More on small bird farms

Calling for Compact Carriers

Strategy Page has more on the subject of the latest look at small or medium-sized aircraft carriers for the US Navy with a focus on UAVs:

Work on flight control software for carrier operations is well underway. Combat UAVs (UCAVs) weight about 20 percent less than manned aircraft, and cost 20-30 percent less. They use less fuel as well.

While the navy would prefer to design and build the first generation UCAVs for use on existing carriers, these smaller and cheaper aircraft go together well with smaller and cheaper carriers. That’s because UCAVs mean you can get more aircraft on a carrier, and that creates a traffic jam type situation. Moreover, the widespread use of smart bombs means you need fewer bombers over the target. A 50-60,000 ton carrier, with three dozen F-35Bs, UCAVs, UAVs and support aircraft, can be as effective as a Nimitz with 70 F-18s and support aircraft.

While I’m not quite sure I’m buying that last sentence…okay, I admit it, I’m not buying it at all…the rest makes a fair amount of sense.

Light carries (CVLs) were quite valuable during World War II, but we must remember that they were able to operate the same aircraft that the biggies did, just not as many. That probably wouldn’t be the case with medium carriers, and certainly not with small carriers. VTOL aircraft such as the F-35B would be required for them.

Making small carriers work would require an AWACS-ish UAV, but that doesn’t seem unreasonable. Neither does an anti-sub or an EW UAV. I realize that we don’t have these things today, but the technology is advancing very rapidly.

No it wouldn’t come close to a super carrier. But it’s not meant to.

Discussed most recently on MO here. Does anyone out there have an opinion on this subject? [Murdoc: Dives for cover]

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Comments

  • GeekLethal says:

    I wonder though what happens on the other end of UAV/UCAV technologies. What happens when a swarm of enemy systems swarms a carrier? I realize they train to some extent against naval SSMs, but does that training, countermeasures, or other systems apply to hostile UCAVs?

  • Murdoc says:

    The latest upgrade of the Phalanx CIWS, the Block-1B, adds thermal imagery, additional ammo, and a reinforced barrel for repeated use. The updated software allows better engagement of surface threats (boats) and slow aircraft (helicopters). My guess would be that this would increase the defensive capability against UAVs by a fair margin. Not enough, probably, but on the right track. The next phase of the CIWS will use RAM missiles instead of the gatling gun. This will extend the range but cut down on the capability to engage many targets in a short period of time. Maybe a mix of CIWS missiles and CIWS guns? I started thinking about this when it was initially reported that that Israeli missile boat had been hit by a UAV kamikaze. It turned out to be a missile, of course, but I’ll bet light bulbs went off around the world when those reports came out. More on Phalanx Block-1B: http://www.murdoconline.net/archives/003558.html

  • GeekLethal says:

    Maybe a naval application for a Metalstorm system? Their stuff is faster than vulcans/CIWS, right, in terms of ROF? And if the idea is to put as much steel between the swarm and your boat, might that be the way to go?

  • ryan says:

    I think in the 80′s our carriers sailed with 90+ aircraft on them. Now they go to sea with about 70+ aircraft on them. So you could make the arguement that smaller carriers would be ok. I think an ‘Invincible’ size carrier (20+ aircraft) would be a bad idea. Something along the lines of the new planned British carriers (sized somewhere between our marine amphibs and our supercarriers, 50-60 aircraft) could be workable. Of course with smaller nonnuclear carriers we would need more logistics ships to support them… and maybe more escorts to protect the logistics ships. Tradeoffs everywhere.

  • I meant to comment on the other post about the cost of light carriers. These smaller carriers which are being built by Italy and other nations are expensive, almost as much as US supercarriers. This is to be expected when you purchase 1 or 2 every couple of decades. Buying several a year would reduce the price of the new carriers considerably, as proved in the 1980′s when Navy Secretary Lehman tried it with the Nimitz class.Likewise, the cost of Arleigh Burke destroyers were kept down to $1 billion each by ordering 3 or more annually during the 1990′s. America could potentially buy 25-30 such vessels, if 2 or 3 are ordered per year, at the same cost we now pay for 3 or 4 Nimitz’s per decade. Also, by keeping the crew to about 1000 or less, compared to 5000 or more per supercarrier, even more savings are garnered.

  • Nicholas says:

    Is there any reason a submarine couldn’t be built with a small flight deck and a small gaggle of UAVs? Nicholas:Submarines :: Buckethead:UAVs

  • James says:

    The real cost of ships is based on its eletronics not its hull. The cost difference between a super carrier and a small carrier is relatively minnor. The real danger of a small carrier is the loss of capability to build the super carrier. There are very few ship yards capable of building a super carrier. The strategy page arguement of ‘logjam’ with UAV’s on a supercarrier does not make sense. That is a logistical problem, that is can be controlled. You have to remember the main cost advantage of a UAV is that you ‘don’t’ have to fly them to keep up your proficiency. Under that premise there is no benefit for a small carrier over a large carrier. From a tactical point, you need to keep in mind, propaganda aside, a super carrier or any carrier for that matter is not going to generate the sorte rate that is capable disabling a significant opponent. Real ‘air power’ has been and will remain the provence of the heavy bomber. As good (or poor) 50 or 60 F-18′s are. they are not in the same league as 4 pod of B-52′s overhead. In a major conflict the carrier’s role is provide air cover for the heavy bombers. On that basis, the small carrier concept is deficient. A F-35B, is not an air superiority craft.

  • skrip00 says:

    People give UAVs way too much credit. Yet for some reason, they have a higher accident and crash rate than manned aircraft. Also, there is a bit of deja vu in these arguments that many of you nutballs forget: In the 1950s, the USAF tried to steer funding away from USN carrier production. Why? Because nuclear bombers can strike targets from CONUS and win wars before dinnertime. After that, in the 1960s, the Army chimed in. Said their SAM systems would make fighter aircraft obsolete. Then, the USAF offered moral support by saying their big missiles would make bombers obsolete. In the early 2000s, people everywhere began saying manned flight is over because UAVs can do their jobs at half the cost without any of the foreplay. Oops! Someone forgot to inform them that Carriers, manned aircraft, and foreplay were obsolete since the 1950s. UAVs will only ammount to support systems. And barely in that capacity. Some points as to why: Mid-air Refueling: This isnt something that is easy to automate. If it was, it wouldve been done a long time ago. Probe and drough, whatever, is hard enough for regular pilots to do on a nice-day. It takes some skill and human reflex to do it alltogether. Close-air-support: Unless you can install a pair of Mark I eyeballs and intuition, I dont want some fucking robot shooting at anything near me if i were a grunt on the ground. Sorry gents, but UCAVs are basically missiles which shoot missiles and come back (hopefully). Just another weapons system for other manned systems to use. On Carriers Sorry, but even operating F-35Bs on their own is reducing your capability. Operating a STOBAR carrier reduces it further. You cant do nearly as much with 30 planes, than you can with 80. Especially 80 which can do a variety of missions based on 3 primary airframes.

  • James says:

    Close air support – The biggest revolution in close air support is a B-52 circling overhead as the ground troops upload the grid corridinates. Mark I eyeball not required.

  • Desertmole says:

    Mike wrote: ‘America could potentially buy 25-30 such vessels, if 2 or 3 are ordered per year, at the same cost we now pay for 3 or 4 Nimitz’s per decade. Also, by keeping the crew to about 1000 or less, compared to 5000 or more per supercarrier, even more savings are garnered.’ The problem is that Congress won’t order 25-30 in place of 3-4 super carriers. They will buy at a rate of one for one. It gives Congress an excuse to fund more social programs. In the end, we lose capability. Period. And I seriously doubt we would see that big a savings per ship, even if we did. I’d expect we would see being able to buy, perhaps, 3.5 babies for each super carrier, which translates to perhaps 42-48 strike and support aircraft to replace 70+ from a super carrier. Still not enough.

  • Homer says:

    I seem to remember something from a while back about catching the smaller UAVs in nets rather than having them land on a strip. That probably wouldn’t work on something the size of a Predator, but I’m assuming that operating a Predator off a full-size carrier would require some sort of arresting gear, and a net-type capture might compose a portion of that arresting equipment. That might allow shorter, and narrower, decks. Which brings me to….for decades the Army has had scissors-style bridge building equipment. It might be possible to mount a lightweight version of that sideways on a ship much smaller (and cheaper) than even a CVL-sized carrier, with lightweight decking across the arms. The first thing that comes to mind is an accordion-type arrangement on deck-mounted extendable beams. Four 12-foot sections fold out to a 48-foot wide landing deck the length of the host ship, part of which is over the main deck, the remainder extending over the side. Fold out the landing deck for UCAV flight operations, fold it back in when you’re done. Something like this wouldn’t have the capability of a true carrier (even a small one) but which would be better: one carrier with 40 UCAVS or six ‘fold out ships’ with 6-10 UCAVS each? Feasible?

  • skrip00 says:

    Close air support – The biggest revolution in close air support is a B-52 circling overhead as the ground troops upload the grid corridinates. Mark I eyeball not required. Hmm, so thats why the A-10 is kept around, and why fighters use their cannons for truely surgical strikes?

  • james says:

    The A-10 is a class of itself. Its the only true close air support jet around. (appologies to the Harrier) Now its true we have F-18′s doing gun runs now. However, that was not allowed until total air dominance was achieved. Until then, every plane except the A-10, was forced to stay at 10,000 feet plus. So unless you are going armor your planes and put bigs guns on them, the best close air support a jet can give is a smart bomb.

  • skrip00 says:

    One more thing: Which flying machines killed Al Zarqawi? I am in favor of UAV research, but I feel that men and women should also be in the skies over our troops. There are just so many things UCAVs cannot do that humans can easily do.

  • James says:

    Yes, a human piloted F-16 killed Al Zarqawi using. 1- Laser guided bomb 2- Satellite guided bomb Neither weapon used the mark I eyeball. Both weapons can and have been droped by UAV’s in both testing and actual combat uses. Which flying machine killed,Ali Qaed Senyan. This is not to say that we should toss humans overboard. It is too say, that in many instances a UAV can be just as effective or more effective then a human pilot. Parking a bomber in a holding pattern waiting for bomb targeting data is a role ideal for UAV’s.

  • skrip00 says:

    Ahhh, but then refueling that bomber? What if it gets into mechanical problems? Then you have a billion dollary UAV bomber lost because there were no pilots on board to save the aircraft, or that the nearest pilots were in an air-conditioned trailer in Kentucky. Again, pilots use their guns and their eyeballs to assess and take on a situation. Even if said eyeballs are over the combat area looking through a LANTIRN.

  • James says:

    Mechanical problems – Unless the human crew breaks out the wrenches, the same thing happens in a pliloted or a UAV. If possible the plane lands at an alternate site, if not possible it crashes. Inflight refueling – With a data link and some flight software, the inflight refueling issue can be addressed. Indeed there are several processes in the works on that issue. Lanttrin – with a unplink the pilots location is irrelevant. Human pilots in the future are going to be air combat managers not the air combat grunts

  • skrip00 says:

    Mechanical problems – Unless the human crew breaks out the wrenches, the same thing happens in a pliloted or a UAV. If possible the plane lands at an alternate site, if not possible it crashes. Inflight refueling – With a data link and some flight software, the inflight refueling issue can be addressed. Indeed there are several processes in the works on that issue. Lanttrin – with a unplink the pilots location is irrelevant. Human pilots in the future are going to be air combat managers not the air combat grunts Ahh yes. So a UAV can trouble shoot in mid-air on how to drop a nose wheel or get one of its systems going? There is a reason UAVs have a higher crash and accident rate. Mid-air refueling isnt so easy to pull off. As I said earlier, if this were the case, it wouldve been done already. You’re talking about two different object which need to be guided together. Sure it can be done… but why? Why bother have aircraft at all? We can just make super long-ranged missiles that do all the work. UAVs will never take a dominant role in warfare. They will be like weapons-systems of yester-year. History tends to be on my side in these matters. So is the USAF.

  • james says:

    Skrip00 – While I am not as UAV happy as some others., you need to broaden your focus. 1st off, by law 1/3 of the USAF’s deep strike capability has to be unmanded by 2015. With respect to crash rates – actually the UAV’s have a lower crash rate – if you compare the crash rates of manned planes vs UAV’s at the same stage of development. Indeed the airforce recognizes this fact. http://www.acq.osd.mil/uas/docs/airspace2.doc When discussing UAV technology, it is important to first address the notion that replacing a human pilot with technology increases the risk involved. This pejorative perception that UAVs are, by nature, more dangerous than manned aircraft can be mitigated by recognizing that UAVs possess the following inherent advantages over manned aircraft that contribute to flying safety. ~ Many manned aircraft mishaps occur during the take-off and landing phases of flight, when human decisions and control inputs are substantial factors. Robotic aircraft are not programmed to take chances; either preprogrammed conditions are met to land, or the system goes around. ~ Since human support systems are not carried, mishaps from failed life support systems (oxygen, pressure, temperature, etc.) will not occur. ~ Smoke from malfunctioning, but non-vital, onboard systems does not pose the same threat of loss. Smoke in the cockpit of a manned aircraft can distract operators and lead to obscured vision or breathing difficulties. ~ Automated take-offs and landings eliminate the need for pattern work, resulting in reduced exposure to mishaps, particularly in the area surrounding main operating bases. The preceding points are useful to keep in mind when considering the various technology issues surrounding ROA airspace integration. It is also important to remember that 14 CFR Part 91 does not directly prohibit military UAVs from flying as long as they can comply with existing regulations. This makes such compliance a technical rather than a regulatory issue.

  • Dfens says:

    UAVs make sense for some missions and don’t make sense for others. In the case of AEW and ASW, these aircraft are basically flying sensors for the ship and aircraft. There is a lot of data being passed and not much tactical going on, so that would make a good UAV candidate. The obvious bad candidate vehicle for making unmanned is anything stealthy. Why spend the money for stealth and just to blow it all by radiating to keep the ground controller even minimally informed of what the tactical situation is? That’s nuts. Besides, tactical situations require autonomy and judgement. These are the two weak points of a UAV. Also, in airplanes things do go wrong – all the time. The crew is required to adjust to these issues. Anyone who has been around operational aircraft knows this. The potential cost of things going wrong with an unmanned bomber are extremely high. You could easily have a situation where a UCAV armed to the teeth flys into a friendly city and blows a huge chunk out of the downtown area. That would certainly help our cause, wouldn’t it? Take a look at this Murdoc post to see what a human pilot is willing to do to avoid killing innocent civilians. You don’t get courage or loyality from a machine. Not now. Not ever.

  • skrip00 says:

    While I am not as UAV happy as some others., you need to broaden your focus. 1st off, by law 1/3 of the USAF’s deep strike capability has to be unmanded by 2015. By law, we were supposed to have a proper Battleship replacement as well… oops.

  • skrip00 says:

    My final post on UAVs and UCAVs alike: UCAVs and UAVs will become supporting systems to manned air and ground operations. Theyre good for many niche roles. However, manned aircraft still offer increased capability, and consciousness. Manned aircraft of today are so remarkably close to UAVs, its not even funny. Auto-pilot, Auto-landing, Auto-take off. Auto-pickeling exists too. But there will always be a pilot there to make sure nothing goes amiss, or to take over.

  • Dfens says:

    Excellent point, Skrip. I am exploiting that right now on a new airplane design. I’d love to be able to say how, but unfortunately I can’t.

Comments Closed