Saturday, June 14, 2014

Size Matters--But So Does What You Do With It

There are aircraft carriers and air-capable vessels. What's the big debate?

If this debate means we'll start counting our amphibious big-deck ships as aircraft carriers, let's just kill it now:

The “aircraft carrier” designation has become a bit of a joke among defense commentators on Twitter, with one Popular Science writer deciding to avoid controversy by referring to everything from the Japanese Izumo to the USS Nimitz as a “floaty movey flyer holder.” The definitional becomes more significant when we range beyond the relatively small community of defense and aviation specialists, and try to explain to the laity why a 45,000-ton ship that carries supersonic jet fighters is not, in fact, an “aircraft carrier.”

Look. If everyone had 45,000-ton aircraft carriers, that would be the standard for aircraft carriers. We'd call anything even close to that an "aircraft carrier."

But we have 100,000-ton behemoths. Once that is the standard with all that the size allows in mission accomplishment, trying to count smaller ships in that category is misleading.

Size matters.

Although the smaller air-capable ships can carry out some missions that require air assets, saving the aircraft carriers for the tougher missions.

Indeed, in that post about why size matters, I wondered if all of our air-capable big-deck ships should be Ford-class ships to be more flexible in switching hulls between amphibious warfare and air capable ships.

Mind you, I raised that question with the assumption that if carriers are needed for sea control missions that it might be better to just go big.

I'm actually not convinced we need (or can afford to risk) the big super carriers for sea control missions--as opposed to power projection missions.

Before we start debating what counts as a carrier, let's figure out what naval missions require air power.