Battleland

Carrier Wars

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Navy photo / MCS 2nd Class Kilho Park

The USS Harry S Truman steams the Arabian Sea as sailors on the flight deck prepare for the morning flight operations cycle.

U.S. aircraft carriers are a big roll of the dice. The U.S. Navy has begun building the Ford class of carriers, which are going to end up costing $15 billion each once they’re outfitted with the warplanes that are the reason for their existence.

They promote the U.S. presence in a most awe-inspiring way. To see a carrier looming out on the horizon is to feel insignificant. Especially if you’re an enemy warship.

But the World War II battles of carriers and battleships are, literally, history. Future foes will choose to come after these 100,000-ton behemoths with much cheaper torpedoes or missiles. The U.S. Navy bets they won’t succeed. Others aren’t so sure.

The debate resumes with a pair of essays looking at the merit of continuing to rely so heavily on carriers.

Robert Haddick, a one-time Marine and military strategist, questions the current strategy over at Foreign Policy:

China is putting anti-ship missiles on submarines, patrol boats, surface ships, aircraft, and trucks, giving it the ability to dominate its nearby seas. For the price of a single major warship, China can buy hundreds or even thousands of anti-ship missiles. And as it perfects its own reconnaissance drones, China will be able to thoroughly patrol neighborhood waters, identifying targets for these missiles. The Navy’s aircraft carriers will come under pressure to retreat from this missile zone. However, there is a limit to how far they can retreat while still remaining in the game.

But over at Proceedings, an independent journal published by the U.S. Naval Institute, a brass trio argues for the status quo. Rear admirals William Moran and Thomas Moore, along with retired Navy captain Ed McNamee, write:

The Ford class represents a true “leap-ahead” ship that will be the centerpiece of U.S. naval power for the rest of the 21st century…Amid the current cost debate, it’s important to remember why the Navy chose to design and build a class of ship that will have a lifespan of 94 years and remain in service until 2110. The Ford class will deliver increased capability—at significantly reduced operating costs—and will remain at the forefront of a long-standing approach to countering threats and providing U.S. military presence in support of a wide variety of security objectives.

Wonder who the Chinese want to win this argument?

40 comments
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PaoloBernasconi
PaoloBernasconi

Carriers offer the advantage of  visual display .. cause there are no real enemies, so anyone must see and fear.

But, the issue is stealth missiles ... if they made stealth planes then they can make stealth missiles... the problem for carriers is not the current set of enemies .. it's if a real war with a real enemy started ... they are ten really vulnerable. 

never the less ... eliminating the carriers is at this point not possible

mu119
mu119

I never seem to understand why people would be so obsess over carrier killer missile that is land base.

Anti ship missiles was and still is a threat to the carrier otherwise the F-14 wouldn't be designed to be an interceptor. But that is from a bomber than knows where the carriers were.  I don't think even with US's technology, the US navy could target an enemy ship and sink it with land base missile hundreds of miles away with. 

frostback
frostback

In 1936, Japan's representative at the Washingon Naval Conference was Admiral Yamamoto. Yes, that Admiral Yamamoto. He created an uproar when he suggested that all battleships should be scrapped. Yamamoto's case was logical. Battleships were enormously expensive to build, and their biggest guns had been far out-ranged by naval aircraft. His proposal was rejected, and Japan withdrew from the conference.

If that conference was held tomorrow, the same kinds of thinking would be evident. But looking back from today, few people would side with the battleship supporters. Most would agree that Yamamoto was right. Today, it's the carrier captains who want to keep their beloved battlewagons, long after technology has made them too vulnerable to defend.

I don't know who said it, but they had it right: "History doesn't repeat itself -- but it rhymes."

Ivan
Ivan

China cannot afford a war - theres too much at stake. For all that bravado that the chinese essay, truth is far from everything the chinese talk about. To begin with if china enters a war with US, Russia or even India, the countries illegally occupied by it will rebel..and china will find it very hard to focus its energies on maintaining its territorial integrity and keeping an enemy at bay...

NoFoolJule
NoFoolJule

 Perhaps the chinese sees its military as defensive?

AlCelestial
AlCelestial

It is sweet N sour sauce on the kong-pao pork. The 11 CVNs we already have can't do the job, got to have the 12th.  Made in America by union workers and lasts for 94 years!

With the Chinese economy double every 10 years, it probably will be obsolete before we work out which union owns the bulb job.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Somehow if the argument comes down to us using carriers to protect (?) from the Chinese, the point is probably moot.

That is WW3 territory and at that point Carriers cease to exist.

For many other less suicidal missions these floating islands serve the same projection of power as battleships used to.

That also comes with negatives making them a choice target for any terrorist twitball group that really wants to make a noise.

They are remarkably well defended against this kind of threat however, so probably better to watch them beat there heads against the hull of a carrier than to send a cargo container load of Anthrax to New York.

Smaller boats with fighting drones and cruise missiles would be more cost effective and would represent smaller targets with less personell exposure to enemy fire from a practical standpoint.

Gunboat diplomacy doesn't really work that well any more anyway and is probably not the best course for the future.

Kevin Brent
Kevin Brent

And us Sailors don't tell Marines how to conduct land warfare. They really ought stay in their MOS and leave naval combat tactics to the Navy.

Kevin Brent
Kevin Brent

This article is the same anti-carrier nonsense that was being put out in the 1970's. Every point of the argument was literally blown out of the water by the Falklands War when the British Royal Navy was nearly defeated because they sailed into a hostile landing zone without the ability to establish local air superiority with those jokes they called aircraft carriers. Even then, they were still able to protect their carrier just fine. No no anti-ship missile or torpedo ever got anywhere near it. And, Argentina at that time was using relatively modern American and European aircraft and weapons. Not Russian junk, or Chinese ghetto toys.

Roto3
Roto3

Carriers, however big and modern, are relics.  China is working on a ballistic carrier missile that would have an absolutely vertical trajectory striking at Mach 10.  They would fire these in three salvos of three.  Then finish off the carrier with bombers and cruise missiles.  2000 miles off shore.  Add to that massive numbers of swarm boats (Iran) that travel at 72 knots and carry Russian super-cavitation torpedoes that travel underwater at 200+ mph at up to 5 miles from target and you have the beginnings of the end.  Then consider a massive assault of 200 simultaneous cruise missiles and you have the end of carriers as credible offensive deterrents.  Regardless of cruiser/submarine escorts.  Carriers to generate a lot of money for defense contractors and their absence would seriously upset current basing localities and bases, but carriers will soon be obsolete.  Just watch.  Hypersonic stealth bombers would be much better.  And just as quick reacting.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

I Think that by the time the tactics you are talking about are deployed against a carrier we are talking nukes and tactical nukes change everything.

If we are the only ones using them, the carrier will be likely to survive.

If not, big holes in the ground are your safest bet and the carrier is good for 15 minutes tops.

They already know this.

Once it gets to that stage in the game, carriers are entirely expendable, but the fight has just started.

It will be short though.

omegafrontier
omegafrontier

 First of all, those ballistic missiles China building is never going to be used because of the risk of having it perceived to be an ICBM.  And it has never been tested.  Second, swam boats tactic will not work on a carrier that sits in the middle of the ocean -- you can't move massive number of swam boats to the ocean without having it detected and killed by other navy ships.  Third, there are no bombers known in the world that can get to a US carrier.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Probably a more significant issue is are manned aircraft worth the money (and the human exposure).

Although the Terminator style world one can envision with drones everywhere is scary to say the least, from an economic and effectiveness standpoint they make a lot more sense than larger more expensive manned aircraft and of course the ships to support them can be a lot smaller (and cheaper) as well.

You could probably even have drone ships launching drone aircraft.

Maybe we could just stay home and watch it on TV.

Vincent Lovece
Vincent Lovece

Also, if China thinks that aircraft carriers will be rendered obsolete by missiles, they wouldn't be spending a ton of money refurbishing that Soviet Carrier, the Varyag, to add to their own fleet.  

Vincent Lovece
Vincent Lovece

Anti-ship missiles cannot take out an aircraft carrier that they cannot see, or one that is surrounded by a screen of destroyers, aircraft, submarines, and others. Plus, it is so unlikely that a US aircraft carrier would get so close to China's shores that missiles launched from trucks or patrol boats would be able to harm them.

If China wants to fight us, we should just get it over with and bomb them, humiliating them as we did to Iraq and Afghanistan. We don't even need to invade them, just beat them and their obsolete propaganda technology, their vintage 1980s Soviet aircraft carrier, and their soldiers who probably have low morale, as they must surely know that they are ruled by a corrupt dictatorship whose actions aren't fooling anyone anymore, and whose sole claims to legitimacy until recently rested on a fast-growing bubble economy, and since China's recent slowdown, they don't even have that, so they pick fights with Japan over empty islands in the hopes that it will make them look tough and therefore somehow legitimate.

And the middle east has suffered riots over a bad movie. It's like the adults are no longer running the show and violent children have taken over.

FTZzz
FTZzz

 Well seeing the USA won the Korean War, Vietnam War, Iraq is at peace and a budding democracy and Afghanistan has a GDP second to USA, ...you make a lot of sense. 

Bomb them off the face of the earth then deal with Iran like you dealt with Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam - then just for fun, invade North Korea and if you have a few spare minutes take on Russia and Pakistan.

PS: you should enlist as there is a desperate need for guys like you....long on tough talk and short on brains

Vincent Lovece
Vincent Lovece

 We most certainly have the capacity to replace lost ships. How can you say we don't when out navy is the largest in the world, and China couldn't even BUILD its only carrier? Remember, they had to BUY the Varyag and spend year refurbishing it.

Vincent Lovece
Vincent Lovece

 Vietnam was a land war, largely irrelevant as far as carriers go. A war with China would likely be a Pacific ocean war, dependent on technology, and we would likely have the support of the people China is bullying (the Japanese, Filippinos, Taiwanese, etc).

And this "short on brains" person is a grad student.

NoFoolJule
NoFoolJule

 What did you study then - cooking?

ewaste
ewaste

 A war with China will be lost simply on the basis of attrition they have the capability to replace ships and aircraft quickly whereas the US and most western nations do not.

South Korea with it's massive shipbuilding capability would be in the wrong place to help and doubtless the Chinese would stir the North Koreans into action.

omegafrontier
omegafrontier

 It's a little strange to me that some people think China's Navy would have any slightest chance against the US Navy.  I think Russia's Navy pose a greater threat than China's Navy.

Vincent Lovece
Vincent Lovece

 Indeed. The US navy is so powerful that if the combined navies of the the UK, France, China, India, and Russia combined, we'd still have more tonnage, more carriers, more of almost everything but landing craft and manpower, and a higher budget and more firepower to boot. A guerrilla war might provide some equalization against our advantages on land, but on the open ocean? Not a chance. 

Carlos6970
Carlos6970

What about China's nuclear weapons? will they not use them if attacked?

Vincent Lovece
Vincent Lovece

 If we invade them and it looks like their regime will fall? Yes. Otherwise, no. It isn't worth the risk for them if they use nuclear weapons over a few petty islands.

Vincent Lovece
Vincent Lovece

 If they want to all die in a third world war, yes.

Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith

 The truth is that CVNs are mobile bases that can still hide in the vast expanse of oceans and seas, and are designed to absorb punishment, unlike Marine LHAs which are fragile, slow and far less capable in comparison. http://Ace16.com

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

15 billion AFTER the airplanes.  Considering the cost trillion dollar cost of the F33 JSF's they're making, that means the carrier itself costs about two dollars and fifty cents. /sarcasm

As for the utility of the aircraft carrier, the fact is, it carries aircraft.  It doesn't matter how many anti-ship missiles you have on patrol boats when the ship can sit in international waters and take your sky away from you.  A vulcan cannon can take out a destroyer and 20 MM rounds are relatively cheap compared to missiles.  Put it on a drone and you have a less expensive weapons delivery system that doesn't endanger a pilot.  So much for patrol boats.

Additionally, an aircraft carrier never operates alone.  It has escorts that are extremely efficient at detecting and eliminating threats to the carrier.  This is why they call them carrier groups.  And if you think carriers are slow, bulky and vulnerable, take a gander at these: http://izismile.com/2009/07/10...

mahboob_1948
mahboob_1948

It is said that Japanese Tank carriers that they were allowed by the treaties at the the end of 2nd world war can be transformed into aircraft carriers overnight.If that is so China will be facing something they never expected.Japan may have invested in China for cheap labour.Not technology.

Patrick Blackwelder
Patrick Blackwelder

Not to mention carriers always travel in a Fleet..  

Vincent Lovece
Vincent Lovece

 I'm just glad the commenters here aren't buying the China missile nonsense.

Patrick Blackwelder
Patrick Blackwelder

The beauty of a carries is we can be 1000's of miles from these Chinese anti-ship missiles, all we have to do is launch a few F-18's some EA-18's and take out any of their boats or drones carrying these anti-ship missiles.Patrick Blackwelder (AME3)USN Veteran Served on the:USS LincolnUSS StennisUSS Nimitz

NoFoolJule
NoFoolJule

 The aircraft don't have 1000's of miles range.

CharleyA
CharleyA

I have found that the Marine brass don't like carriers that don't belong to them.  The truth is that CVNs are mobile bases that can still hide in the vast expanse of oceans and seas, and are designed to absorb punishment, unlike Marine LHAs which are fragile, slow and far less capable in comparison.  Land bases can be targeted well in advance, and frankly are more vulnerable than carriers.   The Chinese would love the US to abandon CVNs, which is precisely why the US should keep them.

victorau1234
victorau1234

because wars will be fought exactly like they were 70 years ago for the next 100 years-forget all wars since then

shaze21
shaze21

70% of the world is covered by water silly, why would America leave that territory open to foreign domination?

shaze21
shaze21

@victorau1234:disqus Now I don't believe in blindly supporting military spending but I guess a mobile air-strike platform that is part of a strike group, doesn't make sense right? Please stay far away defense planning as I don't believe it suits you. 

victorau1234
victorau1234

70 years ago, I would agree with you 100%, now not so much

popsiq
popsiq

The notion of having carriers would be negated by having some foreign warship feeling the 'insignificance' of seeing one steaming over the horizon. The old naval adage of being able to see it and being able to hit it, has long been extended well past the visual range. That's why carriers try to avoid making foreign warships  'feel insignificant' in such a way. 

Any foreign warship getting within visual range of a carrier has the potential to sink it or put it out of action. In to-day's foreign warships the anti-ship missile and long range torpedoes have extended that ability well over the horizon.

The corrollary could be the feeling of  'too much significance' seeing a barrage of projectiles, from a number of quadrants, streaking over the horizon toward a carrier, at supersonic speeds. The big ships have often been sunk by apparently 'minor' damage. And they'd make great 'reefs' for sea wildlife.

Tom Meyer
Tom Meyer

To get perspective on possible conflict involving US Carriers and an opponent equipped with a Varyag-type carrier...read Barrett Tillman's book The Sixth Battle.  Found at:  http://www.amazon.com/Sixth-Ba...

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