    Yes I am unashamedly pro T45 and look forward to it maturing into a potent fighting vessel, six is not enough but we know its all we are going to get.
    Will someone also be kind enough to answer JDF and his/hers searching questions.

  10. Jed permalink
    June 7, 2010 1:50 pm

    Gentlemen, I have no intention of taking sides in the “T45 is crap, no its not debate” – but I will say two things:

    1. It has great potential, and contrary to MatR’s comments, has the most space built into for future upgrades of any RN warship, ever. Well, actually I suppose it ‘would’ have great potential were we to buy more than six…….

    2. Anymouse – PAAM’s is NOT working. We have Parliamentary reports to that effect, therefore, and until it does, a T45 is as useful as a River class patrol boat, albeit with a slightly bigger gun. Oh, well, I suppose it could carry one of the dwindling number of Merlin’s for ASW work………

    UK General Populace = sea blind
    UK Govt = sea blind
    Defence ‘strategy’ = Afghanistan

    Work that to its illogical conclusion: Army = good, Navy = baddddd…….

    So, I doubt if the spending will ever be made available to build on the full potential that the T45 hull offers for building a ‘weapons system’ :-(

  11. michael permalink
    June 7, 2010 12:15 pm

    Re my last posting, having checked my hastily scribbled diary I find that it was in fact the Tidespring and not the Tidepool as I had stated. My mistake, time does tend to cloud ones memory.
    One thing I do remember clearly is that we were told by HMS Plymouth to clear the area with all despatch which we did. After about fifteen minutes Plymouth came back to us and asked us if we could go any faster. The response from the Captain of Brambleleaf at this request is understandably under the circumstances quite unprintable.

  12. michael permalink
    June 7, 2010 8:30 am

    Yourself or your source are completely wrong about the task force being kept well away from Grytviken by the the presence of the Santa Fe.
    At the time I was on the bridge of RFA Brambleleaf and we were conducting a pumpover with RFA Tidepool very close to Grytviken. During this pumpover we received a signal over the tactical voice net ordereing us to carry out an emergency breakaway procedure as a submarine (now known to be Santa Fe) had been contacted and was being prosecuted by Plymouths helo.
    The landings by helo on the glacier were not due to Santa Fe being in the area but were already planned to take place.

  13. Anymouse permalink
    June 7, 2010 8:09 am

    You have the sheer audacity to accuse Me of being rude,look back at your reply’s to me and it will become clear that you are not only rude but a hypocrite.
    A case in point shows your arrogance knows no bounds your ascertation that ‘ I am probably more widely read than you and more open minded’ is laughable in view of your constant one sided monologue.
    One point I do agree with you on and that is that we have different standards, of that I am more than happy to concur.
    You obviously do not like it when people question your viewpoints and so resort to unfounded allegations of rudeness.
    It would seem that you are unable to participate in any kind of robust discussion,without crying foul.
    As for the name I use there seem to be one or two posters using pseudonyms,what difference does it make.
    I shall continue posting under whatever name I care to choose without having to worry or care about what you think.
    That is not being rude,it is called stating the facts/calling a spade a spade/being straightforward.
    Good day to you.

  14. MatR permalink
    June 6, 2010 6:18 pm

    I think the Falklands is actually a good case in point.

    The surfaced Santa Fe was supporting troop landings at the time she was hit – she was picked up on radar :o). If the Argentines wanted to play silly so-and-sos and keep a sub on the surface for 24 hours, no wonder it was holed.

    FYI, she wasn’t at any point detected by a RN ship’s sonar and then prosecuted as a target, despite being a 1940s vintage boat. Her presence kept Plymouth, Antrim, Brilliant and Endurance well away from Grytviken, forcing a dangerous and almost disastrous helicopter landing on Fortuna glacier, with the loss of (was it one or two?) Wessex helicopters.

    The other Argentine subs, all 1940s vintage, were in a terrible state of disrepair. The Salta and Santiago del Estra were both broken down in port – the Santiago del Estra was actually being cannibalised for spare parts. The remaining submarine, San Luis, was so poorly maintained and run that her firing systems didn’t even work: it was technically impossible for her to fire torpedoes at a ship successfully. (

    It proved so difficult for the Royal navy to find the elderly San Luis, and so many false signals generated, that there was a saying in the service: “Good news, lads, the war’s over – the whales have surrendered.” (‘Razor’s Edge’, Hugh Bicheno, Weidenfled & Nicolson.)

    Please, do consider that the Royal Navy, in 1982, was absolutely, cast-iron focused on sub-hunting. It was seen as the primary mission for the service. Billions were spent on exquisite systems, training and strategy to detect Soviet submarines in the event of WWIII. And the task force couldn’t destroy one 40 year old submarine shadowing the fleet to gain intelligence, unable to fire torpedoes successfully because of a technical hitch.

    As an aside, I know that no aircraft carrier has been sunk since 1945. No-one with carriers went up against a foe with an airforce that could attack the carriers, but only third world nations such as North Korea, North Vietnam, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s not really an elightening fact. It’s much more valid that Admiral Sandy Woodward, commander of the British Taskforce, stated that the Argentines could have sunk one of his carriers – that it was perfectly possible – and that the thought terrified him. He talks about it in the documentary ‘The Falklands War – How Close to Defeat?’ currently available on Youtube. Unlike most opponents of aircract carrier equipped navies, the Argentines had a more capable air force and navy.

    And as to sub losses vs aircraft carrier losses: that was in WW2 before the general introduction of snorkels and AIP (apart from amongst Dutch subs in the 30s, if I remember that fact right…) but it still saw a hugely disproportionate tonnage of aircraft carriers sunk compared to subs – and a disproportionate loss of mens lives, and fighting capability. On a cost-effectiveness basis alone, the subs were a fantastic deal for the navies employing them.

    As to Aegis costs: there are a number of Aegis ships. The Japanese Aegis cost about a billion pounds sterling, the Spanish Aegis about 700 million pounds sterling. Honest estimates of Typoe 45 are a.a billion sterling. The Aegis, unlike Daring, come with torps, harpoon etc etc as standard, and their missiles actually work, which, you know, counts for something.

    Anymouse: ‘Or perhaps you are privy to knowledge that he isn’t.’ I assume so, probably I read more widely than you and am more open minded. It took me time to learn how ‘disgraceful’ the Type 45 is, to quote Parliament’s view of the ship. I didn’t come to dislike it’s ‘fitted for but not with’ lack of capability for several years. Anonymouse, let’s assume you and I will never see eye to eye. You are proud of the Type 45, I am embarrassed by it’s lack of any armament but 2 x 30mil cannon and a Kryten gun turret. I consider it as dismal an MoD procurement blunder as the Avro Shackleton, Nimrod and Sa-80. (I bet you swallow the MoD line on those, too…) Let’s accept that we have different standards go our seperate ways. Deal? That sounds fair to me, I mean it’s not like you’re even using your name in postings, and you get pretty rude.

  15. June 5, 2010 7:03 pm


    with respect to some of the figures mentioned in these comments:

    During the second world war 5 Royal Navy aircraft carriers were sunk by submarines but aircraft of the Royal Navy Air Service flying from aircraft carriers destroyed 34 submarines (with 16 of those being shared with other platforms).

    During the Falklands War in 1982 (the last time submarines went to war against aircraft carriers),the Royal Navy lost 0 aircraft carriers to submarines and the Royal Naval Air Service crippled 1 enemy submarine.

    The production cost of a Type 45 destroyer is approximately half that of an American Arleigh Burke class destroyer.


  16. June 5, 2010 4:06 pm


    Analysis of warfare is a bit like mathematics.

    You have to treat both sides of the equation equally.

    An aircraft carrier can be attacked by an aircraft (if it can get past all the aircraft in the carrier’s air wing) but that aircraft has to come from somewhere.

    It may come from a sea base,another aircraft carrier,which is just as vulnerable to being attacked.

    It may come from a land base which is far more vulnerable to being attacked than any aircraft carrier.

    In the 65 years since the Second World War over a hundred air bases on land have been attacked,damaged,put out of action or even overrun in various conflicts.

    In the 65 years since the Second World War not one aircraft carrier has ever been damaged by enemy fire let alone put out of action.

    Why are air bases so much more vulnerable than aircraft carriers?

    There is an oft repeated saying in the military:

    “If you can find it, you can hit it. If you can hit it, you can kill it.”

    To find an aircraft carrier one must use submarines,surface ships or aircraft,all of which can be destroyed before they locate the carrier.

    To find an air base one need only buy a map.

    To attack an aircraft carrier one needs submarines,surface ships or aircraft to overcome it’s air wing and escorts or a submarine.

    To attack an air base and the lines of communication it relies on one needs a road side bomb or a mortar;a rocket propelled grenade;a sniper rifle;a heavy machine gun or a ballistic missile based on Second World War era technology.

    It is inherently easier to find and kill an airbase than to find and kill an aircraft carrier.

    Which is why air bases have been destroyed so frequently both during and since the Second World War.

    Not one aircraft carrier has been damaged by enemy fire in sixty five years because attacking an aircraft carrier is exceedingly difficult to do.

    Particularly for a land based air force whose fixed air bases are subject to attack by the air wing of the aircraft carrier they have not located yet.


  17. Anymouse permalink
    June 5, 2010 2:35 pm

    I am sure that you have read ‘Richard Beedall’s’ website ‘Navy Matters’ which although it has not been updated for quite some time is still a very relevant and well respected sit.
    May I therefore just as an afterthought post his view of PAAMS in one small extract.
    ‘Sampson plus Aster deliver a performance a generation ahead of the benchmark Aegis combat system, (including the multi-function AN/SPY-I phased array radar and the Standard missile’
    Or perhaps you are privy to knowledge that he isn’t.

  18. Anymouse permalink
    June 5, 2010 2:18 pm

    Sorry but your original claim was that the type 45 had ‘MINUS asw capability’ you have now somewhat watered that claim down to ‘Any vessel with a landing platform’ what a ridiculous thing to say. You should know very well that just having a helo deck does NOT make a ship asw capable. As for your remark that they are no more capable than a civilian offshore support vessel,well that reveals your absolute tunnel vision and the fact that you are so intent on damning this vessel that your remark borders on the absurd.
    Comparing PAAMS and SAMPSON against STANDARD and AEGIS is another of your attempts at muddying the water.
    One is a completely brand new system both missiles and guidance,and you are deriding its performance based on what? A couple of failed intercepts during trials.
    I wonder if Standard and Aegis worked without teething troubles when they were first brought into service,and how many updates and years of experience have gone into making them into the success that they are today. But Hey dont let the facts get in the way of your vitriol.

  19. MatR permalink
    June 5, 2010 8:37 am

    My bad, I meant ‘scores of meters at a time’

  20. MatR permalink
    June 5, 2010 8:35 am


    A) Any vessel with a landing platform can operate ASW helicopters. That by itself makes Daring no more ASW capable than a civilian offshore support vessel.

    B) Like everyone else, I’m aware that phalanx is ‘fitted for but not with’. That’s laughable, because it means the big, expensive ship is still armed no better than a coastal patrol craft years after launch, and into its second or third Captain. It’s one of the reaons I have so much venom for the MOD and the navy. Currently, Daring has no anti-air capability whatsoever apart from an old Kryten gun and some cannon. It can’t do it’s job. It’s a shambles. Taxpayers and the navy deserve better. T-45 deserves opprobrium.

    C) i) because we won’t get many more hulls in the current budgetary climate, ii) because comparable air warfare vessels fielded by our allies have land attack capability and anti-ship capability iii) those same vessels cost a fraction of the price of Type 45, per anti-air missile and weapon system fielded, and iv) it’s poor planning to have large, expensive ships that can’t self-escort if you only have a small navy. Exceptionally poor planning. I could go into other details, like the PAAMS technical weakness compared to standard missiles or the Aegis ships’ more flexible verticle launch cells. Or that fact the PAAMS and Sampson system is currently unproven, half-tested, unintegrated, and in simulations less likely to hit incoming missiles that the SM is. Or that Sampson, not being a fixed phased array radar, can’t keep its eye on a supersonic target scores of hundreds of meters at a time, which makes it harder to accurately direct the Aster missiles towards their target engagement envelope.

    My question to you, Anonymouse: why are you so complacent about a ship that can’t fight its way out of a paper bag at the moment? I suspect you’d defend Type 45 if it was armed with nothing more than loud horns that played ‘La Cucaracha’.

    B. Smitty: Yes, subs got sunk in WWII. For the balance of cost in men and money, I’d rather have subs facing a carrier than vice versa. Especially nowadays, when the latest AIP subs can’t be found by the USN and it states that itself. And when we have so few sub-hunters in our navy and allied navies, and when a boat like Cheonan can be torpedoed and never know what hit it. Let’s just pretend that the Chinese sub that surfaced close enough to a US CBG to sink the carrier was really a very big manatee. And the Argentine navy didn’t remain in port with their carrier because of a UK SSN, they stayed at home because the South Atlantic rain was horrid and the water looked a bit icy. And let’s pretend that an Israeli corvette didn’t get hit by a cheapo anti-tank missile recently, and that the Cole wasn’t crippled by a fishing boat full of fertilizer explosives, and that Carriers can stand up to being hit by a dozen Harpoon or Silkworm or Exocet because we say they can and it would spoil our game otherwise.

    Subs don’t stay on the surface now, scared of being spotted by patrol planes or destroyers. They can’t be spotted by the planes unless they’re incredibly close, and they sink the destroyers.

  21. Anymouse permalink
    June 5, 2010 8:02 am

    Your attempted assassination of the type 45 is well of the mark and to describe it as a ‘Toy Boat’ is silly.
    Your claim that (a) it has no asw capabilities confuses me as being that it is accepted that the most potent asw platform is the helicopter.
    As the Type 45 is capable of operating two Merlins in the asw role why do you discount them or was it just a convenient ommission on your part.
    (b) You must also be aware that although Phalanx is not currently fitted,that all the systems to support it are and apparently it takes a couple of hours to bolt it in place.
    (c) As the Type 45 was designed primarily as a AAW destroyer why are you concerned with its lack of land attack capability. Which in any case could be fitted in the future and space is available for them..
    As for the cost of PAAMS yes I suppose we could have bought an off the shelf missile system like the nations you mention and it would have been cheaper.
    Perhaps keeping the skills and industrial ability to design and build such systems in Europe is a price worth paying,it would appear that the French and Italians think so.
    Give it a couple of years and lets see what we have, I am confident that we will have a world beating system in spite of all its current detractors.

  22. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 5, 2010 6:37 am

    Hudson wrote “Finally, to repeat my earlier point, the same weapons that would knock off a Big Deck will also sink less capable ships including corvettes, and you are never going to have more lesser ships than enemy missiles.”

    That is certainly true, however you could build and replace a great many corvettes quicker and faster than $10 billion aircraft carriers. This is why we built so many destroyers and frigates in the world wars, not so many battleships and cruisers.

    And because of new weapons these small warships have a power projection capability all their own. Of course they can’t lay down as much ordnance as a carrier airwing, but neither can a carrier place as much firepower on a target as a battleship, which is why in the Cold War we pulled them out of mothballs occasionally. Because of precision technology you don’t need such firepower for most occasions.

    Of course, we don’t need all destroyers or corvettes anymore than we need a carrier only navy. My point is, we need a great many more of the former and fewer of the latter.

    I also agree that attacking a carrier would cause any nation to “reap the whirlwind”. In a rational world, no one would ever take this road. But consider the irrational foes we contend with such Kim, and Ahmadinejad. Plus, someone tell what was Saddam thinking? But they figure one day they might get lucky a become a “savior” of the people. There have been enough successes to embolden them, with Vietnam, the Soviets in Afghanistan, and Black Hawk Down still a fresh memory.

  23. Hudson permalink
    June 5, 2010 12:36 am

    A few late hour notes, hopefully not contradicting myself:

    Clearly, carrier battle groups need better sub protection, meaning more than the obligatory one SSN escort. Ideally, that would include SSKs, which our allies possess. As for long range bombers like the FB-111–an excellent aircraft, and one of ours–that scenario requires a more complex solution possibly including land-based fixed wings. And don’t discount F/A18 EWs, which the Navy has in numbers.

    The Essex class USS Intrepid lived up to its name in the Pacific, by rough count, taking hits from one aerial torpedo and three Kamikazes. In some cases, it was able to make in-ship repairs and keep going; other hits required returning to port. It also had quite a post war record and is now a museum ship in Manhattan.

    Attacking a Big Deck at sea is like attacking a small American city. If it’s a ratty little power like Iran rattling its saber, then the counter stroke will make it regret its actions. It it’s a peer or near peer power like China, then the counter stroke might well be nuclear, with all the horrors that entails. You can’t knock off a CVN and laugh ha ha ha, as in a game.

    Finally, to repeat my earlier point, the same weapons that would knock off a Big Deck will also sink less capable ships including corvettes, and you are never going to have more lesser ships than enemy missiles. So what do you do…build small robot navies?

    Good night all.

  24. B.Smitty permalink
    June 4, 2010 4:44 pm

    MatR said, “Exercises, carrier battle group (incl. SSN) vs solitary SSK –
    USA ground rules: don’t get sunk, detect the sub that you have forewarning is out there
    Baddies (Aussies, Chileans, Canadians, Swedes) ground rules: sink the carrier, remain undetected, don’t get destroyed
    Baddies win 10/10.

    You have a source for that?

    MatR said, “WWII: Aircarft Carriers 0 subs, submarines 9 carriers (back before AIP, nuclear power and widespread use of snorkels)

    Umm.. In the span of 98 days, USS Card, USS Core, and USS Bogue sank 24 U-boats and milch cows by themselves.

    Carriers (especially CVEs) brutalized the U-boat fleet. I’ll dig out the total number of U-boats sunk by CVEs later.

  25. MatR permalink
    June 4, 2010 3:51 pm

    B. Smitty: ‘I think you’re reading a bit too much into reports from exercises. We don’t know the ground rules or training objective.’

    Exercises, carrier battle group (incl. SSN) vs solitary SSK –
    USA ground rules: don’t get sunk, detect the sub that you have forewarning is out there
    Baddies (Aussies, Chileans, Canadians, Swedes) ground rules: sink the carrier, remain undetected, don’t get destroyed
    Baddies win 10/10.

    Real life –
    WWII: Aircarft Carriers 0 subs, submarines 9 carriers (back before AIP, nuclear power and widespread use of snorkels)
    Falklands: HMS Belgrano 0, HMS Conqueror 1 (keeping CV Vinceto De Mayo in port)
    Korea 2010: Cheonan 0, midget sub 1

    There are subs and then there are targets.

    Anonymouse: I’m ashamed of the Type 45. Properly ashamed. We’ve got a ship that doesn’t work five years after launch, that costs twice as much (minimum) as the comical LCS but with no higher weapons fit, and with less space for upgrades. A toy boat that has a fraction of the capability of the Aegis ships fielded by the US, Japan, Korea, Spain and soon to be Australia – at 4 times the cost per anti-air missile, MINUS land attack capability, MINUS anti-submarine capability, MINUS close in weapons systems. Type 45 isn’t even close to being a competent ship, let alone a good one. It’s a destroyer that makes a lousy littoral patrol ship. And even our own politicians know it, having called the ship a “disgrace” in the Public Accounts Committee last year.

  26. Juramentado permalink
    June 4, 2010 3:29 pm

    Re: The Falklands Air War

    It’s a funny thing – I was a high-school student in Middletown RI while my Dad was attending the Senior Course at the US Naval War College in nearby Newport. I was hunting around for a good topic for my 2nd year history class when my dad told me, “Hey you know who one of my classmates is? Jorge Colombo – he’s the CO of the squadron that sank the Sheffield.”

    And so I was hooked – my first step into serious operational and historical research of naval matters at a tender young age. Of course it helped that I was a naval enthusiast even back then. Frigata Capitan Colombo was the nicest man you could ever meet. Still possessing that aviator moustache that most of his pilots carried in the war not quite two years past. The thing that I remembered walking into his student office space at Luce Hall; a Mercator World Map, but upside down, with South America at the top. It was a polite but overt reminder that different cultures and thinking predominate other parts of the world.

    And my research did involve the lessons learned for both the UK and the Argentine Navies, especially about the Sheffield. While all of it was unclassified, CPT Colombo was extremely candid about what Comando Aviacion Naval did right and wrong during the war, both at a tactical and strategic level.

    My actual paper is molding somewhere downstairs thanks to the recent New England floods, but my memory is still serving me somewhat, apologies as it’s been a couple of decades:

    *The Super Etendard was more than effective, and the training they received from the French superb. Unlike what you would expect from a stereotypical view of South American militaries, he actually had pilots who could not only fly, but fly extremely well – they weren’t all favored scions of the ruling clique. Triple refueling inflights in bad weather tells you this guy knows his version of NATOPS.

    *The low inventory count of Excocets on hand was definitely an issue. They were more than prepared to use high-drag bombs but felt the best tactical punch was the ASM because it balanced lethality and platform launch survivability.

    *All Argentine aircraft were running on the ragged edge; Navy and Air Force. Had it not been for C130 Tanker support, COAN would not have been able to muster as many missions as they did. As it was, the sheer distance did not allow for true multi-axis attacks without the fatigue and danger of multiple in-flight refuels. It was very frustrating for them.

    *AEW and Maritime Surveillance was what really did in Sheffield. However, the Neptune (an MPA really, not a true AEW) could not penetrate the perimeter any closer than it did without running afoul of picket AD or potential CAP. The intel on what the effective operational radius was for the Sea Harrier was also question mark. But he was surprised how close they could tickle the lobes of opposing radar footprints, both during the AEW’s track-trail and during the attack run itself.

    *The operational tempo was really disparate. The ability of the *carrier* to generate more missions than the Argentines could provide is what really tipped the scales in favor of the UK. Had Veintecinco De Mayo been sortied and made it through the sub barrier, this would have been a very different story for the task force.

    *COAN was hoping for a hit on a major combatant like the carrier or other HVA. Strategically, it would have made quite an impact both politically and militarily on the UK. But because of time and distance, all the COAN succeses remained at a tactical level. It was brave, but in the end, very ineffective in terms of tying all those successes into a coherent operational plan to decimate UK naval combat power.

    *He related the ingeniuity, not desperation, of how Argentina converted ship-based Exocets into a makeshift coastal battery that was airlifted into the islands and later claimed Glamorgan. A harbinger of the Silkworm threat 15 years in the future.

    *Although it was missed on me since I was a mere naive youth, it later occurred to me that there was very little mention of what we would call today as “Jointness” between the Argentine Air Force and the Navy. Only later would the hard truths emerge about the rivalry and lack of cooperation – but it was all there in my hand scribbled notes when I looked at them again in the early 90s. This was equally a big factor in the Argentines’ not being able to put together a cohesive op plan.

    But relevant to this topic – was the carrier that vulnerable? Given what I talked about at detail with CPT Columbo, COAN could definitely have given them a lot of grief, especially had the ARA carrier been available or had more Exocets in inventory. There ia a wealth of information on what operational concerns the UK side had, so all in all, I’d have to say that the carrier will always be vulnerable to a dedicated attack. If you are missing key factors such as long-range defense (Phantoms) and long-duration AEW (CTOL), then it was a lot closer for the British than even they would believe.

  27. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 4, 2010 1:05 pm

    We also have a recurring notion, which I think is dangerous, because of our superior aviation, that our warships need never go in harms way. Yet the number of aviation ships are decreasing, as are their very costly aircraft, and we aren’t training our surface combatants to properly face modern tactics from these sea deniers.

    It happened in World War 2, and you may recall how the Japanese wrought havoc on our cruisers and destroyers in the South Pacific Campaign, with torpedoes and very accurate gunfire, trained as they were also in night fighting. Western sailors expected surface combat to entail either the cruisers and destroyers would only have to mop up after the dreadnoughts slugged it out, or they would spend the war chasing enemy surface raiders. Big surprise came when the combat turned out something entirely different than they expected.

    In war you have attrition, and the carriers may be the first to go, or they get damaged and can’t be where we need them. Facing the unexpected means you have a large fleet, able to accept losses, prepared for any eventuality. This is in contrast to a few ships, each able to do many things, but still having to face the inevitable attrition that warfare brings.

  28. B.Smitty permalink
    June 4, 2010 1:05 pm

    Mike said, “Much like the ignored carrier exercises of the 20s and 30s, with successful sneak attacks on Pearl Harbor and Panama long before such attacks became fashionable, I think we ignore the recurrent submarine successes to our peril.

    Without knowing the particulars, you risk jumping to the wrong conclusions. Exercises are often set up in a highly contrived manner to meet testing or training objectives. Was the sub allowed to close and place itself in the path of the CVBG before the exercise started? What ROEs was the CVBG operating under? How many attempts to close within range failed with the simulated loss of the sub before it was successful?

    We don’t know any of this, so we can’t really learn anything useful from these anecdotes. Maybe there is a major problem, maybe a minor one. Impossible to say, given only unclass info.

  29. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 4, 2010 12:50 pm

    The continued successful sneak attacks on Western warships, from submarines, plus cruise missiles is disturbing. I think it a manageable threat, with right tactics and well trained crews, only we have a mindset from 70 years of peace that our exquisite war vessels can sail where they will. We ignore the lessons of war that modern sea control entails you fight small ships with many small ships, and capital ships needs stay away from land areas as much as possible.

  30. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 4, 2010 12:45 pm

    Smitty wrote “I think you’re reading a bit too much into reports from exercises.”

    Much like the ignored carrier exercises of the 20s and 30s, with successful sneak attacks on Pearl Harbor and Panama long before such attacks became fashionable, I think we ignore the recurrent submarine successes to our peril.

  31. Anymouse permalink
    June 4, 2010 12:42 pm

    You really are going against all the known facts about the Falklands conflict with your opening remarks.
    You must have read the books published by the commanders on the ground (air and sea) and know full well as the most hight ranking said in his memoirs the it was ‘A damned close run thing’
    As someone who was there I know for a fact that a group of experts was sent to Scotland where the Old fixed wing carrier ‘Ark Royal’ was being scrapped,their mission was to see if it was possible to get her back into fighting condition for the Falklands. Unfortunately they were too late and the rest is history.
    Your remarks about the Argentine airforce does them no credit and it seems that you are only making a case for small carriers with limited range aircraft.
    The Argentine pilots were operating at the very limits of their aircrafts endurance,could not carry a full bomb load and could in no way stay and fight.
    The only redeeming factor they had was that they had been trained by the Israeli’s they had a limited number of exocets and it must be said had an unlimited amount of courageTheir most modern aircraft the Super Etendard performed its job by being driven to its limits by its pilots. Otherwise they were sending Skyhawks and Pucaras against and actually getting through the defensive ring and causing major casualties.
    Perhaps if we had just not scrapped your much derided large carriers which had Phantoms and Buccaneers their aircraft may have not got anywhere near the task group.
    I read all the facts and figures from so called experts on missile systems and their fallability and quite frankly give them little credence.
    Any system needs to be proved in battle and the systems we used in the Falklands were found to be sadly lacking,and I hope that it was a lesson well learned.
    May I also say to the people that are making disparaging remarks about the T45 that you may well live to eat your words.
    You ‘do not’ condemn a warship after only one year into its commission and without its completely new weapons systems anywhere near ready.
    I’m sure the Burkes were not the flavour of the month when they first came onto the scene but they have since become the backbone of the US Navy.
    So will the T45’s mature into one of the finest fighting vessels we have had, but thanks to our parsimonious government not nearly enough of them.
    As for our new CVF’s, the longer our government take making any decisions in the current defence strategic review the long the build of these vessels goes on,hopefully to the point of no return.

  32. B.Smitty permalink
    June 4, 2010 10:06 am


    I think you’re reading a bit too much into reports from exercises. We don’t know the ground rules or training objective.

  33. MatR permalink
    June 4, 2010 9:27 am

    And as if that wasn’t enough, I forgot to mention that even the Chinese, with their much-maligned subs, have pulled off the same trick:

    The best that the USN could say was that if it was a shooting war, they’d have sunk the Chinese sub after it fired at the carrier. Doesn’t inspire confidence.

  34. MatR permalink
    June 4, 2010 9:21 am

    Jed: Ha, small world! I almost got a job working for BAE Systems (in marketing, for I am evil) but instead ended up at Apple Computer. The early iMacs would crash if you so much as looked at them funny.

    Hudson and Juramentado: No, seriously, I think carriers are toast against a capable opponent using weapon systems that cost a tenth of the cost of the carrier and it’s aircraft. They’re as outdated as cavalry charges.

    1939 September 17 – HMS courages sunk by U-29
    1941 November 14 – HMS Ark Royal sunk by submarine
    1942 August 11 – HMS Eagle sunk by German U-boat U-73
    1942 September 15 – Japanese submarine I-19 mortally damages aircraft carrier USS Wasp
    1942 November 15 – HMS Avenger sunk by U-155
    1943 December 4 – Chuyo torpedoed and sunk by submarine Sailfish near the Home Islands
    1944 May 29 – USS Block Island sunk by submarine U 549
    1944 November 29 – USS Archer-Fish sinks Japanese aircraft carrier Shinano, the largest vessel of that time.
    1944 November 15 – Akitsu Maru sunk by USS Queenfish (SS-393)

    The Swedish Gotland has sunk US CVNs in exerccise without ever being found and prosecuted as a target. Again, and again, and again.

    The Australian Collins class – old tech – have sunk US CVNs in exercises without being found and sunk themselves. Again, and again, and again.

    Canadian and Chilean diesel-electric boats have sunk US supercarriers too, right in the middle of their carrier battle groups, again, without being detected or destroyed after the ‘kill’. Again, and again, and again.

    In 1982, one UK SSN confined the entire argentine fleet, CV included, to port.

    Subs don’t sit on the surface now, terrfied of being spotted by seaplanes. And even the cheap, old ones are deadly. And that’s just the sub, not including land-based aircraft.

    In exercises, the RAAF’s F-111’s have sunk US carriers in maritime strikes multiple times. The RAAF used a combination of Harpoon missile strikes (to damage the ship) and LGB’s (to finish it off) dropped from high altitude at the maximum standoff range.

    The USN’s own wargames see their carriers constantly being ‘reset’ after notional sinkings, so that they can stay in the game, and I’ve read the comments of more than one US admiral who stated that the CVNs would have been sunk within hours or days of the Cold War ever turning into a hot war with the Soviets.

    Carriers are bunk, unless you face an enemy without subs or Harpoons.

  35. Guess who? permalink
    June 3, 2010 9:29 pm

    Mike, had the CVAs been build the fleet wouldn’t have suffered, the tax payer would have; it wasn’t a case of if we bin the carriers we can afford so many new escorts, it’s a case of if we cut the carriers we can reduce the drain defence causes on our resources and ultimately the Royal Navy could still afford it as the aircraft to operate from them were already there! Sea Harrier + Vince class cost more than 2 CVAs would have! (I know the plan was for 3 when they were cancelled but that’s not the point). Operating costs, the Phantoms and Buccs that were on the carriers continued in the RAF anyway so infact that may have been cheaper aswell (cost of maintaining the vessel is much lower than it’s airwing, even for the invincibles)… so it’s true; less is more (on the wallet)

    If the logic behind the reasoning of QE being 2 large carriers to replace 3 smaller ones had been applied to CVA-01 it provides an interesting alternative history

  36. Jed permalink
    June 3, 2010 8:32 pm

    Smitty asked: “How do you define having a “good enough” outer air defense? In what situation? Against what adversary? What percentage of forces lost or knocked out is considered acceptable?”

    Well that is the job of the Admiralty :-) But seriously, its a threat analysis and strategy question. As Mike mentioned the Falklands , lets stick with that example. My colleagues and I were equipped with kit designed for, and our training focused on the next battle of the atlantic against the Soviet hordes. So the GWS30 Sea Dart missile system was designed to shoot down high flying, dive attack profile missiles like the AS4 carried by launch platforms such asthe TU 95 Bear, Tu22 Backfire etc NOT small sea skimmers like Exocet. The Sea Harrier FRS1 was designed to launch from deck alert to chase away, or maybe even shoot down Tu95, IL38 May and other naval recce / surv’ aircraft to deny the missile firers from getting a firing solution, NOT to mix it with supersonic fighter bombers or provide a CAP to protect an amphibious landing. Alongside the unforseen threats, don’t forget the government of the day was slashing budgets, did not want any carriers at all, intended to scrap the amphibious fleet and disband the Royal Marines SO, non of the Frigates and Destroyers were equipped with Phalanx CIWS, which was already introduced in the USN by 1982 because of financial reasons (also RN thought gun based CIWS was an obsolete concept, GWS25 Sea Wolf would intercept the ‘leakers’ missed by Sea Dart…..!).

    So, what the threat is, what the scenarios are, and what constitutes a “good enough” layered air defence is not a question I feel qualified to answer on behalf of the current RN / UK Govt. :-)

    MatR – I worked on on T42 ADAWS and Sea Wolf Leander CAAIS combat systems – you would not believe the size of the 1980’s mini-computers that had re-set by reloading their programmes from paper tape ! As I am now an IT professional I am horrified by the idea of the brand new, all singing all dancing T45 combat needing to reset / reboot its combat information system – I bet its based on bloody Microsoft “Windoze for Warships”…….

  37. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 3, 2010 6:04 pm

    I agree that HMS Ark Royal (CTOL) would have been a cost effective alternative, but her upkeep was very expensive. In contrast, the cost of the CVA-01 and adequate planes to fly from her would have decimated the operating forces of the RN, as the CVF are doing today. They would have commanded the air but would they had the strength to retake the islands?

    Concerning antiship missiles, correct me if I’m wrong but none of the large carrier-killing missiles like the Russian Sandbox or the Shipwreck have been used against other ships. These carry enormous explosives, as compared to an Exocet or a Chinese Silkworm, since they were designed specifically to take out USN carriers.

    Joe, MatR and everyone who asked about Dad, much appreciate your kind thoughts, and he is home as of yesterday, doing much better though not totally out of the woods.

  38. Hudson permalink
    June 3, 2010 5:55 pm

    Juramentado: One of the clearest posts on this subject on this board, IMHO.

  39. Juramentado permalink
    June 3, 2010 5:36 pm

    Any nation-state that is contemplating a build-out of a carrier or adding a carrier to it’s inventory had better have a comprehensive Strategy and Operations vision established first. Given the enormous cost and effort, not to mention the time to build a mature naval aviation program, there aren’t any state actors that are in it for the glory of having a flat deck “just because.”

    For the nation-states that already have an established carrier program, the question becomes whether that capability still meets the Strategy and Operations components of their Maritime vision? If not, make changes.

    Clearly the answers for US, France, UK and Brazil differ from China, India and Russia. For all the listed players though, the flat deck is still relevant – because it’s still one of the most effective ways to project power over SLOC, especially if you have significant maritime territory.

    There will always be a trump weapon of some kind that will counteract the flat top or any platform for that matter. Do you stop building a carrier in that case? Only if the weapon has really proven to be such a deterrent that it becomes ineffective. None of those weapons have shown to be “the flat-top killer.” You don’t base procurement decisions on what-ifs. You base them on your intent and your capability, balancing that with the envisioned opponent’s intents and capabilities. If your strategy calls for a carrier and you can build it, then you do. Bemoaning all these weapons like supercavitating torpedos and Anti-Carrier BMs are besides the point. Does the carrier meet your needs? If so, what can you do to preserve that combat power against asymmetric threats like the Shkval and the DF-21? Othewise this is just mental you-know-what…

  40. B.Smitty permalink
    June 3, 2010 5:00 pm

    You have to find a CVBG first, before you can launch against it.

  41. Hudson permalink
    June 3, 2010 4:57 pm

    Anonymous: I would say it’s more your agreeing with me since I posted first. My point, if it’s not clear, is that building slightly smaller and less expensive carriers, for example, is completely inadequate in the face of the perceived threat of dozens or hundreds or even thousands of AsMs that could be launched by a foe against the battle fleet, like the thousands of Sapper and Sagger missiles launched against Israel’s fleet of tanks in the ’73 war.

    You have to turn the tables in your mind and think about how much damage your carrier can inflict on the enemy first, or abandon your building of new carriers and capital ships, or accept the true costs of battle and commit your capital ships only in dire situations or situations where you face no real threats.

  42. MatR permalink
    June 3, 2010 4:46 pm

    … and Absalon, so that Scott B agrees with me :o)

  43. MatR permalink
    June 3, 2010 4:44 pm

    And next time, I may actually remember to sign my name in the comments box…

    I do believe in strong navies, but I’d have them full of low cost corvettes and patrol ships, SSNs, SSKs, and versatile ships like Mistral or Ocean flying helos on ASW duty. Stay miles away from the baddies homeland, and use your subs to sink their naval forces before they get close to you. If you want to hit them, use cheap missiles and keep well out of reach. Not perfect, but cheaper than the alternatives.

  44. Anonymous permalink
    June 3, 2010 4:37 pm

    Hudson: “If you look at matters in that way, there’s no point in navies building anything more expensive than rowboats manned by cheap robots.”

    Hah, I’m too dumb to get your sarcasm, so I’ll take it you’re agreeing with me! Heh-heh-heh. I win by dint of being insensitive to tone of voice.

    We don’t need rowboats operated by Lego Mindstorm robots (although that would be awesome, maybe we do need them). We need more platforms, with less ‘eggs in one basket’. More distribution of capability, and through that more redundancy of component vessels. A hit to an SSK carrying a score of antiship missiles would kill 30 people and cost USD $150 to $500 mil. A hit to a fighter bomber kills 1 or 2 and costs $30 to $100 mil. A hit to a Boeing Poseidon aircraft kills 9 and costs $250 mil. A hit to an aircraft carrier would cause disproportionate damage in lives, equipment, and capability. At a couple of million each, you can launch missiles at a CVN all day until it goes kaboom. Launch a dozen missiles for twenty or thirty mil, and sink ten billion $ of assets and a few thoudsand crew. (I’ve just read too many exercise write-ups by now, showing that fighters, torpedos and missiles can get through in exercise and sink carriers – and reliably get through. In a complex battlespace, something always does.)

  45. Hudson permalink
    June 3, 2010 4:13 pm

    It’s not just the contemporary cruise missile that can do great damage. The potential for vast destruction from single hits or salvos runs through history.

    It took one or two salvos from Bismark to destroy HMS Hood. One bomb down the funnel of USS Arizona set off her million lbs. of gunpowder. A full broadside in the age of sail could cripple the opposing vessel. A good ram from a Roman galley could send a pirate vessel to her watery grave with her slaves chained to the oars.

    If you look at matters it that way, there’s no point in navies building anything more expensive than rowboats manned by cheap robots.

  46. Juramentado permalink
    June 3, 2010 2:41 pm

    You don’t even need to damage a carrier’s deck to render it a mission kill – just find a way to reduce her speed or disable her propulsion/steering. Bingo – you’ve just turned a fixed-wing CV into a very expensive and oversized helo/STOL carrier. EMALS may be powerful enough to solve the issue of not having to point the boat into the wind during launch, but recovery ops, well, hopefully the Air Wing planned for ashore operations.

    As for Stark and damage in general inflicted by modern weapons, I would be leery of making such statements. In almost all modern cases of weapon strikes (certainly since Persian Gulf Tanker War), the amount of damage actually inflicted was much greater than expected, even if there was some knowledge based on SINKEXs or failure testing. Stark survived because of two major factors; one was that the 2nd Exocet never actually detonated; the remaining solid-fuel caused much of the damage that started in the CPO Quarters (that’s been heavily documented), similar to Sheffield. Secondly, it was a near thing – had the firemain been broken in the same way that Sheffield, she would not have remained afloat. Reports indicated that the magazine bulkheads were red-hot and only luck, bravery and good DC techniques prevented the cook-off. ROK Cheonan is another example – that was only a 500LB warhead (estimated), and it broke the ship in half, as designed. And the Roberts had her keel broken in half by a very simple horned contact mine. No, I would say many modern navies may be dangerously optimistic about platform robustness/survival in the face of current weaponry.

  47. Guess who? permalink
    June 3, 2010 2:04 pm

    Adjusted for inflation HMS Invincible(1979) cost ~£750mn (~$1100mn)
    Adjusted for inflation HMS Ark Royal(1984) cost £850mn (~$1250mn)
    Adjusted for inflation HMS Ocean (1997) cost ~£280mn (adjusted from project costs rather than build costs because there are question marks over those) (~$400mn)
    Adjusted for inflation HMS Edinburgh (1985) cost £300~325mn – the last T42 (~$460mn)
    Adjusted for inflation HMS Chatham (1989) cost ~£350mn – the last T22 (~$500mn)
    Adjusted for inflation HMS St. Albans (2002) cost £130mn – the last T23 (~$185mn)

    Compare to current plans

    HMS Daring cost ~£600mn ($900mn) to build (if the RN were going to build the original 12 then it would be reasonable to expect the last few to cost in the region of £400mn each ($550m) [2010])
    Many experts predict T26 to cost £350~450mn ($500-630mn)
    HMS Queen Elizabeth will cost in the region of £2bn ($2950mn)
    ITS Cavour cost €1.4bn ($1800mn)
    Juan Carlos I…. well nobody really knows how much this cost at all IIRC the only figure released was the €360mn which was later found out to just be the cost of the hull not the entire platform…however it will be similar to the AU$1.5bn for the Canberra class LHD, however at 20kts or whatever she get’s it can’t generate the wind over deck and STOVL is only a secondary consideration so she’s not a carrier anyway

    Anyway this isn’t a pointless propaganda exercise, the point is that the cost of surface combatants has remained relatively similar (there are some anomalies but many of the extravagant costs can be put down to post-cold war dithering with and time wasting worrying about the shrinking defence budgets which ironically exaggerated the problems) whilst the cost of carriers has increased by a considerable margin.

    BTW 0n the subject of AShMs… most modern missiles were designed to sink 5000t destroyers and have had serious problems when used against larger warships (HMS Glamorgan escaped with relatively minor damage when she was hit by Exocet in the dying days of the ’82 war, even the 4,000T USS Stark survived 2 missile hits) and there is a school of thought that says that it would have to be an incredible lucky hit to sink a carrier (with the odds getting worse with size) and the best hope is to render the flight deck U/S and force the carrier to return to port for repairs.

  48. B.Smitty permalink
    June 3, 2010 1:27 pm

    Hmm, no images i guess.

    Here’s the link,

  49. B.Smitty permalink
    June 3, 2010 1:26 pm

    Mike said, “I hate that the British lost so many ships, but realistically, they were expendable, the carriers were not.

    Spending a bit less on escorts to keep Ark Royal, with her F-4s and AEW Gannet’s, in service a while longer wouldn’t have been wise then? The escorts proved largely ineffective at stopping air attacks (other than to act as bomb and missile sinks). AEW-backed Phantoms would’ve done a lot better.

    Mike said, “If you expect the carrier to defend the picket line, which is huddled next to your big ships, most likely you are putting the carrier at greater risk, not less.

    Carriers don’t defend the “picket line”, their aircraft do. Bigger carriers can carry longer-ranged, more effective aircraft in larger numbers, allowing for an effective defense at greater range.

    This pic from Planeman is a perfect illustration,

    Note: Phantoms could’ve pushed the fight all the way to Argentina, where Harriers were at their limits covering the Falklands.

  50. Joe permalink
    June 3, 2010 1:02 pm

    Mike said: I think the real lesson is, you don’t have to bankrupt your naval budget in order to afford an effective naval airwing.

    Exactly right – we don’t. There are many alternatives. Could have stayed with the Nimitz’s, gone back to the future with a purely conventional update of the smaller Kitty Hawk/Forrestal class, or mixed in something along the lines of the smaller French PA2 design + the larger Nimitz decks. Any of those would likely show anywhere from decent to considerable savings vs the fiscal nightmare that is the Ford class.

    When you say “…right way was used to justify every larger, ever more expensive carriers and their equally pricey airwings…”

    As applied to today’s world, at prices ranging anywhere from at least $112M to $150M or more when all is said and done, would not the F-35B meet that gold-plated standard much more than the Super (especially if all the foreign partners on the F-35 pull away from the table)? After all, prodn price to prodn price, in the end it could prove more costly to purchase 20 F-35B’s than 60 Super Hornets.

    Last but not least, hope your pa is doing better.

  51. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 3, 2010 11:18 am

    MatR wrote”I think the lessons learned from the Falklands are a bit different.”

    I know, and that is what I’ve always heard. In the US, the mindset that the RN didn’t win the Falklands the right way was used to justify every larger, ever more expensive carriers and their equally pricey airwings. But then when your budget starts to bottom out, it happened after the Cold War and is ongoing, you start suffering shortages.

    I think the real lesson is, you don’t have to bankrupt your naval budget in order to afford an effective naval airwing. I hate that the British lost so many ships, but realistically, they were expendable, the carriers were not. Thats what escorts are for, to divert the enemy attacks from your battlefleet. Further back, the Kamikaze’s in WW 2 would attack the first ships they saw, and the bulk of them fell on the picket line of small boys. If you expect the carrier to defend the picket line, which is huddled next to your big ships, most likely you are putting the carrier at greater risk, not less.

    Also, small warships need numbers and dispersal for survival, especially in a missile environment. High end warships can’t afford this luxury.

    Extra technology on your big ships, like AEW is always welcome, but not at the expense of operating forces, i.e. hulls in the water, which are the lifeblood of the Navy. I disagree airpower can replace seapower, only enhance it.

    Also, please tell all the women what you just said, since they evidentially haven’t got the word.LOL! Of course, if they did I would have even less time for New Wars…

  52. B.Smitty permalink
    June 3, 2010 11:13 am

    Jed and MatR,

    How do you define having a “good enough” outer air defense? In what situation? Against what adversary? What percentage of forces lost or knocked out is considered acceptable?

  53. MatR permalink
    June 3, 2010 11:02 am

    Jed: I can’t tell you how envious I am of the Buccaneer thing! :o) Great plane.

    About the documentary: I wasn’t surprised when Daring’s computers went down and had to be rebooted, that had me thinking ‘Well, we’re British, it’s to be expected’ ;o). But the hype given to the Sampson radar and combat management systems did made me expect that they could shoot down a Hawk. Sea skimmers are supposed to be the Type 45’s ‘thing’. I think it shows that the concept of fleet air defence ships is essentially flawed – the ships can’t see sea-skimmers soon enough because of the radar horizon, and people can’t react quickly enough to incoming threats. By the time you’ve spotted, identified, targeted and fired, it may well be too late. The ironic thing was, the documentary’s experts kept saying things like ‘Daring was specifically designed to incorporate lessons learned from the Falklands’… and then it can’t stop an equivalent attack to an A4 Skyhawk armed with dumb bombs. Egad.

    I’d actually agree with you on the sea control aspect, and weapons ‘good enough’ for their task. And I do like smaller carriers, at the 20k ton mark. Give ’em a well deck like Mistral and they’re great value for money, reconfigurable, flexible, taskable with so many different missions. I’m really fed up that we’ve retired the Sea Harriers, too. More of them, less Typhoons would be nice.

    I think the real lesson of the South Atlantic in ’82 and the Gulf tanker wars is that you can’t bring big, expensive ships within reach of modern defenses that cost peanuts. That would exclude using carriers to ‘kick the door in’ at the start of a conflict. I’d much rather sneak in and attrite an enemy’s air defenses and command and control with sub-launched missiles, sink the enemy’s fleet with subs, or stand well back and use surface vessels to lob long-range cruise or ballistic missiles at high-value targets.

  54. Jed permalink
    June 3, 2010 10:22 am


    Interesting to hear about the exercise shown on TV, no longer living in the UK I had not picked up on that ! As someone who was not a gunner by trade, but has manned GA-MB01 20mm cannon’s at Portland during the “thursday war” back in the day, you will be surprised how difficult it is to keep your sights on a Hawk jinking around at a 50 feet above the waves, or (showing my age now) a Buccaneer screaming in at high subsonic literally feet off the ocean !!

    However in the words of business management, “good enough” not perfect is often the way to go. As such helicopter based AEW and “old fashioned” (i.e. subsonic) STOVL in the form of the Harrier can be good enough as an outer ring in a proper layered air defence system. Not as great as E2D and F14D (the pinnacle of naval air defence) BUT better than nothing. Westlands (before Augusta) had designs for EH101 augmented with wings for higher cruising altitude, and that altitude would be good enough to look down and extend your radar horizon against sea skimming missiles. A Sea Harrier or Harrier II + derivative with a modern radar and AIM120D or even better the Meteor missile may not have the 3 S’ of the F35 (Stealthy, Supersonic and Sexy !) but it would be good enough to augment ship based long and medium range air defence systems. It could also capably handle other ‘sea control’ missions, such as recce / surveillance and anti-ship missions. I admit, that not being stealthy and with a lower payload, it would have an even harder time of penetrating peer or near-peer adversary air defences for land attack missions, but hey, you can’t have everything !!

  55. MatR permalink
    June 3, 2010 7:54 am

    PS altough that just means I think you’re even more correct about the horrendous cost and doubtful value of the two new Queen Elizabeth carriers. How they can survive when they have to get about 500 nm from the baddies in order to launch F35s is beyond me.

  56. MatR permalink
    June 3, 2010 7:51 am

    Hi Mike. Hope your dad’s ok. Like the new banner picture, btw. Very Burlesonian!

    Never having met you, I can only assume from your words and insight that you are a man-mountain, posessed of steel sinews and the mind of a Napoleon. Women want you, and men want to be you! :o) But! Please understand that I mean this with the greatest amity – I think the lessons learned from the Falklands are a bit different. (Of course, I’m sat here in an ‘Atari’ T-shirt and bermuda shorts as I type this, so there’s the smallest possibility that I’m not the world’s leading naval expert.)

    I couldn’t agree more with you about the value of ships like Mistral or Hyuga for sea control, sub-hunting, and brush wars. And the value of ships like Ocean, too, or RFAs. It’s just that carriers per se are mincemeat in a real shooting match against opponents armed with more than a dozen anti-ship missiles.

    In ’82, the UK stovl carrier lacked organic airborn early warning, and the parking spaces to accommodate many AEW or strike aircraft anyway. Even today, STOVL carriers can only use helicopter AEW, with short range, low power radars and low altitude. In ’82, the deficiency meant that the UK fleet lost a number of major vessels because of insufficient CAP and C4I. Also, the UK’s air warfare ships just couldn’t cope with low-level intruders, especially against the radar clutter of the Falklands’ hills and choppy South Atlantic seas. Even today’s much-vaunted Type 45 Daring, with its ‘radar on a pole’ (TM) can’t see the horizon over hills and hountains. (And a recent exercise screened on TV showed it unable to stop a subsonic trainer aircraft, that was simulating an attack, from crippling a nearby RN vessel with old fashioned dumb bombs. In open sea, with forewarning of the attack, and with the C4I systems working.)

    I think the lesson is that modern aircraft and missiles will always get through to the surface ships, either in swarms or sneak attacks – so long as you have more than a handful of anti-ship missiles. Argentina caused a world of damage with low cost Skyhawks, and with a handful of Exocets. With aircraft like Mirage and Etendard operating at maxium range, flying subsonically to save fuel. If the Argentines had simply fused their dumb bombs correctly, wised-up that they could strafe thin-hulled warships with their cannon, or waited until they had thirty exocets, they’d have sunk the pride of the Royal Navy with air assets costing a fraction of the RN’s losses. Or, they could have concentrated on killing the harriers, that they outnumbered massively. Either way, they’d have won.


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