Friday, June 17, 2016

The Navy Remembers that Planes Can Also Operate from Land

We have 6 carriers at sea at one time. This is a demonstration of our post-9/11 carrier policy that replaces a system of constantly keeping the maximum number of carriers forward deployed at all times to one that allows us to surge carrier deployments in an emergency. Which is interesting. But how relevant is it?

This is interesting:

As of last week, [Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John] Richardson said, the Navy had six carriers underway -- a development he called "a milestone."

Two conducted coastal training operations, while four were forward deployed, including Eisenhower, Truman, the John C. Stennis in the South China Sea, and the Japan-based Ronald Reagan, which began its 2016 patrol in the Pacific last week.

Eisenhower is replacing Truman in Central Command, so briefly overlap being forward deployed.

But don't be confused about this achievement as so many were when we demonstrated this ability in 2004:

Last summer I saw a lot of bloggers talking about Summer Pulse '04 and how we threw the fear of the US Navy into the Chinese by massing over a half dozen carriers near Taiwan.

That assessment was dead wrong [because the carriers were scattered around the globe.] ...

If we can surge seven carriers in 30 days or so from their homeports, within another month we could have seven carriers anywhere on the globe.

But if you are talking about having this kind of firepower off of Taiwan in a week, forget it. In the short run we are talking one or at best two carrier strike groups plus a wing of fighters from Japan and whatever Marine aircraft are on Okinawa. Five years ago this would have been enough for us to win. Maybe it is today. In a few years it may not be enough to win control of the air.

So having 6 carriers at sea at once shows we can do it. But that doesn't mean we can get 6 carriers to a single theater to mass our naval air power quickly.

And back to the first article, this popped out to me:

Elements of the Truman strike group that remained behind in the Persian Gulf while the carrier transited to the Mediterranean provided a steady state-presence to support allies in the region.

I assume that means left behind in the Persian Gulf at land bases.

Which given our policy that doesn't keep as many carriers forward deployed, raises the possibility of a solution to forward presence of naval air power that I suggested--putting carrier air wings on land bases:

[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.

Apparently, the Truman strike group did exactly that.

Perhaps we should be looking at how to surge naval air power forward, which would include putting carrier air wings at forward air bases.

Of course, the question of how to keep naval aviation forward deployed misses the point that we need a real carrier debate in the context of naval power.

UPDATE: Sending the carriers Stennis and Reagan with their supporting ships (and I assume 2-4 nuclear attack subs) to the western Pacific is a nice show of force in peacetime:

In a show of strength before an international court’s ruling on China’s claims in the South China Sea, the US Navy sent two aircraft carriers and their accompanying ships on training drills in the western Pacific Ocean Saturday.

And operating in the Philippines Sea is probably far enough away from the China mainland to operate, but for wartime we really should have that carrier debate.