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Carrier Alternative Weekly

June 10, 2010
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The French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle (R 91) cruises in formation alongside the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of French naval aviation.

Outstanding Quote

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.


USS Langley (CV-1)

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris Stefan permalink
    June 12, 2010 6:34 pm

    It strikes me that the C-2 Greyhound might make a good basis for a carrier-based fixed-wing ASW/ASuW/MPA aircraft. It wouldn’t entirely offset the growing sub threat to the carriers but it would give the USN a bit more of an edge.

  2. Jed permalink
    June 11, 2010 1:11 pm

    Ahhh well, its semantics but the main word here is INTERFACE:

    “SKYNET Tri-Service Command and Control interface” – now I maybe wrong, but to me that sounds like the interfaces I used to use that plugged you into single service Command networks VIA the Skynet satcoms.

    Anyway, its bound to be running Windoze, and thus vulnerable as hell :-)

  3. June 11, 2010 4:23 am

    Jed; you are both right and wrong, as your own citation states there are a new series of satelites being launched, as we chat. however, I was refuring to another program which has been grouped under the Skynet Tri-Service communications bracket. (The reason being if you have a program that is working….even though you are now loosing out in a bandwidth buyout with the Americans because you were stupid enough to part privatise it…you can still use its name to improve the chances of no one noticing another program!)

    The new SKYNET Tri-Service Command and Control interface was put into the very early stages of procurement about 2/3 years ago, it is the major new computer system for the MOD designed to make logisitics and future operations easier to support. It costs about the same as the entire T-45 project…so I hope the computers are really good.

    yours sincerely


  4. Jed permalink
    June 10, 2010 10:39 pm

    Alex – sorry to be picky but ref: “I should probably warn you all that the new computer system for the MOD in Britain is called SKYNET”

    Erm’ no, actually its not. SKYNET is the UK’s strategic satellite communications system, its not a “computer system” not even in the broad sense of “Command Control and Communications”, and its not new either, Skynet 1 was launched in 1969 !

    Details are here:

  5. June 10, 2010 3:48 pm

    Mat R…

    I concur, but don’t forget it will also like to pull the odd prank or two!

    yours sincerely


  6. MatR permalink
    June 10, 2010 1:34 pm

    Alex, as a British military system, I can assure you that Skynet will be less interested in the global extermination of humanity than it will be in lager, football, not-eating-foreign-food (TM) and having a pagga with the French. It makes me proud :o)

  7. June 10, 2010 11:59 am

    Hello Mike Burleson,

    you might be surprised to know I am all in favour of corvettes in the waters where Cheonan was sunk.
    You can see why in this picture:

    The sort of ship a navy needs is defined by geography,the enemy and the mode of operation (offensive/defensive).
    The waters near Seoul are very shallow,and the enemy is made up of many small vessels of limited warfighting capacity.
    Operating from nearby bases under land based aircover conducting defensive sea control operations is an appropriate use for a corvette.
    However,given the difficult sonar conditions any surface vessel will be at a disadvantage against a mini-submarine in those waters as it will be difficult to detect the submarine before it gets within firing range.
    A helicopter equipped frigate sitting out in deeper waters has a much better chance of detecting the mini-submarine first.

    The East coast of Korea is a different kettle of fish altogether,over there it is big water for big ships.


  8. Hudson permalink
    June 10, 2010 11:56 am

    “If you really expect fewer SSNs to protect your CVs and battleships, how’s that dog hunt in the face of a bums rush of obsolete SS and SSK, some of which probably are decoys?”

    Quite a sentence. What does it mean?

  9. June 10, 2010 11:54 am


    to be honest, I do not know if anyone has considered fitting a MAD tail onto the X-47…but I do not see why it could not have that attached like it can be fitted up for AEW…afterall all it needs to do is carry some torpedoes, some sonar bouys and the tail…the rest can be done back on the carrier via satelite or even buddy UAV link.

    there are though other UAVs which would probably be better for the role, the Humming Bird is currently an Attack chopper but I do not see why with some mods it could not be a very useful ASW asset. the Helicopters carried are still pretty good, and with some UAVs used to supliment their activities well, things could only get better.

    I do agree with mike about South Korea’s navy…it has not paid enough attention to the specific threats it faces, I understand the reasoning behind the decisions it made…even if i think they went a little far with their desire to build ‘deep blue’ – they need some ‘bluey green’ as well for their situation.

    yours sincerely


  10. west_rhino permalink
    June 10, 2010 11:30 am

    A couple of thoughts

    So how capable is the X-47 platform for ASW?

    If you aren’t shipping S-3 Vikings anymore, do you really need that big a target for big dumb ET-80s fired in a salvo oughtn’t miss?

    If you really expect fewer SSNs to protect your CVs and battleships, how’s that dog hunt in the face of a bums rush of obsolete SS and SSK, some of which probably are decoys?

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 10, 2010 11:19 am

    Tangosix wrote-“The sinking of a corvette by a submarine in the littorals is not a good argument for cutting aircraft carriers to buy more corvettes to send into the littorals”

    Recall also it was one corvette sunk. Perhaps if there had been many more, trained for the most likely conflict that would have made a difference? But the S Koreans had been concentrating on a near-peer conflict with China or Japan for the past decade, even though it was this small nuisance in the North which was the most dire threat. With the powerful KDX series of destroyers and frigates, even small carriers, the SK Navy was preparing for the war it wanted, not the one it got.

    Thankfully it was ONLY a 1000 ton corvette and a few score crew lost, than a carrier and their many hundreds or 1000 crew.

  12. June 10, 2010 10:43 am

    The trouble is that fleets have become unbalanced…and the reason is that the big ticket items are easy to sell to politicians and hard to cut, whilst escorts are difficult to sell to politicians (as those required in peace time compared to those necessitated in war time is pretty different) and easy for civil servants to cut (whether through ineptidude or stupidness…afterall buying 12 daring class, taking delivery of 6).

    the aircraft carriers will never enter the littorals, they don’t need to, the X-47 has a published range of 2,100nm+…without tanking or carrying extra fuel, it can carry missiles with a range of 1000nm…so allowing for it to return that gives the carrier an unrefueled strike range of 2,050nm+. This is about the range of that supposed for ASBM…but this is a weapon system which has been threatened for years and there are still not adequate answers to three questions:

    1) is the Aegis/SM-3 combo suddenly not the worlds most capable ABMS?

    2) how are the chinese government going to make sure that when those people at NORAD detect a balistic missile launch that the American President does not turn out to have an inchy finger and launch his own Balistic weapons thus starting a global nuclear exchange?

    3) anyone who has read Admiral’s Hill’s excellent treaties on air defence at sea, will know that attack at source is the best form of air defence…and the American and British forces in particular have learnt from their Scud hunting days – these launches will need a lot of information in order for accuarcy to be achieved, information which will require a lot of communications of one sort or the other. sounds a perfect job for a mini-B2 stealth UAV just to loiter, listen and strike when the time is right, that would sound to be a pretty good description and role for the X-47 and any successors.

    yes, corvettes are needed, they are needed to provide the mass of cheap and somewhat capable vessels neccessary to increase escort numbers – to provide the layered task group defence for ASW and AAW operational requirements. just as destroyers are needed to provide the escort fire power to supliment attack at source, provide support to amphibious operations and of course to blast any aircraft from the sky which get through the CAP and Attack at Source operations being provided by the aircraft carrier. All this is done whilst the subs hunt down the enemy fleet. Its like a river eco system, each organism is both a generalist and a specialist to reflect their own unique characteristics and capabilities.

    yours sincerely


  13. June 10, 2010 10:17 am


    to paraphrase Mr. Ong Weichong:

    “The sinking of Cheonan by a 1950-era midget submarine in familiar coastal shallows should have by now roused the corvette-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.”

    The sinking of a corvette by a submarine in the littorals is not a good argument for cutting aircraft carriers to buy more corvettes to send into the littorals.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “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.”

    In the past,navies built large numbers of small surface combatants. Up to the 1940s,fleets of these ships would fight eachother to gain sea control.
    With the advent of aircraft carriers and submarines,that type of combat has not happened for 65 years and likely never will again.


  14. June 10, 2010 9:34 am


    I know we have some United States Navy and Marine Corps aviators here so I have a question for them:
    How can the United States Navy be struggling to fill it’s carrier wings when it has a fleet of 1180 fighters?

    There are 10 carrier wings each of which has 44 fighters for a total front line strength of 440 aircraft.
    To sustain 440 frontline aircraft the British Royal Air Force would require a fleet of about 770 fighters based on typical figures for that service.
    The British Royal Navy surged 85% of it’s Sea Harrier fleet during the Falklands War.
    If the United States Navy were to replicate that performance they could surge 440 fighters with a fleet of just 518 aircraft.

    I am struggling to see how 1240 aircraft would be required to fill 10 carrier wings,what am I missing?


  15. June 10, 2010 9:24 am

    Hello alex,

    I can’t believe I have never noticed that connection in all these years!
    Let’s hope Skynet isn’t……Terminated.


  16. June 10, 2010 7:56 am

    X-47B….the carriers are getting into the UAV age;, &

    yes maybe less carriers are needed,but maybe also its not the ship thats going to change…but the aviation which flys from the ships. Sea basing is a lot safer, and has far more advantages than land basing…and it works out cheaper as you can move the base to where its needed without writing off any costs of the orriginal construction.

    the X-47 is strongly believed to be going to be able to operate in the AEW role, as well as ELINT, recce, strike and tanker…and thats before the possibilities of it taking a few air-to-air missiles up with it. The humming bird is most likely the future of close air ground support, principally because so many can be made – but before anyone gets to happy I should probably warn you all that the new computer system for the MOD in Britain is called SKYNET – apparently none of the ministers have noticed!

    yours sincerely



  1. Carrier Alternative Weekly « New Wars
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