Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Stealth Fleet

I've wondered whether we need our big carriers in a network-centric world. Would smaller carriers reduce the losses of being hit yet disperse combat power throughout the fleet more effectively?

Right now, our carriers with manned aircraft are still a tremendous asset. But as the years go by, cheap precision missiles will erode their value. Several decades in the future, carriers may be too big and expensive to risk enterring an enemy's array of sensors that can detect and guide missiles to overwhelm a carrier's defensive systems. Since carriers last five decades or more, the carriers we have now could last through the period of their fighting value and phase out as their vulnerability becomes too great. Should we build large carriers anymore?

Well, with the new LHA-R class of amphibious warfare platforms we are building these smaller aircraft carriers, in addition to the Ford Class behemoths planned for the future. These new amphibious warfare platforms will weigh in at over 50,000 tons when they start joining the fleet in 2013. From the second link:

In addition to its complement of 1,800 Marines et. al., LHA-R ships will rely on a mix of MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotors; CH-53E/K heavy transport, MH-60R/S multi-role utility, and AH-1W/Z attack helicopters; plus 8-20 fixed wing F-35B Lightning II STOVL aircraft, to support amphibious operations. The current ranges under discussion would give the LHA-R a balanced carrying capability for about 30-35 aircraft in varying combinations, or less if more of the larger MV-22s or CH-53s are chosen.

These will outclass anybody else's actual fleet carriers. And we don't even really count them as carriers. Yet they'd do perfectly fine as carriers in a pinch and would be able to carry out various escort and ASW tasks quite well and free up the big decks for offensive action. They will be able to lead expeditionary strike groups.

Really, by putting a small carrier into the expeditionary strike group, this ship will add another piece together in my proposal some years ago for a Marine Expeditionary Battle Force. When published, the article stripped out some graphics I used to keep my word count down to focus on the main point of looking at Army and Marine roles. See this page (The link is dead and I wouldn't click on it. But I'm keeping it in case it is ever restored. The chart from that now-dead link is added below--but not the rest of the supporting material, of course. And let me add a much later update on the concept and some explanation for the chart.) for the outline of a MEBF and other supporting material about what I thought would help the Marines in the rapid intervention role.

We just need the ships carrying the unit sets to allow an ESG to essentially carry a full Marine Expeditionary Brigade instead of the much smaller MEU.