Monday, July 31, 2006

Smaller Carriers?

Strategypage writes that some are debating whether our new carriers should be smaller to account for smaller unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) and precision targeting that reduces the need for aircraft numbers and fuel and ammunition:

In the United States, key legislators are joining in the growing call for smaller, cheaper carriers, and the use of armed UAVs sooner, rather than later. This debate is hot right now because design work is currently underway for the next generation of American carriers. The first ship of new CVN 21 class , is expected to cost nearly $14 billion. About 40 percent of that is for designing the first ship of the class, so the actual cost of first ship (CVN 21) itself will be some $9 billion.

Perhaps, although if we are going to build carriers, the aircraft capacity of medium carriers versus large carriers seems to argue for the large ones, as I wrote here.

My main question is whether our large carriers are still going to be valuable in the next 30 years or so if we face a networked enemy that can make our big carriers just targets. And given that our growing network-centric capabilities make our offensive power diffused throughout the fleet without hampering our ability to mass effect, will we need these heroes of the platform-centric era that have lots of firepower on one ship?

If we have offensive power without carriers, and carriers become too vulnerable to operate within range of the enemy, do we need large carriers? Or any carriers at all? And if we go for the same number of smaller carriers, will we just sacrifice capacity without reducing vulnerability?

Or would we better off spreading our UCAVs a dozen at a time on a few dozen smaller 20,000 ton hulls rather than more UCAVs on a dozen large or medium hulls? Include support aircraft and helicopters plus vertical launch cells for anti-ship, land attack, and anti-aircraft missiles, and maybe we will succeed at what the Soviets tried with their carrier/missile armed hybrids they started to build during the Cold War.

I think we need a more thorough debate in light of our growing network and the threat of enemy networks than the narrow debete over large or medium carriers using familiar aircraft.

Are big surface ships too expensive to lose to sail at all?