I don’t think that 11 is enough

Navy renews plan to cut carrier fleet, documents show

Hampton Roads Daily Press:

A draft Pentagon blueprint renews a plan to shrink the Navy’s fleet of aircraft carriers, barely a month after Congress blocked the move.

Excerpts of the draft Quadrennial Defense Review, conducted every four years to guide military strategy, call for a fleet of 11 aircraft carriers – or one fewer than exist today.

The Navy pushed hard last year to reduce the fleet by mothballing the USS John F. Kennedy, based in Mayport, Fla. But Congress saved the carrier last month by mandating a 12-carrier fleet in the final version of a defense authorization bill.

I understand that the JFK is not in the greatest shape and that a ton of money could be saved by avoiding a major overhaul by retiring her early. I don’t know if the Kitty Hawk is up to it, but how about compromising by retiring the Kennedy now but extending the life of the Kitty Hawk and keeping her active after the George H.W. Bush comes on line? That would get us down to eleven for the short term, saving some money at a time when Iraq is stretching everything tight. But in a few years, as China’s military begins to get dangerous, we’d be back up to twelve.

Comments

  1. Comrades, My understanding of the issue was that the Navy was considering dropping a carrier so that the money could be used to develop and deploy a brown water navy. The riverine forces are sadly nowhere near the level that they need to be, and events in Iraq and elsewhere have shown the need for such a force. respects, Tim

  2. Do bear in mind that for every carrier we cut we can afford one of the great new DD(X) destroyers ! (hahahaha) Im sure there are pentagon types at work trying to explain how the DD(X) is actually better that a carrier group, for instance; its a smaller target, Its cheaper to operate, it can turn in tighter circles, and it can visit New Zealand which doesnt allow nuklear powered ships to visit.

  3. I don’t know. With forward positions and in-air refueling, how important are carriers? More of a diplomacy tool if you ask me. With China growing it’s sub fleet, it is unlikely that the Navy would send a carrier into the waters of Tiawan like they did in 93. They are going to end up at a pretty good standoff distance anyway.

  4. KittyHawk has launched 150,000+ aircraft for over 43 years… she is at the end of her life IMO. But having said that… conventional carriers cost less to maintain and deploy (one source says 192 million a year vs 208 million). The older conventional carriers still do the same job as the newer carriers. Launch the same AC types and # of sorties etc… I served on JFK and I am very supportive of those who deploy for 7 months at a time to project our power abroad, but it seems like we are asking alot of our 40+ year old ships. I’d love to keep 12 carrier groups and 12 carrier airwings chugging, but at some point it is a luxury we may not be able to afford. I can’t grasp budget $$ for the 4 branches, but if new ships and planes and tanks are breaking our bank then we need to find a way to build or acquire them … Because we don’t want to go into a war with the equivalent of Brewster Buffaloes.

  5. Comrades, Tim R wrote: ‘I don’t know. With forward positions and in-air refueling, how important are carriers? More of a diplomacy tool if you ask me. With China growing it’s sub fleet, it is unlikely that the Navy would send a carrier into the waters of Tiawan like they did in 93. They are going to end up at a pretty good standoff distance anyway.’ The advantage a carrier has is that it moves. All the time. Harder to hit than a land base. As to the ChiComm navy, well, their subs are nice but nowhere near as frightening as some folks think. I was in ASW ops for years, and the one area that I can assure you the US Navy is in the forefront of, is ASW. We’re still years ahead of anyone else, and although the Brits are excellent shallow-water ASW types, the deep water still belongs to the USN. Now, having said that, yeah, it’s always possible for someone to get through. The threat still exists, more so with Diesal boats than with nukes. Why? because it’s hard to hear a battery underwater. When a conventional boat goes sinker, it’s pretty quiet. Their drawback, though, is that they are severely limited underwater, time-wise, and speed-wise. Anyway, between SOSUS, land-based ASW air assets, exo-atmospheric imagery, and the battle-group’s own ASW platforms (DD’s, FFG’s, S-3 & Helo) it’s harder and harder for the bad guys to get close to a Carrier. It can be done, but odds are it won’t survive long enough to make a succesful attack. We go to war with China, and you can bet the first targets they try and hit will be Guam and Atsugi, followed by Pearl and Bremerton. Respects, Tim

  6. Personally I think cutting down by 1 is fine, especially if its not a long term plan. The issue is that it not a…ok lets cut it down by one more in another ten years, because then we’ll end up with navy the size of denmark in 50 years. One alternative might be to bring to have one battleship on the line rather then a carrier. Regardless of its military usefullness, battleships on the prowl weigh heavily in people’s minds. Having visting diplomats on the deck of battlship just plane impresses people. Also, it make is harder to form a single strategy for taking down a fleet. Currently there is vunerabilty against supersonic/hypersonic anti-ship missiles, because the detection window is very small and the anti-missles systems have a hard time with them. The only real weakness of them is that is hard to put to big of warhead on them. So while they can be effective against smaller ships, and a lot could probley disable a carrier, the enemy would have make a much bigger (read expesive ones) to sink/disable a BB.

  7. Comrades, Yup. BB’s can certainly project power ashore with those 16′ guns. It’s also very hard to shoot down a 16′ shell in flight:) Those Iowa class BB’s were designed to slug it out with the IJN BB’s, and to be honest, I suspect that most of the cruise missles with conventional heads would only cause minimal damage, especially against the frontal armour of those turrets. You would, however, really piss off the Chief Bos’n Mate, and THAT might well get you killed! Respects, Tim

  8. Perhaps this is a funding ploy to gain another carrier. How many carriers does it take to support a 2 front war 24/7?

  9. Comrades, Yup. BB’s can certainly project power ashore with those 16′ guns. It’s also very hard to shoot down a 16′ shell in flight:) Those Iowa class BB’s were designed to slug it out with the IJN BB’s, and to be honest, I suspect that most of the cruise missles with conventional heads would only cause minimal damage, especially against the frontal armour of those turrets. You would, however, really piss off the Chief Bos’n Mate, and THAT might well get you killed! Respects, Tim If by projecting power, you mean the enemy is conveniently within 30km of the beach… Plus, a cruise missile will ruin a battleships day if it hits the superstructure. Knocking out radar and commo. Try shooting 16’ers while blind. I think the cut may actually be beneficial. With 12 carriers, you have 6 available, with 4 that can be surged and 2 in overhaul. As long as we can keep 10 available, then im fine with that… As for the DD(X)… im still baffled why people are so against it.

  10. People talk about the DD(X) like its been some ongoing thing out on the ocean. The DD(X) is NEW- its the result of the failure of the DD 21 project- cost over runs and tech failures. The DD(X) is currently a very, very expensive plan. At about 2 billion a single destroyer, is a very expensive for the amount firepower- simply because as tonnage goes a destroyer is never going to hold that much weaponry. How many missiles? How many warheads– compare it to existing ones. Having a next-generation destroyer program is must, but the last 10 years of it have been a series of over-optomistic and over-priced CGI renders and under-achieving tech demonstrators. I think people would take the DD(X) more seriously, if it wasn’t the culmination of the failure of the DD 21 program, and actually offered a apppealing amount of firepower for the price its planned at.

  11. The issue with the DD(X) is that there are existing systems the meet or exceed its capabilities. Tactically, the DD(X) does not make sense. Its firepower is on par with existing destroyers. Its to big to be a stealthy attack craft, to small to be a capitol ship and too expensive for the Navy. If the Navy continues its head long plung into the DD(X) sink hole, we are going to end up with a 170 ship navy in a few years. Yes, the Airforce can early retire a B-52, in order to get a few more F-22’s. Its dumb, but realistically, if push came to shove, we go out to the bone yard and get a the B-52 back into the air. You can’t park a Navy for any length of time and expect to be able to float a navy ouf of mothballs in a hurry.

  12. If you are trading one or two carriers for a brownwater navy, that is a pretty good deal. One aircraft carrier (without before considering the cost of the aircraft and the other combatants and logistics ships in the group) is going to put you out something on the order of $14 billion. This will buy you, conservatively speaking, 42 littoral combat ships. And, the total number of crew for that fleet of littoral combat ships is going to be comparable to the crew for the aircraft carrier. Throw in half a dozen combatant ships in the group at $1 billion each, and a logistics ship at a third of a billion, and that would buy another 18 LCS (you probably need to keep the logistics ship). And, you replace a lot of $40 million carrier aircraft with $20 million of helicopters or so per LCS, and that saves you another $1.2 billion+, which will buy you another logistics ship and three LCS. Thus, for the cost of one carrier group, you can get a fleet of 63+ LCS and a couple of logistics ships to support them and put a couple of helicopters on each LCS, and the total crew of the LCS fleet is probably a little less than the total crew of the carrier group. Give up two carrier groups and you could afford to buy 126 LCS. 63 small ships, with a helicopter or two each, gives you a lot of ASW, or anti-mine warfare, or interdiction, or amphibious assault fire support (one version would have artillery), or whatever else seems to make sense. And, while you could kill some of them, it would be impossible to kill them all in a single blow. As our ASW expert noted, you can’t stop all the subs if there are a lot of them trying very hard. A well placed blow, even if it doesn’t sink a carrier, could very well disable it sufficiently to send it packing for the nearest shipyard. Simply put, the law of diminishing returns applies. The U.S. Navy has 12 full sized carriers and another dozen amphibious assault ships that would count as carriers in any other Navy. Britian has three Harrier carriers. No other Navy in the world has more than a single carrier, and it is exceedingly unlikely that any of them would join together in a force against the U.S. In contrast, the U.S. Navy has only a handful of surface combatants who are not tasked to being part of a carrier group, or to supporting an amphibious assault ship’s group. Are there even a dozen surface combatants actually deployed independent of one of these groups at any one time? It would be nice to have more than twenty-four pieces (one for each group) on the board, half of which or more are indisposed due to maintenance, travel to and from post, and training at any one time.

  13. ‘The DD(X) is currently a very, very expensive plan. At about 2 billion a single destroyer, is a very expensive for the amount firepower- simply because as tonnage goes a destroyer is never going to hold that much weaponry. How many missiles? How many warheads– compare it to existing ones.’ Doesnt its firepower exceed that of current destroyers? Also, doesnt it have the surface fire support capability as well? I think a major issue with the DD(X) is an attempt to automate almost everything. Less crew means more LCS vessels can be manned.

  14. Comrades, The problem that I have with increased automation is one that I saw first hand. Automation becomes a crutch instead of a tool. When the P-3 Orion community was transitioning from the A/B models to the C model, the biggest change was computerizing all the sensor systems. The Charlies were the first with an onboard system that did calculations, plots, real-time tactical data displays and lots of nifty hardware options. The problems came not with the systems, but with the training. As soon as the Charlies started to come online, the Navy’s ASW ‘A’ school, where they trained the sensor operators, stopped teaching most of the math formulas used in the analog systems. Figuring speed of sound equations, factoring in depth, temperature and salinity data, time differentials, etc, was all taught prior to this, as it was required of the operators to be able to compute these things by hand, or at best, with the help of a calculator. Now comes the new computer system, the analyst with no math skills, and lo and behold, we’re onstation, tracking a target, and the computer dumps. All gone. Not coming back today. Suddenly, the entire crew is nothing but a flying RV. It has lost the ability of the crew to analyze the data coming in, package it and make use of it. I, and others in the fleet were dumbfounded. The crews were useless without knowing the way the ASW philosophy and oceanography skills worked. They depended upon the omputer to do the work for them, and were unable to function without it. We got that problem fixed pretty quick, but it was a very rude awakening for many folks. The Soviets had the same problems with the Alpha class fast attack sub. It too was fully automated and had a crew of around 50 guys. But when push came to shove, and there was a powerplant casualty or some other mechanical disfunction, the crew was unable to adequately deal with the situation with the reduced manpower levels. Anyway, my fear with the DDX is that you are placing too much reliability on the whizbang tech and forgetting that guns still work with iron sights and windage. A helmsman’s gut feeling about a channel and the current is oftentimes better than the chart the computer is displaying. I’m not against technology. Not at all. I am, however, worried that we lose the warfighting skills required to continue the fight when the complex combat integration systems all take the day off. Respects, Tim

  15. Tim, I think that’s a good argument for taking things one step at a time rather than a giant leap into the unknown. If the new guns for the DD(X) are so great, why not stick them on a couple of existing destroyers to try them out? That will allow the quick discovery of whether they’re really an improvement, if so how much, what problems they may cause, etc. What’s more, the intermediate class, with the old hull/propulsion/sensors but new guns, should be almost as cheap as a regular destroyer, but with the purported greater firepower of the DD(X). Might that not be useful to have? Like the F-16, having many cheap vehicles with adequate firepower may be superior to a few expensive, advanced ones – at least as a stop-gap measure. Who knows if and when the DD(X) will be ready for production? But with my proposal, it would be possible to concentrate on one of the main improvements, get it ready and try it out in the real world rather than just the lab/test range. Anyway, it seems to me, giant leaps into the unknown are too risky.

  16. The DD(X)’s AGS is a modular system and as such can be added to other ships in the fleet. The issue has more to due with its automated ammo system and storage. That said, there have been some plans about mounting the gun other ships once the weapon has been poven effective. Is it going to happen?? It might if, there is some overriding need. With respect to he carriers. One idea that has been floating around (no pun intended) is to share the Kitty Hwak with the SOF. The Kitty Hawk would make a great helocoptor carrier. (al la the Afganistan campain). You can save a bundle on a carrier if you eliminate, the catapults and other equipment needed to support jets. If the Navy is serious about the surge concept then a lot of the advantages of nuclear power go away. There is a lot of merit of creating a subclass of convential carriers with relatively short legs to act as in region support with the nukes acting a backup.

  17. AGS requires far more electrical juice (even though it is not a railgun) than existing ships were designed to provide. It is designed to use the juice diverted from the propulsion system that the DD(X) was allowed to make possible. Maybe you could put one on a CVN, but that would do not nice things to your flight deck.

  18. My concern about carriers is from that of amphib assault. In the first and most critical hours of an amphib assault, there is no artillery ashore, and few if any tanks, etc. The only fire support available, outside of organic mortars (mortars are not enough thank you very much) and at missiles, is air and naval gunfire. Some say battleships. I say what battleships? You have cruisers maybe DD’s and smaller. That leaves air. That means carriers. It also means plural carriers, because a lot of air will be required for fleet defense. What is left over supports the Soldiers/Marines. Just try to beg an air strike from a nervous Navy type who is tryin to keep his boats from getting sunk. Will the carriers work in some strait or narrow place? I hope not. But the aircraft do have some range; they launched missions in Afghanistan from some distance. Stores on a carrier are depleted in accordance with how hot and heavy the action is. It takes time to replenish them. All that means lots of carriers. We do not know what the next one will be, perhaps the entire Middle East, lookin at Palestine, and Iran, and Syria. And friends and neighbors if that happens, were I China, I think I would decide to clean up that Taiwan thing about that time, while the US is dealing with Middle East nuts. I never saw the Kuwait thing coming. I can’t see the next thing either.

  19. Oh yea, forgot. We have not lost a carrier or carriers (as in ‘sighted carrier, sank same) in quite awhile, but on that scale it could happen.

  20. Why does everyone think we’re fighting WWII? Is there an Atlantic wall somewhere we dont know about? Let me ask you… How can an enemy provide serious opposition if you send in a few JASSMs, Tomahawks, SLAMs, and JSOWs and eliminate their artillery and armored divisions quickly? I agree with Murdoc, we need 12.

  21. I am really for doin it with all those alphabetic combinations you just said. All the air stuff has to be carted in from somewhere. I hope the Air Force can operate nearby. If they can’t it will come from carriers. It will probably take both, and then some. Depending on it’s scope it will also take boots on the ground.

  22. Doesnt its firepower exceed that of current destroyers? Also, doesnt it have the surface fire support capability as well? I think a major issue with the DD(X) is an attempt to automate almost everything. Less crew means more LCS vessels can be manned. More firepower? Yes- but at what cost. To understand the current DD(X) program you need to understand the DD 21- because it came from its ashes. DD 21 was once the promising, future destroyer that DD(X) is now suppossed to be. It was lauded for its incredible capabilties until tech failiures and cost overuns killed- and we got DD(X). Even if the DD(X) program meets its goals, its price does not scale well with its capablilty. Saying it has ‘fire support’ ability is nice talking point for the navy- but the reality is even as planned it only has incremently more firepower than current ships. The reason comes down to how many pounds of explosive you can stuff into a given hull. A ship the size of the DD(X) is inherently limited by its tonnage and the caliber of its gun. The gains in range and accuracy are incremental compared to existing system- but its cost is not. Again this comes back to dollars spent per amount of capability. For the price the DD(X) is offered at its not appealing amount firepower per dollar-even compared to existing systems. It sounds better when you look at the planned technolgy- but its just not credible when this the same tech thats been promisted but not delivered for history of program. Does that mean we shouldn’t give the DD(X) a chance? Well only a proffesional navy analyst could really offer a proper opinion, and accsess to more in depth (e.g. classified perfomance data). Based on public information that they have pushed for DD 21 and now DD(X), its hard to find reedeeming qualities of the program. If not DD(X) what then? – well do the same thing that resutled in the DD(X)- a less ambitious program. When DD 21 was not appealing for its cost and tech it was replaced with the less ambitious DD(X)- which seems to deserve the same fate.

  23. I wanted to disagree with the suggestion that we convert a retiring carrier into SOF- we already have amphibious carriers- that are designed for that job. They need the work.

  24. The AGS system electrical draw in combat conditions is around 719Kw. The existing ships can handle the increased draw, though some modifications are needed. The AGS backfit program has a rather lengthy and very detailed plan on how to instal the AGS on current ships. Using the USS Thorn as a model. https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/1721.1/3531/2/AGS+Conversion+Study.pdf So lets get away from the concept that the AGS is some super weapon that can only be mounted on the DD(X). With respect to the DD(X) firepower. It has 80 VLS cells where as the Arleigh Burke class carries 90 VLS.

  25. Also, One more important note on the DD(X). Arent we getting 2 ships for the price of one? The CG(X) will use alot of technology from the DD(X). In fact it will be the same ship, but without the AGS. So wouldnt that justify the high cost now for DD(X) if we can get CG(X) cheaper?

  26. Just a side line on converting the Kitty Hawk to a Helocarrier. Realistically, its not going to happen unless some programs in the work get cancelled. The idea – was to have the Kitty Hawk run under minimal crew levels. Basically the Kitty Hawk would be converted into a semi-mobile base. Compared to exiting helocarriers the converted Kitty Hawk would have capasity to hold about 3 times the number of birds + ability to maintain operational intensities far beyond the existing helocarriers.

  27. Thanks for the info, James! 719kW is a lot of power but less than an AEGIS radar would draw, for example (I believe those are 1MW+). That’s about 1000HP, which isn’t too horrible a subtraction from a destroyer’s shaft power – it won’t slow it down much, and only when operating the guns I suppose. Murdoc is right, blog commenters are a great source of information :)