Consider: USS Ronald Reagan, CVN-76, is forward deployed and home ported in Yokosuka, Japan along with some escort ships as part of the troubled 7th Fleet.
is just over 1000 miles from Yokosuka – easy cruise or ballistic missile
distance. Shanghai, China
Consider: Force Z was a British task force consisting of two battleships, HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, and four destroyers. Leaving
, the group was sent to sea where it
was quickly spotted by Japanese submarines and aircraft and subjected to
repeated attacks by land based aircraft.
Four attack waves of aircraft sank the two battleships on Singapore 10-Dec-1941 just a few days after the Japanese
attack on Pearl
Harbor. On paper, Force Z was a powerful group but it
found itself operating in enemy territory, at the start of the war, without air
cover. It had no chance.
|HMS Prince of Wales|
So, what’s the link between the USS Ronald Reagan and Force Z? Well, the parallels should be obvious. When war with
starts, the Reagan will be forward
deployed in enemy territory or, at least, within enemy reach, and if it
attempts to move it will have limited air cover. If China is part of the war, the Japanese
Air Force will be too busy defending their homeland to provide aerial coverage
for a carrier at sea. If Japan is not part of the war, there will
be no Japanese air cover at all. Japan Guam’s aircraft will be fully occupied
(or destroyed!) defending their base and will be unable to provide air cover.
|USS Ronald Reagan|
No matter how you look at it, the Reagan will have limited air cover.
Wait, what now? Limited air cover? It’s a carrier! It has its own air cover. Well, that’s technically true but for all practical purposes it’s nearly irrelevant. You’ll recall that we’ve discussed the fact that carriers in war will operate in groups of 3-4 (4 being ComNavOps preferred number). It will require 3-4 carriers operating together to mass sufficient air power to survive in combat. A single carrier with, currently, only around 38 Hornets (another half dozen are required for tanking and unavailable for combat) is not exactly a powerful air force and would have a very hard time defending itself for very long against a sustained Chinese assault. Those aircraft will be quickly attrited in combat or due to simple mechanical failings.
The Reagan is forward deployed to
and would be faced with two
unpalatable choices at the outset of war. Japan
- Stand and fight – and be sunk.
- Run for safer waters around
Guamor Pearl Harbor.
Running, the only real choice, would subject the carrier to repeated submarine, anti-ship cruise missile, and, possibly, anti-ship ballistic missiles. The odds of successfully escaping are not great.
If running is the preferred, albeit poor, option, it leads to the question, why have the carrier based in
to begin with? Japan
Is it for the carrier’s deterrent effect? We’ve often discussed the concept of deterrence and concluded that there is no evidence that deterrence works. In fact, the recent evidence is absolutely conclusive that deterrence does not work.
, the obvious deterrence target of a
China based carrier, has flouted international law and
treaties, built illegal artificial islands and militarized them, used military
intimidation against Japan and Vietnam , seized the entire Philippines South China Sea, and begun laying the groundwork
for seizing the second island chain. If
that’s deterrence at work, I’d hate to think about what would have done without it! Clearly, deterrence is not a valid reason to
have a carrier forward based. China
Is it for the carrier’s rapid response to a sudden outbreak of war? As we just noted, there is nothing a single carrier can do in a peer war except go down fighting. On a related note, if
opts to attack China at the outset of war, the addition
of 38 Hornets to the total Japanese defensive effort isn’t going to make any
big difference even assuming that the carrier isn’t sunk pierside in the
opening shots. Clearly, rapid response
is not a good reason to have a carrier forward based. Japan
So, why do we have a carrier forward based? It makes no sense.
Now, just because a carrier is forward based in
doesn’t mean that it can’t be
pulled out to safety in the run up to a war.
Peer wars simply don’t start with no warning. However, if the plan is to pull the carrier
out prior to a war and if deterrence isn’t effective then why is it there to
begin with? Japan