Carrier Alternative Weekly
This comes from Canada’s online Naval Review and Mr. Ong Weichong:
The sinking of Cheonan by a 1950-era midget submarine in familiar coastal shallows should have by now roused the carrier-barons from their clear blue slumber. Midget submarines and littoral combat are not sexy buzzwords of the month: they are deadly reflections of a new strategic reality.
Naval Air Waning
While the USN still spends the bulk of its budget on last century airpower, the importance of such exquisite platforms is being called into question by some, especially with the prevalence of power-projecting missiles and the increasing (impending?) use of UAVs at sea. Defense Secretary Robert Gates wonders if “Fighter gap ignores real-world demand“, via Andrew Tilghman at Navy Times:
Does the Navy’s so-called “fighter gap” really matter?
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has asked the Navy that question as he urges military leaders to look beyond “gaps” like the one the Navy is facing as the older F/A-18 Hornets wear out faster than the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters arrive to replace them in 2016.
The question has become timelier since Navy leaders have quietly acknowledged that the gap is already here. The current inventory of Hornets and Super Hornets is short — by about 60 planes — of the “validated requirement” of 1,240. Navy leaders revealed the gap in a brief to lawmakers earlier this year; a copy of the brief was obtained by Navy Times.
The gap is troubling to some in the Navy and in Congress, who consider it a strategic risk that threatens national security.
But Gates said talk of gaps, and how to fill them, misses the point…
“The more relevant gap we risk creating is one between capabilities we are pursuing and those that are actually needed in the real world of tomorrow,” Gates said May 3 at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition 2010.
In other words, are we over-burdening our budgets for the least likely threats, while more likely, even ongoing problems, especially littoral capabilities (other than false promises from LCS) lack needed attention?
Shrink the Gap, Cut the Carriers
Looks like someone on Capitol Hill is coming around to our way of thinking on how to end the Navy’s fighter gap. From the same Navy Times article, here again is Andrew Tilghman:
“I see this as a broader shift,” (Richard Aboulafia, a defense analyst with the Teal Group in Virginia) said. “Up until a matter of months ago, that force structure was sacrosanct, and the Republicans were accusing Obama of not doing enough on defense. Now, you’ve got deficit hawks on both sides.
“There might be a carrier cut on the table. They deny it, but the way the mood is going, you can’t guarantee anything.”
Cutting a carrier would effectively eliminate the fighter gap, an idea Gates floated at the May 3 Navy League speech.
“Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one? Any future plans must address these realities,” Gates said.
Logically though, if you dispense with $25 billion carrier groups, there would be funds for other essential ships. Then there is this quote, that proves the Navy’s budget priorities are distracting it from its core mission of sea control:
Carriers and their air wings allow the Navy to participate in land-based operations.
In competition with the Army and Navy, when they should be competing with potential and real enemies. Third World rogue fleets plus China are already seeking to dominate the littorals, which the Navy strategy has consistently identified it needed to maintain since the 1990s with “From the Sea…” and its successors. China initially would seek to dominate the waters off Taiwan with anti-access weapons, forbidding aircraft carriers from getting near enough to launch their planes. Then you couldn’t build enough carriers to defend the sealanes off Somalia and the Gulf, unless you are going to launch airstrikes and land invasions against other Muslim countries, considering the mess we are in right now from such a notion.
Carriers Keep Out
That’s the warning message coming from China, with plans for the USN to operate her largest war vessels in support of South Korea, the Chosun Ilbo reports:
In an editorial, Global News wrote the West Sea “is in proximity to China’s political hub of Beijing and Tianjin. If a U.S. aircraft carrier comes into the West Sea, mainland China falls under the military strategic influence of U.S. military forces. The people of China will not accept South Korea having military demonstration involving a U.S. aircraft carrier.”
You may recall in 1996, the Navy sailed a carrier battle group boldly into the Taiwan Straits in support of the Island democracy and threats from the Mainland. Could such a second provocation see the unleashing of the rumored PLA anti-access weapons like the vaunted ASBM carrier-killer?
The Final Problem
Congress Wants a Bigger Navy, but it also loves traditional platforms. We remember the cardinal rule of a navy which wants to expand, from Lord Guthrie:
One way you won’t get a large fleet is if you have aircraft carriers.
Yet, within the new USN shipbuilding budget we find fewer numbers of ships soaking a disproportionate amount of funds. From Navy Times, here is Rick Maze:
The 2011 budget requested $15.7 billion in shipbuilding funds, including money for the fourth and final increment of advance procurement for the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford and money for a refueling and complex overall of the carrier Theodore Roosevelt.
The Navy’s long-range construction plans call for 10 new ships to be built each year for the next five years, but the House Armed Services Committee is not satisfied that the pace of construction is enough to maintain the industrial base for shipbuilding, nor does it move the Navy toward is longtime goal of 313 ships. At the current rate of construction, the goal of 313 ships would not be met until 2018..
That goal is still up in the air,with historical cost overruns in Navy ships. So we basically see here the Navy its own worse enemy, refusing to bend on what type ships it builds, while wishing for something more. Trying to build a 21st Century Navy, while clinging to the practices of the past. Still dreaming of the glory days of naval airpower from the 1940s, for a type of combat that hasn’t occurred in 70 years and likely never will again.