Here’s some of the interesting points that were presented. All quotes are taken from the video presentation noted in reference 1.
The Ford design (the Future Carrier, at that point) began with a ‘core/critical capability’ statement. Manvel believes this is what enabled the Ford to succeed (succeed???? see … bias!) as opposed to the LCS which never had that and that’s why the LCS has problems, in his opinion.
I would say this is a point of departure. LCS never had this and that’s why it’s the problem that it is.
Manvel stated that the E-2 Hawkeye was the key to the air wing and the carrier’s effectiveness and it can scan and control a 250 mile diameter area. This point has come up frequently in our discussions with some commenters believing that airborne radars have ridiculously large and precise coverage areas. We see from this that the coverage area is actually fairly limited.
|USS Ford - Flawed Design Process|
The original Analysis Of Alternatives (AOA) looked at small, medium, and large carriers with air wings of 40, 60, and 80 aircraft (types and numbers were not specified).
Initially, very serious consideration was given to a STOVL carrier design. STOVL was ultimately dropped from consideration for two reasons:
- The lack of E-2 airborne command and control (again emphasizing the importance that is placed on the E-2; this should be a warning to the UK and other small/light carrier schemes!)
- The F-35B was determined to have half the range and half the payload
We threw out STOVL only for two reasons: no E-2 … and also this - and this is what I learned about STOVL – STOVL [has] half the range, half the payload. Remember that about STOVL and [when] you see your next Marine Corps aviator, remind him of that.
This should be an informative piece of data for all the F-35B and ‘light carrier’ proponents out there. While manufacturer’s claims for the F-35B are grandiose the reality is that under actual operational conditions the F-35B is a severely ‘crippled’ aircraft and the light carrier concept is extremely limited in capability.
Referring to carrier design, Mr. Manvel noted that flight deck design was paramount.
That’s where you start with aircraft carriers – making sure you can land all that you launch.
Air wing size was predicated on defensive aircraft needs. In a high threat environment (high Battle Space Dominance, BSD – why does the Navy always feel the need to make up fancy terms for simple concepts?), like a conflict with China, it was determined that 20 F/A aircraft in fighter configuration were required for defensive needs. A medium threat environment, like the British encountered in the Falklands, required 14 aircraft. Of course, tankers, EW, and AEW are also required. This defensive needs analysis eliminated the 40-aircraft air wing because it didn’t have the resources for strike operations AND defensive needs. Again, this eliminates the ever popular light carriers from consideration.
The program used a Desert Storm operations model to evaluate and compare medium and large carriers and based the conclusions strictly on sortie rates. This is a completely invalid approach since this is not even remotely how carriers will fight in a peer war. This smacks of a pre-ordained conclusion and a search to find a model that would support that conclusion. This also illustrates the program’s obsession with sortie rate, for unknown reasons. No one who has studied carrier combat operations would consider sortie rate to be a very important factor and yet it was the overriding factor in the Ford decision making. This demonstrates that the people involved in the decision making, and Navy leadership in general, have no clue about actual combat requirements. Baffling.
Note: GAO has demonstrated that Ford’s sortie generation rate claim is invalid and fraudulent because of the unrealistic assumptions used to calculate the rate.
Manvel claimed only an 8% difference in cost between medium and large carriers and only 13% difference if the air wing is included. This seems highly suspect and it should be noted that the medium carrier that was used for comparison was also nuclear powered which is not how anyone else compares large carriers to smaller carriers. In such comparisons, the smaller carriers are, inevitably, conventionally powered. Again, this seems like data being manipulated to support a pre-ordained conclusion.
The minimal cost differential was explained by noting that all the ancillary equipment (catapults, arresting gear, radars, maintenance shops, etc. were identical and, therefore, cost the same. This is why ComNavOps’ ‘smaller’ carrier design sacrifices some equipment like elevators, catapults, and radars – and a nuclear reactor!
From other data sets that were presented, it was noted that the cost differential between the large nuclear carrier and a medium conventional carrier was 36% - a much more substantial difference even without any sacrificed equipment.
The choice of nuclear power for the Ford was based on two factors: unrefueled range and a claimed 3x increase in generated electrical power for nuclear.
Manning was identified as far and away the largest factor in the 50 year life cycle cost estimate. In light of the recent manning post that I did, someone is going to have to explain how that statement can be true. Interestingly, manning costs are broken down into direct and indirect costs, whatever those are, and each contributes around half the total cost. Clearly, someone is playing accounting games.
The Ford’s 50 year life cycle cost in FY99 dollars was estimated to be $27B.
Nuclear manning was determined per the following (which should inform some recent discussions about a the nuclear ‘penalty’ in extra manning!):
- Enterprise had 8 reactors and required >180 watchstanders.
- Nimitz has 2 reactors and requires >100 watchstanders.
- Ford has 2 reactors and requires <25 watchstanders.
Clearly, there is no great manning penalty for today’s nuclear plants.
Mr. Manvel acknowledged that he made a mistake by consolidating and eliminating radars and replacing them with the Dual Band Radar. It created a software system that was simply too complex and unnecessarily capable and, indeed, the Navy has now abandoned it. He acknowledges a $1B overrun due to this mistake.
“The ship’s radar is too robust.”
This is what ComNavOps said from day one. A carrier, surrounded by several Aegis escorts as well as E-2 Hawkeyes and with only fairly short range defensive weapons, just doesn’t need a highly capable radar. In fact, in combat the carrier will generally operate under EMCON and not use any radar. Therefore, any basic radar will do!
The radar on the ship, on an aircraft carrier, isn’t the most important one, it’s that [radar] in the E-2.”
For the Marine Corps LHA ‘light carrier’ proponents, Manvel had this to say.
“This idea that an amphibious assault ship can replace carriers is nonsense.”
The very large port side, aft sponson is for a plasma arc trash disposal unit. ????
A stealthy carrier design was developed but it contained several severe operational problems imposed by the stealth requirements. He presented a small scale model of the concept. This was incredibly fascinating all by itself.
Manvel did not want the Advanced Arresting Gear but NavAir forced it into the design.
In summary, as I noted, the entire design effort seemed pre-ordained and designed to produce the pre-ordained result. It seems as if the Navy wanted a bigger carrier going into the design process and made sure that every comparison and analysis supported that desire.
There was no relevant operational analysis performed and when the only factor considered was sortie rate, obviously the bigger carrier comes out on top – but that’s not how carriers fight. I’ve wondered from the start how any analysis could conclude that shrinking air wings (nearing half the size of early Nimitz wings!) leads to a larger carrier. Well, this fixation on sortie rate would appear to be the explanation. It’s telling, and quite disturbing, that the only operational analysis – flawed as it was – was for the carrier, itself. None was performed for the air wing and the types of missions it would need to perform in war. Had that been done, the entire Ford program would, presumably, have come to a crashing halt when it was realized that neither the F-18 nor F-35 were capable of performing future peer war combat missions (both lack the range, endurance, and payload). The entire value of a carrier is its air wing. To fail to analyze and account for that air wing is professional malpractice.
Capt. Manvel’s biases are on full display in the presentation. Of course, bias, alone, does not mean the holder of the bias is necessarily wrong, it just means that the holder is blind to alternatives. In this case, some of Manvel’s biases are correct but some are wrong – badly wrong. That he considers the Ford to be a success demonstrates the depth and scope of his biases!
Regardless of the above, the presentation is fascinating and informative. It sheds a great deal of light on some of the baffling Ford design decisions. I urge you to view the presentation for yourself.
(1)CAPT Tal Manvel, USN (Ret), the first Navy Program Manager for Future Carriers, discusses designing the Ford-class aircraft carrier on 7 January 2015 at the US Naval Academy Museum's Shifley Lecture Serieshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIjvNCFXCjs