Friday, May 19, 2017

Carriers are the Means and Not the End, Remember

Will the Navy adopt smaller carriers to supplement larger carriers?

“The Navy should also pursue a new “high/low mix” in its aircraft carrier fleet,” CSBA says in its report, CSBA “Restoring American Seapower, A New Fleet Architecture for The United States Navy,” released Feb. 9 of this year.

“Traditional nuclear-powered supercarriers remain necessary to deter and defeat near-peer competitors, but other day-to-day missions, such as power projection, sea lane control, close air support, or counterterrorism, can be achieved with a smaller, lower cost, conventionally powered aircraft carrier,” CSBA says “Over the next five years, the Navy should begin transitioning from large deck amphibious ships into smaller aircraft carriers with the goal of delivering the first such ship in the mid-2030s.”

The CSBA refers to the ships as light aircraft carrier (CVL), saying it “initially be a legacy LHA/LHD, but eventually replaced by a purpose-built 40,000- to 60,000-ton CVL with catapults and arresting gear.”

I don't think that makes a lot of sense on cost-effectiveness. Unless you can build and maintain multiple smaller carriers (and their escorts) instead of a single big carrier, is it really worth it?

Or are you telling me that Chinese (for a random example) anti-ship assets will be insufficient to take on 15 CVL battle groups rather than 10 supercarrier battle groups that are under high threat?

Further, unless sortie rates are no longer as important because of precision to generating carrier offensive and defensive air power, smaller carriers are at a severe disadvantage.

And while smaller drone aircraft could increase the number of aircraft that a smaller carrier can hold, don't smaller drone aircraft allow big carriers to carry more, too?

Further, describing a smaller alternative as "faster, more agile smaller carriers better able to maneuver away from enemy fire" is sheer marketing nonsense. A 40-60,000-ton ship is not agile in any meaningful sense of the word. And never will be. And adding a few more knots of speed will make how much of a difference against hyper-velocity missiles? How do you dodge that? We may find a way of shooting that missile down or misdirecting it, but the ship isn't going to get out of the way.

So just stop that.

Anyway, let me add some of my past posts on the subject:

"Decked" (January 2006).

"Hulk-21?" (November 2006).

"Let's Get Small?" (January 2011).

"Build More Ford Class Carriers" (January 2014).

"Not a Carrier" (February 2014).

"Another Carrier Debate?" (November 2015).

"A Floor Wax AND a Dessert Topping?" (October 2016).

"Size Matters" (February 2017).

These posts have a lot of other links to posts, of course.

The problem is that big carriers remain invaluable in power projection missions even as their survivability in sea control missions wanes. Carrier proponents and opponents tend to just argue their portion of the argument.

I think we should stop having carrier debates in order to have a sea power debate.

UPDATE: No ship type lasts forever as the dominant weapon.