European CVLs

Britain and France Build Robocarrier

Strategy Page has a great write-up on the upcoming British/French collaboration on a class of highly-automated 58,000 ton carriers.

What is amazing about all this is the aggressive plans for automation. These “Queen Elizabeth” class carriers are planning on having a ships crew of 800 (or less) and an air wing complement of 600 personnel. Currently, you need a ship crew of about 2,000 for a carrier that size. The reduction in size of the air wing personnel is even more aggressive.

These carriers are going to cost about $4 billion each, and are to be in use for half a century (including several refits and refurbs). But the biggest cost will be personnel. Currently, it costs the U.S. Navy a bit over $100,000 per sailor per year. Do the math ($7 billion in crew costs over the life of each carrier.) So the smaller the crew, the greater the savings, and the more you can spend on upgrading the ship, buying new aircraft and the like.

The carriers will haul 34-45 aircraft and helicopters and be able to handle about 110 flight operations every 24 hours.

If these carriers are able to handle some of the larger support aircraft, they’re pretty much what I was talking about some time back. If operating more smaller carriers (especially if these crew-reduction efforts are anywhere close to successful) that might be the way to go. But they need to be fully-functional, unlike the Harrier-equipped assault ships. I’m talking “the same thing as the biggies, just less of it”. If that can be managed, I could agree with the light carrier concept. But these would have to be in line with what World War 2 light carriers were capable of (relatively speaking), not the “jeep” escort carriers.

There might, of course, be a role for smallish Harrier/F-35-equipped jeep carriers, too. But not as any sort of replacement for our primary carrier force, even on a two- or three-to-one basis.

This is sure to fire up MO’s commenting readers. Fire away.


  1. IMO- your heart is in the right place – I just think your thought process is tad off. Small carrier vs large carrier. You could argue the virtues of both till the cows come home, and never touch on some real issues. A carrier is big target with limited defenses. Take out a carrier and the task force is toast. Crew reduction? that is a sword that’s bites. Sure you are cheaper to operate, but you are replacing human capitol with electronic capitol. Your training expenses & parts go sky high. You ability to recover from combat damage plummets. Ok – my solution. Go big, real big. Trimaran carriers in 3KM long by 1KM wide. Screw catapults. Make the carrier really a floating base. Sure your speed suffers- say cruise speed in the 10 knot range. However, your carrier becomes your base of operations – mobility is not needed. Reduction in mobility requirements, allows you beef up the defenses. Say the outter hull, being made of 15 foot advanced ceramic concrete under hard carbon plate. Sure the sucker would cost about 20-30 billion, but it would last and its open constuction would allow for easy upgrades. More importantly, it as a base, would not be subject to being obsolete, like our current crop of carriers are in danger of becomming.

  2. The big problem with this is not the concept- it’s the fact that it’s a joint British-French development. Expect it to come in years late, massively overbudget and incapable of doing what it’s supposed to do.

  3. Unfortunately (and contrary to what all the cheerleaders say), the STOVL variant of the JSF F35 the Marines are buying to place on LHA’s and LHD’s DOES NOT have anywhere near the capabilities as the CV variant the Navy is buying for the CVNs. The trade off for vertical landing is lack of range, payload, increased maintenance requirements, etc. Which is why the Navy didn’t just get the F35B so as to have a cost savings by buying the same bird the jarheads are getting. And these light assault carriers CANNOT operate the CV variant — they are too short, lack arresting gear (which eats DIRECTLY into your below deck aviation spaces, dramatically reducing aircraft complement), lack catapults (ditto), and lack angled decks (the costs associated with implementing an angle deck into a Wasp LHD size hull are prohibitive. . . the LHA(R) ship design team has explored and rejected this option already.) There are other issues related to force sustainability, due to the lack of the size of the ‘airfield’ of the L-classes. Bottom line, if you want to do serious force projection and DEEP interdiction missions ‘From The Sea’, you still need full size CVs — and if you’re building them that big, you might as well build ’em as CVNs (which more than DOUBLES the amount of aviation fuel and ordnance you can carry). CVNs ccan even act as tankers to the non nuclear ships in the battlegroup (and regualrly do so), further reducing reliance on fragile tankers. Having said that, are ‘escort carriers’ (what we called this consept in WWII) a good idea? SURE! That’s why the LHA(R) program was instituted.