Saturday, September 21, 2019

Found On Road Dead

The new Ford carrier is having problems with nuclear propulsion, catapults, landing system, ammo elevators, and radar. Already expensive, it will be more expensive to fix. Other than that Ford is fabulous.

Oh Lord:

The new Ford class CVN (nuclear powered aircraft carrier) has become a major disaster rather than a more effective new ship design. Several innovative new technologies were supposed to have made the Fords more effective and cheaper to operate than the previous, and similar looking Nimitz class. Two of those new technologies, EMALS (Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System) catapults and landing equipment and high-speed electromagnetic ammunition elevators (for getting explosive items to the deck more quickly). There are lesser problems with the nuclear propulsion system, the new radars and modifications needed so that the new F-35C can operate. ...

The Ford is already two years late and will probably be at least four years late. Much of those delays could have been avoided if many of these new technologies were not installed on the first of the Ford class. Originally these new technologies were to be introduced separately in the first three Fords. Those early CVNs could have the new tech installed during the major refurbishment/upgrade periods that take carriers out of service for a year or more every decade. Before construction began on Ford it was decided to try and save some money by introducing all this new tech in the first ship.

The super carrier is great for power projection missions that require a floating air field to fight enemies ashore without significant anti-ship capability.

But that's the apple to the other very different orange mission.

When the mission is sea control against a major naval and air threat, as far as I'm concerned the super carrier is just a potential super expensive burning hulk.

The super carrier is the ultimate in platform-centric warfare. That is an environment that requires you to mass assets together to mass effects (as in striking the enemy).  And the Ford-class carrier is supposed to the be ultimate super carrier with the ability to generate more sorties with fewer crew.

In a network-centric world with large numbers of long-range, precision weapons guided by persistent surveillance and within a network that can mass effects without massing assets, a few high-cost assets that mass effects on the single platform are counter-productive.

Not only are those few very capable assets very expensive to build, they are expensive to protect. Assets that could otherwise go on offense are tied to the carrier to protect its very valuable skin.

And worse, the new Ford can't carry out its mission at all--as costs go up trying to fix problems. Sure, the Navy thinks that the operating costs of the carrier will be significantly lower than the carriers before the class, but will that work out better than the construction costs?

People use the fact that China is building carriers to justify our own carriers. But what are we doing to match China's naval build up? Building more carriers? No. We are adding missiles to Navy ships and subs, and getting the Army, Air Force, and Marines to add their own cannons and missiles to the anti-ship mission (see the Army's Multi-Domain Operations concept).

I'm grateful that China is effing up, too, by spending resources on carriers. I've wondered where in the world they think they'll use them (unless they are distractions for our Navy).

But that doesn't mean we aren't also effing up by thinking the super carrier is needed to control the seas when we have cheaper weapons that we can spread throughout the fleet. A fleet that would be larger if we didn't have to put so much of our budget into carriers.

Still, as I've long argued, the super carrier is useful for power projection missions short of a major war with a major power that requires us to fight to control the seas. I wouldn't retire them all.

But I would let their numbers dwindle by slowing down our rate of construction, and retire those in service a bit early in order to mothball them with some life left in case we need to reactivate carriers if we need sea-based air power that won't face significant anti-ship threats.

I'm worried about the Navy's inability to bring new ships into service without major glitches in design and construction quality. This isn't a problem just for Ford. But the Ford problem may have a silver lining.

Will the cost and problems with the Ford class super carrier push the Navy to build more ships and subs instead when the reality of network-centric warfare (or the previous buzz words up to today's "kill web") failed to drive the change?