Monday, November 5, 2018

Carrier Strike

As I read comments, I can see that there is a lot of misunderstanding about what a carrier does and how it does it.  The purpose of a carrier is strike, either directly via its own air wing or indirectly by clearing air space and establishing temporary air superiority for Air Force bombers to attack or by escorting Tomahawk missile shooters (Burkes).  Let’s look at the case of a direct strike.

We have a couple of data points to use in our analysis.  The US launched a strike against a Syrian air base in 2017 and against a Syrian R&D center, just recently, in 2018.  Those strikes used 76 and 60 missiles, respectively.  Those were small, undefended targets.  In the case of the Syrian air base, the goal wasn’t even to destroy the air base, just to damage it to some degree.  Many buildings were left untouched.  So, 70 missiles is the very low end of what’s required to destroy a small, undefended target.

Let’s consider a carrier strike on such a target.

The strike weapon of the carrier is the F-18 Super Hornet.  Let’s assume each strike aircraft carries two long range strike weapons such as these:


Thus, we need a minimum of 35 strike aircraft to carry the 70 missiles required for a small, undefended target.  The exact number of missiles carried would, of course, depend on the range to the target, the flight profile of the aircraft, the endurance required, the likelihood of air combat maneuvering, the availability of refueling, and other factors.  Lacking a specific scenario, two major weapons seems a reasonable load and would probably be combined with some air-to-air missiles and fuel tanks.  Again, two strike weapons per aircraft seems reasonable.

Now, who are we kidding?  We’re talking about a carrier strike so we’re at war.  War means the target will be defended.  That means we need to double the number of missiles as many will be shot down.  So, now we’re up to 70 strike aircraft needed.

Of course, we’re going to need electronic warfare assistance for the strike.  Let’s call it 6 EA-18G Growlers.  We’ll also want some dedicated HARM shooters.  Let’s call it 6 more aircraft.

Enemy aircraft will decimate the strike so we’ll need some escort fighters.  Let’s say 30 Hornets.

We’ll want to set up a few barrier and target Combat Air Patrols (BARCAP, TARCAP) to interdict likely enemy aircraft approach routes.  We did this routinely in Vietnam and that wasn’t even remotely a peer combat situation.  Let’s say 6 aircraft each for a total of 12.

We need tankers.  Again, without any specifics we’ll say a dozen tankers.  If we don’t have the unmanned MQ-25 tanker then the tankers come from the Hornet ranks.

Now, as we send this strike off, we’ll need to defend the carrier, too.  We can’t leave it defenseless.  What would suffice for carrier defense?  Two or three dozen fighters, maybe?  Let’s call it 30.  We’ll need some electronic warfare aircraft to help in the defense.  Let’s call it 6.  We’ll want a few Hawkeyes for airborne early warning and battle management.  Let’s call it 3.  We’ll need recovery tankers – another 8.

So, where are we at on this strike, so far?  Here’s the totals.

F-18     148
EA-18     12
Tanker    20
E-2        3

Total    183

Now, recall that an air wing has around 44 F-18s, 4-6 EA-18G, 0 tankers, 4 E-2. 

My goodness!  Our strike is going to need more aircraft than a single carrier even has!  For F-18’s alone, we’ll need 3.4 carrier’s worth and that assumes that we have a dedicated unmanned tanker.  If not, we need 168 F-18s which is 3.8 carriers worth.

Of course, all this calculating assumes that every aircraft is available to fly and that the air wings are at full strength and have suffered no attrition from previous combat.  The reality is that we need to allow for a 10% unavailability, at least – likely more in war.  However, we’ll ignore this aspect for now.

We can’t have partial carriers so we see that we need 4 carriers to conduct a single strike.  Hey, isn’t that what ComNavOps has been saying all along?


Almost, But We Need Four!


We also note that if the target is larger than a small air base or R&D building, we’ll need even bigger strike packages.  Oops!  We can’t assemble a bigger strike package.  This small effort maxed us out!  There’s a lesson here about numbers.  Even the mighty, invincible F-35 can’t strike and defend the carrier at the same time.  The old Nimitz carriers started out with nearly double the air wing size we have now.  The conclusion is obvious - our air wings are not properly sized for high end combat.

It’s also now painfully obvious why carriers have to operate in groups.

Another obvious lesson/conclusion is that carriers shouldn’t be conducting strikes.  Attacking peer defended targets is a job for stand-off missiles with significant range – Tomahawks.  We need to seriously rethink our carrier doctrine.  I’ve stated that I believe the role of the modern carrier is to escort the Tomahawk shooters (Burkes) and establish local air superiority for Air Force strikes.  Now you can see why.

Some of you are thinking, 183 aircraft for a single mission?  That’s ridiculous.  Well, it only seems ridiculous to you because it’s been so long since we’ve had to conduct peer naval combat that we’ve forgotten what real strikes are and what they require.  For example, the WWII Battle of the Philippine Sea (The Great Marinanas Turkey Shoot) involved 900 US carrier aircraft.  The Nov 1943 attack on Rabaul involved almost 300 carrier aircraft.  And so on.  We’ve simply forgotten.

And, for every idiotic argument along the lines of, “now we have precision guided weapons so we don’t need as many aircraft”, recall that the defenders now have precision guided anti-aircraft weapons so we’ll need MORE weapons and aircraft – it cuts both ways and the net result is a wash.


Now you have a better idea of what a carrier strike is and what it entails.

81 comments:

  1. Hi ComNavOps, long time reader, first time commenter. I've been preparing a long comment on your last post about about ship armor and weapons and its relationship to cost, fleet size, and attritable (or "usable" as you say) platforms. In the meantime, what do you think the doctrinal change you suggest - using carriers primarily as local air superiority - means for air wing composition.

    The F/A-18 and F-35 are good planes, but their second rate air superiority fighters at best - especially the F-35 with its limited missile capacity and poor maneuverability. Would you suggest a more dedicated Air Wing focused on AAW and ASW? What would that entail?

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    1. Luke, welcome!

      You're quite right that a doctrinal change in carrier roles would require a change in air wing composition. Well done to recognize that and make that connection.

      The air wing would need very long range air superiority fighters. Conceptually, such a fighter would be a blend of f-22 and F-14 with added range and a maximized weapons carry capacity.

      As you note, fixed wing ASW would be very desirable.

      I would also include a squadron or two of strike for the lower end threat environments. Conceptually, a modernized A-6.

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    2. "I would also include a squadron or two of strike for the lower end threat environments. Conceptually, a modernized A-6."

      Theoretically this is a potential secondary use for CBARS, which would go a long way towards relieving the strain on the Super Hornet fleet. If Boeing doesn't fuck it up and if the program matures well, I could see CBARS becoming a 21st century A-6 equivalent, albeit remotely piloted UCAVs. You'd have an overstrength MQ-21 squadron of 14 or more aircraft, like the combined A-6/KA-6 squadrons of old, with aircraft assigned as needed to tanker and strike duties.

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    3. "The F/A-18 and F-35 are good planes, but their second rate air superiority fighters at best - especially the F-35 with its limited missile capacity and poor maneuverability."

      @Luke C. : Generally I agree with you: the F-35 isn't my first choice as an air superiority fighter, but for a multirole strike fighter I'd say it's maneuverable _enough_. I feel we need to keep things into perspective. The F-35C looks bad if you compare it with internal AAM loadout. If you put AAMs on the external stores - twin AAM rails on the 4 wing pylons, Sidewinder apiece on the outerwing rails, you get 14 AAMs: Par with the Super Hornet, almost double the AAM load of the F-15, F-14 or F-22. Complaints about the F-35's supposed poor maneuverability need to be put into perspective: David Axe's hitpiece that has been oft-quoted was a validation test, not a 1v1 dogfight; reports from test pilots indicate that the F-35's kinematics are a blend of the F-16 and F/A-18. It can't do sustained turn like an F-16, but it has tremendous alpha and can snapturn like a legacy F/A-18, while it accelerates like an F-16, which covers one of the weaknesses of the legacy Hornet and the Rhino: the relatively underpowered engines and sluggish acceleration.

      At the same time, it's true that it's not in the same kinematics ballpark as the F-22, or the Rafale, or the PAK-FA, or the Su-35. What LM is banking on is that sensor fusion, the stealth airframe and self defense ECM capable of emitting in deception and fuckoff jamming modes, will allow the F-35 to have superior situational awareness over potential adversaries, being able to see the opposition first. On one hand, this is a legitimate argument: CSBA did a study of dogfights from Korea to Desert Storm, and their conclusion was that situational awareness is the key determinant of victory, more so than kinematics - which jives with Boyd's OODA loop theory. On the other hand, if you look at what Dassault is doing with the Rafale F3 and F4, and what EADS and Sukhoi are trying to do with the Typhoon, PAK-FA and Su-35, all the other aircraft manufacturers are going for sensor fusion like Lockmart, but they're not betting everything on stealth: all their designs emphasise kinematics more so than RCS reduction.

      tl;dr: the F-35 isn't going to be *that* much kinematically superior to the F-16 and F/A-18, but at the very worst case it's not going to handle appreciably worse than its predecessors. The airframe is rated for 9G (A) and 7.5G (C, same G rating as other USN tactical aircraft including F-14), so we know it *can* turn and burn if need be.

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    4. "The air wing would need very long range air superiority fighters. Conceptually, such a fighter would be a blend of f-22 and F-14 with added range and a maximized weapons carry capacity."

      @ComNavOps: Well, that's what F/A-XX is supposed to be, but that's still vaporware. I think the USN is making a mistake in wanting to jump to a 6th generation fighter, when the 5th generation isn't so understood or widespread, when people don't even know what a 6th generation fighter is supposed to be. There's nothing wrong with a 5th generation fighter as a Super Hornet replacement.

      For the clean sheet replacement of the Super Hornet as air superiority fighter/fleet defense interceptor, I'd basically want:

      - stealth airframe
      - sensor fusion & ECM leveraging the F-35's sensor fusion, to make use of the R&D already done
      - learn from the mistakes/weaknesses of the F-22's design. That means open architecture like the F-35 and Rafale for easier upgrades, being able to plug and play systems/components, a weapons bay that can accomodate a wider spectrum of air to air and air to ground ordnance, wing hardpoints wired for weapons carriage, not just fuel.
      - supercruise: very useful ability. Nice to have, but can be done without, but it would be a very nice bonus.
      - better kinematics than the F-35. At the very least it should be on par with the F-15, being able to turn and burn and boom and zoom at will.
      - weapons carriage: 8 AAMs carried in internal bays. Provision for additional AAMs to be carried on wing hardpoints, potentially up to 16 AAMs total.

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    5. " If you put AAMs on the external stores "

      This is a flawed and disingenuous argument on several levels. If the environment is permissive enough that stealth is not needed then the F-35 is not needed.

      The F-35's marginal aerodynamic performance assessment is based on a fairly (or totally?) clean airframe. If the airframe is loaded with external ordnance, the performance, range, maneuverability, etc. decrease even further. In contrast, the F-16/18/15 were designed for external ordnance and their performance is with external loads. Of course, the larger the load, the worse the performance but the point is that the external loads are baked into the performance.

      Apples and apples.

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    6. "banking on is that sensor fusion"

      That might have been a good bet ten or fifteen years ago but now everyone has sensor fusion to some extent and the degree is increasing all the time. The F-35 is no longer unique or even mildly exceptional.

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    7. "Conceptually, such a fighter would be a blend of f-22 and F-14 with added range and a maximized weapons carry capacity."

      How could we improve range and/or further weapons capacity of the F-22 AND make it carrier-capable? The F-22 already has a max takeoff weight higher than our catapult weight limits, and it would still need the necessary structural reinforcements (and the commensurate weight) to operate from a carrier consistently.

      In other words, I was under the impression ~8 missiles and a couple thousand miles of range was as good as it was going to get for a carrier-based interceptor.

      What am I missing?

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    8. "What am I missing?"

      @JoeyFranks: What ComNavOps means is that the _concept_ would blend elements of the F-22 and the F-14. There are similarities between the two: both are large, capable air superiority fighters with good weapons load and powerful sensors. A clean sheet design would need to have stealth and a good internal weapons capacity, a sophisticated AESA radar, excellent kinematics (F-22 elements); sensor fusion and AESA radar, SAR imaging, EO & IR (F-35 elements), and have the F-14's range. Take the strengths of the various aircraft and blend them together.

      As one oldtimer explained the F-16 back in the 80s: "I've been flying the F-16 for the last 30 years, they just handn't built it yet."

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    9. "and have the F-14's range"

      No objections to the concept, but the F-14's range was less than the F-22!

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    10. @JoeyFranks: Well, if you go by the fact sheets, the F-14D's combat radius is greater than the F-22s (but not by that much, admittedly).

      Regardless of how F/A-XX shapes up I would argue that its weapons bay needs to be more accommodating of air to ground weapons; the F-22's weapons bay is optimised for AAM carriage and is limited in what air to ground weapons it can carry.

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    11. @ComNavOps: I feel if one terms the F-35's kinematics marginal, then the F-16 and F/A-18's kinematics ought to likewise be termed as marginal. The F-16 has good accel and sustained turn performance, but poor instantaneous turn and low angle of attack. The F/A-18 has high angle of attack and good instantaneous turn, but poor sustained turn and low acceleration. The F-35 has high angle of attack, good instantaneous turn and good acceleration. *shrug* Understand that I'm not advocating for anything here, I'm simply pointing out that perspective is necessary.

      There is an argument that can be made that as the F-35 is going to be the "low" end of the future hi-lo mix, where PCA and F/A-XX are going to be the air superiority "high" end of the spectrum, a kinematics profile on par with the light teen fighters that the F-35 is replacing is therefore an acceptable compromise. On the other hand, that argument is significantly undermined by the fact that PCA and F/A-XX have barely progressed beyond the design studies stage.

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    12. "How could we improve range and/or further weapons capacity of the F-22 AND make it carrier-capable?"

      I'm not suggesting that we literally try to adapt the F-22 to carrier service. I'm saying that we take the features of the F-22 and F-14 and blend them to make an outstanding air superiority carrier fighter. I also noted the need for greater range which ought to be possible with focused design and today's engines. Look at the ranges of the A-6, F-14, and F-22. With a range-optimized design and modern engines we should be able to significantly improve on those ranges.

      Regarding catapult weights, carrier aircraft never launch at max weights. In fact, they rarely even launch with full fuel loads so weights are not an issue.

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    13. I understand what you are saying. I like the idea, and I think it is a necessary piece of any air wing.

      "With a range-optimized design and modern engines we should be able to significantly improve on those ranges."

      Data? How much improvement in engine technology has happened since the F-22? As best I can tell, optimizing a design for better fuel economy is going to take away from maneuverability. I just haven't seen anything to suggest you can build an air superiority fighter with more than two thousand miles of range and still be able to maneuver like it needs to and be supersonic. At some point physics takes over, and I think we are getting to that point in aircraft design and fuel efficiency where future improvements will be measured in single percentage points. I am looking to be proved wrong though if you have some data I haven't found.

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    14. The F-22 P&W F-119 engines are now a generation or so behind. Improvements have been made. In fact, dual mode engines are now being developed. Range can also be enhanced by increasing fuel fraction in the design of the aircraft. The F-22 is now decades old. We've improved engines since then!

      WWII aircraft designers undoubtedly thought they were at the single percentage improvement point and look where we are now. Improvements always occur - we just can't see them coming!

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    15. @Joey Franks: The big thing in future engine development is going to be variable cycle engines, which can be made to work optimally in various flight regimes. It's been speculated that the USAF wants adaptive cycle engines for the B-21 and a future F-35A reengine program.

      The overly simplified tl;dr is that with engines you have to spec for one of two regimes: either subsonic cruise (i.e. most commercial engines, A-6) or supersonic performance, but this means your engine is limited to one flight regime, or is inefficient when flying outside of the specced flight regime. A variable cycle engine would allow the engine to perform optimally at subsonic and supersonic flight regimes, thereby reducing fuel consumption and extending range and endurance.

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  2. The Air Force wants 74 more squadrons, what does the AF understand that the Navy doesn't ?
    A useful exercise would be bringing two Cv up to war wing strength, relearn how to handle a full size carrier air wing.

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    1. I don't understand your question. Are you asking why the AF thinks numbers are important and the Navy doesn't? If so, I can't explain the Navy's thinking on almost any of its decisions. Very few make sense!

      Your idea of assembling a full size air wing is excellent! I'd love to see the Navy try that. Along with that, the Navy needs to exercise 4 carriers as a group - the way they'll fight in a war.

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  3. [QUOTE]to escort the Tomahawk shooters (Burkes)[/QUOTE]

    Would that not also be to provide air protection for B-52s and B-1s delivering JASSM-ERs or AGM-158C LRASMs. My understanding is that a CV group has a SSN escort (could be wrong). Should the ones in the Pacific have say a B-52 escort as well.

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    1. Yes. I've stated that the role of the carrier is to escort the Tomahawk shooters and to establish local air superiority for AF bombers (attack lanes, so to speak).

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  4. My first thought was Operation El Dorado Canyon:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1986_United_States_bombing_of_Libya

    Wow, forgot that 3 CARRIERS WERE INVOLVED!!! USS Saratoga, USS America and USS Coral Sea were on station in the Gulf of Sidra. There's a table of the strike force: #number of bombs and missiles and bombers. 45 bombers from USAF and USN to drop 300 bombs and 48 missiles.

    Today, we would use more PGMs and less dumb bombs, we sadly don't have the F111/A-6s anymore but I bet we would use a relatively comparable number of "bombers" to hit all those targets. Too bad no number of "support" aircraft has been tabled, there had to be back up bombers, you know some F-14s had to provide cover for the all the tankers and AWACS involved, also 3 EF-111s were there too...you probably are looking at over 100 jets total involved in the total package, which was an USAF and USN operation.

    Think it's nice one time example of a strike package, still has valuable information today. Even with today's PGMs, you can't be everywhere with only 1 or 2 strike bombers, with high levels of threat, you need to break down the IADS and bases and we don't have enough EA jets for sure! Tomahawks help but they aren't the perfect answer.

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  5. A couple of corrections are necessary. In the 2017 strike against the Shyrat airbase, 59 were launched and 58 hit their targets. And, was entirely a US operation.

    The strike against Syria in April of this year was in response to the Douma chemical attack against civilians earlier in the month. The response was international as the US, France, and England launched a coordinated attack against multiple targets in Syria to degrade their chemical weapons capabilities.

    In short, 66 Tomahawks were fired, 60 from 3 Burkes and 6 from the USS John Warner which accompanied the French vessels in the attack. In addition, the Air Force launched 19 JASSMs from a pair of B-1 bombers. The French launched 10 Scalp EG missiles from 5 Rafale B fighters and 3 MdCN missiles from a ship in the eastern Mediterranean. The British launch 8 Storm Shadow missiles from 4 Tornado GR4 from Cyprus.

    Each Navy deployed ships to provide air defense and the attaking aircraft were supported by fighters, tankers, and EW aircraft. In total, 11 ships and about 70 aircraft were used in the strike.

    The above is from Wikipedia.

    Now, had this been entirely a carrier response, then as pointed out in the post, multiple carriers would have been necessary. In this instance, Tomahawks from the escorting Burkes would have been launched first in order to defeat enemy air defenses and possibly command and control centers.

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  6. It would be far cheaper to revive the arsenal ship concept and sail it with a CSG.

    1000 Tomahawks on a hull fast enough to keep up with the carrier.

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    1. Assuming you mean the block IV with all the new bells a whistles for mid course correction, GPS hardening, anti-ship and anti radiation - that is 2 million a missile. That's 2 Billion dollars in ammo alone. Not to mention unless you alter the buying patterns of the US and NATO who have what maybe 6000-7000 Tomahawk equivalents in stock that's a lot of gear on one ship. For that kind of risk I would expect a BB equivalent arsenal ship and and hope the FF(X) is built from the ground up as a ASW platform and also hope the USN keeps the LA class in service as long as possible to a avoid a collapse in sub numbers (not happening). The LA class may be getting old but one arsenal ship would be safer with a Virginia and a pair of LA class subs than one sub even it is whatever the techno wonder next gen sub will be.

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    2. For three escorts and a carrier, you are nearly at To increase carrier numbers, you are looking at 19 billion in just ships (1 Ford plus 3 Burkes). You would still need to add in aircraft and ordinance.

      2 billions in missiles plus a 500 million dollar hull is a bargain. If that amount of missiles isn't needed, then leave the ship at home until a war.

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    3. I simply don't think you can build a hull for 500 million that could safely carry a 2 billion dollars worth of missiles anywhere that was contested or evenly mildly risky.

      'then leave the ship at home until a war."

      And in a war its going to need a ton of escorts... no bargain.

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    4. I'm sorry if this is a little off topic, but it does concern fleet numbers.

      "...I hope the Navy keeps the LA class as long as possible..."

      As an alternative to Nuc powered subs, perhaps we could use diesel/electric boats for task force escort, if not CV then the amphibs. A snorkeling sub would be hard to differentiate from the thundering herd of surface ships. Subs could operate on batteries when the TF reaches it's area of operation, and leave with the TF when the mission is completed.

      Something bigger and faster than the current crop of diesel/electric boats, like the Blueback. Escorting surface ships for days or weeks could be accomplished by snorkeling to recharge batteries within or very close to the TF to disguise the engines.

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    5. "use diesel/electric boats for task force escort"

      Submarines are not effective as close escorts. They render the group's ASW ineffective because the group can't distinguish between friendly and enemy subs.

      Subs can only be effective escorts if they operate far in advance of the group, clearing the path well in advance and interdicting approaches.

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    6. I can't see them as escorts but the USN's utter distaste for AIP DE boats is beyond perplexing. Forward based, and operating in a an exclusion zone in a conflict they would an immense asset for the USN.

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    7. "I can't see them as escorts but the USN's utter distaste for AIP DE boats is beyond perplexing."
      Not really, Diesel Submrines are useless for everything the USN does.

      A Nuclear Submarine can be housed in an underground bunker, load up, submerge, circumnavigate the earth twice, and return to base.
      A diesel electric sails 50miles and needs to surface to recharge its batteries, at which point its blown up.
      Unless of course you want to fight people 50 miles outside your own port.

      Russia is the only power that chooses to operate both nuclear and diesel subs,, and it operates them as coastal defence vessels, or in the baltic/black seas, because it doesnt want to run nuclear submarines through Constantinople or the Denmark Strait

      The US, France and UK are all nuclear only, China simply cant build nuclear reactors, but is madly working that way.

      SSKs and SSNs have about as much in common as an Apache Gunship and a C5 Galaxy.

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    8. "Diesel Submrines are useless for everything the USN does."

      I get the gist of your statement and it's true to a large extent. However, the Navy could use SSKs for chokepoint patrols around the Chinese first island chain, US harbor patrols, Guam defense patrols as part of a layered ASW defense, and distant blockade anti-merchant shipping. So, let's not write SSKs off, totally!

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    9. @Kath "I simply don't think you can build a hull for 500 million that could safely carry a 2 billion dollars worth of missiles anywhere that was contested or evenly mildly risky."

      Given proper escort and preparation of the battle space, any ship can be taken anywhere.

      However a balance must be struck between the number of weapons carried, effectiveness of self defence, resulting cost of ship and weapons, and the expected lifespan of any war ship. Carry too many munitions, and one risks losing a significant portion of the magazine before the weapons can be used. Carry too few, and one risks not delivering enough weapons to win the conflict. Spend too much on self defence and there is no money for offence. Spend too much on offence and the enemy can sink your war ships before they can use it.

      Thus, maximizing the number of "effective munitions delivered" per "unit of cost to deliver" is to be a key metric.

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    10. @Domo, "A diesel electric sails 50miles and needs to surface to recharge its batteries, at which point its blown up."

      Conventional submarines do not have to surface to recharge batteries, they can do so at periscope depth.

      Most professional analysis indicates this remains a difficult activity to detect without a high degree of surface sensor saturation.

      An illustrative example is the Falklands conflict. The ARA San Luis, a Type 209 submarine of German design, was never sunk by the mighty Royal Navy, despite having an inexperienced crew.

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    11. @Arnin
      Periscopes can be detected by radar, the heat plume of the exhaust by IR and the near surfaced submarine is a must easier target to find than the deep submarine.

      "Most professional analysis indicates this remains a difficult activity to detect without a high degree of surface sensor saturation."
      That wouldn't be a problem, if war zones werent likely to have a preponderance of such assets, but whereas its difficult to detect a recharging DE, its impossible to detect a recharging nuclear.

      "An illustrative example is the Falklands conflict. The ARA San Luis, a Type 209 submarine of German design, was never sunk by the mighty Royal Navy, despite having an inexperienced crew."
      Well, you say that, but, it sort of proves my point, it deployed to the Falklands before the British Task Force arrived, mounted tw ineffective attacks whilst hiding on the coast, and then ran for home.

      As coastal defence platforms they're pretty nasty, but the US winss its wars on enemy coasts, or the deep sea, not americas shores/

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    12. @Domo, "Well, you say that, but, it sort of proves my point, it deployed to the Falklands before the British Task Force arrived, mounted tw ineffective attacks whilst hiding on the coast, and then ran for home."

      Expect similar results from a nuclear submarine with ineffective torpedoes and an inexperienced crew.

      "As coastal defence platforms they're pretty nasty, but the US winss its wars on enemy coasts, or the deep sea, not americas shores/"

      Large, conventional submarines have considerable range.

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    13. The Argentine sub apparently conducted around 3 actual attacks although none were successful. Reports suggest that one torpedo exploded on a decoy! The RN carried out many attacks on suspected sub contacts but apparently never actually came close to the real sub. This does, in fact, indicate the same findings that every exercise does - that finding a sub, any sub, is very difficult even when you know approximately where to look!

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    14. "A diesel electric sails 50miles and needs to surface to recharge its batteries, at which point its blown up.Unless of course you want to fight people 50 miles outside your own port."

      That is very much a bizarre understatement. The Soryu certainly has much more range. In a US context the deployment would be out of Japan or near the Gulf or Korea. Where you expect them to operate in exclusion zones as very quite subs in numbers that are significantly greater than The one or two SSNs we could curtly have on hand.

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    15. @Armin
      "Large, conventional submarines have considerable range."
      True, but they only have that range mostly surfaced.

      @CNO
      "This does, in fact, indicate the same findings that every exercise does - that finding a sub, any sub, is very difficult even when you know approximately where to look!"

      Very much so, I dont have a particular problem with D/Es, its just that Nuclear are better in every respect, the San Luis got lucky, the RN couldnt sustain the hunt for fear of air attack, had the San Luis been a bigger threat, they could have waited a few days fr its air to run out and destroy it when it tried to run. Nuclear subs can be attacked in the same manner, but they make their own air, and could last several months on reduced rations.
      Obviously its a gamble for the RN as well, the San Luis could have slipped away and two frigates would have spent a week playing patience with a rock

      Since the cold war cold dangerously frosty, NATO ASW strategy was not to "find" Soviet SSNs, but to keep them monitored at all times, they were picked up crossing the GIUK Gap, and then a NATO ASW asset, be that frigate, helicopter or plane, followed them till thy ran out of food and went home.

      @Kath
      "That is very much a bizarre understatement. The Soryu certainly has much more range. In a US context the deployment would be out of Japan or near the Gulf or Korea."
      How long do you expect Korean Submarine bases to be operable?

      "The one or two SSNs we could curtly have on hand."
      Its hard to believe its cheaper to build a submarine base in Korea, an entire fleet of submarines, plus the supporting infrastructure, technical schools ect, than add a few more SSNs.

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    16. "True, but they only have that range mostly surfaced."

      We need to keep some objective assessment, here. SSKs, for example, have very good range. The base Type 209 is reported to have a 400 nm range fully submerged and several thousand miles with sorkeling. Further, there is absolutely no reason a SSK couldn't travel on the surface for much of the transit to and from its operational area.

      Too many people want to make these kinds of discussions a one-or-the-other argument. The reality, as it usually is with military matters, is that a mix of platforms is almost always best. There are several missions, which I've listed, that are ideally suited for SSKs. While operating SSKs would incur additional costs, there would also be benefits such as greater numbers and the ability to have a captive SSK force to train against.

      A modicum of objectivity will serve us all well!

      Delete
    17. "Nuclear are better in every respect"

      Of course not! SSKs are cheaper, require smaller crews, are easier to maintain, require less technically proficient crew as regards nuclear training, are inherently quieter, and are better suited for several missions and operating areas. How 'valuable' those characteristics are depends on what roles you want your subs to perform but let's not claim that nukes are across the board superior.

      Delete
    18. 400miles submerged / 8000miles surfaced is "mostly surfaced".

      You are very much correct that they can transit surfaced, but given how modern ASW tactics work, thats a less militarily effective plan, a submarines two real strengths are its massive firepower and it extreme stealth, and a D/Es requirement to surface periodically is a serious impediment to stealth.

      In most cases, you are correct, an all or nothing approach is rarely wise, but in some cases, it really is.
      Nuclear propulsion is one of them.


      Anti Submarine warfare is a 24 hours a day 365 days a year hot war.
      US Submarines operating in Chinese claimed waters will be tracked, without fail, by fixed sonar, by ship mounted and towed sonar, and by rotary and fixed wing sonar, and radar and visual identification when they surface.
      The only way you can be absolutely sure you are tracking a submarine, and not a collection of sensor ghosts is if it surfaces and you physically see it.

      A Chinese first strike would almost certainly hit any US bases in the far east, or I suppose far west from your point of view, be they air, sea, or submarine, and any air, sea, or sub sea assets that can be found.

      The requirement to surface means China will maintain a positive lock on more SSks than it would SSNs, and then after the initial strike, the requirement to surface would allow China to pick off the survivors with much greater ease as well.

      For China, SSKs make a lot more sense, they can reasonably expect to disrupt US fixed sonar arrays pre war, destroy much of the US Sea and Air based ASW in the opening salvo, and, for the opening stages, seriously contest the air and surface zones to disrupt US ASW efforts.
      Admittedly, a Los Angeles would be in extreme danger in the SCS until other US assets could disrupt the Chinese ASW efforts

      Delete
    19. You're not reading (or understanding) the posts and comments. No one is suggesting SSKs for the open ocean, high intensity, submarine warfare role. SSKs are for peripheral missions which I've already listed. There is nothing wrong with needing to snorkel or surface during a peripheral mission. China can't have ASW detection covering the entire world. Read the list of missions again.

      I get the feeling you're trying to create an argument where none exists.

      Delete
  7. "We have a couple of data points to use in our analysis. The US launched a strike against a Syrian air base in 2017 and against a Syrian R&D center, just recently, in 2018. Those strikes used 76 and 60 missiles, respectively. Those were small, undefended targets. In the case of the Syrian air base, the goal wasn’t even to destroy the air base, just to damage it to some degree. Many buildings were left untouched. So, 70 missiles is the very low end of what’s required to destroy a small, undefended target."

    Right facts but wrong lessons.
    The number of missiles was artificially inflated in order to convey a sense of political seriousness to Syria, and the American public, Trump wanted to make clear to all involved that HIS red lines should not be crossed.
    There was also a clear military message being sent to Russia, do, not, interfere.

    Russia might have taken a crack at 10 incoming missiles, might even have taken a crack at 30, but 70 would have depleted their missile batteries, leaving them vulnerable, if Trump had mounted a follow on attack against them, and would have been a political FUBAR if the missiles had gotten through anyway.

    https://www.eurofighter.com/the-aircraft#weapons
    Obviously thats the Typhoon, and Carrier Air would have significant takeoff weight issues, but even so, Tactical Air can manage a significant effect,

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  8. CNO, what's the Navy's time frame to replace the F-18? I'm afraid that we are stuck with the F-35 for quite a while into the future but, maybe the people responsible for the next generation fighter will see the shortcomings of the current aircraft and focus on improving fleet capabilities.

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    1. Current plans have the F-18 operating for the foreseeable future. It's likely that the F-18 will never be completely replaced by the F-35. My best guess is that we'll never get beyond one or two squadrons of F-35s per air wing.

      Delete
    2. The F-35 is intended to replace the older smaller legacy F/A-18C Hornets, of which there are about 2 squadrons in the average air wing; replacing the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in the fleet defense interceptor role is the F/A-XX program, although that's barely progressed beyond the design studies stage, and probably won't be a thing for another 2 decades at least.

      -Whiskey

      Delete
  9. Not quite on topic but some more info on Ford elevators.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-02/costliest-carrier-was-delivered-without-elevators-to-lift-bombs

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  10. Well there you have it tecno-drivel-porn that looks good on a Power Point chart and must be good because? The end point of a bureaucracy enamored with glitzy tech and where nobody really tests anything in any kind of realistic setting. And most critically nobody ever gets fired or suffers any consequences for constant failure.

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    1. Well, the good news it would appear the contractor has got 6 of them to work, guess, 5 more to go!

      So it leads to one of many questions, can 1 or more be out of service or maintained separately from the other 11? Or is it once the 11 elevators are "on line" they all have to work or none work? What exactly was the commanded operation problem? This is so new, what happens down the road after many years of service? Are we so sure no other unforeseen problem will creep up?

      Delete
    2. "contractor has got 6 of them to work, "

      If you read the article carefully it says that 6 are operable BY THE BUILDER. That suggests that they can be moved with manufacturer tricks and bypasses rather than being fully functional- kind of like the workarounds that had to be used to get early F-35s to take off. Only two elevators are being tested which implies that only two are actually functional.

      After reading this blog, do you believe Navy pronouncements?

      Delete
    3. I'm still getting over the shock that it sure appears to me that USN accepted a carrier that had ZERO elevators installed and/or working!

      Delete
    4. InsideDefense September 17 tells a different story

      Navy placed $13M contract with FEC for a hybrid version of their AWE to be configurable as an upper or lower stage weapons elevator and will be procured within the first year of the five-year contract.

      ID "The contract was not competitively awarded because FEC is the only company with the exception of the shipbuilder . . . who is able to install the AWE system // Further, the shipbuilder has relied heavily on FEC during installation to align, groom and troubleshoot the process // Consequently, it would be impossible for another vendor to attempt to recreate the AWE system without a complete drawing and technical package // There have been previous attempts to require FEC to provide the complete drawing and technical package for the hybrid LBU, and those requests have resulted in absolute refusal from FEC. Work is expected to be completed by September 2023."

      My interpretation is the AWE with their magnetic levitation using electromagnets to float over a guideway are not working, presuming "hybrid" means they are reverting back to fitting the "old" tech, cables. The hybrid unit to be configurable as an upper or lower stage elevator (question does that mean cutting steel to re-model Ford to fit new elevators), will require five years of land testing, it is to be hoped by September 2023 Ford will have its 11 weapons elevators fully operational.

      Delete
    5. This really is just an extension of recent CNO post about armour and battle damage sustainability. If USN can barely get the elevators to work in peacetime, how well will they work after sustaining damage?!? Can USN even be able to repair them while in combat zone or is it mandatory return to ship yard?

      Delete
    6. "I'm still getting over the shock that it sure appears to me that USN accepted a carrier that had ZERO elevators installed and/or working!"

      There's no point doing acceptance trials anymore since the Navy accepts every ship no matter how bad or how incomplete.

      Delete
    7. Nico, the Ford can barely launch planes, probably can't land them. Who needs elevators ?
      Launch and land attempts can only be done during clear weather, since the radar only sort of works.

      Quality is Job #1 on the Ford.

      Delete
    8. "Quality is Job #1 on the Ford."

      Funny that I wonder how sales would be a Ford dealership if they admitted as you driving out they had not really got the breaks worked out yet but they were certain the Block V software would fix that in a couple weeks and well they never really did any crash testing They just gave a jobs to the guys retiring from Transportation Safety Board.

      Delete
  11. " If USN can barely get the elevators to work in peacetime, how well will they work after sustaining damage?!?"

    The navy does not expect them to survive damage. Else they would not be trying to avoid shock testings the Ford.

    https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2017/06/pogo-urges-congress-to-require-key-test-on-newest-supercarrier/

    It the same thinking that pushed for concurrent production of the F-35. No need to actually prove that their bleeding edge tech can do much of anything - we can fix after we have bought 10, 50, 200... But gee that helmet sure looks cool.

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  12. Don't worry folks, the RN will turn up with a Queen Elizabeth class and a dozen F35 to show you how it is done. Bingo.

    ReplyDelete
  13. A carrier group has 3-4 Burkes/Ticos and often a submarine and between them they have roughly 75 to 100 Tomahawks. So, a single carrier group could launch a similar strike on its own. But, that would use up most, if not all, of their supply of Tomahawks. In this instance, the Super Hornets could be deployed forward to prevent a counter attack with the Hornets flying CAP to protect the carrier group.

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    Replies
    1. Carrier groups don't operate singly in war. That was kind of the point of the post!

      Delete
    2. Hmmm, if we get so low on carrier wings and SOP by default becomes sole carrier operations, Anon PM comment made me wonder, not that I think it's a good idea BUT maybe we need to rethink how we design, build, operate our single carrier in war?

      Instead of kidding ourselves that we will see 3 carriers operating together, NK show of force last year pretty much revealed how hollowed out and USN scrapping the barrel to make it happen, maybe it is time to look at the entirety of our carriers and accept the fact that they will operate singly?

      Not saying I think it's a good idea but it would be more realistic....

      Delete
    3. A single carrier is not survivable in combat other than by doing fairly insignificant actions. Recall the early WWII actions of our carriers before we could assemble proper carrier groups? The actions were good for morale and PR but were militarily marginal.

      So, if we reach a point where can't or don't want to assemble proper carrier groups then we need to simply abandon carriers altogether. Otherwise, we'll just wind up losing them one by one.

      Delete
    4. But, these were punitive strikes against a relatively weak adversary, not battles in a war against a peer or near-peer enemy. The strikes were limited in scope and intended to punish Syria for using chemical weapons against their own people. And, given our military posture around the globe, it is difficult to imagine the Navy, or the Air Force, conducting a similar strike all on their own.

      But, if the Navy had to do this on their own, there are sufficient number of Tomahawks in a single carrier to do the job. If more weapons are needed, I think a single carrier has a sufficient number of aircraft to launch a couple of dozen SLAM-ER missiles to complement the Tomahawks. Each Super Hornet can carry 4 SLAM-ER missiles.

      Delete
    5. " these were punitive strikes against a relatively weak adversary, not battles in a war against a peer or near-peer enemy."

      That was the point of the post, that even relatively small strikes would require a LOT of aircraft - thus the requirement for carriers to operate in groups.

      I also stated that carriers shouldn't be conducting strikes - that Tomahawks are the referred strike weapon. You read the post, right?

      Delete
    6. OK so point taken (accepted for this post). In a peer war CV will need to operate in groups to be effect tools for trikes - be that on land, to sweep the enemy off the briny or to deliver cruise missile strikes and or defend air space to allow Air Force long range assets to operate. Also to retain sufficient mass of all various air assets to sustain loss w/o retreating to port and the potential loss or disablement of some ships.

      Given that the US would seem to be on a path to be able now-1sh (say 2020) to field 2 such groups and have 3 CV remaindered or 3 groups with one smaller group. The assumes that the F-35 will be able to functionaly replace and upgrade the older F-18s, the tanker drone works or the USMC V-22 tanker ideal works. The Fords work. I suppose also that even as mini Burkes the new FFs are first ASW platform - by design.

      China seems to planning to have the abilty for 4 total CVs by what 2030 or so? Even if 2 are small it would be a respectable group that could venture off away from home.

      What are Russia, France the UK, and India thinking however.

      I can't see a role for India's CVs they are small and in the long term neither I think could strike alone into Pakistan's airspace, or face the navy China is building.

      Russia's CV is death trap, its own Dry dock attacked it. w/o any new ones building or planned. Russia is wasting money.

      Europe collectively might form a CV group that could operate in blue water far from home (assuming the F-35 B is bought by everyone who would have used AV-8s. But If they seem likely to just be appendages of the US navy is it worth to build CVs

      Second question if 11 CVs is the most the US can sustain should it be doing more to figure out how use them together with its psedo carriers it builds and rarely equips as actual CVs.

      Can a Wasp and an America work with a three CVs or even two if they can effectively take on some CAP roles, tanker roles and the bulk of Helicopter operations. Has the US even though about loading a Wasp and an America to operate as carries only and see what tempo of operation they could sustain? Should the Americas have ski jumps? Should the Wasps be saved when retired? Should the US save the Kitty Hawk if that is possible? If China won't have a true Carrier Group for decades yet, is there some deterrence to having four or five groups of CVs at hand assuming the reactivate of all decks out of reserve. Finding crews for 8 Wasps and a CV would certainly faster than building the same from scratch.






      Delete
    7. "Can a Wasp and an America work with a three CVs or even two if they can effectively take on some CAP roles, tanker roles and the bulk of Helicopter operations."

      No, they can't. The America can only operate around 22 F-35's in a total fixed wing config, if I recall correctly. That's not enough to offer any significant combat capability. In total fixed wing mode, they won't operate helos. If they do include helos, then the number of F-35s has to be reduced.

      It's just not a viable option for any serious combat.

      Delete
    8. "That was the point of the post, that even relatively small strikes would require a LOT of aircraft - thus the requirement for carriers to operate in groups."

      The point of the post was to posit a scenario to support your argument of operating carriers in groups of 4 by substituting air-launched munitions for the cruise missiles used in the recent attacks against Syria.

      It started with a review of the recent cruise missile strikes against Syria leading to the assumption that "70 missiles is the very low end of what’s required to destroy a small, undefended target" which then became an attack against a well defended target. Thus requiring twice as many munitions, and by your rationale, almost 200 aircraft. Hence, the need for 4 aircraft carriers acting together.

      Firing off 140 munitions against a small undefended target is not exactly the sign of a small strike. That's usually the opening salvo in a war. And, any strike by manned aircraft against a well defended target would be done in conjunction with or preceded by an attack against the enemy's air defenses, command and control, and communication centers using cruise missiles or stealth aircraft.

      If we're talking about a small strike against a lightly defended target, like recent attacks against Syria, then a single carrier group could probably handle the task. Definitely two carriers would suffice.

      If we're talking about a strike against a well-defended target of a peer or near-peer enemy, then more carriers would be required. And, unless the attack takes place in the middle of the Pacific, I can’t imagine the Navy conducting such an attack without involving Air Force bombers, fighters, tankers, and early warning aircraft.

      Delete
    9. You're essentially repeating the post. What are you arguing for or against, if anything?

      Delete
    10. It's just not a viable option for any serious combat.

      Taking example from the post was thinking more of using the space from both a Wasp and an America to allow the CVs to shift away its helicopter operations perhaps allowing more overloading of planes on the CVs. Also MV-22 VARS would seem to father along than than the Tanker Drone. That again would compliment the CVs. The total fighters need not be the full sea control load but simply enough to add some nearly CAP fighters.

      Current carrier air wing seems small vs capacity some 70 aircraft at the low end of what a Nimitz can carry. Just sort odd the Navy never practices for using that many CV together and few smaller decks might help if you operating differently.

      Anyway those Nimitz seem kinda empty shame there is still 3 squadrons and spares of A-6s in the bone yard.

      Delete
    11. "You're essentially repeating the post. What are you arguing for or against, if anything?"

      A few things . . .

      1. Lots of aircraft are not needed to attack a lightly defended target, such as the targets in Syria referenced in the post. Lacking Air Force support, a couple of carriers could have conducted those attacks.

      2. For an attack against a well-defended target, the Navy wouldn't conduct such an attack without support from the Air Force. Indeed, two B-1 bombers, supported by Air Force fighters and tankers, fired 19 JASSMs in attack against Syria earlier this year.
      And, while nearly 300 carrier based aircraft were used in the campaign against Rabaul, land-based aircraft played an important role as well. Nearly 350 land-based fighters and bombers, including B-25 medium and B-24 heavy bombers, were used in that campaign.

      3. I agree that carriers should operate in groups.
      But, I also think there will be instances where one or two carriers would be sufficient, especially when supported by land-based aircraft.

      4. As you noted, the carrier air wing is woefully undersized. And, as you know, the air wings in the 80's and 90's had 2 fighter, 3 attack (including 1 medium attack), and a fix-wing ASW squadron, plus some AEW and EW aircraft, for a total of about 70 fixed-wing aircraft. At a minimum, the Navy ought to add a third Super Hornet squadron, plus a short squadron of 6-8 Hornets to serve as tankers, and up the EW squadron to 8 Growlers.

      Delete
    12. "4. As you noted, the carrier air wing is woefully undersized."

      That would be you want the Nimitz class to sail with its actual capacity?

      Delete
    13. "A few things . . ."

      You're not saying anything that disagrees with the post so … glad you're on board!

      Delete
  14. @Kath some good thoughts about using the Wasp/Americas, especially if there is no amphibious operations planned ie a China conflict. Leave the Marines at home and use their decks to supplement a CVN force... I dont know that they have the speed to keep up with them though. As far as keeping them in a reserve fleet, yes i think so. This brings up what i see as a problem with our reserve fleet though. As we have gone to a mentality of keeping ships for such a long time, they are truly worn out by the time theyre placed in reserve. I think in long term planning we need to bite the bullet and accept even more force reductions temporarilly by placing ships in reserve earlier while they are still more technologically current. As new ships are built eventually we can reverse the dropping numbers, and have reasonably capable ships in reserve that wont take a year to put back into service. Having the Kitty Hawk around is nice, but in reality useless. The expense and time it would take to get her back to front line service is too much. But having the early Burkes put in a 20-30 day reactivation status seeme like a good idea, as well as the Wasp/Americas... Take the force reduction hit now and rebuild a credible reserve fleet. I dont know what the costs would be in keeping a Nimitz in reserve that has say, a year or so of nuclear fuel left (enough to be useful for a couple war deployments) but the funding freed up by an earlier deactivation could be shifted towards the block-buys to accelerate new construction. Im not real well versed in the costs of things so I could be way off here, but it seems that with the lack of an ability to build ships quickly and on a large scale (like during WWII), the reserve fleet is a huge key to our future security that is being overlooked. Personally I bemoan the lack of at least a dozen Spruances not being tucked away when many of them had lots of useful life left. I understand that their technology is dated at this point, but having some extra hulls to put to sea that are somewhat capable in a national crisis is better than none just trying to hurry along the ships that are in the builders yards... Somewhat offtopic but this does apply to the CVNs as well... Am I wrong here CNO? Your thoughts???

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    1. Conceptually, you're quite right but your assessment of the cost of a reserve fleet is substantially off. To keep a reserve fleet at the level of readiness you suggest is nearly as expensive as keeping them in active service especially for nuclear carriers. Nuclear plants have to be fully manned whether active or not!

      Corrosion control alone is a massive undertaking for reserve ships!

      All that said, it's still cheaper than keeping the same number of active ships.

      Delete
  15. "Personally I bemoan the lack of at least a dozen Spruances not being tucked away when many of them had lots of useful life left."

    Well theoretically if you saved the ones that got the SeaRAM, The VLS and if they added NTU... seeing as were retired at well short of the 40 years or more the Burkes and Ticonderogas are supposed to OK for now... One can only wonder.

    In any case that would seem to require the USN and Congress to really consider a reserve fleet and paying to have one. Right now it a just a pit stop on the way to being a target or sold to anyone who wants a ship. But even if the ships in are close to end of life the point is they can be brought into service quickly and are serving in an emergency and holding place while new war time production is built.

    I mean a Kitty Hawk with whatever can gleaned from the bone yard a few Perrys and a few Wasps is not perhaps the most Awesome CV group in the world. But if you could float that in 6 months after say China lands a task force Z and sinks an isolated CV group in the Pacific that would I think be something. Its not like anyone now a days
    has any surge production capacity. And China certainty could not replace its CV in a few weeks

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    1. In an all out war, both sides will lose much of their first line ships and aircraft in the initial exchanges. At that point, those second rate ships and aircraft will look mighty good!

      Delete
    2. Exactly!!! And in my mind, even a major China/Russia conflict isnt going to last for years. So the war is going to end with the same # of ships that it started with, minus our losses, unless a REAL reserve force is built, not just a pre-SinkEx parking lot... And with associated costs, maybe thats just the way it is. But I think a planned 20-30 yr lifespan will keep ships more relevant and up to date, as well as setting some useful muscle aside for future use...

      Delete
  16. I'm not sure where else to post this, but what was the conventional thinking in the late 80's regarding escort fighters? If bombers were to hit targets 4,000 miles away, where would the fighters come from? Was there any other option besides fighters from carriers? I'm aware that bombers don't need escorting for the entire distance, but assuming the closest airbases were 3,500 miles away, what was the plan to protect the bombers? Even with refueling, you can't ask fighter pilots to fly for 16 hours can you?

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  17. I think this dovetails nicely into your prior posts of the need for smaller carriers. In a group of 4, the smaller, relatively, could launch the support planes, helicopters needed. But, the issue, in my mind, would be, what sort of power plant would a smaller carrier have? It seems nuclear would be out, as that would add a lot of cost. Turbines could be used for propulsion, but that would leave a way to produce steam. On the older fossil fuel boats, there were 8 boilers that produced steam. I don't know if there are any boiler tenders left, or boilermakers to work on the boilers.

    After reading about the EMALS on the Ford, I dont think that is the way to go, at least for now. Not until the technology is nearly flawless.

    One thing is for sure, if we ever get into a peer to peer war, there will be ships, planes, personnel lost. We will need replacements, and ability to repair in fairly short order.

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