Thursday, July 5, 2018

USS Wasp - Small Carrier Experiment

The large carrier versus small carrier debate has raged, literally, since the first carrier was built.  However, every study ever conducted and every experiment attempted has demonstrated the superiority of the large carrier.  Let’s take a look at the first attempt by the Navy to build a small carrier, the USS Wasp, CV-7.

As a brief reminder, Wasp was laid down in 1936 and commissioned in 1940.  She initially served in the Atlantic, often performing ferry duty for Spitfires and, in fact, landed one Spitfire aboard without a tailhook during an aircraft emergency! 

USS Wasp

Wasp transferred to the Pacific in mid-1942 where she supported the Guadalcanal operation.  In late August 1942, Wasp’s air group consisted of 26 Grumman F4F Wildcats, 25 Douglas SBD Dauntlesses, and 11 Grumman TBF Avengers for a total of 62 aircraft, according to Wiki. 

Wasp was sunk on 15-Sep-1942 as the result of a spread of six torpedoes launched from a Japanese submarine, three of which hit the carrier.  Subsequent gasoline fires and internal explosions caused the ship to be abandoned.  She was eventually sunk by three additional torpedoes from a US destroyer.

Here some comparative size specs for the Wasp and her larger cousin the USS Enterprise, CV-6

                                  Wasp   Enterprise

Displacement, tons full load    19,000     25,000
Length, ft overall                 741        825
Beam, ft overall                   109        109
Air Group                     62(a)–71(b)      87(c)
Crew                             2,167      2,217

(a)     August 1942, Wiki
(b)     Time of sinking, Wiki
(c)     July 1942 – May 1943, (1)

We see, then, that Wasp was 76% the displacement of the Yorktown and 90% of the length.

In order to “fit” within the weight/size range, many aspects of construction and performance were compromised.  From Wiki,

“To save weight and space, Wasp was constructed with low-power machinery (compare Wasp's 75,000 shp (56,000 kW) machinery with Yorktown's 120,000 shp (89,000 kW), Essex-class's 150,000 shp (110,000 kW), and the Independence-class's 100,000 shp (75,000 kW)).

Additionally, Wasp was launched with almost no armor, modest speed, and more significantly, no protection from torpedoes. Absence of side protection of the boilers and internal aviation fuel stores "doomed her to a blazing demise". These were inherent design flaws that were recognized when constructed, but could not be remedied within the allowed tonnage.”

Let’s look at a few more specific aspects of the smaller design.

Flight Operations.  The purpose of a carrier is, of course, aviation and the Wasp’s small size impacted its aviation function.  Carriers of that time required sufficient wind over the flight deck to enable aircraft to take off and land and Wasp’s small power plant provided insufficient speed without the benefit of natural wind.  Further, the Wasp required a long period of time to attain maximum speed for take off and landing flight operations – a severe inconvenience in combat!

“… the combination of speed and flight deck size was critical.  The Wasp was deficient in both respects.” (2, p.114)

Crew Size – Despite being only 76% of the size of the Yorktown class (based on displacement), the Wasp required 98% of the crew size – almost no savings!  This would be a key consideration today given the Navy’s single-minded pursuit of the Holy Grail of reduced manning.

Air Group Size – The design scheme for Wasp envisioned an air group of 70 aircraft versus 90 for the Yorktown class. (2, p.89)  That would have given the Wasp an air group 78% the size of the Yorktown.  In practice, the Wasp’s air group was 71% - 82% of the Yorktown’s – a fairly linear reduction proportional to the displacement reduction.

Gasoline and Ammunition Protection – As it turned out, Wasp’s smaller size resulted in increased risk due to explosive aviation gasoline and ammunition.

“Both gas and ordnance allowances were proportional to the size of the air group, and hence to deck area rather than to displacement: a smaller carrier, which could not be so well protected, would actually have to carry a larger proportional tonnage of gasoline and ammunition than would one of her larger sisters.” (2, p.108)

So, the smaller size actually increased the risk due to stored flammable and explosive materials!

Wasp Sinking

On the plus side, the smaller carrier was able to operate an air group of sufficient size as to be operationally useful.  In addition, the smaller carrier did increase the overall carrier numbers.  However, in order to achieve these pluses, the ship was forced to incorporate many compromises and omissions when compared to the larger Yorktown class.  These shortcomings negatively impacted survivability and function and resulted in a ship that was operationally inefficient and combat fragile and, in the event, did not last long in combat.

Despite recognition of Wasp’s shortcomings, interest in small carriers did not die.

“Although the Wasp was acknowledged to be unsatisfactory from birth, interest in smaller carriers did not die off completely.  In 1938 Congress approved another 40,000 tons of carrier construction, tonnage eventually expended in the Hornet and the Essex.  There were, however, some who suggested that some of it go into 10,000-ton light carriers.  In November 1938 Admiral R.L. Ghormley of the War Plans Division wrote that a larger number of such smaller carriers might yet have its advantages, even though unquestionably the larger carriers would provide a greater economy of effort in tons of ship and number of ship personnel per plane carried.” (2, p.114)

Thus, even while unanimously recognized as inferior, the concept of small carriers continued to prove alluring and this allure continues through today, despite every study and experiment ever conducted.  Truly baffling.


(2)”US Aircraft Carriers – An Illustrated Design History”, Norman Friedman, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, MD, 1983, ISBN 0-87021-739-9


  1. Well this is an unexpected post for someone who just released an ideal modern USN fleet structure including several small carriers. Care to explain why your small carrier design will overcome the inherent limitations of the concept?

    1. As stated on the fleet structure page, my smaller carrier is smaller only on a relative basis. It would be a Midway/Forrestal size carrier with a nearly full combat air wing, lacking only some of the supporting aircraft. The Ford is not a large carrier, it's an excessive carrier. Thus, my small carrier is small only on a relative basis.

      Wasp was small to the point of compromising or omitting many functional and survivability features. My small carrier would have few or no significant compromises - the notable compromise being the omission of two cats which are rarely used anyway.

      Does that make sense?

    2. I was under the impression that the Forrestal class was considered the first true supercarrier, and that anything with that kind of tonnage would be able to accommodate a full 72+ air wing.

      Would your small carrier be a nuclear powered design and have the same level of protection as the Nimitz type supercarriers?

      Speaking of just building more Nimitz class carriers, even if the EMALS and AAG of the Ford are currently unreliable, it seems like there are potentially improvements from the Ford that are functional, reliable, and not over-budget like moving the bridge tower back, the new generation of A1B reactors, and generally far improved crew ergonomics. These changes seem worth designating a new class for rather than just building more Nimitzs that were designed in the 1960s. We can find a middle ground of improvement without straying into unreliable, untested, and expensive programs like the Ford.

    3. "Supercarrier" designation depends on the size of the aircraft being operated. The Yorktown of WWII was a supercarrier of its time, operating 90+ aircraft. The Midway was the supercarrier of its time. The Forrestal was the supercarrier of its time and was, therefore, hardly the first. This is interesting but merely a matter of semantics type discussion. In order to be cheaper, a smaller carrier has to be, well ... smaller than whatever is being currently built. My small carrier is in the Midway/Forrestal range (leaning towards Midway). The exact dimensions would have to be worked out by a naval engineer/designer and would be dependent on the exact aircraft carried.

      72+ aircraft is not a full air wing. The Nimitz class was designed to operate 90+ aircraft.

      I'm ambivalent about nuclear power. It has advantages and disadvantages. I'll leave that decision to a designer but I'm inclined to think conventional power.

      Yes, we should have simply continued the evolutionary development of the Nimitz. Whether, at some point, you want to designate it as a new class is just a side issue. All of the Ford's "improvements" should have stayed in the R&D world until proven and ready and then simply inserted into the next Nimitz to be built.

    4. CON hit on the key point: to represent any value, a carrier must be able to operate an operational useful air group.

      This is why using LHAs to substitute for a CATOBAR carrier is a false premise: air groups must have high speed fixed wing AEW, EW, tankers and other support aircraft that can support tactical aircraft. AEW helicopters or V-22s are not suitable in this role.

      The reality is that the USN should stop producing "aviation" amphibs like LHAs and LHDs, in favor of a general purpose CV (21st century CV-67) that can be pressed into service as an LPH as needed (and the need fore LHDs to support forced entry operations is limited), but otherwise support fleet air defense.


    5. The Midway class was certainly a great ship for its time, but if you want a small carrier to operate in a battle group with Nimitzs, it needs nuclear power to keep up without constant refueling. One of the big changes of the latter classes of supercarrier is the ability to store enormous quantities of aviation fuel and munitions, which is a game changer.

      Something on the scale of the Midway won't really be able to sustain 40 strike jets for that long. Additionally, big carriers are more crew-efficient per strike jet, can have more armor and point defense, and require fewer escorts than several smaller carriers. If I were in charge of procurement, I would just standardize on trying to bring supercarrier costs down through scale and yard experience. We already have light support carriers in the form of our NATO allies, and don't need the USN to also fill that role, somewhat like the SSK debate.

    6. "if you want a small carrier to operate in a battle group with Nimitzs, it needs nuclear power to keep up without constant refueling."

      Good grief, no, that's not true. The WWII Essex class had an unrefueled range of 20,000 nm! The Burke escorts have a range of 4,000-5,000 nm. We're going to be refueling anyway. So what if we have to refuel a conventional carrier every third or fourth time we refuel the escorts? That has no significant operational impact.

    7. "Midway won't really be able to sustain 40 strike jets for that long."

      Given that the Midway operated an air wing of around 70 Hornets routinely, what would make you say that???

    8. "big carriers are more crew-efficient per strike jet, can have more armor and point defense"

      Yep, that was kind of the point of the post!

    9. "big carriers ... require fewer escorts than several smaller carriers."

      Not true in combat. Carriers operate in groups of four. Whether those four are all large carriers, all small carriers, or a mix, has no impact on the number of escorts required - it's the same number of escorts.

      Think operationally, not just counting ships in isolation.

    10. A Midway sized carrier's refueling time would take substantially longer than a Burke Escort, which limits the entire task/battle group's speed to under half of typical speeds and forces you to steer in a precise straight line. Slowing down to refuel and rearm might not be a problem when bombing the crap out of defenseless Iraqis, but in a high speed maneuvering battle against the vastly more capable Communist Chinese or Russians while breaching a contested A2AD zone, slowing down and maintaining a straight course for hours puts everyone in the battle group at risk of aviation attack, ballistic missile strikes, and SSK ambushes.

      Just bring along another nuclear Nimitz with vastly larger munitions bunkers and aviation gas reserves, and these problems are significantly mitigated.

    11. I'm not sure you're envisioning how a naval operation works. The "contested" portion of a mission would see the ships fully fueled prior to beginning, at which point the "Midway" would have 20,000 nm of sailing - more than enough to complete whatever mission. It's just not a problem anymore than it was in WWII when very few of our carriers were nuclear powered.

    12. "...if you want a small carrier to operate in a battle group with Nimitzs, it needs nuclear power to keep up without constant refueling. "

      This is not correct, the operational endurance of a CVN is determined by its air wing - when you run out of JP-5, flight operations will cease regardless of what power plant the carrier has.

      And tactical jet aircraft are voracious consumers of fuel.

      Dr Freidman actually commented in his book on USN aircraft carriers that carriers were originally considered the *least likely* candidates for nuclear power for precisely this reason.


    13. Refueling... The Midway will be able to hook up to more fuel hoses than the Burke, so the time duration might not be so great. Someone who served on an oiler might give us better insight. When I was on the Enterprise (nuclear) we would take on ship fuel to be used by our escorts, but conventional carriers and battleships used to do that too.

      "than it was in WWII when very few of our carriers were nuclear powered." I think you meant "none" not "very few". My Enterprise was the first commissioned in 1961.

      During the Vietnam war, the Enterprise was the only nuclear carrier in service while there normally 4 carriers kept on station in the Tonkin Gulf. The navy managed to keep 4 carriers and multiple air wings fueled up. Also notice the differences in carriers at that time: older Essex class and Midway class operating with the newer super carriers.

    14. That supports Chris' point about a Midway limiting the the combat endurance of a battle group built around Nimitz type carriers. If a Midway sized ship carries less JP-5 and ordnance, it won't be able to sustain operations for as long as its bigger sisters.

      Also: WW2 when very few of our carriers were nuclear powered? What? Enterprise didn't come along for 2 decades after WW2 ended.

    15. MM-13B, thank you for your service. I'm jealous that you got to be on that legendary ship. Can I ask during Vietnam how often the carriers would have to replenish jet fuel and weapons for the air wings? Would that time between replensishments differ significantly between the older WW2 designs and the Enterprise?

    16. I was on the Big E 1998-2002 and worked in the propulsion plants down in the bottom of the ship. Sorry, different era. Legendary: yes in a historical sense. On the 2001 deployment, we were the first military response on 9/11. On a day to day basis is was bad. Our propulsion plants were more manpower intensive than the Nimitz class so we were normally working longer hours and the maintenance budget did not go as far.

    17. "Very few of our carriers were nuclear powered"

      That was humor, people! You all can't seriously believe I thought there were nuclear powered ships in WWII????

    18. "That supports Chris' point about a Midway limiting the the combat endurance of a battle group built around Nimitz type carriers. If a Midway sized ship carries less JP-5 and ordnance, it won't be able to sustain operations for as long as its bigger sisters."

      This is both technically true and practically irrelevant. Naval operations are not endless voyages. Check your history. Naval forces are formed into task forces (to use the historical descriptor) FOR THE PURPOSE OF A SPECIFIC MISSION. That mission is executed and then all the ships return to port to refuel, repair, reprovision, etc.

      Ships do not just go out and fight for months on end. Consider the great naval and, in particular, carrier battles of WWII. They were quite brief affairs. Long term endurance was rarely an issue. The ships would top off just prior to the kinetic portion of the mission, execute the kinetic portion, and then retire, usually within a few days or a couple weeks at most.

      Too many people seem to have this idea of a carrier sitting out in some spot, indefinitely, launching strikes week after week, month after month. It just doesn't work that way in naval combat.

    19. I suspect that the Op Corporate experience where the carrier group spent the best part of 12 weeks either on passage and training (all of which use fuel) or in combat, is a more relevant example. In that operation, the (very) small carrier (but with very small airwings) were taking a drink pretty much every 72 hours.

      In terms of transfer rates, you're talking about something like 600cubic metres per hour per hose - for a probe system, a bit less for a NATO QRC coupling - assuming of course that the filling trunk on the receiving ship can receive at that rate and that the Engineering Dept can ensure that you don't end up popping tank lids.

      Your earlier comment about 20000nm range for Midway betrays ignorance of what the limiters actually are. I know a number of MSC CivMar who spend their days UNREPing CVBG on a weekly basis. JP5 consumption on CVN is a limiter - as is the need to keep ships bunkers topped up.

    20. Your suggestion that "the Midway operated an air wing of around 70 Hornets routinely" is also well wide of the mark. The maximum number of Bugs on the ship was three squadrons-worth or 36 aircraft.

      She also had 10A6, plus 4KA6 and the usual 4 EA6 and E2. So 46 "tactical" aircraft, plus another dozen enablers.

    21. Thanks for clarifying. The Midway operated CVW-5 for much of the '80s and into the '90s. At that time, CVW-5 typically consisted of 3 squadrons of Hornets (3x12), 2 squadrons of Intruders (2x14), Hawkeyes (4), Prowlers (4), and helos (12?). That puts the total aircraft at around 84.

    22. With the F-35 Lightning II with it's capability to takeoff and land vertically or the capability of short runways there is no need to place the heavy carriers like the USS Nimitz or Ford class carriers at risk in the South China Sea in range of Chinese anti ship missiles.
      Deploy 2 USS America sized and class light carriers into battle while keeping the heavy carriers at a safe distance.
      Use the heavy carriers for command and control , refueling, a parking lot for the F-35.
      Use the lighter ( and loss costly ) carriers as a fast strike unit.

    23. "Deploy 2 USS America sized and class light carriers into battle while keeping the heavy carriers at a safe distance."

      Come on, now. If it's not safe for full size carriers with twice the number of aircraft plus AEW, EW, ASW helos, and tanker support, how are a couple of America class carriers with none of that and half the number of aircraft going to survive and accomplish anything worthwhile?

      Think operationally!

  2. In WWII, smaller and lighter carriers were used for a variety of purposes that didn't require a larger, heavier carrier. For example, "jeep carriers" transferred aircraft to the fleet carriers which allowed them to remain in the forward areas in the Pacific. Also, in the Pacific, light carriers escorted amphibious ships and supported amphibious landings. In the Atlantic, escort carriers were used to provide ASW support to convoys.

    For their time, light carriers were useful and needed in order to win the fight in the Pacific and Atlantic.

    1. The light carriers were also a stop-gap solutions. WWII was the first time carriers had been used in combat and there was a lot to be learned. The pre-war carriers were getting sunk or damaged and we needed replacements NOW. The Essex class were under construction but we needed replacements NOW. The quick solution was to finish construction of Cleveland class light cruisers as small carriers.

    2. "smaller and lighter carriers were used for a variety of purposes that didn't require a larger, heavier carrier."

      I have no problem with building very small carriers for non-combat purposes, if that made sense. However, for combat we need large carriers or my version of a "small" carrier (which really isn't).

      Also, from your study of WWII history, you undoubtedly know that light carriers operated in groups with large carriers, just as I've proposed. They didn't attempt to operate in combat alone.

    3. "...light carriers operated in groups with large carriers, just as I've proposed. They didn't attempt to operate in combat alone."

      Not entirely true. At least not in the European theatre. CVLs and CVEs operated largely on their own.

      It depended on the operational situation and threat level. Not much risk of Fleet action in Atlantic or Mediterranean by the time US entered.

    4. You're quibbling over minor usage. We're discussing the construction and operation of smaller carriers intended to fully enter front line combat.

    5. In the heat of WW2 there were many situations in which the Royal Navy particularly operated light carriers independent of fleet carriers in front line combat.
      The USN didn't do it as much in the Pacific, though it did happen.

    6. "situations in which the Royal Navy particularly operated light carriers independent of fleet carriers in front line combat."

      Because they did so doesn't mean it was desirable. I suspect they did so largely because they lacked sufficient numbers of fleet carriers.

      Care to cite a specific example or two and analyze why they did so and what the circumstances were that allowed (or forced) them to do so with a reasonable expectation of success?

  3. Big carriers: Starting with the Forestall class, we get into the big league, capable of the full spectrum of naval air warfare. As we transition toward the Nimitz class, the carriers get larger and more expensive, and we make modest gains in capability. With the Ford class, we're sliding down the slippery slope of diminishing returns.

    Medium carriers: The fleet carriers built during WWII (Essex and Midway class) became the medium carriers during the cold war. They couldn't handle all types of carrier based aircraft, but still handle a useful air wing composed of lighter aircraft or large aircraft with low takeoff/landing speeds.

    So where am I going with this? If it were up to me, our big carriers of whatever class (not Ford) would mostly stay closer to home and spend their time training and maintaining. Purpose dedicated aircraft staying sharp in war-fighting skills. Meanwhile, a new Essex style carrier would be the peacetime deployed carriers. Airwing would consist of less specialized aircraft: think of F-18 currently acting as fighter, attack, tanker, and growler.

    I find the current airwing to carrier match-up to be mismatched.

    1. I'm curious: why do you consider the current air wing setup to be mismatched? The average carrier airwing is:

      - 2 squadrons of Legacy Hornet (VFA)
      - 2 squadrons of Super Hornet (VFA)
      - 1 squadron of 5-6 EA-18 Growler (EW)
      - 1 squadron of 3-4 E-2 Hawkeye (AEW)
      - 1 squadron of SH-60R Romeo Seahawk (ASW helo)
      - 1 squadron of SH-60S Sierra Knighthawk (SAR/cargo hauler)

      (At least one carrier I knew of embarked an all-Super Hornet air wing for its fighter squadrons.)

      Contrast that to the average deck in the late Cold War, where you had a mix of the following aircraft types: F-14, F/A-18, A-6, A-7, KA-6D, S-3, EA-7, EA-6B. From eight aircraft types, naval air has now consolidated into three: F/A-18C/D (to be replaced by F-35C), F/A-18E/F, and EA-18G.

      Also, while the Growler is derived from the Super Hornet airframe, that's a factory-level modification; Super Hornets aren't equipped to act as EW aircraft, and need the dedicated EA-18G Growler to do that for them. That said, there has been talk that the F-35 will be the platform for the Next Generation Jammer, so yo do have the right idea, it's just not happening yet.

    2. Why do I say mismatched?

      "Contrast that to the average deck in the late Cold War, where you had a mix of the following aircraft types: F-14, F/A-18, A-6, A-7, KA-6D, S-3, EA-7, EA-6B. From eight aircraft types, naval air has now consolidated into three: F/A-18C/D (to be replaced by F-35C), F/A-18E/F, and EA-18G."

      The late cold war air wing was big and had aircraft built for specific purposes. Made maximum use of the ship's and aircraft's capabilities. Now we consolidated down to fewer air frames and fewer in number, but yet the aircraft carrier is getting bigger. Look at the air wings embarked on the Midway or Coral Sea during the late cold war; looks similar to what we have now. Our current air wings are getting consolidated and shrunk down to the point they'd fit nicely on a medium size carrier, but yet we're building even bigger carriers. Thus mismatched.

    3. So your argument is that a Midway-sized airwing should fit on a Midway-sized deck, and that it's better to have 8 specialised aircraft? Here's the thing: when the Navy consolidated the air wing it drastically ease parts storage and spares management. You only need to keep spares for the legacy Hornets, Super Hornets and Growlers, and Super Hornets and Growlers can share parts because they're derivative airframes.

      You talk about maximum use of the aircraft's capabilities, but the air wing of today is vastly more capable than the air wing of the Cold War, thanks to the advances in avionics and the PGM revolution. You needed huge air wings in Nam because people launched Alpha Strikes to hit important targets, because dumb bombs are inaccurate as fuck - the Mark 82 has a CEP of 300 feet! - and to score hits you need to drop more bombs. The PGM revolution means that's no longer the case; JDAMs and LGBs let you do more with less. Take the Dragon's Jaw Bridge - it ate hundreds of sorties and dumb bombs and remained standing; after three sorties using PGMs, the bridge goes down. 48 aircraft that can perform all roles allow a commander more flexibility than 60 aircraft performing specific roles.

      (The exception to this is carrier tanking. Super Hornets are wasted on buddy tanking. It's good that the Navy's decided to move away from a super duper combat drone and instead make its first drone aircraft a tanker.)

      There are some other issues you haven't considered:

      - The Midways used smaller aircraft than the current air wings: Growlers, Rhinos and the incoming F-35Cs are bigger aircraft than Skyhawks and legacy Hornets. 44 large aircraft take up more space than 44 smaller aircraft, and the Midways' deck parks were already pretty cramped with their existing flight groups - note that the Super Hornet is about Tomcat-sized, and the Midways were too small to support Tomcats on their decks.

      - While we've been talking about a 44-aircraft air wing, what you're forgetting is that there's also the E-2s and the helos, which bumps the Nimitz air wing to about 60~ aircraft, which is still a lot of planes. It's much, much easier to park the entire air wing on a Nimitz-sized deck than a Midway-sized deck. Furthermore, by keeping the air wing on a deck park, you avoid wasting time shuffling aircraft between the hangar and the flight deck, which leads to faster sortie generation.

      - A Nimitz-class carrier carries 6 million pounds of ordnance. That's 3000 tons. This is a shitload more than the Midways could carry, and allows the Nimitz to better sustain its air wing in the combat zone. The more ordnance you can carry, the more sorties you can fly before you have to return to a friendly port to rearm.

    4. "when the Navy consolidated the air wing it drastically ease parts storage and spares management."

      That's true but it's a secondary concern, at best. The goal is to have the most combat effective air wing possible and Hornets aren't it.

    5. "the air wing of today is vastly more capable than the air wing of the Cold War"

      This tripe keeps coming up and is utterly irrelevant. The air wing of the Cold War was light years more capable than Fokker Triplanes so, using your logic, there was no reason to improve.

      Comparing anything of today to anything of yesterday is simply irrelevant, illogical nonsense. The only thing that matters is the capability of today's assets compared to the capabilities of today's enemies. In that respect, the Hornet air wing is found lacking. It lacks effective range. It lacks deep strike penetrating capability. It lacks mission tanking. It lacks stealth. It lacks air-to-air superiority margin. It lacks payload. It lacks fixed wing ASW. It lacks passive signals analysis. It lacks numbers. I'll stop there, having made the point.

      No more comparisons to previous historical capabilities.

    6. "48 aircraft that can perform all roles allow a commander more flexibility than 60 aircraft performing specific roles."

      Utterly incorrect. The biggest and most important "flexibility" that a carrier commander wants is the ability to conduct a strike and defend the carrier simultaneously. Today's small air wings lack the numbers to do that. Multi-mission aircraft can't be in two places at once.

      Multi-role aircraft are, inherently, inferior to dedicated, single function aircraft. All else being equal, the multi-role aircraft loses to the single role aircraft every time just as the multi-role family automobile loses to the single role race car in a race.

    7. "the Midways' deck parks were already pretty cramped with their existing flight groups ... the Midways were too small to support Tomcats on their decks."

      No one is suggesting an exact replica of a Midway. In fact, the size suggested has been Midway/Forrestal, leaning towards Midway.

      As far as deck/hangar space, the Midway operated CVW-5 for much of the '80s and into the '90s. At that time, CVW-5 typically consisted of 3 squadrons of Hornets (3x12), 2 squadrons of Intruders (2x14), Hawkeyes (4), Prowlers (4), and helos (12?). That puts the total aircraft at around 84 which is larger than the air wings operating on today's Nimitz!

      As far as Tomcats being unable to operate from the Midway, that was not due to the Midway's deck size. There appear to have been two factors for not operating Tomcats:

      1. The Midway's legacy hangar height was too low to allow the Tomcat's to comfortably fit due to their tall tails.

      2. The catapult jet blast deflectors apparently couldn't routinely handle the Tomcat's exhaust.

      Ref: Tomcat and Midway Link

      Tomcats did, occasionally operate from Midways - just not routinely.

      I believe the Coral Sea also operated Tomcats routinely during carrier quals but I'm not positive about that.

      A new design "Midway" would, of course correct both of those shortcomings.

    8. "It's much, much easier to park the entire air wing on a Nimitz-sized deck than a Midway-sized deck."

      Deck parking the wing is not, and never has been, Navy carrier operating policy although the Brits have, historically, tended that way. The US Navy has always believed they can, and should, house a portion of the wing in the hangar so as to maximize the wing size.

    9. "A Nimitz-class carrier carries 6 million pounds of ordnance. That's 3000 tons. This is a shitload more than the Midways could carry, and allows the Nimitz to better sustain its air wing in the combat zone."

      This is illogical and incorrect unless the wings are identical sizes. If the Nimitz wings were sized to full carrier capacity, 90+, then the ratio of fuel and ordnance to aircraft becomes closer to the same. The Nimitz has an excess of storage only because the wings have shrunk so much!

    10. Lol, gotta love the spaghetti posting, ComNavOps.

      Not gonna lie, I love Hornets, they're my favorite teen fighter, but I do agree that they've got their limitations. I do like, however, how you keep conflating the legacy Hornets and Rhinos together, nevermind that the Rhinos are pretty much a different aircraft sharing the name and the basic shape, lol. ;P C'mon, at least make the effort to debate honestly.

      I'm even willing to agree that even an all-Super Hornet air wing isn't the best choice for the Navy, but it is what the Navy ended up with. Looking back at the last 2 decades of fleet mix and procurement, I really get the impression that the Navy's plan was that the Super Hornet would be the interim fighter-interceptor to replace the Tomcat, the JSF program would replace the Hornets, and by the time the Super Hornets needed replacing, F/A-XX would be a thing and the Navy would have the kickass fighter it wanted. Of course, nobody was expecting the program management clusterfuck that was JSF, or the Global War on Terror sucking up airframe hours.

      [B]"This tripe keeps coming up and is utterly irrelevant. The air wing of the Cold War was light years more capable than Fokker Triplanes so, using your logic, there was no reason to improve."[/b]

      Oy vey, you want to be taken seriously, but then you jump to hyperbole and attack me and use this ridiculous comparison. I'm comparing aircraft a generation apart, not a hundred years apart, come on. Look at the fleet carriers in WW2 - they ran some 90 tactical aircraft. Look at the carrier wings in Korea, the early Cold War, Nam, the Late Cold War - their air wings went down in size as their aircraft increased in capability (though, admittedly, not as drastically as the shift from the Cold War to the present day).

      Funny thing tho - the F-35 that you apparently dislike has things you complain the Hornets and Rhinos don't have. Stealth? It's got that. It's got the same weapons payload as the A-6, and can dedicate all of that to weapons. It's got strike range - the 1100 km strike radius of the F-35C returns the carrier to a similar area of uncertainty that the A-6 gave it; that gives an adversary a search area of 3.8 million square kilometers, or 5.4 times the size of Texas. It can cue SM-6 from the escort DDGs, it can dogfight, it's got a radar miles better than the AWG-9 of the Tomcat and can carry just under twice the missile load of the Tomcat...

      You have a point about the air wing's lack of mission tanking, which I do agree on. The Navy agrees as well, which is why they're now pursuing CBARS, the 21st century equivalent to the KA-6D, a tanker that can also be used as a tactical bomber.

      You claim that multirole aircraft lose out to single function aircraft, and use the rhethorical analogy of a family automobile vs a race car. I suppose that depends on what your family automobile is: I'd liken the multirole fighter to a Lancer Evolution, or a WRX STI, not some plain Ford Taurus, lol. Here's the thing though: if multirole fighters are _that_ much worse than specialised single role aircraft... why is _everyone_ building multirole fighters? Take the famous Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker; the deriviative variants sold by the Russians are used as multirole fighters (Su-30MKM, Su-30MKI) and the Su-35S is sold as a multirole fighter. Compare the eurocanards: on one hand, you have the omnirole Dassault Rafale, on the other hand you have the dedicated interceptor Eurofighter Typhoon. More Rafales are built and flying in more nations than the Typhoon, because the Typhoon's dedicated focus on interception and its design in pursuit of that has made it something of an evolutionary dead end; meanwhile the Rafale is being steadily upgraded and improved on by the French, and is an excellent strike fighter and a kinematics boom and zoom turn and burn monster.

    11. Consider the A-6. It was an excellent bomber, hauled a shitload of bombs, had a bombing computer, could only be used for strike or buddy tanking. The Super Hornet carries a similar payload, can be used for strike, buddy tanking, or air to air missions.

      Consider the A-7 and A-4, the workhorse light attack birds. They were good birds and served well; the legacy Hornet does the same things they do, but can also do air to air - and nobody ever said the Hornet was pants in a dogfight.

      Dedicated recon squadron: Recon pods meant that the RA-5s and RF-4s went the way of the dodo. You don't need a recon bird all the time, afterall, so you hang a pod on a fighter when you want it to do recon, and then take it off when you want to retask it for the next sortie. I mean, there's not really that much difference between an RF-4C and an F-4C.

      You have a point on the lack of dedicated fixed wing ASW, but on the other hand the S-3 never really was that effective in the role: I've talked to actual carrier sailors - in their experience, P-3s were better at providing fixed wing ASW and were able to more consistently support the carriers, especially because their ASW wasn't tied to the carrier's flight ops schedule the way the S-3 was. Romeo Seahawks are shorter ranged, true, but they're the ASW hotness now - and it's not like the carrier is alone, there's the DDGs and their helos as well.

      While you have a point with regard to the carrier air wing attacking and defending, note that whole point of the USN investing so much into Aegis and making a fleet of srsface multirole AAW DDGs and CGs is so that the carrier's air wing can be concentrated into the sunday punch, leaving the escorts to guard the carrier. It's not as if this risk has never been taken in war. The USN originated the term Alpha Strike, afterall; Alpha Strikes were regular things in the Pacific War and in Vietnam.

      On deck sizes, I know you weren't suggesting a Midway deck, but it sure looked like MM-13B was suggesting that. To me though, if you compare the deck sizes, the Forrestal's deck isn't really that much smaller than the Nimitz deck. Steel is cheap, it's the systems that make ships expensive. IMO you're not really going to save much on a Forrestal-sized deck.

      I'll concede on the Tomcats issues with the Midways, although I do find it interesting that your blog post above concludes that smaller carriers aren't as effective as larger carriers... and then you seem to keep wanting smaller Midway-sized carriers anyway, which I find a bit confusing.

    12. If deck parking was not USN practice, then all those decades of pictures of Navy aircraft parked on the flight deck since the Pacific War must be one helluva fake news! :P :V As my sailor buddy put it (he was on Enterprise during OIF), with the smaller air wing, they could park the air wing on the deck as much as possible; aircraft were only moved to the hangar for big maintennance and repair. With the full 90~ aircraft air wing, you'd be looking at a mix of hangar and deck parks simply because there's not enough space on the flight deck to park all the aircraft.

      Also, I think you're having a failure of logic. If the air wings are the same size (wether 60 or 90 aircraft, it doesn't matter), the larger carrier will have better combat endurance because it's got more stores than the smaller carrier. This is the Navy's findings from the last time they studied a newbuild Midway-class carrier - and I should note that your figures of 84 aircraft on a Midway contradicts every other source I've found, which lists 65~ aircraft. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Ultimately, the elephant in the room here is that the shrinking carrier air wings are due to Congress and the budgets. The Navy makes do with what the Navy has. It's all fine and well to argue for 60 tactical aircraft on the flight deck, but someone needs to pony up the cash for those aircraft. That's for Congress, not the Navy. I'm sure the Navy would love to have 5 combat squadrons on each deck, but Congress isn't giving the Navy enough money to afford 5 combat squadrons per deck and a replacement of the legacy Hornet fleet at the same time.

      That's another thing to be said about Nimitzes. At least you have the space on a Nimitz to build back up. You're not going to have that space on a Midway.

    13. "blog post above concludes that smaller carriers aren't as effective as larger carriers... and then you seem to keep wanting smaller Midway-sized carriers anyway, which I find a bit confusing."

      This is, admittedly, a difficult distinction to get across. There are two versions/definitions of "small" carrier. One is the commonly held concept of a carrier with an air wing of around 20-30 aircraft. Supposedly, such a carrier can, thanks to numbers, perform all the tasks of a large carrier, just in a distributed fashion. This is the version that I say is so severely limited and so inefficient and cost ineffective as to be worthless.

      The other "small" is my small - a Midway/Forrestal size carrier that is small only in comparison to a Nimitz/Ford. By any other comparison it is a supercarrier.

      There are two key factors to keep in mind about my version of small: one, IT'S NOT QUITE AS GOOD AS A NIMITZ BUT NEARLY SO and two, it's not intended to operate alone. It would operate only in conjunction with large carriers. In that operating concept, it acts as a reserve aircraft barge, in a sense, and it reaps the benefits of the large carrier in terms of AEW, tanking, helos, escorts, - all the things the smaller version might lack. This is a key distinction from the general idea of a very small carrier wandering around on its own.

    14. Your beliefs about the combat radius and other performance aspects of the F-35 are ridiculously exaggerated. You've bought into the manufacturer's claims. Take those claims and cut them in half and you'll be somewhere in the right ballpark. I've thoroughly covered combat radius and manufacturer's claims in previous posts so I won't bother repeating the ideas here. If you wish to believe manufacturer's claims, that's up to you.

    15. "I'm comparing aircraft a generation apart, not a hundred years apart, "

      You've again missed the point. The point is not how far apart the comparisons are, the point is that the only comparison that matters is HOW THE ASSET COMPARES TO THE CURRENT THREAT!

      Too many people want to say exactly what you've said, that a Hornet is better than a xxxxx from whatever time period so, therefore, we're good. We don't need to worry and the manifest superiority of today's Hornet is so much better that we don't need as many and we may even have too many already.

      The fallacy is that today's Hornet is not going up against yesterday's threat, it's going up against today's threat. So, that precision guided bomb/missile that's going to make one-plane strikes a reality is going up against today's advanced defenses. That aircraft probably isn't even going to reach weapon's release point. Some enemy advanced fighter is going to shoot it down, make it jettison its fuel tanks and bombs, and disrupt the strike. The enemy's advanced SAM system is going to take a frightful toll on our strike aircraft and shoot down our precision weapons. The enemy's ECM is going to disrupt our GPS weapon guidance and interfere with our targeting systems. And so on. Far from needing fewer aircraft for today's strikes, we'll more!

      People have a habit of crediting our aircraft and weapons with all manner of advanced, unbeatable weapons and systems without making the same allowances and credits for the enemy's weapons and systems.

      Is a Super Hornet going to be able to penetrate an advanced Chinese layered defensive system of stealth fighters, advanced radars, advanced SAMs, advanced ECM, etc.? Not by itself, it won't. This is where numbers come in. Sixty aircraft in a strike will ensure that some get through.

      If you want to credit modern aircraft then you have to credit modern defenses, too.

    16. "the F-35 that you apparently dislike has things you complain the Hornets and Rhinos don't have."

      As best I can tell, the only real advantage the F-35 has over the Super Hornet is stealth and that advantage is being steadily eroded both by Hornet advances and enemy detection advances. Kinematically, the F-35 is on par with the Hornet, at best, or, more likely, a bit lacking. The payload is comparable and only applies in a permissive environment in which case it's irrelevant. And so on.

    17. "USN investing so much into Aegis and making a fleet of srsface multirole AAW DDGs and CGs is so that the carrier's air wing can be concentrated into the sunday punch, "

      You're making up doctrine that isn't true. The Navy has NEVER advocated or planned for strikes that leave the carrier group with no defensive aircraft. Quite the contrary! The aircraft are a key element of the layered defense. No one has ever suggested that Aegis escorts alone are sufficient protection for a carrier group.

      This is also why carriers will operate in groups of four - so that a significant strike can be sent off while retaining a sufficient defense. This doctrine dates back to WWII and has not changed - nor should it.

      You need to carefully consider actual carrier operating doctrine!

    18. "pictures of Navy aircraft parked on the flight deck"

      Of course we park aircraft on the deck. Who said otherwise?

      The only reason we don't park more aircraft in the hangar today is because our wings are half the size they used to be! This downsizing wasn't an operational choice so that we could take advantage of empty hangars - it was budget cuts that have ravaged the air wings. When war comes we'll quickly increase our air wings back to 90+, IF WE HAVE THE AIRCRAFT AVAILABLE.

    19. "figures of 84 aircraft on a Midway contradicts every other source I've found, which lists 65~ aircraft. "

      Follow the link I provided.

    20. "If the air wings are the same size (wether 60 or 90 aircraft, it doesn't matter), the larger carrier will have better combat endurance"

      That's what I said. The reality is that the fuel/munitions storage is sized proportional to the air wing - roughly the same for a large or small carrier. They're comparable! The large carrier has an advantage only when the air wing shrinks substantially, as it has now. I don't know how to put this any simpler.

    21. "You're not going to have that space on a Midway."

      Do you even get what this whole debate is about? Clearly not. No one is saying that a Midway is exactly equal in all respects to a Ford. It isn't!

      What is being debated is the cost of carriers. The Fords are up to $15B each, at the low end. We're slowly pricing ourselves out of the carrier business. We're down to 11 carriers (10+1) and 9 air wings and showing no sign of reversing the trend. The smaller carrier is one alternative to fewer and fewer carriers. IF - and that's the key question - we can build a smaller carrier for, say, one third the cost of a Ford then we can build more carriers that are reasonably capable. The alternative is to continue to ride the declining carrier trend right down to zero - which is what the Navy is doing.

      This is what the issue is and what's being debated. No one, other than you, is trying to argue that a Midway is exactly equal to a Ford/Nimitz. It's just a much cheaper alternative that provides a still significant capability.

      Arguing the number of aircraft on deck versus in the hangar is irrelevant trivia.

    22. If you've really covered the issues with manufacturer's claims, you'll have no problems relinking your work, right? :p

      Here's a dirty little secret on how the asset compares to the current threat: US carriers have historically spent their time going after non-peer targets, i-e. punching down. In that respect, the Hornet and Rhino airwing has been adequete. ;^) Of course now that the US is potentially facing a peer adversary for the first time since the Cold War, people are starting to get nervous...

      I feel i should also point out that there are more tools in the inventory than just JDAMs and LGBs, and that more and more weapons in the US arsenal are using multimode seekers precisely to mitigate enemy countermeasures. That said, I'm doubtful even sixty fighters backed up with EW Growlers would be able to penetrate chinese air on their own: China has put a lot of effort into locking down their backyard, though to be fair, 60 fighters is a lot more fighters in one place than most people have in their air forces.

      You must have missed the article in Flight International talking about a recent excercise wiht F-35s and aggressors. The aggressors engaged the F-35 in a dogfight, and then after the dogfight concluded, the F-35 continued on to the bombing range to drop its practice JDAM. And the aggressors going after it were in clean config, stripped all the way down. A Hornet can't do this; the meta has always been that virtual attrition is good enough if you can force the strike package to drop its bombs and abort, but now the strike package can disengage and try again.

      ComNavOps, you do know the USN created Alpha Strikes, right? A strike that uses all the aircraft on the carrier to hit a single target? Which is the kind of strike you suggest above, what with emptying the air wing to go hit something. Although you want to return to the fast carrier task force and the WW2 meta, so I suppose that's less of an issue then.

      Also, uh, you're the one who said that the USN didn't use deck parks. ;^)

      "Deck parking is not, and has never been, Navy carrier operating policy" :V

      The only link you have provided is to an article by Tyler Rogoway that talks about the issues operating Tomcats from Midways. Try again.

      Your train of thought with carriers and magazine sizes probably makes sense to you, but not me, lol, so I'm not touching that crazytalk. :p Maybe after coffee and breakfast lol.

      I want to point out, btw, that this reply chain started because I understood MM-13B's position to be: "Running Midway-sized air wings on a Nimitz is mismatched, we should go back to Midway decks." He's the one suggesting a return to midway decks, not me.

      It's intellectually dishonest of you to blame the Navy for the shrinking carrier fleet. Ultimately it is Congress who controls the purse strings, not the Navy. It is Congress that sets the budget and congress that fucked everyone over, not just the military, with this Sequestration bullshit. Congress wants a world-class navy capable of projecting American power and influence worldwide, but it is not paying enough to get that world-class navy.

      Still, could be worse. AT least Congress wants to pany _some_ for the military, if not enough. The British want to have a military, but they don't want to pay for it at all. :V

    23. Here's the link to the number of aircraft operated by Midway: Midway

      Deck parking exclusively has never been the Navy's practice.

      Regarding fuel/ammo ratios, it's a pretty simple concept but I'll endeavor to make it even simpler. A big carrier has 2 gallons of fuel. A little carrier has one gallon of fuel. So, the big carrier can operate planes twice as long, right? Wrong. The big carrier has 2 planes and the little carrier has 1 plane. Therefore, they can each operate the exact same amount of time. The ratios of fuel to aircraft are identical. Presumably (subject to correction from actual data), a Midway and Nimitz have approximately the same fuel to aircraft ratios. The smaller carrier has less fuel but also less aircraft, thus, the ratio is approximately the same.

      The Navy designed and approved the specs on the $15B Ford, not Congress. The Navy had a choice between an evolutionary Nimitz or a hideously expensive Ford and opted for the Ford. Congress' only fault is going along with the nonsense. The shrinking carrier fleet is solely the fault of the Navy.

      I've also thoroughly disproved the myth of sequestration in a previous post. Check the archives.

      "I'm doubtful even sixty fighters backed up with EW Growlers would be able to penetrate chinese air on their own: "

      On that we agree which is why I've stated that the main mission of the carrier, today, is not strike but escort - escort for the Tomahawk shooters and the Air Force bombers.

      For manufacturer's combat radius claims you can start with this post, Combat Radius, and then peruse the archives for more on the subject.

    24. What I would really like to see is a two-tier carrier system: big decks (conventional or nuclear) with deluxe air wings and medium decks (conventional) with economy air wings. Yes, there is the issue of money. The Navy convinced congress to pay for a new class of carriers even bigger and more expensive than the Nimitz class. They could have built two more Nimitz class and then we'd have 12 operational carriers. What about money for aircraft? It went to the F35: twenty years, most expensive weapons program ever, and not much to show for it. Why build even bigger and more expensive carriers if the air wings are shrinking and not making use of the ship's capabilities?

    25. @ComNavOps: Re: deck parks: the uncharitable assumption would be to assume you're goalpost shifting, but I'm going to try be charitable and assume that you were just bad at expression what you meant. :V

      Your analogy also doesn't work out as right because the Midway flight group was 65 aircraft and the Nimitz flight group was 90 aircraft; so to support your assertion that both carriers have the same ratio of stores/aircraft, you'd need to be able to show that the Nimitz's magazines can only hold 1.5 times the stores of the Midway's magazines.

      Yes, your link shows 5 combat squadrons carried onboard, but gives no figures for how many aircraft carried, and when your figures of an 80+ air wing disagree with every other source out there... well, you see the problem, right? Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. And if we assume an equivalent size air wing on both the Nimitz and Midway, then we're back to the same point we agree on and have been arguing circularly: air wing size being equal, the larger carrier is better able to sustain combat operations than the smaller carrier. I mean, that's pretty much what your blog post is leaning towards...

      I'm amused that you've forgotten the post Desert Storm drawdown of pretty much evertyhing. That wasn't the fault of the Fords. :p And while the 12.9 billion dollar sticker price of a Ford is pretty high (so says CRS, not the 15 billion you claim, i note), let's not forget the the early Nimitzes were pretty pricey items too - a Nimitz in 1977 was budgeted at 2.4 billion dollars, or 11.5 billion in today's money. Still cheaper, of course, but not that quite much cheaper - and let's not forget that costs for sucessive ships went down because the US funnels the R&D costs into the first ships to be built. (Having said that, I do think they made a mistake trying to cram too much new technology into the Fords from the get-go. I'd have just gone with EMALS and the redesigned flight deck layout first, then incorporated additional technology into follow on ships as the technology matured.)

      I'm not entirely sure relying on surface ships for Tomahawk strikes is going to remain viable. Consider OIF: DDGs and SSNs in the Gulf fired 700 TLAMs into Iraq, which was a good portion of the Navy's inventory (then 1200 missiles total). Meanwhile, air wings from 5 carriers and Air Force bombers dropped 5000 JDAMs into Iraq. And if the carrier's fighters aren't going to get through into China, it's doubtful the Air Force's bombers are going to be able to kick the door down.

      On the other hand, this begs the question of whether it's actually nescessary to attack targets on the chinese mainland - this would depend a lot on the nature of the conflict, afterall. A brawl between a Nimitz CSG and a Liaoning CVBG in the South China Sea probably wouldn't involve hitting targets on the chinese mainland, but the chinese bases on those artificial islands - a much easier nut to crack, I submit.

    26. @MM-13B: the way I see it, we don't really get that much efficiency from small carriers. Steel is cheap, the systems are what make it expensive, and the USN does like its standardisation. If we've got two tiers of carrier then you can't use them interchangeably, if you've got more carriers of the same type you can cross deck aircraft and slot them into CSGs as you need.

      10 carriers is not enough, but on the other hand is there truly a need to go back to 20 carriers? Imo 12 carriers would be the bare minimum - with the standard 1:1:1 deployed/working up/refit cycle this gives you 1 carrier each for the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. 15-16 might be better, because then you have an additional carrier at sea as a roving surge reinforment who can drop in to assist another carrier. But on the other hand the USN has survived the last 20 years with less than 15 carriers, so there's a question of whether additional carriers are actually needed.

      As for the F-35, you say that's not much to show for it, but 300 aircraft have been assembled, delivered and are flying. That's more than many nations' air forces have aircraft total. And all this without a crash period; at this point in the F-16's life it was called the Lawn Dart, the Starfighter and Corsair were being called the widowaker...

      I'll be the first to wholeheartedly agree that in terms of program management it's been a clusterfuck, and things would probably have not been such a clusterfuck if the services hadn't all at the same time asked congress for money for a new fighter, but as an aircraft it's not the turd its detractors are making it out to be. It's worth noting that the aircraft competing with the F-35, the Dassault Rafale and the Sukhoi T-50, are both following the same playbook of sensor fusion, sophisticated ECM suite, stealth and good kinematics (though everyone emphasises different things - the Rafale, for example, has a greater focus on kinematics than stealth).

      Plus, give that the Legacy Hornet fleet is averaging 20-25 years old, and needs urgent replacement, well, the Navy *has* to go all in on the F-35C.

    27. "I'm going to try be charitable and assume that you were just bad at expression what you meant"

      I'm going to be charitable and assume that you were just bad at following the conversation.

    28. Regarding Midway's wing size ...

      3x VFA (F-18) squadrons at 12 planes per = 36
      2x VA (A-6 + KA-6) at 10+4 = 28
      4 E-2
      4 EA-6B
      12 helos (squadron size varied)

      total = 84

    29. You keep throwing those figures out, but you only have your own say-so to support them. Sorry, but you're going to need more proof than that.

    30. You entirely misunderstand your role in this blog. I'm offering an education. You're free to accept or reject it. What you won't do is demand proof from me. I've cited sources. Take or leave it and do so politely.

    31. "Deck parking the wing is not, and never has been, Navy carrier operating policy although the Brits have, historically, tended that way. The US Navy has always believed they can, and should, house a portion of the wing in the hangar so as to maximize the wing size." Don't wish to harp back to this, but in terms of the RN, the policy until very recently (ie QEC) was always to assume full hangarage and no deck park in sizing the ship. The uSN 9specifically the guys at Navy Lakehurst who live in the corner of the old airship sheds, work on spot factor in terms of sizing the deck park. They have always assumed a proportion of aircraft in the hangar, but this is a small(ish) fraction. The ship is generally sized by the minimum deck park required (given aircraft spot factor) to meet the proposed flying programme. That assumes of course that the ship can accommodate the minimum recovery area and sufficient launch cats to meet the requirements.

      On your Midway numbers, I'd check the link I posted earlier again. She only ever flew a single A6 attack squadron at a time - just like the CVNs, by the way. So not 28 Intruders, only 14, which puts your airgroup at 70 - of which 20 were helos and EA6/E2.

    32. Edit to add - surprisingly she does appear to have operated two A6 sqns for parts of three years at the back of the 80s. I'd be very surprised if they were full strength units though. Sqn histories are unclear. It's possible the Bug has a smaller spot factor than the F4, but not the A7. If memory serves she did manage to operate 2 Sqns of F4, 2 of A7 and one of A6, plus the enablers. So dropping to three sqns of Bugs frees up some deck space.

    33. "surprisingly she does appear to have operated two A6 sqns"

      "I'd be very surprised if they were full strength"

      So, having called me out about squadron numbers and having been "surprisingly" wrong about the number of squadrons, you're now calling me out about squadron strength and saying you're be "surprised" if they were full strength? Do you see a little mini pattern developing, here?

      More importantly, this is a trivial side bit that is almost completely irrelevant! If you happen to find some definitive information, let me know. Otherwise, I'm moving on!

  4. CNO,

    No comment about carriers, just a thank you for your active and consistant interesting blog. Uploading multiple weekly entries for many years shows a lot of dedication- much appreciated. I'm more of a lurker than a knowledgable military person, but I check you blog every second day.




    1. Every second day???? Most people read it several times a day and reread articles continuously to glean even more pearls of wisdom!

      Seriously, thanks. I'm glad you enjoy it and I'll continue to try to put out high quality material.

  5. If I understand the theory behind your "small carrier" concept is it will always to be used as part of group? ie it is and additional runway / hanger?
    I would have thought the most cost effective solution would be to make a "dumbed down" version of the Supper Carrier. It could have less command and control, a less sophisticated radar etc. Space saved could be used for extra storage. My guess is this would be cheaper to purchase and operate than designing and building an additional class of ship?

    1. My "small" carrier IS a dumbed down large carrier, in concept. It's also physically dumbed down in dimensions since that produces a lot of construction cost savings. The Forrestal class, for example, was 59,000 tons displacement versus the current Ford at 100,000 tons. Nearly half the size!!! That's significant cost savings.

      Currently, we only have one shipyard that can build nuclear carriers. It would be beneficial to have a second (or more) yard that could build conventional Midway/Forrestal size carriers.

  6. I think the size debate needs to be framed in a use context. Historically in WWII we drifted towards a CV and CVA fleet. This is well described in the book The Pentagon Paradox by James Stevenson.

    Because the key for attack aircraft is short cycle t8ime to rearm and re-attack, it was more effective to have CVA that had mainly attack aircraft that would go in close to shore to reduce distance and flight time. The fleet carriers became the Fighter platform that provided Fleet Defense and stayed back further for flexibility.

    The CVAs because they were closer to threats and were focused on attacking were made smaller and more expendable.

    Times have changed for certain and it is questionable if our carriers will be doing close in high cycle attacks anymore. But in the last shooting war we quickly specialized the Fleet - Bean counters be damned. So when the bean counters say one super or excessive carrier can do everything cheaper just remind them that those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

    1. "CVA that had mainly attack aircraft that would go in close to shore to reduce distance and flight time."

      First, I've never heard what you're describing unless you're referring to small carriers that were attached to landings and provided ground attack support? If so, that's not what we're discussing. We're talking about a smaller carrier that will take on the entire spectrum of full carrier combat. The "assault" carriers were only operable in a permissive environment. In a permissive environment, by definition, anything will work. We saw at Leyte Gulf what happens when the permissive environment is suddenly contested. To ignore the limitations and vulnerabilities of small carriers is to also ignore the lessons of history!

      Big carriers are big, in part, so that they can attack and defend simultaneously.

      To repeat, this "small" carrier discussion is about trying to use small carriers to conduct full combat operations.

    2. Well I would suggest you read the first part of the book for the discussion. It might have been called CVL vice CVA. But the point is the same.

      Second, my point about small carriers is not to just scale down what we have, but look at how they will be used. Furthermore the mix of aircraft to be on each type of carrier. That will drive the size and composition of the air wing.

      The needs of a fighter and attack aircraft on the carrier deck are drastically different. Mixing them on the same deck in an high sortie situation can be less than optimal and actually reduce both the number of sorties for BOTH missions. That is what was found out in WWII.

      Just scaling down only saves on the $/ton metric NOT the operationally effective metric. Scaling down is just a bean counter approach, think effectiveness.

    3. You do realize that you're basically just repeating the post - that small carriers have limitations, right?

      Do you have some larger point to make?

  7. I believe Wasp was built to use up the rest of the allowed tonnage allowed for carriers in the naval treaties of the time.

    Chief Torpedoman

  8. I think we're not getting to the real problem here - namely, that today's naval aircraft are twice as big and heavy than they need to be. If the US Navy used Sea Gripens instead of Super Hornets, a full air wing-carrying carrier wouldn't need to displace 100,000 tons.

    Especially since the Gripen utterly slaughters the Super Hornet in every performance criteria, except combat payload (and not by much).

    1. The Navy needs a very long range air superiority fighter. That necessitates a large aircraft.

      I'm not a Gripen expert but, at a glance, the Gripen appears to have a comparable combat radius (if you believe those kinds of claims), fewer hard points, significantly less payload weight capacity, little or no countermeasures, no towed decoy, limited or no data links, a quarter of the gun ammo capacity, and a single engine (the US Navy prefers two). In short, I don't see anything that suggests that the Gripen would make a superior carrier aircraft. Maybe I'm wrong about some of those specs? Perhaps the Sea Gripen would address some of those shortcomings - if so, we can look at it if/when it actually exists.

      There's a reason why aircraft are the size they are. The Gripen seems to be a competent aircraft with some limited or non-existent capabilities. Add in those capabilities and you'll probably wind up with a Hornet size aircraft!

      For US Navy needs, even the Hornet is probably too small!

    2. I feel I should point out several flaws in your assumptions, Tanguy Pluchet:

      - the Sea Gripen is vaporware and is not yet a thing.

      - The smaller size of the Gripen means that it has less payload and range than the Super Hornet, since smaller aircraft = less space to carry things and fuel. We see this on the spec sheets: the Gripen's max load is 11,000 lbs of ordnance and fuel, while the Super Hornet's max load is 17,750 lbs ordnance and fuel.

      - The legacy F/A-18C Hornet was criticised because its small size limited its fuel capacity, which shrunk the carrier's strike radius and thus the area of uncertainty that the carrier uses to hide. This was why the Super Hornet grew to Tomcat size, and is why the F-35C is the size it is, because the 1100 km combat radius of the F-35C (bigger by a third of the Gripen, btw), means that the enemy has to search an area larger than the size of India in order to find that carrier.

      - The Gripen uses a pulse-doppler radar vs the AESA radar of the Super Hornet. As Cope Thunder 2004 demonstrated, pulse-doppler radars are vulnerable to modern ECM systems that can effectively "no-sell" them from locking on, which is why everyone serious has spent the last decade and change developing AESA radars of their own.

      - In a WVR dogfight, I concede it is possible for the Gripen to gain the advantage over the Super Hornet using the same close range subsonic turn and burn meta the A-4 Skyhawk excelled at. I will also point out, however, that the meta for dealing with the Skyhawk (and other small agile turn and burn monsters) has been known since the Pacific War: play to your strengths, keep the range open, and use superior thurst to boom and zoon and engage on your own terms. It's not infallible, of course - everyone gets a vote in war - but Super Hornets are not defenseless in a dogfight.

      - Large tactical aircraft flying off carrier decks is not a new thing. The Super Hornet and Tomcat are of similar size to the venerable A-6, which spent decades serving off carriers.

      I should also note that steel is cheap. A smaller carrier would not be that much cheaper than a supercarrier because the big ticket items are the nuclear reactor, the radars, the commo gear, and the assorted systems that make up a carrier. Plus, a Nimitz-class carrier carries 3000 tons of ordnance. The bigger your carrier, the more room you have for aircraft, the more room you have to carry fuel and ordnance for your air wing, which means longer combat endurance and more sorties generated and more time inbetween port visits to reload - an important consideration, given that this is a 10-carrier navy, which means only 3-4 carriers active at any one time, a far cry from the Vietnam era, and the 17-carrier navy of the late Cold War.

    3. "The bigger your carrier, the more room you have for aircraft, the more room you have to carry fuel and ordnance for your air wing,"

      I pointed the fallacy of this statement out to you, already. It may be that the smaller carrier actually has a larger ratio of fuel/ordnance to aircraft than a larger one. I don't know - I'd have to see some actual specs and do the math. I suspect that the ratios would wind up about the same. Until you have specs and do the math, stop making this claim. It applies only if the two wings are the same size which is an absurd case - although that might actually be the case today given the ever shrinking air wings!

    4. @ComNavOps

      The need for a long range does not entail a larger aircraft. The need for complexity does. Case in point: the F-16A had a greater combat radius than the F-15.

      And like I replied to Wild Goose, I only took the Gripen as an example. Again, check out the V-1600.

    5. "The need for a long range does not entail a larger aircraft."

      All else being equal, yes, it does. Longer range requires larger fuel tanks. It's that simple.

      Further, what the Navy needs is not just longer range but longer ranged air superiority fighters. That requires a large payload since most of the missiles launched in a future air-to-air combat will miss. It is likely going to require several shots to achieve one hit. Thus, the future long range air superiority fighter will be big due to fuel storage requirements and larger payload.

      I completely get that you threw out the Gripen as one possible example. The F-22 is another example of a modern, stealth fighter that could be the basis for a long range air superiority fighter. As you note, there are others.

      Unfortunately, given the Navy's needs, the F-35 is only a slight improvement over the Super Hornet, if even that.

      While the V-1600 concept might be useful, the actual aircraft had no stealth, limited range with payload, limited sensors, etc. It is not the solution. The concept of a small, dedicated air to air fighter might be valid although the range issue is still problematic. Wiki lists a F-16 combat radius of 295 nm with four 1000 lb bombs. While an A2A configuration might result in more range, this is still woefully inadequate for the Navy which needs a 1000+ mile fighter combat radius.

    6. To increase range, you don't necessarily need to increase the size of your aircraft. You can increase the fuel fraction of your aircraft instead. That means getting rid of excess weight.

      Also, the Gripen can supercruise, which means it can reach supersonic speed at 35% of its military thrust. Thus, it can quickly shift from one area to another without consuming too much fuel. The Super Hornet can't do that.

      But I do get that to have a 1000-miles interceptor, you'll end up with a big airframe.

      The only A2A missile the US should use is the Sidewinder. It has a 30% hit ratio, which is about the best you can get in an A2A missile. I personally don't expect the AMRAAM to do much better than the 0,5% hit ratio of the Sparrow. To find out, we'd need extensive testing and that's something the US Navy just won't do right now.

      Radar stealth is hugely overrated. It's only intended to defeat short-band radars, and long-band radars can easily detect it. Also, there are some who say the next air war will be fought with the radars turned off, and the only sensors used being IRSTs. So a more useful approach for stealth would be to reduce the aircraft's heat signature, which by the way will end up huge in a large, multi-engine airframe, as well as in an aircraft packed with too much electronic junk like the F-35.

    7. "You can increase the fuel fraction of your aircraft instead."

      Yes, you can, to an extent. However, modern jets are pretty much full with needed fuel storage and equipment. There's no extra room for fuel. What do you drop to make room? Radar? Avionics? Countermeasures? Comms and data links? There's not much in an aircraft that isn't needed! Some optimizing and rearranging might gain you a little bit of extra fuel but it won't take you from a 300 mile combat radius to 1000 miles! The only way to do that is to build a bigger aircraft.

    8. "The only A2A missile the US should use is the Sidewinder."

      That's an interesting thought. However, longer range missiles still serve a purpose: they break up initial formations, they're needed for attacking bombers, and they're still quite useful for attacking older generation aircraft which are still quite prevalent and will be for many years to come.

    9. Your point about radar, stealth, and heat is excellent.

    10. Heat-seeking long range missiles are probably useful. However, a radar-guided missile will lose its lock if the enemy aircraft simply makes an S turn. As for bombers, they will probably do what B-52s did in Vietnam - fly in tight formation while using massive amount of chaff and jammers. No B-52 was ever hit by an SA-2 while using this tactic - and we're talking about an aircraft as huge as the BUFF !

    11. No B-52s shot down by SA-2, Tanguy Pluchet? Official loss records disagree with you. ;P

  9. @Wild Goose

    I used the Gripen only as an example, but it could be any aircraft the US Navy could have developped. Check out the Vought V-1600, for example.

    You're again missing the problem on your second point : a multirole, "do-it-all" aircraft will necessarily end up huge, while a dedicated fighter and a dedicated attack aircraft would be both long-ranged and light enough. In short, weight comes from complexity, not range or payload.

    I am of the opinion that radar is useless on a tactical aircraft, since it gives away your position (has someone ever tried to develop an air-to-air ARM, by the way ?). Passive sensors like the IRST are the solution.

    WVR is all that matters, because all of history since Vietnam has proven that BVR (especially using radar) does not work.

    Also, the Gripen is a fighter, not an attack aircraft, so payload doesn't matter that much.

    As for carriers, how about NOT using expensive stuff like a nuclear reactor, ultra-complex sensors and assorted things? Again, cost also comes from complexity.

    1. Pierre Sprey has been making the same assertions you've been making since the 80s. Here's the elephant in the room question: if the modern sophisticated fighter is such a dead end, if the radarless light fighter is truly the way forward, why is it that everyone serious about fighters is not pursuing that path? The Typhoon is a fighter-interceptor with a powerful radar; the Rafale is essentially the French take on the F-35's playbook of sensor fusion, kinematics, multirole combat and RCS reduction; Sukhoi's T-50 is likewise trying to do the same thing. Even the utter clusterfuck of the HAL Tejas has a radar! And everyone serious about air combat - Japan, China, Russia, France, EU, US - either has AESA radars deployed in their fleet, or is developing said AESA radars.

      I mean, sure, it's all well to blame the current air combat meta on the US military industrial complex, but when competitor nations are doing the same thing despite being independant of said MIC, you gotta wonder.

      It's also amusing that you say payload doesn't matter for the Gripen, when Saab sells it as a multirole figher - literally JAS means Air to Air, Air to Surface, Recon in Swedish - and when every other customer in the world is buying multirole aircraft to get the most bang for their buck. Even Malaysia, hardly a paragon of good procurement sense, is trying to replace its interceptor MiG-29Ns with multirole combat aircraft, and uses the Su-30MKM as both an air superiority fighter and a strike fighter. The Eurofighter Typhoon, designed and optimised to the single role of intercepting and dogfighting a horde of enemy fighters, has seen less sucess on the worldwide market vs the omnirole Dassault Rafale, because when both aircraft cost the same price and the Rafale does more things, you get more bang for your buck with the Rafale (which was also RMAF's assessment of the Rafale, making it the MRCA frontrunner).

    2. "you get more bang for your buck"

      Only on paper. A multi-role aircraft is inferior to a single function aircraft, all else being equal. We've covered this many times and there's no need to repeat it.

      Regarding radars, just because everyone is using them doesn't mean they're a good idea still. It also doesn't mean they aren't. The point is that the "follow the leader" mentality and inertia are powerful forces that mitigate against new technology and new approaches. Countries continued to build battleships long after the airplane changed the force dynamic.

      As far as the rest of the world buying multi-role aircraft, that's pretty obvious. Most of the world simply can't afford to build separate, single function aircraft. If you just haven't got the money then you build a multi-role, inferior aircraft and hope for the best and leave the dedicated, single function aircraft like the F-22 to the US who can afford it.

    3. First, nobody has even experimented Sprey's ideas since the F-16 and A-10, which ended up being some of the most successful combat aircrafts of all time. Sprey might be totally wrong, but before we can say that we have to give his ideas a chance.

      Also, do you honestly think the US is the only country with a military-industrial-political complex ? France, Russia, the UK, basically every country with a developped defense industry have one.

      The JAS-39 is indeed a "multirole" aircraft, but it was primarily designed for A2A combat, and it is probably the only thing it does very well.

      There's another aspect of multirole aircrafts you haven't taken into account, namely the most important in warfare: training. Most airforces have pilots spending less than 200 hours/year in the air. Because A2A and A2G are so radically different, they can't divide their training between those two missions. They have to specialize, or else they become mediocre in everything.
      And because a multirole aircraft is more complex than a single-mission aircraft, it too spends less time in the air, thus reducing the amount of training the pilots receive.

    4. "Only on paper. A multi-role aircraft is inferior to a single function aircraft, all else being equal. We've covered this many times and there's no need to repeat it."

      I think Dassault's engineers would rather like to disagree with you on the idea that the omnirole Rafale is inferior to the single-role Typhoon. :p

      I feel I should point out that the supposedly dedicated air superiority fighters - the F-4, the F-14, the F-15, the F-22 - had provision for ground attack from the get go, y'know. ;^)

      @Tanguy Pluchet: the F-16 and A-10 were sucessful in spite of Sprey's designs: with the F-16 he wanted a radarless daytime light fighter carrying a gun and 2 Sidewinders, and we've now ended up with an all weather strike fighter with radar and BVR missiles, lol. Also if you look at Desert Storm, we find that the brand spanking new sophisticated modern aircraft didn't have appreciably worse mission readiness than the simpler aircraft Sprey favored; if anything everyone achieved +90% readiness durin Desert Storm, because readiness is a matter of having the right parts on hand.

      Also if we're going to throw anecdotes about the complexity of multirole aircraft, I should note my buddy's experience on Enterprise, where the dedicated interceptor Tomcat squadron had terrible readiness, and the Hornets did the bulk of the work because the Hornets were always ready to go, while they'd be lucky to have 3 working Tomcats at any one time...

      Having said that, you are right on the training issue. Gulf War Air Power Survey did an analysis of air to air shoots and concluded that F-14 and F-15 squadrons had the higher kills and were more effective than F/A-18 and F-16 squadrons because they prioritised air to air combat training over air to ground. Having said that, this is an operational and financial issue - you can indeed have an effective squadron trained for multirole missions, if you budget the training time and the money for that, which is an issue above the squadron level: the big finances move into the realm of SECNAV and Congress.

    5. The F-16's price also literally quadrupled, it became 2 tons heavier and went from 3 sorties/day to 2.
      Also, in Desert Storm, 150 A-10s flew a third of all Allied air combat missions and destroyed more targets than all other aircrafts combined.

      And you should ask the US Army about the fact that "everyone achieved 90% readiness in Desert Storm": the had to cannibalize 700 Bradleys and over HALF the Apache fleet just to keep the rest rolling and flying. And that was after an over 6 months buildup...

      Gee, who could have guessed than the F-14, a twin-engine, variable-geometry, twin-seating, giant radar-carrying aircraft would have bad readiness ?
      Multirole necessarily means complexity, but single-role doesn't necessarily entails simplicity...

      And for the record, the only war where BVR kills were ever achieved was Desert Storm, against an enemy so incompetent its pilots were struggling to even prevent their aircrafts from crashing.

    6. "dedicated interceptor Tomcat squadron had terrible readiness, and the Hornets did the bulk of the work because the Hornets were always ready to go,"

      Be realistic and objective. You're comparing old F-14's nearing the end of their service life against brand new Hornets. Who do you think is going to have better availability. Besides the F-18's main design criteria was maintainability (not combat!) so, again, what did you expect?

      The maintenance was not related to multi-role or even complexity - it was old versus new and designed for ease of maintenance versus designed for combat.

  10. If you're building a carrier that will be in service for 50 years, just looking at the next 10-20 isn't enough, especially when the new carrier won't even arrive for ?15 years. What will the air wing look like in 30 years or 65 or more for the last of class? More drones, certainly. Probably higher sortie rates with automated decks. Probably less downtime on aircraft with partial self-repair. Maybe more defence for ASW and anti-air/missile transferred to escort-based drones. This probably leads to smaller numbers of ship-based air group personnel. So I concur with the 'Nimitz minus' size proposed and also bin the LHAs/LHDs for a generic carrier or a HMS Ocean-type 'disposable' helicopter that you can risk further forward.

    1. Predicting the future is always the challenge. I very much like that you've taken a stab at it.

      Do you envision fully capable air combat drones within the next 30 years?

    2. That depends on what you mean by 'fully capable'. There are QF-16s now and there's no reason there couldn't be QF-18s right now either. If you mean a semi-intelligent full dogfight-capable aircraft then I think there could easily be technically but unless the Chinese scare the cr*p out of the US in the next decade or so then I don't think the money will be made available beyond prototypes in that timescale. Some move in that direction may be available in the next-gen F35s.

    3. So, if I understand you correctly, you don't envision fully autonomous fighter drones capable of beating a manned aircraft within the next 30 years. That being the case, and given that you thought there would be many more unmanned aircraft on a carrier, what would these unmanned aircraft be/do?

  11. AEW, tanker, ASW, possibly VERTREP, low-intensity bombing and perhaps SEAD/other high-risk missions. There's a whole stack of old F-18s (and Phantoms and Vikings etc) out there that won't have pilots that could be brought into the game.

    1. The problem with unmanned is that unless you have true artificial intelligence on par with a human, the asset is limited in its capabilities. Take ASW, for example. It's more than just remotely dropping sonobouys. Someone/something has to interpret the vague hints of noise that are detected and decide what to do next. Humans do it effortlessly, if not always correctly. No AI on the foreseeable future will be able to match that. So, yes, we can remotely drop sensors or weapons but we'll still need human "pilots" and analysts to make the decisions. What have we gained? Especially in the ASW case where, generally, no one is shooting at you, there is no need to remove the human pilot/analyst and every reason to retain them.

      The same general thought applies to any other function. AEW, for example, is not just about flying radars. It's about battle management using that radar. Again, the human does it effortlessly (after a huge amount of training and experience!). I don't see AI doing that in the foreseeable future. Sure, we could have a remote radar plane and data link back to a ship but all we're doing in that case is creating more emissions to be detected and more comm lag.

      People have jumped on the unmanned bandwagon without thoroughly thinking it through. As I see it, the benefits are nowhere near as great as people think.

      What do you think? Have you carefully thought this through? Will the hoped for benefits offset the greatly increased losses (unmanned aircraft will be kind of "dumb") and greater inefficiency inherent in unmanned operations? In other words, is it worth replacing a single manned plane with, say, three unmanned planes (to allow for the inherent inefficiency) to accomplish the same task?

    2. I would expect the brains to be back in the US like with Predators. It seems to work OK for these roles - the lag wouldn't work for air-to-air combat. Unmanned doesn't necessarily mean there's no people in the loop. Think what you could do for crew fatigue if just transits were 'hands-off'.

    3. "Think what you could do for crew fatigue if just transits were 'hands-off'."

      Not much. You're continuing to illustrate my point that people aren't thinking through the unmanned concept. If you're using F-18s, say, for unmanned missions, the combat radius stays the same at 250 miles or so. Unmanned doesn't magically increase the range - that's fixed by the aircraft characteristics. That combat radius doesn't require a crew swap. Sure, I guess you could swap out every 30 minutes but what have you really gained other than needing many more "pilots"? Pilots can already do a few hour mission with no great loss of performance due to fatigue.

      Now, if you're talking about Predator like endurance and range, that's different but a Predator can't perform the roles/missions you've listed.

      As far as controlling from back in the US, do you really think we'll be able to data link and comm over those distances in a war with our satellites shot down, jamming, signal disruption, etc.?

    4. I think you're missing the point - if a pilot isn't controlling the aircraft when transitting to and from the battle area, he/she can be resting during that period or piloting a different aircraft that is already at the battle area. If you lose that plane, you just pull out another one with no pilot lost.
      I note the point about comms but I was careful to point out not for fighter combat. The tasks I listed largely don't require immediate/constant communication and I am more optimistic than you that the large quantity of different channels available by the that time will allow for sufficient redundancy to keep comms in most situations. If every plane, ship etc becomes a potential relay node with smart comms then there's a very good chance comms will be maintained.

    5. We can already rest pilots during transit, if we wish - use autopilot!

      The ability of comms to function during war is a major open question. The Navy should be very aggressively testing that issue right now but, to the best of my knowledge, they aren't.

      You're also still missing the point about transit times. They're just not that long with only 250 mile combat radii. Fatigue just isn't much of an issue.

      I think you're also missing the bandwidth issue. In the kind of scenarios you're talking about, we're not just squirting out occasional bursts of a few bits/bytes of data. We're talking about massive amounts! High resolution video imagery, for example, requires massive bandwidth. Sonobuoy acoustic data requires massive bandwidth. AEW radar and battle management requires massive, massive bandwidth.

      I seriously doubt it's even possible to relay that amount of data using whatever aircraft or ship just happens to be in the area. That amount of data would require specially built comm devices.

      Here's a recent real world example. The LCS has extremely automated systems as part of the reduced manning concept. The automation is supposed to monitor itself and send out periodic reports to the shore based support elements. When Freedom deployed to Singapore, they found that the ship's comms were woefully insufficient and did not have bandwidth to handle the task. And, that was simple numeric data, not imagery, and it was periodic not continuous. ASW/AEW etc. are CONTINUOUS operations requiring continuous, incredibly high bandwidth transmissions.

      Like most things, when you start to dip below the surface, you find that it's much more complicated and challenging then you think. Your belief that any passing aircraft/ship will be able to act as a relay node is almost certainly wrong.

      Did you know that the F-35 can't talk in its native mode to any other platform except another F-35? Did you know that the F-35 and F-22 can't talk to each other in their native modes? I believe they have the limited Link 16(?) in common but that is very limited. F-35 comm issues are one of the major operational bottlenecks that does not get much attention because few people understand bandwidth.

      Have you considered latency and lag? Even if we could relay all the data we wanted, at every relay step there are comm disruptions and lost data even in normal peacetime. This is handled by using integrity checks and when garbled data is received, it is re-transmitted. However, each data packet that is re-transmitted adds time (lag) to the overall process. Considering the enormous amount of data required for acoustic signal processing or visual imagery, these lags add up. Throw in enemy disruptions, broad spectrum jamming, false signal generation, etc. and the problems compound.

      The problems go on and on.

      I strongly suspect that your casual assumption of good comms is far from correct.

    6. You're correct now but we were talking 30 years in the future - history shows that we will be 3-4 generations of computing technology further on by then.

    7. History shows that the jamming, disruption, cyber-attacks, electronic countermeasures, anti-satellite weapons, etc. will be 3-4 generations of computing technology further on by then.

      Communications on the battlefield has ALWAYS been problematic. Why would you think that will change in the future?

      This is an example of the tendency in the West to believe that only we have improving technology and that all our technology will work and none of the enemy's technology will work. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    8. No it isn't, it's a statement that processing speed, redundancy, and distributed nodes will be far more advanced than they are now. Yes I share with you the belief that Western governments are over-optimistic about comms denial but I don't share your pessimism that the enemy will be able to block most of it, most of the time.

    9. In the absence of absolute proof, you may believe that our comms will be just fine even though all the evidence that we have (scanty, to be sure) suggests otherwise.

      Related note: Have you researched the available evidence - that would be Afghanistan, Ukraine, and Russia, primarily? I suspect you haven't or you almost couldn't have the opinion you do. I suspect you have nothing more than a blind belief.

      We had intermittent difficulties in Afg, mostly due to geography and weather, rather than enemy activity but if mere geography and weather can disrupt comms, even somewhat, what does that suggest about the contested battlefield?

      The Russian proxy invasion of Ukraine has demonstrated advanced comms breakdown and disruption.

      The Russians have demonstrated wide ranging adverse impacts on GPS (not comms, per se) from their own side of the borders along various countries.

      The US Army is, currently, frantically working on counter anti-comms as a result of what they've seen in Ukraine. Clearly, they've concluded that battlefield comms will be significantly disrupted.

      Many peacetime incidents we've seen have involved degraded commms such as the Iranian seizure of our riverine boats and crews. While not a primary cause, lost/disrupted comms did come into play - again, in a non-contested, peacetime scenario.

      When you add all that up, it's very difficult to come to any other conclusion than that comms will be significantly disrupted.

      I'll repeat, have you actually researched the issue? If you have, how do you explain away all the available evidence?

    10. You don't seem to have read my last post. I said I agree with you that governments are currently overly optimistic but I have worked in this area and am very familiar with the issues and don't share your pessimism on future developments. Comms will be disrupted but not enough to stop the bulk of mission objectives.

    11. Well, pending realistic tests (highly unlikely) or actual war (more likely!) we'll just have to wait and see who's right.

  12. …(at the risk of entering the lion's [shark's] mouth)...there is something to the "swarm" approach. In WW2 at Salamar, there were 16 CVE carriers. Each carried only 28 planes, but combined they carried almost 450 aircraft-the same as four fleet carriers of the time. Each easier to sink, but the each single loss was less than for a fleet carrier...and they could separate or assemble as requirements dictated..

    1. Even better than 16 carriers with 450 aircraft total would be 450 carriers, each with one aircraft. That's the logical extension of the swarm theory.

      The problem is that it is very inefficient in all respects. For example, the 16 CVEs required a total crew of around 15,000 versus four Essex class carriers which carried around 400 aircraft total and required only 10,000 crew.

      The 16 CVEs required 16 complete sets of spare parts and maintenance facilities versus only 4 for the equivalent Essex carriers.

      And so on.

      Smaller carriers are simple less efficient which is what every study ever conducted has concluded.

      The only significant advantage is that the greater numbers of the CVEs mitigated the impact of the loss any one, as you noted. The flip side is that the greater numbers INCREASE the odds of some of the carriers being found, attacked, and sunk - 16 are easier to find then 4. Closely related, the smaller carriers lack the protective armor, speed, and defensive weapons of the larger carriers and, thus, ARE MORE LIKELY TO BE HIT AND SUNK.

      When you really start analyzing it from all aspects, there is no good argument for small carriers.

    2. On that logic, why 4 fleet carriers? Why not 1 giant one?

    3. "On that logic, why 4 fleet carriers? Why not 1 giant one?"

      I know you're being snarky but I'll answer seriously because it illustrates the central issue in ship design.

      We did, in effect, move to one giant one when we progressed from 30,000 ton Essex fleet carriers to 100,000 ton Fords. What did not increase in size was the air wing numbers.

      Size versus numbers is a balance - a series of balances, in fact. It's a balance between size and detectability, for example. It's a balance between centralized efficiency and dispersal allowing multiple ships to be in more than one location. It's a balance between dispersion for risk reduction and massing for attack and defense. And so on - balance after balance. The sweet spot has always been found to be a carrier that can operate an air wing of 90+ aircraft.

    4. There's also the issue that aircraft have grown in size since WW2 - Intruders are a lot bigger than Devastators, for instance, and the Hawkeye is an order of magnitude larger than the AEW Skyraider.

    5. Aircraft have, indeed, grown in size though nowhere near an order of magnitude! The phrase "order of magnitude" means a factor of 10x. The Hawkeye, for example, is about 1.5-1.8x a Skyraider depending on which dimension you want to consider.

      The Intruder is around 1.5x longer than a Devastator but the two have nearly identical wingspans.

      The Super Hornet is 20 ft longer than a TBM Avenger but 10 ft shorter in wingspan.

  13. …(Donnie McCollor) my thanks for your kind consideration of my post and your constructive comments. Indeed it is a trade off...I acknowledge your arguments...but for one thing. A big carrier was put out of action off Vietnam without any enemy attack...

    1. I'm guessing that you're referring to the Forrestal conflagration. No one has ever claimed that a large ship can't be damaged or sunk! On the other hand, the Forrestal's large size and large crew allowed for more effective damage control and fire fighting. A smaller carrier might not have survived that amount of damage.

    2. There were two other carriers with big fires during Vietnam. USS Enterprise (big nuke) in 1969 and USS Oriskany (Essex class) in 1966. All three ships survived but required repairs.

  14. There is one advantage of two smaller carriers over one large carrier. Launching and recovering aircraft in a raid. The two smaller carriers can get a larger number of aircraft aloft in a set time span. This is however often negated by the size of each aircraft and the payload. Two Midway class versus one Gerald Ford?

    1. That's a good point on the sortie rate issue; two medium carriers can outdo one big carrier. At some point, the big nuke carrier will have to stop fight ops so it can take on more ordinance and aircraft fuel. With two medium conventional carriers, one can still conduct flight ops while the other re-arms and re-fuels.

    2. That's not really how naval operations and battles occur. You're thinking of the Vietnam type of operations where carriers sit off a coast and rotate on and off station as needed to replenish.

      As shown repeatedly in WWII, carrier GROUPS (not one carrier) top off, conduct a mission/battle, and then retire AS A GROUP to replenish.

      The group would never be broken up to send one carrier off to replenish and a precious logistics supply ship would never be risked anywhere near an active combat zone.

      Naval operations/battles are generally quite short in duration. For example, the battle of Midway lasted around 4 days. The battle of Coral Sea lasted about 4 days. The battle of Santa Cruz lasted about 3 days. And so on.

    3. You go tell my uncle, who was an avionics tech on the Ticonderoga during Vietnam, that he wasn't in a real naval operation. Just kidding, I understand the point you're making. There is a difference between a blue-water naval battle and naval operations supporting a ground war. We should be prepared for either. The sortie rate is used as a justification for the Ford's high cost, which could be exceeded by building two mid sized conventional carriers.

    4. Sortie rate is not, and never has been a limiting factor in carrier warfare. Can you name any example in history of carriers being sortie rate limited?

    5. I don't know of any historical examples of carriers being sortie limited, but it is still used as a selling point on the super expensive Ford class.

    6. Sortie rate IS used as a justification for the Ford, however, it's both an inaccurate claim and a false one. It's inaccurate in that the claimed sortie rates are unachievable as documented in various reports since the claims are based on unrealistic scenarios. It's false for the reason I stated - sortie rates have never limited carrier combat.

      Speed is used as a selling point for the LCS and yet no one has come up with a tactical or operational use for it yet. Just because something is used as a selling point doesn't make it valid.

  15. I think the Nimitz/Ford is about the right size. I have years of my life aboard those along with America/Forestal class carriers 1976-1998. About the same size deck and airwing size. Re the Midway or anything smaller- this goes back to the CVS/CVA into "CV" concept...

    Hence, I am of the opinion to make the Ford "right" and buy as many as you can.

    What irritates me the worse than the small carrier story are the anti-CVN carrier groups active my entire life that now include our own Marines/Gator navy and Shoes who openly tout the ARG classes of Jeep carriers, only suited for LIC or maybe a NEO, as alternatives with their small numbers of F-35Bs and V-22's, to a CVN airwing ...Those who tout those ideas put our nation in peril IMO.. However in todays environment of USMC leadership at all levels for DoD that kind of thinking has proponents...

    Another factor against any of this talk is the size and composition of the airwing embarked. I know airwing power projection and control of the sea blue water... No whiz bang talk about GPS LGB and JDAM is gonna change my mind as Wild Goose goes on about up above....We need more purpose built naval aviation platforms with sufficient unrefueled range and performance- call them medium or light attack, a true fighter capability and an S-3 like vehicle with the P-8 ASW systems aboard, that can go 2800nm unrefueled like the S-3, and carry large ship killing weapons with a 100-200nm range.. The EW/ECM, helo mix of the present airwing is right about now...

    Wild Goose and his generation (End of Cold War to today era) have given us what we have today....Is it really sufficient? Is good enough really "good enough"?

    Get to 16 CVNs and 90 aircraft air wings supplemented by more destroyers, cruisers and SSNs with that mix of purpose built aircraft, and we will be back in the saddle again, (IE- "America Great Again" Navy-wise) just like the 1989 US Navy I was in that defeated the Soviets without a shot being fired!


    1. Keep it impersonal. Discuss the idea, not the person.

    2. "size and composition of the airwing"

      I have a post coming on this. Hang in there!

    3. I think the US really lucked out with the Forrestal design, in getting the framework right on the first time; every carrier since Forrestal has basically been an iterative evolution and improvement on the Forrestal, but if you made a newbuild Forrestal today, shipwise it would still be a viable warship. (Of course, systems wise you'd still need to update it, but it's like an old house with a strong foundation and solid frame and walls.)

      I personally think that to be really viable the carrier air wing does need 5 combat squadrons and 60 tactical aircraft on its decks, and the US needs at least 15 carriers (5 active, 5 refit, 5 working up, 1 active carrier for each ocean + 1 reserve to backstop crisis zones), but the problem is that there hasn't been the will or the money for that, and to a great extent, the US hasn't fought a peer opponent since Desert Storm, so the taxpaying public thinks everything is A-okay and hunky-dory.

      Also guided bombs are terrible weapons to use against ships, but then for the last 20 years it's not like anybody has had much of a navy to fight with, have they? :p The US has more Burkes than other navies have ships total, and nobody had the kind of srsface warships you needed big fuckoff shipkillers to take out... until China started its buildup, anyhow. :V That said Harpoon should really have been replaced years ago; at least the OASuW program is apparently settling on NSM and LRASM as the future missiles, both of which will be more effective than Harpoon on account of multimode seekers to mitigate jamming and decoys, and stealthy airframes so as to be less obvious targets for point defenses, not like Harpoon's big unsubtle body. :v

      The problem is that the USN is still reaping the aftereffects of the Peace Dividend drawdown, and spending the last 20 years playing on easy mode, and now people are starting to wake up and realise that after neglecting the ASuW mission for decades to concentrate on dropping JDAMs on brown people, now the yellow people are making a fleet of ships to challenge the USN on the high seas and the USN now has to go to cram school and relearn what it's forgotten, hence the recent Fleet Problem XXIII. Which is both good and bad because on one hand, the BLUFOR carrier penetrated guarded battlespace and sucessfully launched strikes and escaped, on the other hand, the OPFOR carrier had absolutely no clue where the BLUFOR carrier was and had to be called up on day 3 and told where they were so that _some_ training could be achieved. :V

      For now, and for the last 25 years, the current composition of the air wing is "good enough" if the US does not intend to fight a serious war with a serious opponent (and historically, the last time the USN fought a peer opponent was Midway 1942). If the US isn't going to get into a shooting war with China in the next 10-20 years from now, the current air wing will remain good enough. For all the talk of a pivot to asia, a full-on war between America and China isn't going to be happening tomorrow; and so long as the status quo holds, the current airwing comp will be sufficient.

      But if the US is serious about fighting china, well, congress is going to have to release more money for training to build squadrons back up to full strength, to go back to a full air wing, to allocate money for training and maintennance.

      And please, none of this "cancel the F-35" memes. At 300 aircraft built and delievered and with full rate production on the horizon, the that ship has sailed years ago. Besides, you can't build back up an air wing if you don't buy the planes for the air wing. ;^) :P

    4. "I think the US really lucked out with the Forrestal design, in getting the framework right on the first time;"

      There was no luck involved. The Forrestal was an evolutionary development dating back to the first carrier. Each feature was an improvement of previous features. The design was the result of experience and lessons learned in blood. There was no luck involved.

      "Also guided bombs are terrible weapons to use against ships,"

      Who, aside from you, thinks otherwise? Spears are also a terrible weapon for use against ships, if we're just listing terrible weapons for use against ships.

      "brown people, now the yellow people"

      You'll clean this up or forfeit the right to comment. We can make our points without this language.

      "please, none of this "cancel the F-35" memes"

      Please, none of this "we're already committed" meme. We've demonstrated in previous posts how to build a state of the art fighter and have it in full production in five years. There is absolutely no viable reason we can't drop the F-35.

    5. Considering that the USN was well on its way to adopting the United States design, which quite possibly wouldn't have worked out as well as the Forrestal... that's what I mean with luck. :p

      As for the whole guided bombs bit, I was aiming that at Anonymous above, who seems to think I'm advocating for using LGBs and JDAMs against ships, which I certainly am not doing lol. Paveways and JDAMs are great weapons to use on stationary targets, but are lot less so against a warship making 30 knots on the open sea. That's what we have guided missiles for. (Oh, sure, a 2000 lb L-JDAM or Paveway is going to hurt any ship it hits, but that's reliant on the self-lasing launching aircraft or the buddy-lasing aircraft to remain inside SAM engagement envelope until the weapon hits. Not an idea I'm very fond of!)

      I'd be quite interested to see your posts on how developing a state of the art fighter and taking it to full production would take five years. Not to say that it can't be done - the Skyhawk and Cobra had pretty swift developments, as I recall - but those were simpler aircraft and times.

      Though there is a faster way to replace the F-35: call up Dassault and order 2400 Rafales. No development time needed, and the Rafale follows the same playbook as the F-35 anyhow. :p Of course, it's French, which could be a dealbreaker, but it's also a rather beautiful and graceful airplane, compared to the F-35's penguin-like cuteness. On the other hand, at 81.79 million apiece, the Rafale isn't really that much cheaper than the F-35.

    6. "Paveways and JDAMs are great weapons to use on stationary targets, but are lot less so against a warship making 30 knots on the open sea."

      Again, only you have brought up laser guided bombs against ships. Anon's comment was,

      "No whiz bang talk about GPS LGB and JDAM ..."

      Not only did he not mention using them against ships, he was somewhat downplaying their value.

      One of the on-going challenges in moderating this blog is to make sure that commenters address what was actually said rather than what they think was said. Please be sure to keep this firmly in mind in future comments. The standards and requirements on this blog may be higher than you're used to and may take some getting used to but the effort will reward everyone with better discussions.

    7. CNOPS/Goose- In retrospect, the US Navy went from "We can do it all" in 1989 to, we can do most of it by 1998 (minus), to lets go "From the Sea"/Brown water/Sand Pebbles style, in order to keep Big Navy "relevant" during the ground wars and BO administration.... Proof?- as per the Shoes in charge during that era, let us send "IAs" to theater so we can get participation points with the Bush Administration.... Meanwhile, in naval aviation they changed functional names to the "Chief of Naval AIR FORCES" because it seemed the joint thing to do during the ongoing Mujh Wars to today. Oh yes, JDAM ends all ground conflicts quickly as Goose points out...Meanwhile on the flip side we spend money and time on SDBs, mini rockets, etc etc. Did I tell you that the HARPOON Block 1C is till the frontline W-A-S weapon for the US Navy? Same as my day...

      As a result of the New World order handed him in 1993, Clinton started spending the Peace Dividend and changed every serving naval officer into a real cost cutting fitrep bullet machine. Meanwhile that powerful bluewater Navy, I remember well, has atrophied to the point that the knuckleheads today can't come to grips with what is really needed to re-establish a "Real Navy". It will also take more (holistically) than just reaching 350 ships....

      I say to them- Open your eyes, it's right there in plain sight from the past- update it of course with technology, but don't get too Sci Fi complicated and also realize you're better off with pilots (warriors) flying the weapons around and training through attrition and pyramids, actually producing qualified watch standers at TAO/OOD/CDO on our warships. All because we also need to develop "Navy Warrior"s to lead the Fleet in the future... Why's that? Without warriors, it ain't War- it's just Killing.... I realize there are not too many Shoes today going ship to ship with a cutlass, and even Navy SEAL ops are 4-8 man small unit night events (super tactical)...We need to develop strategic naval war planners/fighters from our shoes/aviators/bubbleheads, not just elite commando frogmen (God love em) trigger pullers to lead the US Navy.... BLNUF- We need more of the right people and more Big Navy "STUFF"...

    8. "I'd be quite interested to see your posts on how developing a state of the art fighter and taking it to full production would take five years."

      As outlined in the Comment Policy page, it is the reader's responsibility to have a grasp of certain naval basics. One of those is naval history. A knowledge of naval history would tell you that the F-14, for example, went from design contract award in 1969 to first flight in 1970 (1 year!) and squadron service in 1974!! For its time, the F-14 was every bit as advanced as the F-35. Other aircraft have followed similar rapid development cycles. Even the AF's F-15 which had a design contract award in 1969, achieved first flight in 1972 - I don't know when it entered production. We've simply forgotten how to build aircraft and have come to believe that 20 yr development cycles are normal. They are not.

      It is also the reader's responsibility to be familiar with the archives and what has been discussed previously. I have no problem with offering an occasional archival reference but I am not a personal research assistant.

      You also need to understand your role in this blog. It is NOT my responsibility or requirement to "prove" anything to the reader. I offer this blog and its well research, well written, insightful posts as an educational service. The reader is free to accept the wisdom or reject it. There is no requirement for me to "prove" anything.

      As a courtesy, I'm going to offer this link to the post on building an aircraft. In the future, I trust you'll do your own research and become familiar with the archives.

      How To Build A Better Aircraft

  16. "Let’s take a look at the first attempt by the Navy to build a small carrier, the USS Wasp, CV-7."

    I would argue that the Ranger, CV-4, was the Navy's first attempt at a small carrier.

    1. Ranger was the first purpose built carrier and was a bit of an unknown to the designers. They weren't intentionally building a small carrier, they were just building a carrier that happened to be small due to the tonnage limitations of the Washington Naval Treaty.

      Wasp, in contrast, was a conscious design attempt to produce a smaller carrier as an alternative to the larger ones.


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