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.