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Carrier Alternative Weekly

June 17, 2010

The world's first supercarrier USS Forrestal (CV 59). Like its modern equivalent, on its final voyage?

Within the recent report from the Sustainable Defense Task Force titled Debt, Deficits, & Defense: A Way Forward, were naturally suggestions concerning America’s very powerful but also increasingly unsustainable fleet of aircraft carriers. Many of the proposals echo those put forth on occasion by New Wars, and I see this only as a common sense reaction to a growing problem. Doubts persist about the viability of large traditional aircraft carriers such as :

  1. They are too expensive, pricing upwards of $14 billion not including their expensive airwings and thousands of costly personnel needed to operate a single one.
  2. They may not be needed given advances in technology such as V/STOL planes including the supersonic F-35B that can operate from small decks or even converted merchantmen, plus amazingly smart and versatile cruise missiles, and unmanned aerial vehicles, so effective on land, soon to be so at sea.
  3. Their vulnerability. Taking a decade or longer to build and equip a multi-billion dollar platform, it only takes seconds to disable or defeat it using modern anti-access weapons such as cruise missiles and super-cavitating torpedoes. Even old fashioned mines or suicide boats pose a risk that the Navy has yet to contain sufficiently.

To me, all this seems to add weight to those seeking savings. Instead of casting off the numerous small patrol vessels or anti-mine ships as is the usual custom, the Navy needs to shed itself of supercarriers where there are no peers and none expected. Small craft are the least expensive to operate, need smaller crews, and are more relevant for today’s battles against pirates and Third World powers.

*****

Here then are the proposals, from Congressman Barney Frank and many other distinguished analysts from the Project on Defense Alternatives, the CATO Institute, the Center for Defense Information and so on.

A 9 Carrier Fleet w/8 Airwings

We can reduce the size of our Navy from the current fleet of 287 battle force ships to 230,
although this will require using our naval power differently. Included in this fleet would be nine aircraft carriers. This option would keep fewer of our war ships permanently “on station,” partly by having them operate in smaller groups. It would put greater emphasis on surging naval power as needed. The firepower of our naval assets has grown dramatically during the past 20 years

The option would eliminate procurement and advanced procurement costs for two aircraft carriers.
Savings also would come from a reduced demand for new aircraft: approximately 60 F-35’s and 10 E-2D
Advanced Hawkeye aircraft could be removed from the procurement pipeline. Finally, there would be substantial savings from operations and support accounts. All told, about 11,000 naval personnel would be subtracted from end strength…

The demand for ships could be reduced by patrolling in smaller groups and by shifting emphasis from
“presence” requirements to “surge” requirements. In particular, large-deck aircraft carriers and their air wings– which are the fleet’s most expensive component –could be mostly reserved for meeting war-time surge requirements…

Among US air power assets, those that are carrier based have a special role. Where access to land bases
is limited, aircraft carriers can bring tactical air power within reach of enemy bastions. But this fact should not exclude them from close scrutiny, especially in times of tight budgets. In fact, the United States has more of this asset than it reasonably needs. Moreover, sea-based air power is relatively vulnerable and expensive. Sortie for sortie, it costs more than twice as much as land-based tactical air

In none of these wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo) were the engaged carriers employed to their fullest, however. For instance, during the first month of Operation Iraqi Freedom, naval fighters flew an average of 0.8 sorties per day. They are capable of flying two, at least – and the Navy claims they can do more in a pinch…

In 2005 Senate testimony, then Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vernon Clark asserted that the number of targets that a carrier air wing could attack per day in the future would increase from 700 to more than 1,000 – having already risen substantially from 200 in 1997. Implicit in this is the option to reduce the overall number of carriers and wings, while maintaining or even increasing striking power.

Supplementing the future offshore strike capability of US carriers would be the long-range attack capability of America’s bomber force – able in the future to carry several times as many guided munitions as today. Also bolstering the aircraft carriers would be the rest of the Navy’s surface fleet and the four Ohio-class submarines that have been reconfigured for conventional missions. The surface fleet is equipped with approximately 8,000 Vertical Launch Systems…

Proposal for 8 Carriers & 7 Airwings

Canceling procurement of CVN 79 and all future Ford Class CVNs would save $16 billion in planned procurement through 2020 (approximately $7 billion for CVN 79 and $9 billion for CVN 80). Decommissioning the Nimitz, Eisenhower, and Vinson (along with the Enterprise) would save at least $5 billion over 10 years in reduced O&M costs, including associated air wings. A further $12 billion would be saved in foregone procurement of 60 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, assuming a 50% replacement of F/A-18s with JSFs for each carrier eliminated. Associated reductions in personnel would save $10 billion. F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, assuming a 50% replacement of F/A-18s with JSFs for each carrier eliminated. Associated reductions in personnel would save $10 billion…

*****

Final Thoughts

I am in complete agreement, that the US military can do with far fewer forces geared for conventional warfare, in other words, traditional legacy platforms from the past century. I fear that some of the debate centering on the weapons reflect ideas born during the 1990s in the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) that small numbers of high tech equipment can take the place of large standing armies, navies, and air forces. Obviously this notion, that high tech will solve all our problems, making wars easier and quicker has been officially discredited by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In contrast, we see us needing more boots on the ground, our air forces are as busy as ever if not busier, and the need for small patrol craft to contend with the rise of small navies is increasingly clear.

So we should balance the reductions in conventional power with increase in unconventional warfighting equipment and personnel. These would include light and agile troops, hundreds of new patrol boats costing in the tens of millions or less, and plentiful new UAVs. As we say that because legacy weapons like giant aircraft carriers and their amazing fighters are so capable we can get by with fewer, lots fewer. But the need for presence and numbers, for the “cop on the beat“, whether on land, sea, or in the air never varies from war to war.

The time for change is here. We can no longer fight new wars with the weapons of yesterday. Lets get this done.

*****

31 Comments leave one →
  1. June 22, 2010 6:44 pm

    not sure why I put in the orriginal bit….mmm

    anyway, I think this might interest you all on the abilities of an aircraft carrier to hide: http://www.navweaps.com/index_tech/tech-031.htm, I would also recomend purchasing a copy of J.R. Hill’s ‘Air Defence at Sea’ – a great text, written by a rear admiral rn (ret) who really knows his stuff.

    yours sincerely

    Alex

  2. Al L. permalink
    June 21, 2010 2:12 pm

    error in my last comment:

    “And its just as vulnerable to being put out of action by a hole on the deck as a CVN”

    should have said:

    “And a CV is just as vulnerable to being put out of action by a hole on the deck as a CVN”

  3. Al L. permalink
    June 21, 2010 2:07 pm

    B.Smitty said:
    ” AEW is just as important for so-called “low-end” presence missions. Hawkeyes can detect surface contacts as well as air targets at great range”

    AEW is the weakness of the sto/vl carrier vs. the conventional carrier. However this can be overcome through the combination of assets, which may be more flexible on the low end than a single organic AEW aircraft:

    -P-3, P-8, E-3, E-8,global hawk, predator other land based long range aircraft
    -organic manned and unmanned helicopters
    -the next gen sensors on the f-35
    -networking with the other ships in the SAG
    -moving in a CVN when the air threat requires it

    “However the type of “hi-lo” arrangement you are advocating is another reason I favor junking the LHA/LHD concept for a true conventional CV ”

    Thats a good idea. The problem is there is no such proven design that would suit U.S. needs, no real world evidence it would cost enough less than a CVN to make a significant difference in fleet cost, and as you hint it would require reworking the whole amphibious fleet, as well as developing the infastructure for a completely new ship type.

    LHA/LHA can be built or modified in short order, fit in the existing infrastructure, and have known costs which are 1/5th to 1/3rd of a CVN.

    And its just as vulnerable to being put out of action by a hole on the deck as a CVN

    “BTW, CVNs don’t typically carry large numbers of VTOL aircraft. IIRC, somewhere around 6 H-60s is typical.”

    Not anymore. Recent and future deployments will carry up to 20 h-60.

  4. B.Smitty permalink
    June 21, 2010 8:39 am

    Al L.,

    AEW is just as important for so-called “low-end” presence missions. Hawkeyes can detect surface contacts as well as air targets at great range.

    However the type of “hi-lo” arrangement you are advocating is another reason I favor junking the LHA/LHD concept for a true conventional CV and a larger number of cheaper LPDs. But, unlike an LHA/D, a CV actually can do most of what a CVN can do.

    BTW, CVNs don’t typically carry large numbers of VTOL aircraft. IIRC, somewhere around 6 H-60s is typical.

  5. Al L. permalink
    June 19, 2010 2:43 pm

    Many commenters here seem to look at the carrier issue as a zero sum game: either big carriers or small ones; carriers or bases; etc.

    The idea should be a balanced force and flexibility.

    Why would small flat decks not be a good complement to CVNs?

    Lets say the Navy works toward an 8 CVN “surge” force. It stays largely in reserve and moves into a conflict area when its assets are needed. The rest of the time it trains. The Navy also works toward maximizing the fixed wing aircraft numbers on these ships.

    At the same time the Navy builds a small deck force based on the LHA-8, flying F-35b, helicopters and UAVs. I’ll call it the HC-8.

    The patrolling/ presence missions are conducted by the HC-8 types. They focus on the ability to conduct the nearshore missions against low end adversaries: ASW, raid support, interdiction etc. The things most likely to be needed on a daily basis in hybrid war.

    Depending on the level of conflict or adversary, these small decks can be concentrated in an area to multiply their abilities and/or combined with CVN’s providing cover for them.

    Their are multiple advantages to this structure.

    1. The HC-8’s operating nearer to shore under a CVN umbrella provide both greater access for manned and unmanned helicopters to conduct ASW, interdiction, etc. in shallow waters, as well as a layered force which the enemy must penetrate to hit the CVN. The CVN can be less tied up with its own defense and more focused on flying planes.

    2. Less wear and tear on the expensive CVN’s

    3. Greater flexibility in response. For example lets say a minor conflict begins to escalate. An HC-8 is on scene. A CVN is dispatched from its holding area. There appears to be an increased threat of small submarines. The CVN loads up extra helicopters. In theater the helicopters are dispatched to the HC-8. At the same time since the CVN aircraft would provide the air cover, the F-35b’s could be dispatched to a land base to provide a land base backup, CAS, etc.

    4. More strategic signal options. Low impact(HC-8), Big message
    (CVN)

    5. More hulls to distribute more places, for less cost. If the navy drops to 8 CVN’s it wont need a new build CVN until 2036. if the Ford is ready by then.

    6.It gets most of the VTOL assets off the CVNs, and allows more room for long range fixed wing assets. A/C per deck could be maximized, near shore ops would be required less, the CVNs would be more maneuverable as they would not be constrained by the short legs of a bunch of helicopters, Hence they would be less vulnerable.

    7. The F-35b’s on the HC-8s provide greater resilence. 1 hole in the deck of a CVN can stop all fixed wing air ops , but 1 hole in an HC-8 deck doesnt stop air ops.

    8. Many more pros to list, I’ll let others point out the cons.

  6. Fencer permalink
    June 18, 2010 5:22 pm

    MatR,
    I agree that AEGIS isn’t perfect but so far no ship outfitted with, or under the protection of, AEGIS has been damaged by aircraft or missile.

    It has proven virtually impossible to keep a ground target out of action with airpower alone. Airfields have more staying power but carriers are more flexible. Drawing lessons from WWII it seems carriers had a tendency to sink whenever they did anything but ASuW, but land bases proved equally ineffective at sinking ships.

    Anti-access weapons are certainty a threat and stationing a carrier off the coast of an advanced enemy nation would probably be virtually suicide. However, I believe that quick raids to attrit enemy forces would be a viable option. The Cheonan sinking was certainly a warning to take small submarines more seriously but I don’t think that the sinking of a low-end corvette accurately depicts the vulnerability of a modern CVBG.

    While long-range Air Force bombers are an exceedingly useful tool to have they have never come close to versatility and endurance of both carriers and airfields, however I do think that both the Air Force and the Navy should invest more in longer range strike aircraft.

    Your comment that a carrier can’t be hidden is based on logical arguments but history seems to show that a CVBG is quite capable of disappearing when it wants to.

    Thanks for the response.

  7. Hudson permalink
    June 18, 2010 5:15 pm

    “What happens if you hit a carrier’s lifts? Or destroy the bridge? Or hole the deck? Or use cluster munitions to crater all the deck and cripple all the planes on top?”

    What happens is you repair the carrier, starting with on-board crews laboring 24 hours a day to fix the ship, such as happened on USS Yorktown after the Battle of the Coral Sea where she suffered serious damage. She returned to Pearl and was fit for action in time for the Battle of Midway.

    Short of a general nuclear war, this is what America would do.

  8. Scott B. permalink
    June 18, 2010 3:06 pm

    MatR said : “It’s a myth that carriers can be hidden.”

    US Aircrafts Carriers regularly proved it’s not myth during the Cold War.

    Check for instance Norman Friedman’s Network-Centric Warfare, Chapter 20, pages 233-239.

  9. MatR permalink
    June 18, 2010 2:46 pm

    @ Fencer:

    Aegis isn’t perfect. It’s never been proven against supersonic missiles, and the USN doubts its ability to defeat swarming sea-skimming missiles.

    You just can’t cripple a land base with one or two well-directed warheads. What happens if you hit a carrier’s lifts? Or destroy the bridge? Or hole the deck? Or use cluster munitions to crater all the deck and cripple all the planes on top?

    Iraqi and Iranian airfields continued to function in the 1980s despite constant pounding. No aircraft carrier would have sustained that kind of damage.

    Despite multiple hits, the Argentine airforce kept Port Stanley airport open throughout the Falklands war.

    I do have to make a disclaimer here: I’ve recently finished working on a project for a company that manufactures airfield repair equipment, HAS etc., so you could say I’m hardly neutral (although I stress I have no shares in them and I don’t profit from their sales). What I do know from in-depth awareness is that modern airfields and hardened shelters a) can be made nigh-on indestructable to all but NBC weapons b) can be repaired from seemingly horrendous damage within hours to days.

    You’re absolutely right about proximity and access being key. However, I suggest that anti-access weapons will soon restrict access to in-theatre seas as much as political hoo-haa currently restricts access to in-theatre land bases. There are already major doubts about the USN’s ability to operate CVNs in a conflict around Taiwan, or in a Gulf conflict against Iran. Despite major wargames ongoing immediately before the sinking of the Cheonan – and vessels remaining on-station in the area – the amassed vavies of South Korea and the USA didn’t detect the approaching Nork sub that perpetrated that awful act. We can say ‘Ah, but how were they to know there’d be an attack’ – but that goes for real life, too. There are no warnings in real wars. Why would we be more able or successful at stopping similar destruction against carrier battle groups in an actual conflict, when our anxiety is high, our nerves stretched, and our concentration low?

    I respectfully suggest that if we want to drop ordnance, we first use long-range high-flying bombers and stand-off weapons, not 400 nm range fighter-bombers (their interdiction range, at least) based on a 1970s design, currently outclassed by Rafales, Typhoons, Migs, Sukhois, J11s, and so on. And that we don’t use very ‘sinkable’ CVNs.

    It’s a myth that carriers can be hidden. They have never truly been in any modern conflict, and especially not in crowded waterways over continental shelves. You can’t hide something the size of a city block, with its attendant IR, Radar, magnetic, acoustic and sonar signatures. Not when hundreds of trawlers, sampans, cargo ships and other ships sail past it every day. Not in the Med, the Gulf, the South China Sea, etc.

  10. Fencer permalink
    June 18, 2010 2:25 pm

    Scott B. – Thanks for the answer. I didn’t realize there was such a difference between various areas of ocean. I was not advocating using simulators instead of actual experience, instead I was wondering if more time could be spent training entire battlegroups or even task forces to operate together.

  11. Scott B. permalink
    June 18, 2010 1:31 pm

    Fencer said : “Would there be additional savings from not keeping as many ships at sea? Could more time be spent training, especially for ASW?”

    I find this conception that training and deployment at sea would not be compatible with one another very disturbing to say the least.

    E.g., as far as ASW is concerned, the best way to go is to train as you fight, i.e. to train where you might have to fight.

    That’s because ocean environments vary quite dramatically from one place to another, e.g. in terms of temperature, salinity, depth, ambient noise,… all of which affect how sonars perform.

    The notion that sailors might get familiar enough with the multiple idiosyncrasies involved in ASW through pierside / computer training is a very dangerous misconception, one that, once again, has its roots in the blind faith professed by most reformers that *technology will solve all the problems*.

  12. Scott B. permalink
    June 18, 2010 12:34 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “They may not be needed given advances in technology such as V/STOL planes including the supersonic F-35B that can operate from small decks or even converted merchantmen”

    At this stage, it might be interesting to inject another brief prepared by the CNA back in May 2009 :

    Carrier Operations : Looking Toward the Future–Learning from the Past

    Slide #24 is especially relevant to the discussion, and offers another perspective of the Burlesonian advocacy for small carriers as a replacement for CVNs : (emphasis added)

    **************************************************************************

    WHAT ABOUT SMALL CVs

    • Expected warfare scenarios of the near future….
    – irregular warfare
    – support to small ground units
    – battle space dominance against asymmetric threats

    …all share one characteristic: they require aircraft airborne on-station continuously for extended periods of time
    – Target kill rate is not an appropriate metric for these missions

    • This is a very challenging mission for small carriers
    – Requires either high sortie rates or “chain-gang” of aircraft for persistence at long
    ranges
    – Small carriers lack sufficient numbers and types of aircraft to perform these
    missions
    􀂃 Only 2 stations can be sustained at 250NM; none can be sustained beyond 300NM
    􀂃 During OIF, two carriers from EMED sustained 4 stations at ranges of 700NM
    􀂃 No E-2 for early warning or command and control

    – Small carrier could not have performed recent missions

  13. Scott B. permalink
    June 18, 2010 12:23 pm

    Barney Frank et al. said : “Sortie for sortie, it costs more than twice as much as land-based tactical air…”

    In the absence of supporting details for this claim, I have to seriously question the accuracy of these numbers.

    Until someone can come up with hard data to substantiate this ratio, I will safely assume that these numbers are solely based on IDEOLOGY and have no connection whatsoever with REAL LIFE.

    Meanwhile, I’ll try to inject some observations into this debate :

    1) In its March 1995 study on cost differences between land-based and sea-based tactical aviation (see CRM 95-19.10), the Center for Naval Analyses came up with the following annual costs :

    F-15 TFW (72 aircraft) : $392 million
    F-16 TFW (72 aircraft) : $367 million
    CVW + CV (71 aircraft) : $457 million

    2) I’d encourage people, especially the anti-CV crowd, to try and find out the cost of an F-16 (or F-15) sortie from Bagram Airfield and compare that with the cost of an F-18 sortie from an aircraft carrier. And please, don’t forget to account for indirect costs (i.e. troops protecting the airfield).

  14. Fencer permalink
    June 17, 2010 11:45 pm

    It seems that this review might have offered a good point: maybe the politicians can agree that the US Navy doesn’t need to provide as much presence. If this happens then the US Navy wouldn’t need to worry about a 313 ship fleet; no one is arguing that those additional ships are needed to defeat any other navy, simply to provide the presence the government wants.

    Would there be additional savings from not keeping as many ships at sea? Could more time be spent training, especially for ASW?

  15. Fencer permalink
    June 17, 2010 11:31 pm

    Mike. You said: “On a ton for ton basis, small warships are not as cost effective as a 100,000 ton carrier, but ton for ton they are much more heavily armed and so more practical.” I thought the whole point of this blog was to show us that small warships are more cost effective? If small ships aren’t as cost effective as large ships how is your building scheme going to save the navy?

  16. Fencer permalink
    June 17, 2010 11:30 pm

    MatR, the reason that carriers are less vulnerable than airfields is that it pretty hard to find a CVBG that doesn’t want to be found; and even if the enemy do locate it how many land bases have a dedicate AEGIS-level air defense system, let alone 3.

    Second, CVBG can be hidden within range of a hostile coast long enough to launch a air strike, here is an interesting article about it: http://www.navweaps.com/index_tech/tech-031.htm

    Third, while airfields are cheaper you have to build them within range of every possible threat, but this has already been mentioned. Since most threats are over seas land base are actually just as hard if not harder to resupply because you still need to ship supplies to them and unlike a carrier they can’t sail to a friendly port whenever they need to.

  17. June 17, 2010 6:10 pm

    Hello MatR,

    over the last 65 years more than a hundred air bases have been put out of action in combat.
    That includes multiple air bases destroyed by aircraft carriers of course.
    Not one aircraft carrier has even been damaged in combat over the same period.

    To suggest land based logistics is cheaper than sea based logistics is nonsense.
    Most of the World’s trade moves by sea because it is far,far cheaper than land transport,even before you add in the cost of protecting supply lines.
    To move the capacity of just one ship crewed by a couple of dozen men you would need thousands of trucks crewed by thousands of men.
    Moving fuel by truck can easily cost a hundred times more than moving it by sea.
    Which is why most land bases depend on ships to deliver fuel to them.
    This is even the case in land locked countries like Afghanistan where air bases are supplied by fuel from Pakistani refineries.
    Refineries which make that fuel from oil delivered by ship to ports like Karachi.
    The cost of moving that fuel over land from the port to the land bases in Afghanistan is extraordinarily high.
    Some sources say it costs as much as $400 a gallon.

    tangosix.

  18. Mike Burleson permalink*
    June 17, 2010 5:55 pm

    Hello everyone! I’ll try to respond to numerous points brought here, all important because they must be answered by the reformers at least before we can cut carriers.

    Concerning carrier cost-effectiveness-I think this is an ongoing deception promoted by the Navy which is stealing from the overall health of the fleet. Most every problem such as “fighter gaps”, selling off still functional warships, and the ongoing decline in warship numbers since at least the 1960s can be attributed to the supercarrier. The recurrent fear of “decks without aircraft” is a very real one, and we even got the current top fighter the Super Hornet just in time in the 1990s, there were no other choices other than modernizing older aircraft from the Vietnam era.

    The large decks have now superseded the importance of the aircraft it carries, its only reason for existence. While we have discovered a way to make carrier hulls cost-effective, we have lost the ability to create a fully viable carrier navy, or arm the ones we have adequately.

    So we are faced with cuts. I actually think the navy could deploy a large fleet of aircraft carriers, 15 or more if they would take advantage of new technology and build light carriers. As pointed out in the report, carrier planes are now amazingly effective, and we can can make them do may more sorties and drop many more direct hits with JDAMs than when Forrestal was delivered. Oddly the carrier hull has changed little, in fact it has grown bigger. So it is the admirals themselves who are forcing obsolescence on the naval air arm, because of their reluctance to adapt to advances in technology.

    On a ton for ton basis, small warships are not as cost effective as a 100,000 ton carrier, but ton for ton they are much more heavily armed and so more practical.

    In order to build a navy you need a cost effective fleet with multiple capabilities. Having individually capable but fewer ships is a recipe for disaster since a fleet is about hulls in the water. The obvious truth is, the Navy has found a way to build perfect aircraft launching ships, but forgot how to build a fleet.

    Concerning Barney Frank’s motivations, I am in complete agreement but even Churchill worked with Stalin in order to win the war in front of him. Here’s hoping we manage the cuts, which are coming anyway. Let’s make the best of it.

  19. June 17, 2010 5:43 pm

    Hello Mike Burleson,

    having read that report by the Sustainable Defense Task Force,I was very surprised to see you agreeing with it.

    For example Mike Burleson said:

    “But the need for presence and numbers,for the “cop on the beat“,whether on land,sea,or in the air never varies from war to war.”

    But the Sustainable Defense Task Force said:

    “The most pressing demand put on the Navy is the requirement to maintain a forward presence in three oceans almost all the time – the so-called 2.5 ocean standard.
    Typically, between 105 and 125 ships are on deployment continuously,although most are cycling to or from their forward areas.
    This continuous peacetime presence is supposed to reassure friends,while dissuading others from errant behavior.
    But the link between generalized “presence” and specific outcomes is too tenuous to warrant the cost.
    The demand for ships could be reduced by patrolling in smaller groups and by shifting emphasis from “presence” requirements to “surge” requirements.”

    “Why so many US troops in Europe and Asia?
    In part,our permanent presence in these regions is supposed to serve a direct deterrence function.
    It also is meant to reassure allies,stake out US interests,and facilitate regional crisis intervention.
    In both regions,however,and for a variety of reasons,a reduction in our presence should be considered.”

    Mike Burleson said:

    “In contrast,we see us needing more boots on the ground,our air forces are as busy as ever if not busier,and the need for small patrol craft to contend with the rise of small navies is increasingly clear.”

    But the Sustainable Defense Task Force said:

    “Table 2 (page 13) provides a quick summary of our central recommendations………options would entail:
    A reduction of approximately 200,000 military personnel,yielding a peacetime US active-duty military of approximately 1.3 million personnel,
    • Capping routine peacetime US military presence in Europe at 35,000 and in Asia at 65,000, including afloat,
    • Reducing the size of the US Navy from its current strength of 287 battle force ships and 10 naval air wings to a future posture of 230 ships and 8 air wings,
    • Rolling back the number of US Army active-component brigade combat teams from the current 45 to between 39 and 41,
    • Retiring 4 of the 27 US Marine Corps infantry battalions along with a portion of the additional units that the Corps employs to constitute air-land task forces,
    • Retiring three US Air Force tactical fighter wings”

    Mike Burleson said:

    “So we should balance the reductions in conventional power with increase in unconventional warfighting equipment and personnel.
    These would include light and agile troops,hundreds of new patrol boats costing in the tens of millions or less,and plentiful new UAVs.”

    But the Sustainable Defense Task Force said:

    “We offer an option that can meet the nation’s essential security needs while being 20% smaller than the Navy’s current fleet and 27% smaller than the one it plans for 2020.”

    There were a couple of other points which caught my eye.

    Mike Burleson said:

    “I fear that some of the debate centering on the weapons reflect ideas born during the 1990s in the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) that small numbers of high tech equipment can take the place of large standing armies,navies,and air forces.”

    Small numbers of high tech equipment can take the place of many,I wonder who would suggest such a thing?

    Mike Burleson said:

    “As we say that because legacy weapons like giant aircraft carriers and their amazing fighters are so capable we can get by with fewer,lots fewer.”

    “This is at an age when individual aircraft can perform so many wonderful things,thanks to modern sensors and precision guided “smart bombs”,meaning you can do so much more with so much less.”

    “The Big Ships being so much more capable thanks to new weapons,logically we can do more with less of them.”

    “I think we can drastically reduce the size of conventional forces,especially aircraft carriers,because precision weaponry developed near the end of the Cold War has made such weapons so much more capable.”

    Mike Burleson said:

    “Obviously this notion, that high tech will solve all our problems,making wars easier and quicker has been officially discredited by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

    I have to agree with this point,but who is it who keeps suggesting all our problems can be solved with cruise missiles,unmanned air vehicles and exotic fast boats?

    tangosix.

  20. MatR permalink
    June 17, 2010 5:43 pm

    Sea-based aviation is indeed more vulnerable than land based. Half a dozen cruise misisle hits to a land base won’t sink it! ;o) With top-notch bunkers, they won’t even penetrate to the stores and planes. And you can repair a modern runway in hours or days with modern polymers, matting and fillers.

    You can’t actually hide a CVN if it’s within 1000nm of an enemny’s coast – it has a whopping EM signature, and its own air wing’s radar tracks head towards it.

    40 times the cost of a carrier to conduct the same type of in-theatre repairs that a CVN can? Do you have data for that?

    And surging CVNs – that’s, what, 250-80 sorties a day with 4 CVNs? That’s not so many per unit of spend, compared to an existing, modern land base in-theatre. If you face a peer land-based adversary, they’ll spend a fraction of what the CVNs do to launch that many sorties. And they’ll have more runways, taxiways and parking spots available. And the potential for longer-ranged aircraft. Land bases are simply cheaper to build and easier to resupply. Trucks are cheaper than fleet auxiliaries.

  21. Heretic permalink
    June 17, 2010 5:19 pm

    Oh … and just because Mike complained about there being only 1 LCS acronym this past week …

    C ash
    V acuuming
    N ecessity

  22. Heretic permalink
    June 17, 2010 5:17 pm

    I’d like to note that in multiple previous threads I’ve given my reasons and rationales for how the CVNs would have to be organized and rotated if the USN were to drop below 10 of them. Kinda interesting to see my “back of the envelope” assertions validated by a congressional analysis saying that 9 CVNs makes for a pretty decent sized force for the kind of world we’re finding ourselves in.

  23. Chuck Hill permalink
    June 17, 2010 4:12 pm

    Fuel requirements can also be very high for a large fleet of small vessels compared to a small fleet of large vessels. Horse power per ton to attain a given speed drops dramatically as the size of the ship goes up.

  24. Fencer permalink
    June 17, 2010 1:12 pm

    I’ve been reading you blog for a while and while I don’t agree with a lot of what you post you do make some good points, but I thought I should comment on this.

    Smaller ships are not cheaper to man. Using figures from Wikipedia an equivalent tonnage of Visby corvettes to a Nimitz-class carrier would require 6,500 sailors to the carrier’s 3,000 (5,700 including the air-wing) and CVN-78 will have a total crew of 4,660.

    The report says that we will use Ohio SSGNs and Air Force bombers to take up the slack. First the Air Force only has 200 bombers (the majority of which are at least 40 years old), there are no plans to build more, and the Air Force is currently having trouble replacing its tanker fleet (vital to long-range bomber missions); second there are only 4 SSGNs, all will be retired within 20 years, and again there are no plans to build more.

    In your final statement you say the USN needs “presence and numbers” but the excerpt from the report says that it should shift emphasis from “‘presence requirements to ‘surge’ requirements.”

    Actually I believe this last point is a good one. Since the Cold War is over do we really require X carriers on constant patrol so much as X carriers available for deployment?

  25. Chuck Hill permalink
    June 17, 2010 12:57 pm

    The real beauty of aircraft carriers is that they can be concentrated. Despite the great offensive power they have now. Putting single carriers us against a capable foe is not a good Idea, because they start to spend all their time defending themselves, but surge three or four to operate together and it is truly awesome. Right now, Carriers seldom get experience operating in multi-carrier formations because they are too busy meeting their rotational requirement.

    Dropping the Forward deployed requirement would give them the opportunity to exercise together.

  26. Daniel permalink
    June 17, 2010 12:53 pm

    I would use Barney Frank to support your cause. His interest is not the well being of the navy of for freeing up funds for social programs. In this time of tight budgets? There’s only the DOD that their trying to curb everywhere else massive spending increases have happened.

  27. Al L. permalink
    June 17, 2010 12:03 pm

    This statement cuts right to center of the solution to U.S. Naval imbalance and fleet size increase:

    “The demand for ships could be reduced by patrolling in smaller groups and by shifting emphasis from
    “presence” requirements to “surge” requirements. In particular, large-deck aircraft carriers and their air wings– which are the fleet’s most expensive component –could be mostly reserved for meeting war-time surge requirements…”

    One must remember the need for 11 or 12 carrier groups is dictated by the the rotational structure of deployments as currently used. It was originally developed to enable U.S. carriers to be forward and on station to rapidly counter a Soviet strike. It is not relevant to today’s strategic conditions. It continues because it is institutionally ingrained. Who wants to tell the carrier community its no longer the tip of the spear but a surge force?

    But such a surge force structure would not only require less CVN’s it could at the same time offer far greater strategic flexibility as the carriers that are available are not tied up maintaining presence in places they may be overkill, and therefore are more easily concentrated in the area of conflict.

    And please don’t suggest China as a substitute for the USSR. The U.S. had no substantial economic ties to the USSR, we certainly do with China. Those ties provide the best early warning system. Their are literally thousands of US businesses tracking Chinese activities everyday. There would certainly be enough time to move CVNs from a holding station to near Taiwan.

    With 8 CVNs the Navy should be able to have 2 ready for use in a war zone at anyone time using a 6 month active period within a 24 month cycle for each carrier, including having one of the CVN’s constantly on 24-30 month repair/refuel unavailable rotation. But this requires moving to a constant rotation in which a CVN moves out(or in) every 90 days. This would mean a fresh carrier was avaiable every 3 mos instead of every 6. Also with a 6 week hold over in a surge situation 3 CVNs could be in a war zone. Needless to say 9 CVN’s makes it easier, 10-12 is too many for today’s needs.

  28. Chuck Hill permalink
    June 17, 2010 11:18 am

    There is also the fact that building static air bases they are not always where you end up needing them. Lots of bases in the past were built, but essentially never used. Its not unlike building coastal forts. Dollar for dollar a lot cheaper per gun, but then they may never be used in the war you actually have to fight and you end up needing a lot more of them.

  29. June 17, 2010 9:16 am

    “Moreover, sea-based air power is relatively vulnerable and expensive. Sortie for sortie, it costs more than twice as much as land-based tactical air…”

    1) aircraft carriers are less vulnerable, cause lets face it anyone with Google map can find an air base, and note down its location and fire…with mortars, missiles, even a plane with bombs, and it is bye bye airbase, its far more difficult to find and therefore to kill a carrier.

    2) does this cost include the requirement for nearly a brigade of troops to protect each land bases, the cost of the diplomatic noose held by the country that base is built in, and of course the fact that when a volcano goes off, the ash will stop the land based aircraft flying, the sea based ones just move the base. what about the cost of having to send tankers round the oceans, then loading that fuel into bowsers and driving for miles…what about the costs of protecting all that? what about the fact that whilst aircraft carriers usually have top notch machine shops to maintain aircraft in top fighting order, to build the same level on ever land base would cost enough money to buy 40 carriers – this is especially neccessary with the growing numbers of exquisite and pilotless aircraft, both of which are far more complicated to maintain.

    mike I agree that a more balanced force structure is needed, and I do believe that britain needs 12 C1s and about 30 C2s (as long as these are corvets on the lines of the Meko in the SAN), but I think that the report is one which is not really thought out, and could be slightly biased.

    yours sincerely

    Alex

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  1. The Sustainable Defense Task Force Cuts « New Wars
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