Thursday, August 18, 2016

What are the Odds of Hitting an Iceberg, Anyway?

Normally I find Thompson a fine analyst, but I have no idea what he is talking about when he defends big carriers on cost and survivability.


The cost [of carrier battlegroups] issue is a canard. It only costs a fraction of one-percent of the federal budget to build, operate and sustain all of the Navy's carriers -- and nobody has offered a credible alternative for accomplishing U.S. military objectives in their absence. Critics say carriers are more expensive than they seem because an accurate accounting would include the cost of their escort vessels, but the truth of the matter is that the Navy would need a lot more of those warships if it had to fight conflicts without carriers.

The vulnerability issue is harder to address because putting 5,000 sailors and six dozen high-performance aircraft on a $10 billion warship creates what military experts refer to as a very "lucrative" target. Taking one out would be a big achievement for America's enemies, and a big setback for America's military. However, the likelihood of any adversary actually achieving that without using nuclear weapons is pretty close to zero. It isn't going to happen, and here are five big reasons why.

When you have to resort to comparing the cost of something to our massive federal spending totals, you've already admitted that carriers are really expensive.

More to the point, a navy to "fight wars" requires you to appreciate the difference between a sea control war to battle a peer military for control of the seas and a power projection war to bombard smaller enemies that lack the ability to strike our carriers.

It's apples and oranges.

While the carriers are extremely useful for power projection wars, the credible alternative to carriers in a sea control war is networked missile-armed subs, surface ships (who might also have long-range rail guns), land-based aircraft, and even sea-based aircraft on our amphibious ships acting in their secondary role or legacy big deck carriers kept on duty (but safely back from threats until conditions are better) through the remainder of their useful lifespans--hey, once they are built the money is spent, eh?

The notion that carriers aren't really vulnerable because they are virtually impossible to sink short of someone targeting them using nuclear weapons (or running into an iceberg?) is nonsense. My view is that if it is made of steel it can sink. I know I'm outnumbered in reasons 5 to 1, but I believe I'm on solid ground here.

More importantly, even if not sunk, a carrier can be mission-killed well short of sinking the ship. Old 19th century wooden ships of the line were nearly impossible to sink, yet they could be pounded into worthlessness.

It is insane to think that our carriers cannot be taken out of the fight short of being hit by a nuke. Or are land-based airfields never put out of action despite the impossibility of sinking them?

Just how long does a carrier have to be temporarily out of commission for it to be unavailable for the duration of any war with a naval power?

That attitude that dismisses the threat to carriers just guarantees we will arrogantly risk a carrier on the assumption that the chance of losing one (and 5,000 crew) is pretty close to zero.

Oh, and this is a hoot:

[The big deck carrier] will tend to stay in the open ocean rather than entering confined areas where approaching threats are hard to sort out from other local traffic.

That's pretty funny (in a we're so screwed sort of way) when you remember that we routinely put our carriers into the Persian Gulf to launch strikes against ISIL in Iraq where Iran could easily strike them.

I'm fine with having a sea power debate. We don't have battleship debates. Or ships of the line debates. Or trireme debates. Why have a carrier debate rather than a sea power debate?

Starting out the debate on the assumption that the carrier is a constant factor with an extended sneer at those who question how these expensive ships can survive against modern surveillance and precision weapons is no way to have a sea power debate.