Carrier Alternative Weekly
Current events with North Korea gives further weight to this prediction from an older Defense Industry Daily article on the Ohio class SSGNs, converted Trident missile subs:
In the past, when trouble struck in a global hotspot, it has been said that one of the first questions an American President asks has been “Where are the carriers?” In future, that question may often change to “Where are the Tactical Tridents?”
H/T to Lee Wahler!
From the 1991 book “This People’s Navy” by Kenneth J. Hagan, are these thoughts on the misuse of America’s carrier-borne airpower since World War 2. The Vice Admiral Malcolm W. Cagle mentioned here edited a comprehensive review of the Navy’s air war after Vietnam:
Admiral Cagle’s more general conclusions about the use of aircraft carriers in Vietnam–and in Korea two decades earlier–bear directly on the nature of American seapower at the end of the twentieth century. He noted that in those limited wars the “carriers had been employed as floating airfields–tied to a geographic station less than 100 miles from the enemy’s coast, sending aircraft against targets deep into the enemy’s land.” This stationary positioning of the carriers “made no use of the prime advantages of the carriers–their mobility.” It also made them sitting ducks. In the words of Admiral Roy Johnson, at one time commander-in-chief of the Pacific Fleet, we might have gotten in serious trouble by operating near a fixed point” if there had been “a serious air threat or submarine threat in the Gulf of Tonkin.” Therefore, Cagle concluded, the prolonged operation of carriers from nearly fixed points “should not become a practice”. Vietnam–and Korea–thus represented an inappropriate operational deployment of aircraft carriers, and yet those wars comprised the principal operational use of the great carrier armada built after World War II.
As I have argued, the conflicts since the World Wars and continuing to this day have not been the correct use of the world’s most powerful and capable warships, neither do they justify their continued use. Here’s more:
The two limited wars also caused, “in the minds of many”, an incorrect understanding of the aircraft carrier’s true function. From Vietnam to Korea, according to Admiral Cagle, the false conclusion was drawn that “the primary purpose” of carriers was “sea-based tactical air augmenting…land based tactical air.” Not so, said the admiral. He offered a corrective: The “main mission for attack aircraft carriers is to assist in carrying out the Navy’s prime mission, control of the seas.” The carrier, in other words, was Mahan’s modern tool. The goal remained command of the seas; the strategic line back to Trafalgar ran straight and clear’ the real purpose of the carrier was to destroy the enemy’s fleet as Nelson destroyed Villeneneuve’s in 1805.”
Since the world wars, and because of the misuse of the large aircraft carrier for a role it isn’t really designed, I think the control of the seas has reverted by to the surface combatant, thanks to the continued improvement of the guided missile and its targeting radars. So, why do we still have aircraft carriers with all plans centered on their use but only in environments they were not made for?
But a dilemma existed: There had been no formidable enemy fleet since the defeat of Japan in 1945.
By default then, they live, with no true test of their abilities or survivability in contested waters against a peer enemy. Note if you mention the fact that no one possesses any vessel of the immense cost or power of a single one of our 11, advocates immediately change the subject away from the lack of foreign enemies!
I thought the above was of major interest since it was from a general history of the US Navy and not a manual calling for reform.
If it was a Corporation, it would go under!
The Navy isn’t practicing good economics in keeping the first nuclear powered supercarrier, the USS Enterprise in service for another year, according to Kit Bonner at Sea Classics magazine:
The US Congress appropriated over $.5 billion USD to fund one final cruise for the Enterprise. Northrop Grumman was given $453.3 million USD for major overhaul to take no more than 16-months in dry dock. To date, the “Big E” has been in dry dock for 24-months, and is 31% over budget. It seems that this has become the norm as opposed to the exception in certain private shipyards. Unfortunately, eleven contract modifications have been required for a cost over-run of $140.1 million USD. All to allow an obsolete ship to take one more cruise!
The domino affect has altered the entire US Navy’s carrier force as certain ships have been waiting long beyond the time required for repairs to provide safe and combat ready service. At a minimum this includes the USS Nimitz, USS Eisenhower, and USS Harry S. Truman as well as a trickle-down affect on escort ships and their crews. Obviously, this has been very poorly managed, and perhaps sentiment has interfered with rational and realistic leadership. After all, the Enterprise is obsolete and has eight nuclear reactors compared to two in rest of the CVNs. This means greater costs. Perhaps, the “Big E” should be put out to pasture and work begun on an appropriate museum dedicated to this fine ship. It would be a shame if its final legacy was that of poor business practices.
The Navy over the years has altered the numbers of how many such giant ships it can’t live without, from 15 to 12 and now 11. Soon it will likely be 9 or 10. It is just me or is the strategy for the deployment of supercarriers merely “as many as we can get from Congress” instead of for any dire need? Also recall that there are plenty of other Navy warships which can do power projecting, from missile firing cruisers, destroyers, submarines, and giant SSGNs equipped with 154 missiles each plus Marine Harrier carriers.
Russia’s Land-Based Alternative
One of the primary arguments for maintaining fleets of giant and costly supercarriers, is the need to launch early warning aircraft like the E-2 Hawkeye to defend the fleet from air attack. To make up for its lack of 100,000 ton ships to launch EW aircraft, the Russians have come up with a logical solution. Here is an article with an head-turning title “Cruiser sunk the aircraft carrier 700 km outside“:
To make up for the Russian Navy ships retired a few years ago too fast offensive caused a “deficit”, the Russian military in the exercise of the war at greater long-range aviation component.
From the Russian Volga – Ural Military District, Siberian Military District of the Soviet Union -24, -34 front-line bomber Su deliberately non-stop from 8,000 kilometers away, the Pacific exercise, there was another A-50 early warning aircraft and air refueling IL -78 protects They destroyed the enemy at sea with cruise missile target, which means “not enough ships, aircraft and Minato,” the Russian ocean-going operations will be a major feature.
Larger jets EW like the A-50 can also load a great many more electronics, is faster, and thus more survivable than the 50-year old propeller driven Hawkeye. Also with refueling, larger planes are less a toil on the crew, allowing the plane to stay airborne indefinitely. I’m glad we have the Hawkeye as long as there are decks available to carry the fairly short range plane. Still, as the Russians proved, the loss would be no game-changer, if the immense cost of naval airpower has outweighed the need, and if land-based air already provides the solution.
Merlin Keeps Watch
Speaking of AEW, the British also know how to deploy the capability on a budget, recalling they originally designed the Sea King AEW2A “within 11-weeks” during the 1982 Falklands Conflict. Here from Defense Update is the story “‘Merlin AEW’ Proposed to Replace Royal Navy’s Sea King Mk7 AEW Helicopter“:
AugustaWestland and Thales presented the conceptual design of an AW101 ‘Merlin’ based Airborne Surveillance and Control (ASaC), positioned to replace the Sea King Mk7 ASaC currently operated by the Royal Navy. Operating from the deck of helicopter and aircraft carriers, Sea King Mk 7 helicopters are carrying the Searchwater 2000 radar and Cerberus mission system to provide airborne early warning at sea for the Royal Navy naval surface fleet.
While some would say the heliborne EW isn’t as good as the USN’s fixed wing capability, the RN thinks otherwise, using the new weapon off its own large decks:
The Royal Navy plans to deploy the new ASaC helicopter with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter on the new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, currently under construction.