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Carriers: The Weakest Link Pt 2

August 12, 2010

CVN-78 Gerald R. Ford class aircraft carrier, the largest, and at $13.5 billion, the most expensive warship ever devised.

The idea of massed airwings of the type carried by the typical Nimitz class supercarrier is actually making us weaker with the appearance of great strength. When this becomes your only answer for world problems, it greatly limits your capability and effect. For instance, a show of force with a carrier strike group against a Third World nation appears almost farcical, because of the great difference in strength between the two powers. A rogue dictator knows the US must either deploy this force at its full strength or not at all, and given the world attitude against war on weaker nations, the defiant potentate knows he is mostly secure. The dramatic takedown of a Saddam Hussein or Manuel Noriega is such a rare occurrence as to be unlikely, the dictator feels secure enough when the carrier withdraws for other duties, he quietly breathes a sigh of relief, and publicly claims a great victory of standing down the American colossus. The old David versus Goliath scenario, which is very effective for propaganda purposes.

The huge size of a supercarrier, with so much national treasure packed inside, plus the very exquisite planes and warships required to defend it, means for a massive and unnecessary drain on America’s resources. More expensive ships and their long building times means American shipyards spend an excessive amount of time on fewer warships. Fewer ships built means less work, which is the primary cause of the demise of the US shipbuilding industry. Our apparent great strength then has a ripple effect across the entire Navy, ensuring it remains small, less flexible, and with fewer shipbuilding resources in case of war. This makes us less prepared for the future, not more.

It is also a very wasteful way to deploy power at sea. The admirals use the argument that larger carriers are better because they carry more firepower than so-called less capable small carriers, but this dated idea bears scrutiny in considering advances in technology.  The 1980 airwing of the USS Nimitz was far less capable than the 2000 airwing, the addition of precision guided munitions making a dramatic difference. Packing all this incredible technology in a few large packages, keeping it concentrated rather than dispersed where it is needed makes it less effective.We are weak even with the appearance of great strength.

If, however, you spread the new capability out, in smaller carriers, or with missiles ships, or land based planes, you could do more missions with the seemingly “less capable” airwings. You wouldn’t be bound by the 10 or 11 platforms you can afford, a handful of this forward deployed at any given time, requiring equally pricey escort warships, and 5000+ crew to operate.

With small carriers, this should satisfy the fear that we need carriers to support land troops ashore. Besides, these days Marines and Army soldiers carry much of their own aerial power in the form of V/STOL planes, the aforementioned UAVs, and even loading drones in backpacks as part of their kit. Mindful also that carriers should never operate in range of missiles, suicide boats, mines, or stealthy midget subs, against which we don’t need to risk our largest, most expensive warships anyway. Recall that supporting the land battle is secondary to the Navy’s primary role of sea control. Do we want to gear all of our precious resources toward a secondary naval mission, or will the fleet get serious about sea control, instead of continuing to trust in nuclear shield, that no one will shoot at our carriers?

The admirals will tout the amazing flexibility of their multi-billion dollar superships. On land, our warfighters are thinking of how many missions they can get out of individual aircraft, and UAVs are very able as well given their long-loitering persistence. In the very near future one or two drones will do the missions we now launch giant fleets and their tens of thousands of crew to perform. Not just fantasy, its very nearly here.

Because this new capability is so effective, less is more, but hulls are the life of any fleet. Get more hulls and you can project this new power in many places. Power concentrated is power wasted.

HMS Ark Royal sinks off Gibraltar in Nov. 1941.

You also must consider that the loss of a single such immense fighting ship, carrying so much of your total strength, you also lose a great amount of your firepower. During the world wars, carriers suffered grievous attrition in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. Recall Admiral Cunningham in the Mediterranean Theater, often down to a single carrier, many times with none. Compare this to the old battleship navy which depended greatly on numbers, with Nelson at Trafalgar forced to fight with one ship, or Jellicoe at Jutland so lacking!


Another cause for the carrier’s being the weak link in the fighting fleet, is their large size and vulnerability. Even the Navy now admits their biggest ships are at risk from a relatively simple off the shelf weapon, howbeit with advanced new guidance systems. Earlier this year comes the following testimony before the House Armed Services Committee by Admiral Robert F. Willard, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM):

China is also developing and testing a conventional anti-ship ballistic missile based on the DF-21/CSS-5 MRBM designed specifically to target aircraft carriers.

Having grave implications, according to Andrew S. Erickson, at Associate Professor at the Naval War College:

What does this mean for the U.S.? If developed and deployed successfully, a Chinese ASBM system of systems would be the world’s first capable of targeting a moving carrier strike group from long-range, land-based mobile launchers. This could make defenses against it difficult and/or highly escalatory.

While the Navy is taking steps to combat the Chinese carrier killing missiles, this will entail the concentration of even more force to guard the highly visible platforms, putting at risk the same vessels which potentially do the same mission. By keeping the missile escorts tied to the at-risk and redundant carriers, we are placing these valuable assets at risk as well. 

Also, by keeping the new battleships bound with the now obsolete carriers, we lose the flexibility of the long-range and easily dispersed  Tomahawks to ensure the fleet’s survivability. Remember that in 1941 the faster and longer-ranged naval airpower (200+miles) were still tied to the slow moving and short-ranged guns (20+ miles) of the battlefleet in the US Navy, and you can see the discrepancy today.

We have all the fighting power we need with lower cost missiles ships, submarines and light carriers, which should be dispersed in roles where we now use only supercarriers. These should be supported in their mission by smaller Influence Squadrons consisting of motherships, corvettes, OPVs, attack craft, which are less vulnerable in shallow waters, especially geared for this role as they are, and affordable enough to build in large numbers. For the Navy, they would be the “lighter footprint”, a tactic which the ground troops have used to great success in our wars and peacekeeping operations ashore.


Giant and small carriers sail together.

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  16. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 20, 2010 5:35 am

    Thanks for the links Mitch!

  17. critcalmass permalink
    August 20, 2010 5:32 am


    There are a lot of sources which mentioned new developments in Chinese weapons, but more often, they are obscure publications.

    at are: The PLA at Home and Abroad: Assessing the Operational Capabilities of China’s Military

    Beyond the Strait: PLA Missions other than Taiwan

    The “People” in the PLA: Recruitment, Training, and Education in China’s Militarymore books


    People’s Liberation Army and China in Transition, The at

    China Leadership Monitor at

    China Brief at
    China Defence Today

    China’s Military at (outdated)

    China Develops Stealth FighterSergio Coniglio. Military Technology. Bonn: 2006. Vol. 30, Iss. 2; pg. 44, 3 pgsAbstract (Summary)China is developing new 5th generation “stealth” fighter, which is being developed under a programmed variously referred to as XXJ, J-X, or J-XX by Western intelligence sources and is apparently designated as J-14. Here, Coniglio details China’s internal installations and full scale development of J-14.

    A Brief History of “Thunders”Tomasz Szulc. Military Technology. Bonn: Nov 2003. Vol. 27, Iss. 11; pg. 32Abstract (Summary)Szulc discusses the development of Chinese air-to-air missiles, which is almost unknown in the West. The reported timetables of the subsequent steps in the development process are often very inaccurate, while the technical data may be treated as being more or less accurate only in the case of Chinese export items, that have been inspected experts.

    Superiority ComplexKeir A Lieber, Daryl G Press. The Atlantic Monthly. Boston: Jul/Aug 2007. Vol. 300, Iss. 1; pg. 86, 7 pgsAbstract (Summary)China has approximately 80 operationally deployed nuclear warheads, but only a few of them-those assigned to single-warhead DF-5 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)-can reach the continental United States. Changes in war plans and shifts in the location of nuclear forces confirm that American nuclear upgrades are linked to the perception that China may become a threat In 1997, the Clinton administration made the first major change in presidential guidance for nuclear-war plans since the early 1980s, broadening the spectrum of Chinese targets.\n As China becomes a true great power and adopts a broader set of global interests, and as U.S. military preparations-conventional and nuclear-focus increasingly on China, leaders in Beijing will likely grow more and more uncomfortable living in the shadow of American nuclear primacy.

    Best Wishes

  18. August 14, 2010 5:43 am

    Concerning sortie rates I think with the RAF it is “culture.” They do seem to have do a less with more credo. But I am not sure whether this is “conscious” or just a product of circumstance. That is to say they gained the politicians ear and kept it. In the 1910s/20s the aeroplane was the future (it is easu to see how the idea of a navy of the air took hold,) then we have the “Battle of Britain” myth, the strategic bombing (Blitz vengeance?,) then during the early nuclear age the fear of the bomber, and as conscription/inter-state war fade into the history the collective knowledge of the armed forces has decayed rapidly (eg. Falklands War myth; army win on land, RAF shoots down ‘planes, navy has ships sunk.) (Listen to some of the howlers over the weekend as the defence cuts are discussed; I am praying Iran explodes the bomb soon so we can keep Trident!!!)

    Of course if you aren’t of the light blue persuasion and look at that service’s record post war it isn’t at all that glowing. The size of the late Cold War organisation is stunning; look how many joint organisations are run by the RAF. I remember my father moaning when the RAF Regiment lost its armour. “How are they going to defend air fields now?” I quietly pointed out as the RAF Regiment had no organic artillery so they would have to do as they always had done and rely on the Army.

  19. August 13, 2010 7:34 pm

    Hello RJGaskill,

    there are some very good comments there,especially the one about getting costs under control.

    X and Heretic,I think you two are asking the same question about why the Royal Air Force generates such low sortie rates.
    There is no doubt that basing plays a very large part in that,in almost every case their land bases have been further from the action than the aircraft carriers.

    However,there is more to it than than.
    In the Gulf the Royal Air Force generated lower sortie rates than other land based air forces and lower than carriers which were operating at similar ranges.

    There are two possible explanations,mission profiles or simple inefficiency.
    I have no idea which of those is the case and it would take some very detailed research to find out,perhaps an interesting doctorate paper for someone.


  20. RJGaskill permalink
    August 13, 2010 4:30 pm

    The DF Chicom Missle is overrated. Sure, we must take heed of it and I suspect the USN has been aware of this development for years and has or is planning countermeasures for it. For decades- some weapon has come up and novices has said ” the carrier is dead”- well, didn’t prove out that way. No one wants to charge blindly into a threat and get whupped- but, hey, how did we win WW2? By avoiding going into harms way? We lost the Lexington, Yorktown, Wasp, Hornet in 1942, Princeton in 1944, and numerous carriers had heavy damage yet no one considered scrapping big deck carriers. Personally- I feel costs have got to get under control, however- the big Carrier is here to stay for the foreseeable future- live with it. That being said- I feel a handful of Midway sized CVs and some smaller STOVL carriers ( think Cavour) would be valuable to the USN- more bang for the buck and survivable than LCS or the little corvettes and other 1 shot one kill boats some would advocate. Cavour sized CVLs plus some somewhat low end DD/FF I suspect ( especially an APD variant ) would work well in the littorals backed up from a distance by a CBG ( CVN centered).
    Face it- in a major war we will lose ships- CVNs w/ Aegis ships and SSNs may take some damage and they will aquit themselves well. we just saw this year what it takes to sink and FFL ( ROK ) so how well will a USN FFL/ LCS/ HSV/ ” Mothership ” fare? No well at all without a CVN/ CVM / CVL providing air cover. Finally a question- given the design of USS America- does anyone see her being trialed as a STOVL CVL and eventually used as such on a regular basis? I really like New Wars- keep up the good work!

  21. Heretic permalink
    August 13, 2010 2:06 pm

    re: tangosix

    the Royal Air Force did use Harriers based in Italy,they also generated far lower sortie rates than the American carrier aircraft.

    Is that lower sortie rate (somewhat) attributable to a disparity in range to target between carrier in Adriatic Sea vs airbase in Italy? I don’t need to remind you that double the radius to target results in more than double the flight hours per sortie, which will tend to have an impact on rates of sortie per day per aircraft.

    So in your analysis of land vs sea basing for strike in the Serbian campaign, were the RAF putting as many flight hours on their planes as the carrier based strike aircraft, on average? Or were the RAF just “falling behind” on *all* of the metrics for comparing sea vs land basing for aircraft in that exercise?

  22. August 13, 2010 1:32 pm

    What has worried me since my late teens is that if our government can ignore facts or just be hoodwinked by a group (Hello RAF!!!) about one matter, what else are they making fundamental errors in judgement over?

    Makes me glad I don’t have children…….

  23. August 13, 2010 1:04 pm

    The A330 is a good aircraft and I am hopeful too about the tanker contract. Though to be honest I haven’t followed negotiations too closely. The last I heard the PFI partner were a bit shocked that “their” aircraft may be needed to operate in a war zone (shock! Horror!) And further I agree with everything you say about tankers. It is rather amazing in the days where air travel is so common that basic facts about aircraft are still so largely unknown. Back in the late Victorian era the educated general public knew a lot about ships; yet today the same “class” are largely ignorant of basic aircraft knowledge.

    But I am not so enamoured with the A400m; C130J all the way for me!!

  24. August 13, 2010 11:13 am

    Hello X,

    I am very hopeful about the tanker contract.
    Of all the contracts we have it is probably the easiest to renegotiate.
    Few of the aircraft have been built yet,none are in service yet and there are lots of other countries interested in buying A330 tankers at present,not to mention commercial operators who could use them in the passenger role.
    I understand the penalty clauses apply to aircraft which have entered service so far,which is none at present.

    The whole requirement for tanking can be dramatically reduced by taking an holistic approach to the way we do air warfare and transport.
    Our trooping requirements would entail only a handful of A330s (just one A330 could rotate 10,000 men through Afghanistan in about a month assuming one round trip per day) and with A400Ms with tanker equipment and the aircraft carriers and F35Cs reducing transits and tanker demand there is little need for a large dedicated tanker capacity.
    If you look through the wars in which we have used tankers it is clear that peak tanker demand is largely caused by aircraft flying huge distances from distant land bases.

    I think an easy way out would be to buy a handful of the A330s as part of a contract renegotiation.
    As far as I can see we would not need more than about 6 aircraft,possibly less.


  25. August 13, 2010 11:04 am

    The key question is why are sortie rates from land bases low? Is it “culture”? Is it just because “deck space” drives the need for speed?

  26. August 13, 2010 10:55 am

    Hello Heretic,

    I forgot to mention something,there was a forward base set up in Albania during Allied Force though it was for helicopters,it is a good example of some of the issues involved.

    You will probably find this interesting:

    Click to access 1229.pdf

    In the right circumstances it is a great idea to have forward operating bases but often there are big demands for logistics,engineering and force protection.

    One of the most interesting and least discussed aspects of operations over the last two decades has been the establishment,development and improvement of bases.
    It is well worth reading up on what units like the Red Horse Battalions get up to:


  27. August 13, 2010 10:17 am

    Hello Heretic,

    the Royal Air Force did use Harriers based in Italy,they also generated far lower sortie rates than the American carrier aircraft.
    I mentioned the Tornados specifically as they really do sum up the problems with land based air power in that campaign.


  28. August 13, 2010 9:59 am

    Hertic mentioned the RAF and CAS.

    I hate to agree with Lewis Page but the RAF aren’t interest in CAS. What amused me around the internets a while back was when Typhoon was under threat RAF supporters shifted to saying that Typhoon had a multirole capability from the start. THIS IS COMPLETE AND UTTER LIE!!!!!! If the RAF had been interested in CAS they would have pushed for a gun just as the Germans have…..

    One of the best savings/value for money things the coalition could do is invest in FAA fast jets. Pilots joining the FAA know they are going to sea. I don’t care what some say RAF Joint Force Harrier pilots see deployments aboard carriers as a bit of a novelty and diversion it isn’t their career. They are disconnected from the RN ethos. RN F35 would be available home defence while working up and while at home “resting” after deployment. As well as being available for carrier work. I am not questioning here the bravery, commitment, or professionalism of RAF personnel just the logic of having the balance air power vested in a separate service when it can neither support the fleet at sea or provide enough CAS to soldiers on the ground. Rant over. Sorry.

  29. August 13, 2010 9:46 am

    tangosix if this were a forum you would be called a thread killer………

    ……..I am actually waiting for SDR to either cut the RAF tanker program significantly (making it either less value for money) or increase it at the cost of probably RN capability.

    (Though as an aside note the plan to base all RAF Typhoon at one base is just silly. It might save money but force concentration like that just makes the other side’s job just that little. Same reason why I am opposed to closing Devonport to surface ships.)

  30. Heretic permalink
    August 13, 2010 9:37 am


    I strongly suspect that if the British Army had needed to move into contested land and needed CAS to support their operations while under fire, the RAF would have discovered “real fast” why short hop V/STOL via GR9 Harriers from austere forward bases in theater near the front lines would be loads better than GR4 Tornados based 900 miles away and needing in-flight refueling every trip. Cab rank on the ground from forward bases beats cab rank in the air every day of the week (and twice over on days that end in “y”) given those distances.

  31. August 13, 2010 8:57 am

    Hello Mat,

    I would suggest you do some research into the bombing of Serbia.
    If there is one campaign which demonstates the problem with land based air power,Allied Force is it.

    Many allied aircraft flew from bases in Italy,which was on the verge of denying the use of it’s bases for the operation.
    Even then the lack of airfield capacity forced aircraft to operate from bases spread across the whole of Europe:

    British Tornados were bombing Serbia from Bruggen in Germany 900 miles away.
    It took 4 VC10 tankers just to allow 8 Tornados to get to Serbia and back.
    It is worth remembering that the future British tanker fleet is costing three times as much as the future British aircraft carrier fleet:

    Then there were the other British Tornados which demonstrated just how quickly land based aircraft can be deployed globally when they moved to Solenzara on Corsica.
    It took them so long that they managed to fly just one day’s combat operations before the 78 day air war ended.
    Did I mention the massive tanker support they required to bomb Serbia from Corsica?

    Then there were all the strike packages which had to return to base when some crucial element of that package could not get airborne due to weather conditions at it’s base:

    Then there are the sortie rates.
    The United States Navy aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt generated more than double the number of sorties per aircraft per day as the land based aircraft of the Royal Air Force.
    Which means that the Royal Air Force would have needed more than twice as many aircraft at twice the cost to generate the same level of combat power as the carrier.
    Again,the carrier’s aircraft required far less aerial refueling per sortie than the land based aircraft.

    All in all,Operation Allied Force demonstated the grotesque inefficiency of land based air power.
    The performance of the Royal Air Force appears to be particularly poor:

    The British army should be grateful that it’s subsequent invasion of Kosovo did not require urgent air support from the Royal Air Force Tornados based 900 miles away in Germany.


  32. August 13, 2010 8:45 am

    Mat said “Not a single plane that hit Milosevic couldn’t have been based on any of the neighbouring, participating NATO airfields. ”

    Further just as the Falklands War was the war the Brits wasn’t supposed to fight (we should have been chasing Bears instead) we shouldn’t forget that A-stan and Iraq are atypical because there isn’t a sea flank to exploit.

    I hope that in the coming defence review here in the UK Dr Fox remembers that fact before he cuts our amphibious capabilities too much.

    (I have a further more troubling fault thought in that wars amongst people may continue, but where they are fought may shift. As history has shown the minority (the other) is always first suffer. For example: So why fight Islamic fundamentalism in the mountains and plains of central Asia where you troops are a minority at the end of a long logistical chain, when you can “fight” the “threat” at home? Makes me shudder……….)

  33. August 13, 2010 7:14 am

    When the British pulled out of Aden in took two carriers to cover the “evacuation” in what supposedly a low level action. Yet the same carriers were deemed to expensive and not necessary for high end war against a technologically advanced numerous enemy.

  34. August 13, 2010 7:09 am

    Tangosix posted this on his blog.

    Super! It has one of my favourite pictures of all those Type 22s in row. Super! Absolutely super.

  35. August 13, 2010 7:05 am

    Mat said “Not a single plane that hit Milosevic couldn’t have been based on any of the neighbouring, participating NATO airfields. ”

    Now this is interesting. You are forgetting the political dimension. What’s that quote about CVNs? 4 or so acres of sovereign US territory. Let say your host nation decides a certain munition is inhumane. Or that ops can’t take place on a certain day or at night. etc. etc. or so on.

    (I could also add that during the Kosovo campaign Invincible was able to launch sorties while the Italian bases were in fog……)

  36. August 12, 2010 6:23 pm

    Mike, this is a favourite of mine brought on by your Ark Royal photo.

    Why has it taken the USN 60 years to square off the flight deck? Almost. I find that most perplexing. On 100,00o+ tons there should be a pure flat iron.

    Keep up the good work.

  37. Hudson permalink
    August 12, 2010 5:48 pm

    Chuck Hill,

    In fact, you could get much more for your 55 LCSs in carrier currency than 8 -10 Garibaldis – more like 25 or 26. That would clearly be too many. And the Garibaldi is so well rounded in its capabilities that you would not need so much in the way of an escort: maybe a sub and a frigate. Vis-a-vie LCS, you would lose hulls in the water, but gain greatly in air/sea platforms you could throw at one target. And, bankrupt as we are, how many wars are we going to fight at once, anyway?

  38. Heretic permalink
    August 12, 2010 5:37 pm

    Jacob, that’s precisely why I’m challenging Mike on his presumption that small carriers are better because they’re small. As I’ve repeatedly stressed, there are certain “irreduceables” when it comes to flying fighters (and AEW) off carriers that need to be taken into account. You can’t get TOO small or else you descend too far into self-licking ice cream cone territory (which is bad).

    You also need to decide if you want to deploy carriers (plural) or carrier (single) in a single carrier battle group. You also need to decide that if you want to have parking space for less than 90 aircraft … how much less than 90 do you want to have? 70? 60? 50? 40? Where do you go down to … and better yet … why?

    Another irony is that at the same time that Mike keeps pounding the drum for more hulls in the water, drawing the same analogy as boots on the ground, he is simultaneously driving in full reverse on the question of fighters in the sky. This stands in stark contrast with all of his other arguments on the same merits. He claims that because 1 strike aircraft can do the work of entire carrier wings decades ago, that that 1 strike aircraft should therefore be “enough” to do the entire job that it took a carrier to do decades ago.

    Um … no.

    Yes, the navalized CTOL fighter jets of today are “better” in many ways than they were in previous years, but that doesn’t mean that the Force Multiplier effect should be used to justify a Force Divisor to as to restore us to the “effective” force level of past decades. This is not a case where you exchange a strike package of 40 aircraft for a strike package of 4, and then decide you only NEED 4 aircraft because those 4 (now) can do the work of those 40 (then). That’s wrongheaded. It’s just as wrongheaded for planes as it is for ships.

    As Mike himself likes to say … numbers still count. Quantity has a Quality all of its own, especially once the shooting starts.

    I’ve repeatedly stated, in multiple posts on this blog, that in my personal opinion a carrier needs to be able to accomodate at least 24 fighter/bomber fixed wing aircraft if it is to have relevance in an offensive campaign in a contested environment. My personal preference would be to have at least 32-36 fighter/bomber fixed wing aircraft aboard a single carrier, which in turn drives a requirement for somewhere between 40-50 aircraft aboard a carrier. I personally wouldn’t feel “comfortable” going below a lower bound of 40 aircraft embarked on a carrier (of which 4 are AEW and 4 are helicopters).

    This just so happens to be almost exactly half the max complement of a Nimitz or a Ford class CVN. It also happens to be roughly approximate to the size (if not necessarily the precise shape) of a Queen Elizabeth class CV.

    I would like to think that there will be, within the 2010-2020 decade, a (r)evolution in carriers which could be brought on by the combination of EMALS combined with ski jumps (improving ship efficiency and airframe life), nuclear power, all electric ship construction technologies (dramatic advantages in ship design), maturing trimaran hull expertise (higher speed at lower power requirement), maritime lasers, active electronically steerable array digital radar development (see E-2D, et al.), and the success of the Sea Gripen lightweight fighter (with its small spot size and STOL characteristics, among other things). The combination of all of these things will result, I think, in some very interesting (r)evolutionary steps in what it takes, and how it’s done, to build carriers … which could result in some very interesting advances. And when I say interesting, I mean things like the differences that steam catapults and angled decks did to carriers in years past to differentiate them from their predecessors (thanks Brits!).

  39. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 12, 2010 5:02 pm

    B.Smitty said “Chuck, I like your line of thinking ;)”

    I have to credit TangoSix and his blog:

    In fact I strongly recommend his work. It isn’t updated very often, but his articles are consistently well written and thought provoking. I’ve started reading back through his earlier posts.

  40. Hudson permalink
    August 12, 2010 4:58 pm

    Not to be too agreeable, but I concur. The Italian carriers are a good model. Denied such weapons for years, they thought long and hard about what to do with their big chance, and made good decisions. My choice of half pint lcs is a 25mm + 120mm mortar boat, or 25mm + 8 x small multi-modal missile pack, or some such. To borrow from a recent hit film,’ life is beautiful’ with a carrier in it, even a petite one.

  41. B.Smitty permalink
    August 12, 2010 3:07 pm


    I like your line of thinking ;)

  42. Jacob permalink
    August 12, 2010 2:57 pm

    Are you sure small decks are the way to go? If you build smaller escort carriers with VTOL F-35’s then yeah you can spread your naval airpower assets around, but you also have smaller airwings to protect your ships when things start to go south.

    Even in WWII, our Navy found that the best way to build a carrier task group was to put four Essex carriers in tight formation so that their planes would be mutually supporting. So why not combine the four carriers into one ship? Even if your supercarrier gets hit, it’s probably not too much different from a kamikaze disabling one of your Essex-class carriers, knocking out a fourth of your airpower and forcing the rest of the task group to retire.

  43. Heretic permalink
    August 12, 2010 2:11 pm

    Hate to say it Mat, but if that’s your honest opinion this blog will definitely be a better place without you. And I say that because what you assert to be so is not even wrong.

  44. Chuck Hill permalink
    August 12, 2010 1:53 pm

    Love the choice of photo. Think we need some Garibaldi sized carriers, not to replace CVNs, but to replace the LCS. They are true mother ships. We should be doing ASW, MCM, ASuW, and disaster relief with aircraft and boats from ships similar to these.

    Give me 8 or 10 CVLs instead of 55 LCS. I do think we need a cheap STOL airframe to do these missions in addition to helos, but even with an all helo airwing and perhaps four boats similar to the CB-90 it can do these types of operations with virtual impunity compared to the LCS.

  45. Mat permalink
    August 12, 2010 1:24 pm

    Tangosix said: “Saddam Hussein,Slobodan Milosevic,Manuel Noriega,Muammar Gaddhafi and the former Taliban government of Afghanistan might disagree with this point.”

    Well look at the turd-storms you bought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at the cost of crippling your economy and owing the Chinese the equivalent of your annual military budget in debt for the next 20 years. Until they demand you pay up, that is.

    Not a single plane that hit Milosevic couldn’t have been based on any of the neighbouring, participating NATO airfields. No carriers needed. Nothing that was acheieved in El Dorado Canyon couldn’t have been done cheaper with cruise missiles, only the USN had already wasted money on the carriers and needed a reason to use them. And Noriega? Dear god, you could have taken him out with a beach towel with a knot tied in the end of it. And don’t mention Viet Nam, you had the lower half of the country to base aircraft in – you hardly needed carriers for that. In fact, you needed a lot less jet airpower and a lot more basic soldiering.

    Juramentado said: “you can rant and rail all you want against aviation”. No, Mike rails against carriers. He likes planes. He just thinks the carriers are eminently sinkable and expensive, and he’s right.

    Heretic: You want Mike to “design a ship and defining the (reduced!) requirements”. Complete novices play at designing platforms or weapons. People who know a bit talk tactics. People who know a lot talk strategy, logistics and general technology directions. That puts Mike three steps ahead of your fantasy fleet designs.

    It doesn’t matter what you all think: the US economy has the largest debt in human history and is effectively crippled. Your science and technology base is crumbling. Your college graduates slide down the league tables each year. Your schools close one day a week to save money. You have millions of homeless, and middle class living standards and incomes have been declining for decades now, in amrked contrast to Europe, Asia and Canada. You don’t have the money or expertise to keep your military might the way it is *right now* never mind in the future.

    Why do you think LCS is so expensive and you’re having such a hard time building and fielding it? Ditto the USA’s next gen spy satellites. Ditto F-35. Your engineers, science grads and factories are gone. You’re falling behind the curve, your ambitions overstep your abilities, and unless you change the way you do things, there will be one heck of a crash.

    You can post all the ill-conceived and angry replies you want. I can’t be bothered to post on this site again – too many uninformed comments by people who fantasise about being Tom Cruise in ‘Top Gun’.

  46. August 12, 2010 1:04 pm

    Mike B said “I thought I have made myself clear over the years in this respect, though it is hard to do so in a single post.”

    You want to define a force structure for cheaper-more-plentiful navy to help shape your ideas. It doesn’t matter if you junk every 6 months. But I think it as important as discussions about platforms themselves. Do you see 24 mini-CBGs? When would you deploy them? Would you integrate ARGs or keep them separate? etc. etc.

  47. Joe permalink
    August 12, 2010 12:13 pm

    Heretic – Points well made. Also, the first time I’ve ever seen a B.F.P. reference worked into any kind of argument.

  48. Fencer permalink
    August 12, 2010 11:27 am

    Why should the USA care if our response looks “farcical”, should we have sent fewer troops into Iraq so as to make our response a little more fair? And I doubt there would be fewer protests if the US took to using 1,000 ton TLAM corvettes instead of super carriers to attack third world countries.

    How is a carrier that carries a smaller number of planes equally capable? The only way that could happen is if the larger carrier’s aircraft are significantly inferior and a quick glimpse at the world’s carriers shows that the inverse is usually true. In addition super carriers are force multipliers in the most basic sense as their larger aviation facilities and magazines allow the same number of aircraft to accomplish a greater number of missions. These factors make it virtually impossible for a smaller carrier to have the same firepower as a larger one so the position that precision weapons have done so is fairly had to defend.

    The USN had 28 fleet carriers by the end of WWII but they always fought in groups to maximize the number of aircraft against a single target. Now I know your going to say this is no longer needed in the age of precision weapons but concentration has always been a major goal in warfare and hostile countries are rapidly gaining access to those same precision weapons. Concentration allows our forces to overwhelm a single target thus lessening our casualties; a vital point in modern warfare when aircraft and ships take so long to build. When this is combined with the high speed of a nuclear carrier a single super carrier will take only a little longer to attack the same number of targets as multiple smaller carriers, but will do so much more effectively.

  49. August 12, 2010 11:21 am

    The U.S. has current sea exercises with Vietnam. Korea just lost a ship to an ‘east-block’ torpedo. So what happens if something ‘happens’ during the exercises? Face matters particularly in the East and right now. The show of force can swing into farce fast. The US army ‘took’ Iraq with overwhelming force then found things were just starting. The army is now looking at agile and adaptable thinking, but it looks like the Navy is waiting for another Pearl Harbour to clean thinking.

  50. Heretic permalink
    August 12, 2010 10:59 am

    Mike … we “get it” that you don’t like the Nimitz or Ford class carriers. But can’t just use hand waving and promises to “wing it” for what would replace the supercarriers with vague notions of something smaller to fill the vacuum that would be left behind.

    What size of airwing?
    What hull form? Monohull? Trimaran? SWATH? SES?
    What power source? Nuclear? Gas Turbine? Wishful Thinking?
    Ski Jump (Y/N)?
    EMALS (Y/N)?
    Panamax (Y/N)?
    New Panamax (Y/N)?
    Suezmax (Y/N)?

    Mike, you’re verging on the point of petulance by saying “I don’t like what we have, gimmie something else!” and then completely failing to DEFINE what the “something else” would have to be.

    Until you’re willing to get into the game of designing a ship and defining the (reduced!) requirements it would need to meet in order to start setting some parameters to work with in order to give your notions shape … until you do that, you’re just Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce banging your food tray on a post in the tent yelling “WE WANT SOMETHING ELSE!”

    Start working backwards from the requirements you’d set for any sort of light(er) carrier than the Ford/Nimitz supercarriers and explore what you find. Until then, Mike … you’re risking being nothing more than petulant.

  51. Juramentado permalink
    August 12, 2010 10:03 am

    Stop over-depending on manned aviation and get more use out of our smaller ships.

    Mike – stop fighting history; to continue on x’s Star Trek analogies, I’ll quote the Borg: “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.” (BIG BIG SMILE!)

    Look, you can rant and rail all you want against aviation. The fact is that it’s been here as a dominant warfare platform since WW 2 and will continue to do so. Small ships serve a different purpose, and likely you will see a shift in force structure favoring some smaller combatants in the near future. I strongly recommend you seek out the information resident on OPNAV N86 Program – specific to the NDIA SUW Phase 1-3 surveys. Now, the actual survey details themselves are classified, but the Executive Summaries are not. In short, the small ship lives and thrives in the future, particularly in the Littorals and the ongoing GWOT. What won’t make you happy is from the USN’s perspective, that ship is the LCS. A little bit of sweet & sour there…

  52. August 12, 2010 9:55 am


    Mike Burleson said:

    “For instance, a show of force with a carrier strike group against a Third World nation appears almost farcical, because of the great difference in strength between the two powers.”

    Isn’t a “great difference in strength” the whole point of a “show of force”?

    Mike Burleson said:

    “A rogue dictator knows the US must either deploy this force at its full strength or not at all, and given the world attitude against war on weaker nations, the defiant potentate knows he is mostly secure.”

    Saddam Hussein,Slobodan Milosevic,Manuel Noriega,Muammar Gaddhafi and the former Taliban government of Afghanistan might disagree with this point.


  53. Hudson permalink
    August 12, 2010 9:16 am

    There is a cost effective killer missile for every type of ship in the USN, in any navy in the world. The CVN is the most obvious target, costing several billions of dollars, now threatened by ballistic missiles as well as all the rest.

    At the corvette level, the killer missiles cost less than 1/100th the cost of the ship. Even at the speedboat level, the missile (e.g. Hellfire) is still 1/10 or so the cost of the target. It is only at the inflatable raft level that the boat is cheaper than the missile.

    If we assume that 1 missile = 1 hit= 1 kill, and that many nations have hundreds or thousands of these weapons, then there is little point in fielding a surface fleet at all. It is only when we examine defense in detail and can show that one missile does not equal one hit, one kill, that we have a Navy with any chance to survive and win.

  54. Mike Burleson permalink*
    August 12, 2010 8:01 am

    x-“how you would structure the USN instead of all this talk ”

    I thought I have made myself clear over the years in this respect, though it is hard to do so in a single post. Just scrap everything we learned in the past 70 years as a giant constabulary force, which has free reign of the world’s oceans and no one shooting at our ships. Stop over-depending on manned aviation and get more use out of our smaller ships. Become more dependent on new century missile power, less on last century airpower. Stop ignoring the submarine threat and get serous about combat in the littorals. Get away from shows of force and start considering matching the combat power of potential foes, from the greatest to the least. Restore our shipyards by giving them more work, and one or two extra billion-dollar battleships isn’t enough, but think in terms of scores annually.

  55. August 12, 2010 7:48 am

    Mike what I would like to see is how you would structure the USN instead of all this talk (as fun as it is!) about platforms. (Sorry that sounds terse but there isn’t much point in adding fluff.)


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