Sunday, June 11, 2017

Too Big to Lose

We count on the aircraft carrier too much to control the seas:

The loss would of one would drastically weaken the force, leaving it significantly less likely to be able to accomplish the task at hand. Centralizing so much of the fleet’s firepower in a single ship is effective when that ship is impervious to enemy attacks but dangerous when it and all of its capabilities are at risk of being lost all at once.

Sinking the symbol of U.S. power also would have severe political implications. Today the carrier is a powerful diplomatic tool that the nation uses to reassure its allies and warn its foes. There is no better example of its influence than the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis, in which two carrier strike groups reminded China of the might of the U.S. Navy. How effective would that message have been if a carrier had recently been defeated in battle?

The domestic effects of a carrier’s defeat likely would be even worse. How many political leaders could support U.S. involvement in a conflict after the nightly news broadcast video of a burning carrier? How many wars would the American people support if a carrier sank, potentially killing more Americans in a single day than the number who died in the attacks on Pearl Harbor and on 9/11, or in Iraq and Afghanistan combined?

Yeah, I've mentioned the potential loss of life in a carrier sinking and I've been worried about the carrier's centrality in our national morale for for a long time:

I've worried that the loss of a carrier (or more) in the western Pacific should we come to blows with China would be a major psychological blow to America given how much our super carriers are seen as a symbol of our power. Even though our Navy could fight and win without our super carriers, the image of a big carrier in flames and going down would be potent.

Funny enough, I wrote that sinking Chinese carriers would lessen the blow of losing our own carriers. In that sense, China's investment in the carrier is helpful to American morale.

Also, I assume that our surface ships, subs, and planes will have sufficient anti-ship weapons to cope with the loss of carriers. If they don't, I'm wrong about ultimate victory despite losing carriers.

Anyway, it is nice to see worries about the carrier's centrality and survivability make the pages of Proceedings. They purchased an article of mine in 1999 on this very subject urging the demotion of the platform-centric carrier in favor of network-centric dispersal of offensive firepower across the fleet, but didn't publish it (no, I'm not slightly bitter about that).

I'm amazed it has to be said, but if it floats, it can sink. It can certainly be put out of the fight for the duration.

I worry that the cost of carriers and the effort we must take to protect them are all out of proportion to the bang we get in the sea control mission.

If we need numbers of ships in the fleet, we can't rely on carriers. So pick a number we need and adjust our ship types accordingly.

Although the biggest problem in these debates is that people fail to recognize that we are really debating two different carrier topics: sea control and power projection.

Carriers are too big to lose for the former but valuable for the latter.

Of course, China might understand that the carrier is increasingly only a power projection asset and so deny our Navy the chance to sink one or two of theirs to lessen the impact of losing one or more of our own.

Do read all of that Proceedings article I quoted.

And I'd pay good money to have a Navy exercise about facing off against a Red fleet that starts with the American carriers being declared sunk at the start of the exercise, with the commander of the surviving ships tasked with facing the enemy and rescuing crews on sinking ships and in the water.

UPDATE: Expanding the fleet will cost a lot of money. Perhaps too much money to fully carry out.

So why not fill out some of the numbers with modularized auxiliary cruisers? These could be the ground force versions (see page 50) or pure Navy versions.