Thursday, August 15, 2013

Couldn't We Deploy a Carrier Wing Without the Carrier?

We won't be able to maintain two carriers in the Central Command region because of budget problems. We should be able to adapt.

This article is pretty good:

When the U.S. Navy announced the deployment of a second carrier, the USS Harry Truman, to the Persian Gulf on July 23, the news should have alleviated critics who view the presence of only one aircraft carrier in such a strategically vital region as a major risk to U.S. security interests in the Middle East. But it didn’t, because there won’t be two carriers in the gulf for long. Just a week earlier, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, stated that the Navy would not operate a second carrier group in the Gulf during the 2014 fiscal year due to sequestration.

Critics should take a deep breath and welcome the opportunity provided by the difficult fiscal realities to rethink America’s military presence and strategy in the Persian Gulf. It’s time to restructure America’s Navy presence in the Gulf to be stronger yet cheaper.

We do have good alternatives to fight for the Persian Gulf, as the authors note:

The narrow Persian Gulf is one such area in which carriers are, comparatively speaking, a less than ideal choice. Therefore, the Navy’s decision last month to deploy a fleet of patrol coastal ships, or PC ships, to the Gulf should be praised.

Yes. I've both cringed at the thought of our carriers north of the Strait of Hormuz and celebrated the deployment of Cyclone-class patrol craft to the Persian Gulf.

And Ponce is a nice touch.

But we do need to reconsider our ability to project power into the Persian Gulf whether we could afford to keep two carriers on station, or not.

I recently noted that we generally maintain one fewer carrier air wing than the carriers we have since one carrier will be in long-term overhaul at any one time.

If we are going to rethink our CENTCOM naval aviation presence, why not maintain carrier air wings equal to carriers and deploy elements of the carrier air wing to land bases in the Persian Gulf region? I do believe Oman maintains quite the air base that we've used in the past. Forward deploy a headquarters element and rotate elements of the air wing that lacks an operational carrier (because it is in long-term refit) through the base, keeping it warm to receive the full air wing in an emergency.

Land-based air power has always been an important part of naval aviation. Even with our total carrier dominance by the end of World War II in the Pacific, we needed to plan for an amphibious landing on Kyushu Island to establish air bases prior to the main assault on the Tokyo region.

In the context of our needing land-based air when we had fleets of carriers roaming the seas, the idea that even two carriers in CENTCOM is enough naval air power is kind of ridiculous. Why not put Navy (or Marine Corps) planes ashore in the Gulf region?

UPDATE: Speaking of land-based naval air power:

The B-52 recently became the second American heavy bomber to have the Sniper ATP targeting pod installed. ... Heavy bombers can also use the pods for attacking ships at sea. ...

Two years ago a B-1B successfully used laser guided JDAM bombs against moving naval targets. These tests involved the B-1B using its Sniper targeting pod to put the laser beam on the target. The JDAMs homed on the laser light reflecting off the moving target ships. The B-1B thus became the latest of many air force heavy bombers that have been equipped to serve as maritime patrol and anti-ship aircraft.

There's no reason that land-based tactical aircraft can't use the same pods and weapons.