We recently discussed carrier losses in a future war and noted the need to be able to “quickly” replace those losses. I say “quickly” because carriers take a long time to build even on an expedited wartime basis. The current 5-7 year construction time frames might be condensed to 3-4 years but that’s still a long time.
Currently, we have only one shipyard capable of constructing carriers and that is Newport News Shipbuilding yard in
. Virginia is also one of only two yards that build our nuclear
submarines and the only yard that refuels nuclear carriers. Newport News
If we were to somehow lose the use of that shipyard during a time of war, it would be a monumental loss. Does this suggest a likely
Pearl Harbor scenario to you?
If an enemy could destroy Newport News Shipbuilding yard, they’d
effectively destroy all future carriers and half of all new submarines for the
Yes, you reluctantly admit, that would be disastrous but it would be very difficult, likely impossible, for an enemy to destroy a facility that large without resorting to a nuclear bomb or a naval fleet so large that it would have no hope of assembling and sailing undetected to the east coast of the United States, you say. Well, that’s probably true but there is no need for an enemy to resort to nuclear bombs, huge fleets, or wholesale destruction of the yard. The yard has a few key points of failure, the most noteworthy and vulnerable of which are the enormous cranes that lift and move the subsections of a vessel. Nowadays, ships are built in “lifts”, or subsections, and if you can’t move the subsections, you can’t build a ship. It’s that simple. Destroy the cranes and you destroy the yard, for all practical purposes.
Specifically, there is only one crane that services aircraft carriers. It is referred to as “Big Blue” and it is the largest crane in the
“Big Blue is a gantry style crane that stands 233 feet tall, and has a span of 540 feet from leg to leg. It weighs 4,600 metric tons (10.1 million pounds). It was built in 1976 by the German company Krupp. The two legs straddle the huge dry-dock at
Shipbuilding, where the first Ford-class aircraft
carrier is currently being assembled. On each side of the dock are a pair of
rails, so the entire craned can move up and down the ship's length, and the
payload is attached to a carriage on the main girder that can translate side to
As originally installed, it could lift 900 metric tons (just under two million pounds), but in preparation for building the Ford-class carriers the shipbuilders needed to increase that. … Now, each of the three hooks can carry 350 metric tons, bringing the crane's lifting capacity to 1,050 metric tons (that's just over 2.3 million pounds). Each hook has over a mile of 1-5/8-inch diameter wire rope behind it.” (1)
submarine construction facility depends on cranes to
move subsections and transfer “cars” to roll entire submarines out of the
construction building and to a drydock for subsequent fitting out. Destruction of the crane or transfer systems
would cripple submarine construction for years. Newport News
|Big Blue Crane - The Next Pearl Harbor?|
Destruction of these couple of vulnerable pieces of equipment is a perfect mission for your basic sabotage and/or special forces. Given the porosity of our borders, it’s quite plausible for
to slip a special forces unit into the country and
target the cranes and transfer cars. China
This blindingly obvious shipyard
Pearl Harbor vulnerability suggests several measures we should be
taking to prepare for, and mitigate, the impact of such a loss.
- We ought to be be considering construction of
conventional, non-nuclear, “basic” carriers with no frills, especially in
light of today’s reduced air wing sizes.
These carriers would be complements, not replacements, for
Nimitz/Ford class carriers.
Hopefully, such a basic carrier would be markedly cheaper and
quicker to build and able to be built in yards other than
. Newport News
- We should begin qualifying additional yards to build carriers.
- We should greatly beef up security around our critical yards.
- We should acquire and stockpile replacement components for critical pieces of equipment such as cranes and transfer cars.
- I’m never in favor of government run enterprises because they are, inevitably, inefficient and far more costly than private enterprise but, given the lack of yards qualified to construct major warships, thought should be given to re-establishing government owned and run ship construction yards.
There are “Pearl Harbors” all around us, waiting to happen, that would be far more devastating than the actual Pearl Harbor attack in WWII and we need to begin recognizing them and taking defensive measures.
(1)Gizmodo website, “The 233-Foot Tall, 4600-Ton Crane That Builds Aircraft Carriers”, Brent Rose,