Monday, July 10, 2017

Carrier Losses In War

USNI Blog has an article about carrier losses in a peer war and suggests that we should be prepared to lose around half within the first year (1).  The article goes on to suggest that we should be preparing to deal with replacement rates, environmental impact due to nuclear issues, and the impact of losses on subsequent combat operations.  This article jibes with a commonly held belief among many that carriers are highly vulnerable – essentially sitting ducks waiting to be sunk.

The problem with this article is that it looks at historical data and then projects the results to a modern war (with China, obviously, though the article does not specifically state that) without considering the circumstances of the historical data and the likelihood (or not) of those circumstances repeating themselves in a modern war with China.  This is the most cursory kind of analysis and leads, inevitably to incorrect conclusions.

The data is what it is.  The US Navy started WWII with 7 fleet carriers (I’m not counting Langley) and lost 4 of them in the first year of the war.  The article projects that loss rate to a modern war.  Is that a proper analysis?  Of course not!  Let’s look at the circumstances surrounding those WWII losses.  Here are a few key points.

  • Because of Pearl Harbor, the US started the war with no viable battle fleet and had ONLY carrier groups to fight the Japanese.

  • The Japanese were advancing rapidly across the Pacific.  If we did not stop their advance, we would lose all our forward bases.

  • Initially, Japanese battle fleet ships and carriers outnumbered Navy forces significantly.

Thus, due to circumstances, we had no choice but to try to stop the Japanese advance when and where we could and the only naval assets available were the carriers and our fleets would always be outnumbered.  The carriers that we lost were expended stopping the Japanese advance at Coral Sea and Midway.

How is this relevant?  Our carriers were not lost at random.  They didn’t just spontaneously sink.  The Japanese didn’t methodically hunt them down and destroy them.  Quite the opposite.  We carefully husbanded our carriers and committed them to high risk, major battles as necessary to stop the Japanese advance.  In other words, we knowingly and intentionally put them in situations where they were at great risk of being sunk.  Of course, what they accomplished before sinking is legendary but that’s not the point of this post.

Unlike the expectation of so many carrier critics and unlike the implication in the USNI blog article, carriers don’t just spontaneously sink and an enemy has very little ability to find and attack a carrier that is not, itself, committed to battle.  We had no unexpected carrier losses in WWII.  If we had opted not to commit our carriers to high risk battles, we wouldn’t have lost any!  Of course, we would have had a much harder time winning the war.  Similarly, if we opt not to commit our carriers to a modern battle, we won’t lose any!  But, is that any way to fight and win a war?

This gets back to circumstances.  In WWII, we had no choice but to commit to high risk battles to stop the unchecked Japanese advance.  Consider, now, the circumstances of a war with China.  At least for the foreseeable future, it is highly unlikely that the Chinese will attempt a wholesale advance across the Pacific.  Thus, the pressing need to commit to high risk battles in a desperate bid to stop an advance won’t exist.  A war with China is, in the foreseeable future, going to start at, and be fought around, the periphery of the South China Sea, a relatively contained and small region.  There likely won’t be a need to commit to desperate, high risk battles.  Thus, there likely won’t be high carrier attrition.  We’ll be in a much better position to pick and choose our battles as opposed to WWII.  The circumstances, which the article chose not to consider, will be vastly different!

The one possible exception to this is the Taiwan scenario.  I’ve stated that in any war with China, Taiwan will be the first act.  If the US commits to an immediate, and strategically unwise, retaking of Taiwan then we may well be forced to commit carriers to a high risk battle.

Another circumstance that would be different in a war with China than WWII is the initial number of carriers and surface ships.  Because of Pearl Harbor, we started with a severe shortage of ships.  Barring a modern Pearl Harbor, we will start a war with China with twice the number of carriers and our full surface fleet.  This will allow us to form proper carrier task forces (neglecting that each carrier will have a vastly undersized air wing!) with robust AAW protection in the form of numerous Aegis escorts.


Yorktown Sinking


We see, then, that the circumstances are everything when it comes to carrier usage and potential losses.  Carriers will sink only if and when we commit them to high risk combat.  Thus, the article’s prediction of losing half our carrier force in the first year of combat is logically unfounded because it fails to account for circumstances.

Okay, so far I’ve criticized the article but I’ve got to be fair and note that it brings up some good points and raises some good questions.  The article makes clear that carrier losses are inevitable unless the carriers are simply withheld from combat which would then lead to the obvious question, why did we bother building them?  Thus, we have to accept the fact that losses will occur if we commit carriers to battle.  That’s not a bad thing, assuming they accomplish suitably worthy tasks before they’re lost – it’s just part of the attrition of war.  However, this, in turn, suggests that we ought to rethink the current cost of carriers.  Do we really want to spend $14B+ on ships that can and will be lost in combat?  Might it behoove us to simplify carrier design and construction and get that cost down to a level that we can afford to lose, however reluctantly?

The article also raises questions about our ability to replace lost carriers, the environmental impact of sunken nuclear ships, our plan for carrying on the war when don’t have as many carriers, etc.

As the article suggests, we need to be able to “quickly” replace lost carriers which means, again, that we need to simplify carrier design.  Perhaps we ought to be building conventional, non-nuclear, “basic” carriers especially in light of the diminished air wing sizes.  We certainly ought to begin qualifying at least one other shipyard to build carriers. 

The article also suggests that we need to begin planning for how to continue combat operations when don’t have as many carriers as needed.  We need to game out naval strategies that are not dependent on carriers.

In summary, although the article completely misses the most important factor in carrier losses – circumstances – it does raise important questions and issues that we need to address now.




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(1)United States Naval Institute blog, “What Is Old Is Old Again - We Will Lose Carriers, and That’s OK”, CDRSalamander, June 14, 2017,


65 comments:

  1. Its just a plain dirty fact that we are not prepared to lose a 14 Billion dollar asset protecting "something" on the other side of the planet.

    Has there been any talk on what these smaller/cheaper carriers would look like? At a minimum I don't think they should rely on VTOL aircraft which means they will need a minimum of two catapults.

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    1. There have been smaller carrier studies and designs since there have been carriers. The USS Wasp, CV-7, was an attempt at a smaller carrier even before we were done building our first full size carriers!

      So, what would a smaller carrier look like? Anything you want to! Seriously, there have been many, many smaller carrier design proposals.

      My idea of a "smaller" carrier is a no-frills Midway size with only two catapults. Midway proved it can operate a full size Hornet air wing on a smaller carrier. "Smaller", of course, being a relative term. If you get below 40 combat aircraft on a carrier you can't really accomplish much in combat.

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    2. You just described our Charles de Gaulle carrier ;-)

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    3. Possibly, although the CdG is undersized in its aircraft capacity. It appears to be capable of operating 30-40 aircraft whereas a US Navy air wing, even on a smaller carrier, should have an air wing of around 60 (44 F-18, 6 EA-18G, 4 E-2D, 6 tankers). Also, a smaller carrier should not be nuclear powered. It increases costs and construction time. A smaller carrier should be quicker to build and cost significantly less.

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    4. CNO,

      If 40 aircraft is the minimum, the wing needs to be larger so that 40 aircraft is left *after* 2-5 days of strikes.

      The WWII aircraft attrition rate was for 25% for planning purposes.

      An 80-aircraft strong air group could fight for about 3-days before exhausting fuel and ammunition.

      I bet that somewhere this is how the Forrestal and her successors were sized.

      GAB

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    5. GAB, along with a small carrier goes doctrine and tactics. Small carriers should not and cannot fight successfully on their own. Small carriers would have to fight in groups, ideally 2-3 would be paired with a supercarrier. The group is sized to account and allow for attrition.

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    6. Agreed.

      I simply point out that statistically, an 80 aircraft air wing is going to have about 33-34 aircraft surviving after the third strike day based upon WWII levels of attrition - that may or may not hold true in the future.

      GAB



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  2. CNO;

    Be careful not to get into the "Post Bismark" mindset that the Germans got into. Their surface fleet was rendered ineffective (other than a few Russian Convoys) due to wanting to avoid loss.

    The avoidance of loss, by waiting for, or trying to create the "right" circumstances might make the use of the Carrier Fleet impossible.

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    1. Huh??? Have you read any post I've ever written? One of my overarching themes is to eliminate the risk-avoidance syndrome!

      Whatever you think you read, you completely misunderstood! Go back and reread this post and the archives.

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    2. When I read the following Paragraph:

      "We see, then, that the circumstances are everything when it comes to carrier usage and potential losses. Carriers will sink only if and when we commit them to high risk combat. Thus, the article’s prediction of losing half our carrier force in the first year of combat is logically unfounded because it fails to account for circumstances."

      I see a mindset that is conscious of loss avoidance, especially when the Carriers are $10B+ each. Your entire discussion of circumstances is based on what is strategic enough to use the Carriers for. That is, given the current Navy mindset, dangerously close to not loss avoidance.

      Also in the long game, if we don't risk the carriers for the Spratly islands or the 2nd and third island chains, then pretty soon they are across the Pacific.

      It was just a caution, words are powerful and an admiral that hears only commit the Carriers for big enough events becomes a Ghormley.

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    3. I'm going to be a little blunt, here, because it's hard to believe you could possibly misinterpret this so badly. Did you happen to read this sentence?

      " if we opt not to commit our carriers to a modern battle, we won’t lose any! But, is that any way to fight and win a war?"

      That's expressly saying that risk avoidance is NOT the way to fight and win a war!

      You could not have missed the point of this post more if you tried.

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  3. The losses of carriers in the Pacific during WWII were also heavily influenced by improvements in several areas.
    Improvements in damage control were learned from experience during the war. The damage USS Franklin took was very extensive but she made it home. There were also improvements in aircraft, and critically improvements in tactics and operations. The strikes sent out during the Midway battle were poorly coordinated and the two task forces did not really coordinate their actions. Early doctrine called for CVs to be dispersed but experience showed that grouping them together provided more effective AA protection.

    So I agree that looking at the WWII loss rate is a vast oversimplification. And if the CVNs are too expensive to risk close in, then our doctrine should reflect that. One ramification of that doctrine would be that the air wing should be longer ranged, or have longer ranged stand-off weapons so the CVN doesn't have to close in to the operating area. Not have as it's primary weapon GPS guided glide bombs.

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    1. The Ford would make a great museum ship!! /s

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    2. "One ramification of that doctrine would be that the air wing should be longer ranged"

      Insightful and quite correct!

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    3. "The Ford would make a great museum ship!! /s"

      We could rename her the USS Ozymandias.

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  4. Let's layout, not the beginning, but, say a pause scenario:

    1. Taiwan has fallen, and PLA consolidating (and assume, USN unable to cutoff the cross-strait PLA consolidation traffic)
    2. except for Kadena/Futema, China had refrain from attacking Japan home islands. And after 1, China ceases Okinawa attack also.
    3. both NK and SK stay quiet. So, no 2ndary theater (nor China trying to start one via NK).
    4. Chinese fake islands are wasted, but its SLBM are in port/or 'sword shielded', but China still retain its monitoring network, including SATs/drones (since ASAT is major escalation, not sure if US will initiate if it wants to risk it all for Taiwan- and China convey the message of: Taiwan only, no further escalation.)
    5. China maritime traffic is cutoff, but China (being that its size and Russian strategic backing) can last the maritime siege indefinitely. And if Japan/SK refrain from 'embargoing China', China will refrain from blowing Japan/SK oil/LNG/wheat ships out of water (China can even go 1 step further: unilaterally allow passages of all commercial shipping even if its own is cutoff), to create a US-China fight only, with escape valve open for all other US allies.
    6. China's nascent blue water Navy retrench to 1st island water, as an add-on to its continental based A2AD effort, but basically, since itself failed as a post-big-2-accommodation Chinese strategy, thus its loss/demise is of 2ndary importance, not a detriment.

    So in sum: Taiwan is gone, China immediate olive branching, USN conducts effective maritime embargoing with ineffective strategic (say, aimed for limited war only) end. Basically, (US) go Big (and real big, maybe even risking nukes), or accept big-2 accommodation and return to normal trade.

    So, at least 3 scenarios (to plan USN carrier composition): amphibious landing to grab Taiwan back, prolong offshore maritime embargoing, or post big-2 accommodation. Warfighters only plans for the first 2 scenarios, yet total geopolitical picture must plan for all 3.

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  5. All my sea time in the navy was on a CVN (I was in the "N" part). I'm thinking the big CVN has "jumped the shark". While big and impressive, they are real money pits (likely why the navy likes them so much). For the cost of one CVN, we could build two or three small or mid sized conventional carriers. While we were on deployment, it felt like we were going back and forth between hot spots. The ship can only be at one place at one time. I'm thinking: build two smaller non-nuclear carriers for every one big nuke. Smaller ones can cover the smaller stuff and we would still have some big CVN's for larger, longer duration operation.

    MM-13B

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    1. The problem with a smaller carrier (depending on how small) is that the air wing is smaller which means the ship is less capable. For peacetime where the biggest demand is launching occasional pickup truck plinking sorties, that's okay. For all out war, it's a problem.

      How do you envision smaller carriers fitting into a war scenario?

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    2. And if we are going to go that route, let's do it right and make sure we have enough oilers.

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    3. MM, you might want to work through the minimum number of aircraft needed to conduct a significant strike. The strike would include the strikers, target CAP, possibly barrier CAP, tankers, electronic warfare aircraft (EA-18G), HVU CAP, the carrier's own CAP, back up alert aircraft, and sufficient aircraft remaining at the carrier to fight off an attack. Add up those numbers and you'll have the minimum size air wing necessary to be effective in combat.

      Once you have the air wing size, you can begin to size the carrier to carry them.

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  6. Lets look at three Carriers the GWHB (LAST NIMITZ), QE and Kuznetsov, the first is ~100,000tonne the latter two are in the ~60,000 tonne class, initial cost esitmates of the QE before political meddling (delays, several design changes, etc..etc..) put it at an inflation adjusted 3Bn about 1/2 the Nimitz over a production run of 2 ships. Nuclearization adds cost (upfront cost, over long-run it is cheaper due to fuel savings) mass production saves cost. Look at the Nimitz specs, 2 Reactors, 4 Turbines, 4 Propellors, given that such ships are aproximately 50% of the size of the nimitz, a modest increase in effective output per reactor (justifiably achievable due to the share age of the designs) would enable such a Medium Carrier in the class of QE or Kuznetsov to be built with half the powerplant/drivetrain. Half the powerplant, half the size, half the modules, half the ship, that half the cost figure cited earlier seems spot on.

    These medium carriers are very comparable overall in terms of the number of airframes they can support to the Nimitz class, yet if we look at the Russian Carrier it has what is the US/NATO the equivelant of; 14 Phallanx CIWS, 8 Rim-116 stations and 200 CAMM (allegedly ~12km ramge) Short range SAMs which along with their reduced military significance meaning less resources dedicated to it's destruction/protection result in reduced escort requirements.

    It likely trades of a small number of airframes due to reduced deck and hangar space occupied by these systems, but their pressence eliminates entire escorts offsetting increassed escort requirments needed to escort an increased number of Capital Ships making it a worthwhile trade-off.

    The difference between USN doctrine and Eastern Doctrine is that in the USN Carriers are Ground Strike platforms, roughly 1/2 of the air-wing is ground-strike, in the east the Carrier is relegated to fleet area-air-defense, and escorts and bombers and submarines perform strike missions. 1 or 2 bombers B52/B2/B1 is likely comparable (given tanking to get to the battlezone) in throw weight to an entire Carrier Strike Groups Strike force. Essentially because 1/2 the mission profile of the USN is eliminated in Eastern doctrine, the requirements in terms of the size of airwings is decreased and the ship requirements also decrease.

    It is arguable that the pressence of the strike wing on the carriers offers little benefit over that of the strike capabilities inherent in the USN submarine force (including the SSGNs) and the bomber force, and therefore only ~24 of the ~48 fighters are of tactical importance. That the eastern doctrine is correct, and that the US carriers are grossly oversized with 0 advantage.

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    1. Additionally Fleets Doctrine in the East is more along the lines of achieving Sea Dominance over their respective trade lanes, whereas NATO doctrine seems fixated on grand naval engagements and land-attack.

      Eastern doctrine tackles naval engagements with Land-Based bomber aviation, and very-long range Fighters, in addition to OSCAR class tactical missile submarines and other submarine and surface ship offensive weaponry. It is more akin to an indepth insurgency warfare, lots of distributed forces hiding and maneuvering. Avoiding high-risk pitched battles.

      This could potentially be analagous to the battleship which was predicated on the fleets of great powers lining up, and engaging in a manner similar to that of the napoleonic era. During WW2 inferrior fleets simply refused to engage in this manner.

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    2. You have made some sweeping assumptions about the role of a carrier that are not well founded. This is a comment not a post and you obviously have a solidly entrenched idea of what you think a carrier is so I'm not going to bother to counter your comment.

      Within the context of your assumptions, your comment is reasonably logical so I'll just leave it be and let readers contemplate a different view of carriers than my own.

      Thanks for the contribution.

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    3. "Nuclearization adds cost (upfront cost, over long-run it is cheaper due to fuel savings)..."

      This statement is untrue, specifically the cheaper due to fuel savings part.

      http://www.gao.gov/archive/1998/ns98001.pdf

      Page 9 lays out table, you need to adjust for inflation.
      pg. 9

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  7. I would argue that one of the things the Navy should do nearly immediately is get the CFT's for the hornets. Concurrently they should be issuing RFP's for that new longer ranged air wing.

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  8. CNO, one thing you said was that the midway class proved it could handle hornets, and that is true. But isn't the superhirbwt an order of magnitude bigger? I'd read they are closer to f-15 size. Could a midway class handle an air wing of planes that size?

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    1. Midway recovered and launched F-14 Tomcats on occasion. There's a photo on the Internet, somewhere, of Tomcats sitting on the Midway's deck.

      Remember, the Midway was not designed to handle F-14 and larger aircraft but it did, on occasion, and there is no inherent reason why a properly designed smaller carrier could not do so. The deck area on even a "small" carrier is still enormous! It's more a question of having properly sized elevators, hangar space, hangar height, catapult power, etc.

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    2. A small enough ship might even forgo the catapult, the Russian/Chinese dont use them. Granted, that means a reduced weapon load, but what if this small CVE were purposed with Combat Air Patrol leaving the big carriers for strike. An F-18 with air-to-air ordinance would have roughly the same thrust-weight and lift as the Russian aircraft flying off their carriers.

      Rather than seeing a CVE as a mini-me of the all-purpose super-carriers we should look at them more as specialist carriers. After all, WW2 CVE's in the atlantic focused on ASW. A fighter focused CVE based on say the America class LHA could perform CAP, and ISR with less need for heavy ordinance but still performing a much needed function that the CVN now no longer needs to perform alone. An ASW focused CVE could have a catapult and refurbished S-3 vikings.
      Focused CVE's would also simplify arms and equipment storage and the supply chain for the ship--dont pack what you dont need.

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    3. "Rather than seeing a CVE as a mini-me of the all-purpose super-carriers we should look at them more as specialist carriers."

      Excellent thought and comment!

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    4. The US Navy's CVV design from the 70s was a Midway/Coral Sea size carrier designed to operate the F-14 and S-3, the hanger was made tall enough to handle them.

      I have a picture of this detailed chart dated July 1979 that compares the CVV, Midway, JFK, and Nimitz, but I do not know to share here. It lists dimensions, aviation payload, aviation fuel storage, and aviation magazine storage among other things.

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    5. "I have a picture of this detailed chart dated July 1979 that compares the CVV, Midway, JFK, and Nimitz, but I do not know to share here."

      That sounds fascinating. If you'd care to share it and can covert it to a jpeg format, I can display it as part of a post.

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    6. ComNavOps,Here are two links to the carrier comparison image, hopefully one of them works.

      http://i347.photobucket.com/albums/p445/DogoodPatriot/Aircraft%20Carrier%20Comparison_zps9y31typ7.jpg

      https://www.dropbox.com/s/r4jqlnwqsx9p4fp/Aircraft%20Carrier%20Comparison.jpg?dl=0

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    7. Unfortunately, neither link provides a working image for me.

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    8. If you want to put your email in a comment, I'll send you an email and you can reply back with the image file. If you do put your email in a comment, I'll jot it down and immediately delete the comment so it doesn't become generally available. It's up to you.

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    9. Reply sent. Check your email.

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  9. Ahh they all come out every time.

    Yes, I'm a partisan too. Naval Aviation carrier experience conventional/nuclear during the days of 90 aircraft Cold War to late 1990's. JFK/FID/CON/ENT/VIN/IKE.

    Anything less than a large angled deck 100000 ton displacement, 4 catapault carrier (conventional or nuclear) makes us a JV second team in todays world for a lot of reasons..... I have been hearing this small carrier/jeep carrier/F-35B carrier, French/Brit platform "BS" about "carrier size" my entire adult life. This constantly repackaged anti-carrier argument to fit the times... It is all bull.

    The Nimitz Class carrier we operate today can accommodate a 90 aircraft airwing. It doesn't because we chose not to buy more aircraft- on purpose and during more "benign times" a and austere budgets. On purpose....so we could cater to Surface Warfare CNOs (non-carrier operators by law)who gave us conflicting Naval strategies and hulls like LCS and others at the expense of more carriers/airwings. We know who they are and it started with Vern Clark...I will not name the others. I am sure they may have wanted 90 aircraft airwings if could but they traded it away for their shiny objects...

    BTW the Midway couldn't operate the S-3 and F-14...

    A smaller carrier class that will grow with cost as everything does, is not the answer. At this point in history do any of you really trust the present leadership to design a new smaller, more efficient conventional carrier after the LCS fiasco and the Ford's catapault/AG issues holding it back? Not moi. The De Gaulle is not something to hang your hat on and the UK new hull is barely a capable amphib w/some F-35Bs.. The UK lost everything the British Navy stood for since the Napoleonic Wars when they retired the Phantom carrying HMS Ark Royal- IE, the conventional angled deck model, not the harrier carrier.

    Doing any of these options re US Navy carrier aviation so frivolously discussed here would only answer the needs of the PRC and Russia...

    b2

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    1. According to this article, F-14 could do flight ops on a Midway class. http://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/could-the-f-14-tomcat-operate-from-the-uss-coral-sea-an-1722586198

      Apparently the issue was more with hanger deck clearances and aircraft maintenance facilities. These are issues which could easily be addressed in a new mid-sized carrier design.

      In my time on a CVN, we did two high sortie rate operations: Operation Desert Fox and the opening of Operation Enduring Freedom. We did circles in the ocean while we waited for other forces to mobilize for operations in Afghanistan. My point being; the minor operations we did could have easily been handled by a smaller carrier, and the big ops could have waited for a big carrier to show up.

      Will the aviation egos not fit on something smaller than a 100,000 ton ship?

      MM-13B

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    2. Sure MM, a Turkey or an S-3 could easily trap and recover aboard the Midway, day/night but they never "operated" off of it. BTW, it was called a CV"A"...I've also seen pics of a C-130 and U-2 landing aboard CV's, too... Sci fair projects, not real life...IE- Not operational...

      All Nimitz, KH class (Con,Jfk,KH) and Forr class of conventional carriers (approaching 100K tons) operated the same jets the Midway did plus the S-3 and f-14. They were called CV or CVN class for a reason (vice CVA or CVS). They went to the CV class only post Vietnam- many parallels to today in some ways but most don't read history...

      As an example, one could argue that the Nimitz class carrier and her diminished airwings (~65) between 2001 and 2016 really operated as CV"A"N attack ships because all they really do operationally, is launch/recover Hornets and SuperHornets w/JDAMS. The E-2's just deconflict tankers/operators and the Growler tries to be relevant... And we do this primarily from small operating areas in the Persian Gulf where we experience total air supremacy for 20+ years, brown water. A far cry from what this new administration wants from the US Navy and what I experienced operationally in the 70's and 80's vs. the USSR blue water.

      You need more of a history lesson on what ships cost and why some are called capital ships. Smaller is not better and ships like these are NOT purchased "by the pound". Why do you think the Chinese, Russians and Indians crave them?

      Lastly, remember that if we had 90-95 aircraft aboard todays CVNs we would have even more egos to achieve victory with! :-)

      Viva La Nimitz class supercarrier!

      b2

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    3. Keep it polite and impersonal.

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    4. b2,

      If I understand your position clearly, you only want Nuke Super Carriers, and nothing less. My position is not the extreme opposite; I am not saying we should not have any big CVN's. I am advocating a mix of Nimitz and either Midway or Essex size conventional carriers. You already pointed out from 2001-2016 how our CVN's have been operating more like CVA's, so why not have some CVA's and keep your big Nimitz Class carriers for when you really need them.

      Cost. I am very aware that ships are not purchased "by the pound" and history is a big part of what is my position. Now let's look at a couple factors that do drive up cost. Monopoly; there's only one ship yard that can build a nuke super carrier, so no competition pricing. Nuclear power is expensive. Yes, I know all the arguments in favor of it, that's what I was trained to do in the navy. There is a whole lot going against nuke ships. Construction is expensive and at some point it will require an expensive and time consuming refuel. At end of service, a nuke ship can't just easily mothballed, scrapped, or sold. Nuke ships require a more extensive supply chain. The manning is more expensive for nuclear propulsion plants; very extensive and costly training for a job with a high turn over rate.

      After spending $13.5 billion on the Ford and it still can't do flight ops. Let's say they get the bugs worked out, does it make sense to send a 100,000 ton, $14 billion aircraft carrier chasing after low intensity operations needing air support.

      The Ford is the major catalyst driving this debate.

      MM-13B

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    5. There is certainly a case to be made for a "peacetime", smaller carrier to handle all the low intensity jobs. In fact, we've discussed in previous posts that an almost literal Essex class WWII carrier operating Super Tucanos or Skyraiders or some such could handle most (all?) of the peacetime carrier work.

      Whether a smaller carrier makes sense during war is another question. My view is that it does but only in the context of operating doctrine that pairs smaller carriers and supercarriers.

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    6. MM,

      For my Navy all I would want is what "works", what we can afford that "works", and what will keep us shoulders and heads above our adversaries that "works". A Ford/Nimitz sized carrier "works" and the airwing (if it had the right mix of jets) is Hyper-capable. CVA/CVS to CV(N) was a concept delivered in a time frame post Vietnam to confront a real peer adversary bluewater in any sea. Similar to what I think the nation needs after operating in the Persian gulf all these years since 9-11... Messing up that mix of capital ships to accommodate a mix of carriers of different capacities is just adding more churn. Look at that frigate RFI the Navy leadership released a couple days ago that seems squishy. Think about LCS these same leaders all seem to back away from today... Do you believe the leaders of the Navy really could develop a smaller carrier efficiently/effectively? Methinks not...Their portfolio shows otherwise.

      I can go on about the air wing minus (-) capability we seem to live with today that could be remedied also and have for years..But that is another story.

      Amigo- low intensity conflicts are not what the US Navy (Wall of Wood) should be built for. We have been long without a strategic/true peer adversary approach for 25 years now. Our opportunity to fix that is now. Otherwise we can continue our slide into a Sand Pebbles navy brought on by institutional, political and acquisition Balkanization...

      We need what "works" first. K.I.S.S.

      b2

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    7. b2, no one would argue that we ought to have supercarriers or that supercarriers are not the most effective way to deliver aviation firepower. The problem is that we are pricing ourselves slowly but steadily out of the super carrier business. We've gone from 15-20 carriers in Cold War era (depending on when you want to start counting), steadily down to the current 10 (9+1) with ONLY 9 AIR WINGS (meaning we really only have 9 carriers. The Navy has talked for a few years about stretching the construction cycle for carriers out to 6-7 years due to costs/budget. A 6-7 year cycle produces a steady state carrier fleet of 7-8 ships assuming an optimistic life span of 50 years. The Navy has made noise about early retiring one of the upcoming carriers when it's ready for its mid-life refueling/overhaul. In short, every sign points to continued slow, steady decrease in carrier numbers due strictly to cost.

      So, we can stay the course, producing high end carriers and watch them steadily dwindle away or we can do something different. On "different" is to produce smaller carriers (my version of smaller is Midway size, with a full air wing by today's standard, but without any of the frills of a supercarrier). If you don't like that option, what is your solution assuming budgets aren't going to drastically increase?

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    8. "works"
      A Nimitz class certainly works, but it comes a large price. That tremendous capability would most likely be worth the price in a large scale conflict. (Battleships bring big capabilities too, but that is an entirely different discussion). The USS Ford doesn't "work" (not yet anyway) at yet an even larger price. Assuming the problems with the Ford get fixed, we'd only be getting a very marginal increase in capability over a Nimitz, with a huge increase in cost. No one is saying we should build the entire navy around low-end conflicts. I'm advocating a high-low mix of assets. There are big problems which require the high end assets, and there are more frequent smaller problems which can be more efficiently dealt with using low-end assets. As a former CVN sailor, I must be seen as an apostate for not believing every problem has a super carrier solution.

      MM-13B

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    9. CNOPS,MM,

      I'm not a budgeter by any stretch but a lifelong naval aviation operator and technocrat.


      Sure. No bucks no buck rogers but when it comes to the US Navy the center piece has to be the super carrier. Yes, I am disappointed the AAG/MAGLEV cats don't work and that those ships cost more billions than ever, but we need the big deck carriers. Going back to an 85K ton conventional could work but face it- can you really see the Chuckleheads of todays Naval establishment really delivering such a vessel? I cannot, and that's why I push to build what seems to work when it comes to hulls vice depending on the lousy mil-industrial complex mix that exists today... As a result we have LCS, F-35, drone BS, etc. and it haunts me. On the reality side buying foreign war ships seems just plain Un-American to me.

      On the aircraft side I have long observed us paint ourselves into a tight corner that just makes the ship acquisition situation even worse.

      I don't trust our government to develop anything entirely new or even redesign old stuff (H-53K...) This is a consequence of growing olderand seeing b-boomers, Genx'ers and Milennials constantly screwing things up.

      MM- those LICs and humanitarian assistance ops are secondary or tertiary to what is needed to re-acquire real Naval power and to fix what we've pi$$ed away (persistent/available world class bluewater capability) by not having enough CVBGs (w/robust airwings) and real support from cruisers, destroyers (no FFGS of course....) and an SSN... Instead we as a nation spent trillions on killing bearded rifle toters and letting them vote.. Well, now we have to spend some bucks on making our Navy "great again"- its logical that we will never be great again without more big deck carriers...just more like our adversaries..


      First things first now that this administration seems to care..

      b2

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    10. b2, okay your desired option is to stay the course. That's fine. However, the course is a slow and steady decrease in carrier numbers. At what point will you consider another option? When we drop to 8 carriers? Or 6? Or 4? 1? At some point, there just aren't enough carriers to be operationally effective no matter how capable each is individually.

      The path we're on is taking us out of the carrier business. We can stubbornly stay the course until we have no more carriers or we can start thinking about alternatives. On a closely related note, I've got a post coming about how to build a far cheaper carrier that still carries a full air wing.

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    11. CNOPS,

      I understand your argument. You are bringing up valid points, both understandable and logical. My resistance only stems from the fact that we have a crappy record at execution for years now when it comes to fielding an actual platform- ship or aircraft.
      IMO, increasing industrial capacity to build more of the fundamentals and faster is something leadership might actually be able to achieve as a first step.

      In other words, I ain't from Missouri but "show me".

      b2

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    12. Execution is the key, isn't it? We aren't executing our current builds well and no one believes we'll execute any alternative any better, either. So, where does that leave us? Sadly, I have no good answer for that.

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    13. The Kitty Hawk and the old JFK are still around they could be returned to service. I bet it could be done in less time and lower cost than getting the Ford and the new JFK fully operational. Reactivating those two is not the 50 year solution, but it buys us the time needed to work out solutions on the Fords while maintaining 12 carriers. The Enterprise (my love/hate relationship) could have been kept around through one or two more deployment cycles, but now it's past the point of no return.

      Air wings with usable airplanes is a whole other issue.

      Sounds like we are at odds on whether all carriers should be the only carriers in the fleet, or should they be supplemented with smaller mission specific carriers.

      Until the issues with the Fords get worked out, we have ten carriers. We are told that the carrier rotation schedule is strained. What if an unexpected, catastrophic event happens to one of those? Then what? In less than a decade, the first Nimitz class will be at 50 years (makes us feel old). If the issues with the Fords get worked out and the costs get under control, we'll be okay. If the costs and function issues can't be sorted out, there will be tough choices to make.

      How the navy should handle ship acquisition orders:

      "I'd like the quarter pound burger with cheese combo."
      "Would you like to Super Size that?"
      "No thanks"
      "Would like bacon added for extra $1?"
      "No."
      "Would you like..."
      "No, please just make my order."

      MM-13B

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  10. The Essex class were impressive in their post WW2 transition into the use of jet aircraft. We used them a bunch in Vietnam. They couldn't handle the heavier planes, but as I understand it, that was due to the flight deck being constructed of wood with metal cladding. A modern Essex size carrier with a proper steel flight deck would be good for what carriers do 90% of the time. We could build more of them for a given price and be able to cover more ocean area.

    MM-13B

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  11. CNO,

    Super Tucano makes me think of the A1 Skyraider. That was an excellent close in air support plane. So how would we outfit a modern Essex CVA? A squadron of Tucanos and what else?

    MM-13B

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    1. Probably nothing else other than a few helos for SAR. An Essex "peace" carrier would not have contested strike, AAW, ASW, or any other mission except for uncontested, low end strike. Therefore, it wouldn't need Hawkeyes, Growlers, or ASW Helos - just low end strike (Tucano/Skyraider) and maybe a tanker.

      The challenge in such a carrier is to refrain from tacking on more and more missions and turning a simple, basic carrier into a mini-supercarrier.

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  12. I've been holding off posting this to research further, but simply havent had chance.

    Nations don't build major warships during wartime.

    The UK worked on 6 battleships during the second world war.
    The 5 KGV class ships were all under construction before the war started and were launched in 1942. The last battleship the RN ever built, the Lion Class, was started during the war, but, even though it was designed to be built using a collection of spare parts, it wasnt combat ready till 1946.
    Dockyards were instead busy building small warships, repairing damaged warships, and converting merchant ships in to quasi warships.

    A true Capital Ship was simply too big a drain of scarce resources to build during wartime.
    But the ships built in their place were literally better than nothing,and few saw any service after the war, even with 2nd tier powers.


    If the US found itself in a major and prolonged war, requiring the conversion in to a War Economy, the carriers would be husbanded and risked only in either wildly advantageous circumstances, or desperately necessary ones.
    Those under construction would, depending how far along they were, be rushed in to service, or delayed as much as practicable.

    Construction would focus on small, quickly constructed warships, Escort Carriers would likely be limited to helicopter carriers, a converted merchantman wouldnt be able to launch or recover an F35, the Cs internal fuel weighs more than a loaded skyraider....

    Strike would default to arsenal ships.


    If the USN lost 4 super carriers, it would have to win with 5.

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    1. The US built 14 fleet carriers that commissioned during WWII. Of those, 1 was started prior to the war and 3 others were laid down the week of the start of the war. The remainder were started and completed during the war.

      Similarly, the US commissioned 8 battleships during the war though several were started immediately prior to the war.

      So, while your general contention is correct, there is, was, and would be a great deal of focus on major warships. Smaller ships are vital but so are capital ships.

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    2. Possibly a unique circumstance.
      The USN barely existed 50 years prior and by the time of the war was one of, if not the, most powerful fleet in the world.
      At the time, the other fleets were building replacements, and the US was playing catchup, now, the US is building replacements, and realistically less than that.

      In the same period, the US built 150 escort carriers, a 7:1 spread.

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    3. There is a lot 8f interesting material in this article I'm going to inject my 2 cents worth here the Senate has allowed 30 million dollars for just such a study for the small carrier study IMHO the Forrestall class may be just bout the right size ie.65-70 thousand tons maybe 70 aircraft total conventional powered of course so it quite possible we end up with a so called light carrier also can any one name the 4 fleet carrier's in WWII I know Yorktown Lexington and Hornet but do not know if a 4th lost in action

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    4. The referenced article counts Wasp as a fleet carrier loss.

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    5. Ok thanks had forgotten about the Wasp I think the Forrestall class or a modern Midway class should be the way to go for future carrier ops the nuclear super carriers are just way to expensive

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    6. "nuclear super carriers are just way to expensive"

      Yes and no. Yes, nuclear propulsion adds cost to construction. No, nuclear propulsion is not the main reason why carriers are trending so expensive. Think a bit deeper about this and tell me why the Ford class is so much more expensive than the last Nimitz.

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    7. As for Ford class being so much more expensive I tend to think a lot has to do with the new tech ie.EMAL and the new arresting gear plus new radar systems I guess it all adds up to a program that's just to "big to fail" much like the F35 and to a lesser degree LCS

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    8. The Ford is physically larger than the Nimitz class despite carrying an air wing that will be 2/3 the size, despite having several hundred fewer crew which reduces the space needed for berthing, mess, food/water storage, heads, galleys, etc., despite nuclear reactors that are smaller, despite catapult systems that require less internal volume and machinery, despite simple arresting systems, etc. AND YET THE SHIP IS BIGGER!

      The dual band radar is half a billion dollars, all by itself!

      And so on.

      There are many reasons why the carriers are getting more expensive but nuclear power isn't really one of them. I suspect, given the newer, less complicated reactors, that the nuclear portion of the construction is cheaper, on an inflation adjusted basis, for Ford than for the Nimitz class. And yet the costs skyrocket.

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  13. Yep I agree that nuc powers ist as expensive no one has talked about when adding cost is figured bit the labor cost of putting one of them together is probably astronomical all by itself I don't have any figures but would not be surprised if it's at least 1/3 of the total cost of the ship itself roughly in the 4 billion ballpark

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    1. Why don't you do some research and see if you can find any cost numbers and let us know? I have no idea what the relative construction cost is.

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    2. I did just that per AGO the data,is unreliable but the overall labor usage is supposed to be some million hours less than Nimitz bit according to the report it's 139% above estimates no actual price was given but I assume it is actually very substantial hope that helps based in that say an average worker makes 20-25$ per hour it is a good assumption that labor cost could be as high as 1/2 total cost or about 6.5 billion that sir is a lot of money and the latest projection on Ford herself is 12.79 billion hope that helps

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    3. Was also extremely surprised to find some 29000 redesigns these could be on computers and not actual work 8n the ship or on the ship itself such as rerouting wires pipes etc. that are misaligned etc. It all adds to the labor and cost of the ship itself

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