Battleland

Not the Navy’s Favorite Artist Rendering

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CNAS

The cover illustration on a new report questioning the Navy's carrier strategy.

Navy gospel — as well as U.S. naval fleets and strategy — are built around $15 billion aircraft carriers, outfitted with dozens of $150 million airplanes.

Only one thing worse than someone criticizing the backbone of the Navy fleet, is having a Navy officer do it – especially a career naval flight officer who has spent much of his career on such behemoths.

Yet that is just what Captain Henry Hendrix has done in a new report – At What Cost a Carrier — for the independent Center for a New American Security, here.

Hendrix argues that the aircraft carrier — the centerpiece of American naval operations for more than 70 years – could become too vulnerable to be relevant in future wars. He suggests that a smarter approach might be a greater use of drones as well as submarines outfitted with long-range missiles.

“The aircraft carrier is in danger of becoming like the battleships it was originally designed to support: big, expensive, vulnerable – and surprisingly irrelevant to the conficts of the time,” Hendrix writes. “This outcome has become more likely as the Navy continues to emphasize manned carrier aircraft at the expense of unmanned missiles and aircraft.”

Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 4.31.26 PM

CNAS

New Chinese missile vs. new U.S. Navy warplane.

Defense experts been saying similar things for years. “We should scale back our carrier design to something much cheaper and simpler,” Thomas P.M. Barnett, a former Pentagon deep thinker and chief strategist at Wikistrat, a geopolitical-analysis firm, told Time two years ago, here. “Think of mother ships launching waves of cheap drones — that would actually be more frightening and intimidating.”

The Navy remains unswayed. “As any reader of Proceedings could readily attest, the Navy encourages our officers to think, write and debate issues of import to national security,” says Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Navy’s chief of information. “Captain Hendrix clearly has done that in this expression of his personal views. The Navy remains committed to its carrier fleet, to the warfighting edge provided by naval aviation, and to improving both as we move forward.”

Hendrix’s report is the first in a new series of aptly-titled “Disruptive Defense Papers” published by CNAS, designed to illuminate coming hard choices facing the U.S. military.

8 comments
fgoodwin
fgoodwin

The article mentions "The Proceedings" but gives no more information.  What exactly are "The Proceedings" and are they publicly available?

fgoodwin
fgoodwin

Never mind -- I see it on the cover of the article: "U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings Magazine".

ronnasommers
ronnasommers

How to kill more expeditiously ........and efficiently........! WHY.....??

SwiftrightRight
SwiftrightRight

More people need to be reading these bloggs. The reign of the super carrier needs to end. 

One thing the article tip toes around is the fact that IF America went to war with a major power and lost 1-2 carriers we would effectively lose a war which unlike Vietnam or Iraq would have Seriously implications in the day to day life's of ordinary Americans.

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Bryan McGrath covers a lot of interesting ground in the link I provided below. He didn't convince me, and I found it interesting that he puts a lot of stock in carriers as deterrence.  I realize that one can't prove a negative, but I wish McGrath had provided at least a hint of something that has been deterred by an aircraft carrier. Iran, perhaps? Just kidding.

By the way, the vaunted carriers that are supposedly putting a big scare on Iran (not) in the Gulf are primarily there to support OEF in Afghanistan not deter  Iran, according to the skipper of the USS Stennis in a recent interview. So the hand-wringing about the Truman being withheld from confronting Iran in addition to the Stennis was BS. President Karzai has repeatedly asked the US to stop  airstrikes in civilian areas, but NATO has continued with both.

Rear Admiral Mike Shoemaker, commander Carrier Strike Group Three: "But as far as operations here, I think what we miss if we have only one carrier here is the ability to support Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) almost continuously . .Now our primary effort is OEF."
http://www.defensenews.com/article/20130309/DEFREG02/303090005/Deployed-Carrier-Makes-Do-Fewer-Ships-Preps-Budget-Cuts?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|FRONTPAGE

So, yeah, carriers are useful for beating up on third world countries. But we're not supposed to be doing that any more?

obdoqbopqo
obdoqbopqo like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

What is the point of a stealth airplane that launches off something with a radar cross section the size of Oklahoma?  Especially if, because of stealth reasons, it can't have external fuel tanks?  The F-35 has such a limited range that if it's going to do anything useful, the aircraft carrier has approach territorial waters before launching it.

Yeah, that's stealthy: The enemy will be able to aim at individual letters on the side of the carrier before the planes can launch.

mtngoatjoe
mtngoatjoe like.author.displayName 1 Like

Just like the second graphic shows, the Navy made its own carriers obsolete by supporting the F-35. Whoever signed the Navy up for a plane that doesn't fly as far and costs WAY more, should be taken out back of the Pentagon and shot for treason.

Well, maybe not. Now that I think of it, maybe this is the best way to ensure peace. You can't fight the battle if you can't get to the battle. Hmmmm.

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