Monday, September 26, 2022

Carrier Aircraft Land Attack Weapon Ranges

Many people still believe that carrier aircraft constitute a land attack strike force.  This is incorrect.  Let’s see why.


Any attacking asset must be able to survivably overcome layered defenses consisting of both surface to air missiles (SAM) that can range out to a few hundred miles and land based defending aircraft that can range out to several hundred miles.  Thus, a survivable launch point must be further out than the defensive range, meaning a launch point several hundred miles from the target. 


Obviously, an aircraft with free fall, gravity bombs cannot survivably and successfully penetrate to the required one mile launch range.  Thus, in order for carrier aircraft to conduct a survivable, successful land attack strike, they must have weapons with ranges greater than several hundred miles.  Every extra mile that the aircraft has to penetrate the layered defenses in order to reach an inadequately short range launch point increases the risk and decreases the likelihood of success.


The following table lists the ranges of common carrier aircraft strike weapons.[1, and various Wikipedia entries]




Range, miles

AGM-158D (alt. AGM-158B-2) Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile – Extreme Range (JASSM-XR)a


AGM-158B Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range (JASSM-ER)b


AGM-158A Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM)


AGM-84H/K Standoff Land Attack Missile – Expanded Response (SLAM-ER)




AGM-154 Joint Stand-Off Weapon (JSOW)


GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB)


GBU-31/32/35/38/54 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM)


AGM-65E/F Maverick


AGM-179 Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM)b


Hydra 70 2.75” rockets


GBU-10/12/16 Paveway Laser Guided Bombs


Mk 80 series free fall bombs


CBU series cluster bombs


M61A1/A2 Vulcan 20mm cannon



a Developmental, does not yet exist

b Not yet fully in service




The table makes it clear that the Navy does not operate weapons with sufficient range to keep the launch aircraft out of range of land based SAMs and intercepting aircraft.  It might be possible to safely and successfully attack lightly defended targets but major, well defended targets will have layered SAM defenses and nearby air bases supporting intercepting aircraft.


Another issue is the weapon carrying capacity for carrier aircraft.  For example, the F-18 Super Hornet can carry several smaller – meaning shorter range – weapons (acknowledging that every weapon carried reduces the aircraft’s flight range due to weight and drag) but only a couple of the larger weapons.  While publicity photos may show an aircraft decked out with every weapon the Navy has, an F-18 can only, practically, carry two JASSM on a realistic mission.  Other hard points are occupied by fuel tanks and defensive air-to-air weapons and even those are minimized in the interest of not negatively impacting the aircraft’s range more than necessary.  Thus, with two weapons per aircraft, it would require a strike force of, say, fifty aircraft just to mount a minimal strike of 100 weapons.  Recall, that the US used around sixty Tomahawks to strike a small, undefended Syrian air base in 2017 and only targeted a portion of the base (see, "Syrian Tomahawk Strike").  A realistic strike on a major, defended base would require something approaching two hundred missiles or more.  That would require 100+ strike aircraft (neglecting escort, EW, SEAD, etc. aircraft) which represents around five carrier air wings worth of strike aircraft under any realistic combat scenario.  The point is that the large, longer range, weapon density is so low as to nearly preclude carrier aircraft strikes even without consideration of enemy defenses and aircraft survivability.


One or Two Large Weapons is a Full Load

As I’ve often stated, the role of a carrier, today, is to escort and provide protection for the Navy’s true strike assets which are Tomahawk-launching Burke destroyers with their thousand mile range cruise missiles. 








  1. We need to relearn the lessons of WWII. Fleet Carriers provided Air and Fleet defense and cheaper smaller Carriers (CVE/CVA) went in close to shore to provide attacj aircraft. The trip time was less and the carriers and aircraft were cheap enough to be lost or damaged. It was very good tactics that were developed, separate the tasks and dedicate them to ships specifically built for their mission. Be all and do all is inefficent and costly.

    1. "cheaper smaller Carriers (CVE/CVA) went in close to shore to provide attacj aircraft."

      Yes, towards the end of the war when we had sufficient numbers of fleet and light carriers. Earlier in the war, the fleet carriers conducted the land attacks. The Truk attack in Feb 1944 was conducted by a mix of 5 fleet carriers and 4 light carriers. As you note, later war amphibious assaults often dedicated light carriers to close ground support.

      "We need to relearn the lessons of WWII"

      What lesson(s) do you see that apply today? Are you suggesting we build dedicated ground support light carriers (to a very limited extent/capability, we do have light carriers in the form of the LHx ships)? Do you anticipate enough amphibious assaults to justify dedicated ground support carriers, given that the Marines have publicly stated that they are out of the assault business?

      I'm neither agreeing nor disagreeing, just genuinely very curious to see what lesson(s) you wish us to relearn.

    2. What we need to relearn is that relatively cheap carriers and aircraft are needed to be able to assault shore positions. Thi sis based on the extreem threat they face and the need for rapid cycle time (short distance) to provide high sortie rates. It doesn't matter if it is to support amphibious assaults (I do not want to get side tracked) or just attacking land facilities. We cannot afford the present cost of the Fleet carriers with their limited, VERY expensive, number of capable aircraft (about ~$15b). Smaller, conventional powered, carriers with less aircraft can match the sortie rate of the big boys becuase they can be 1/2 the distance closer. Add to that a new SIMPLE, DEDICATED, cheap attack aircraft, with high MTBF and you have an attack capability that can sail into harms way.

    3. "cheap carriers and aircraft are needed to be able to assault shore positions."

      If the threat is so severe that we can't risk expensive carriers for land attack, can we really risk 'cheap' carriers bearing in mind that even a 'cheap' carrier would be incredibly expensive? The relevant data point is the America class LHA which costs around $4-$5B and that's with only a 20-aircraft, less capable air wing and no catapults or arresting gear. What do you think a 'cheap' carrier will cost that has sufficient capability?

      No argument about better aircraft !

    4. Just as the Ford Class is a gold plated, do everything, ship, I believe the other ship classes are the same way. Time to realize that in combat you get losses and cheap effectiveness is what is needed. So I would suggest that a new CVL class should be designed and stripped down to only what is needed to operate attack aircraft. $4B+ ships that can be taken out of action (or lost) by a $100M missile (or a grounding or mishandling collision) is not sustainable. Nor is the other extreme of trying to make them 100% survivable, that is impossible. A $2B CVL that is only taken out of action for a month (simple designs allow fast repairs) is sustainable. Especially with the $14B Ford providing Fleet defense as it is susposed to do.

    5. PS - I do not believe the threat is as bad as the Militray likes to make out. I remember how the Backfire and MIG-25 were going to close the Atlantic and clear the skies. Look at the Kursk, the best of the Russian Fleet. Look at Russian tanks in Ukraine when hit by the Javelin. The MICC inflates every threat to keep the money flowing. Remember how the F-111 would save the world? Funny the simple F-16 and A-10 did much more to save the world and the Air Force.

    6. " CVL class should be designed and stripped down to only what is needed" ... "$2B CVL"

      Okay. Given the starting data point of the $4B+ America class LHA, what would you strip out of that to achieve a 50% reduction in cost while retaining functionality?

      Are you thinking STOVL or conventional cat/trap (which adds more money)?

    7. As I pointed out before, the Navy sends many officers to schools to learn management. I assume part of that is cost management and cost reduction (God knows Jack Welch taught only this). So we should get our money's worth and have them do it. I don't know what the big cost drivers are on these ships. I just know military HW is the ONLY thing that increases in cost the more you build of them. But if I was doing this, I would rank items by cost and do the pareto analysis to see what are the big ticket items. Then you do a vicious "Do you need it to fight your attack mission" ONLY line by line examination. Line out items if it does not support launching, recovering, rearming attack aircraft. Notice I do not mention repair facilities. Get rid of EVERYTHING that
      does not support attack. Depend on the Fleet Carrier Battlegroups to protect you. That is the kind of diciplined appraoch that will make this happen. This: what about, wouldn't be nice to be able to, what if, etc. is what gives us gold plated, multimission targets that cannot be put in harms way. Think of these new CVLs like the WWII DDs or DEs. My 2 cents.

  2. #ComNavOps What do you think of 4 SSGN submarines of Ohio class ?
    How effective is SSGN as a survivable platform (if an armed conflict happens between US and China) when operating in a contested Environment say between mainland China and First Island Chain ?

    1. I've posted and commented on this often. I encourage you to make use of the archives.

      To ever so briefly sum up, the SSGNs represent, by far, the most survivable and effective attack platforms we have.

  3. I have been saying this for years (not that that means anything).
    Our Carriers ceased being strike platforms at least 20 years ago. Now they are simply mobile air bases for COIN ops.
    And there sure as hell are no Halseys, Spruances, or Farraguts in our current force.

    1. You're describing what has happened but the real question is what should the future use of carriers be?

    2. A surface-launched missile's maximum range is its maximum range; an air-launched missile's maximum range is its maximum range PLUS the launching aircraft's combat radius. The additional range can be a MASSIVE advantage in many cases.

    3. "maximum range PLUS the launching aircraft's combat radius"

      Yes ... so? That was covered in the post.

    4. That's a tough question to answer.
      I would say to turn them into an offensive asset again. Strikes against land targets in a peer level country might be a lost cause, but surely against naval targets. BUT that can not happen cheaply. Strike aircraft with longer legs, intrinsic tanking capability, dedicated ASW ships in the battle group.....
      The problem is that our Carriers have become so expensive that they will not be risked unless the US is at war.

    5. "The problem is that our Carriers have become so expensive that they will not be risked unless the US is at war."

      They're not at any risk if we're not at war. I'm missing whatever point you're trying to make. Try again.

  4. I am most interested in the carriers ability to be an ISR asset and ability to extend air cover. I do like the fact they are reloadable at sea unlike VLS at present. From all appearances, the expensive stand off weapons will be beyond range of their air cover at the edge of their air umbrella. The reality is there will be some scenarios where a target of opportunity may emerge where no other asset can deliver the ordnance in time other than a carrier strike aircraft. We'd all like the division of labor between a fighter and strike aircraft to be more clear than it has been to gain the benefits of each to their max potential.

  5. This is a good article, and points out the obvious points that A. Even if a full carrier wing had the ability to strike with all the assets, between birds in maintenance and lack of real tanker support for a full strike, it takes multiple carriers and B. they don't have the weapons for it without adding some danger aspects. I think it does scream out as to why they don't have the so-called "Arsenal" ships. Of course this gets looked at as something that is a Zumwalt type ship, but 2x the size, but why they can't look at something on the shelf as a testbed ship, and would need to go over 20 knots, that could be modified to hold 200 tomahawks or more. Something maybe old where hangar space is used to just install VLS tubes in them and the ship would really rely on the surrounding Burkes for protection rather than outfitting it with a billion dollars of electronics. Maybe an old Tarawa class or 3 that are sitting around? But time to think outside the box rather than have a 20 year project.

    1. "I think it does scream out as to why they don't have the so-called "Arsenal" ships."

      In a sense, we do have arsenal ships and incredibly effective ones at that. They're the SSGNs. They mystery to me is why are aren't frantically building more of them?

    2. We stopped building the Ohio-class 25 years ago. Would be cost-prohibitive to restart that line, especially with the Columbia-class coming online. Plus Electric Boat (the builder of the Ohios) doesn't have capacity.

      And spending billions on a submarine that can only shoot 150 missiles once, followed by a several week to month long return to base and reload cycle, is just not a good way to prosecute a war.

      The money is better spent on bombers, or cheap arsenal ships that we can afford to buy in numbers.

    3. "They mystery to me is why are aren't frantically building more of them?"

      Ive wondered this for sooo long!! The Soviets were proponents of them, but for a different purpose, and we never ran with their ideas. The fact we even converted four is amazing, but Im glad we did. Ive been looking at the Ohio ages and wondering how we could do more conversions. Im absolutely sold on them being our most powerful and survivable platforms. Theyre just whats needed to help kick open the door and allow battle groups to move west. I know the workload, pricetag, and urgency of the Columbias are issues. But with there not only being fewer Columbias coming, but their missile capacity being smaller anyway, Im almost completely comfy with taking two more Ohios off of deterrent patrol and converting them now. If we cant squeeze the money to do it, maybe they could be refitted but not refuelled to save on costs and time. Ive even thought about keeping the current SSGNS in a reserve, in somthing like a week or two readiness level. Rotate all the SSGN crews through each boat to keep them maintained and certified, but without burning any more protons and electrons than necessasary, so that they can have a year or so of hard wartime service left in them. I really think that, pardon the pun, we're missing the boat by not only doing everything to keep the ones we have, but build/convert as many as we can, fast as we can...

    4. " Would be cost-prohibitive to restart that line"

      There's a straw man! No one wants to restart the Ohio line when we have fully functioning Virginia/Columbia lines.

      "And spending billions on a submarine that can only shoot 150 missiles once, followed by a several week to month long return to base and reload cycle"

      If SSGNs were the only military force we had, this might be a valid argument. However, since we have a vast military with many means of conducting war, of which SSGNs are but one, this is completely invalid.

      "several week to month long return to base"

      I insist on accuracy. The distance from Pearl Harbor to, say, the Philippines is around 4600 nm. That's a 13 day trip at 15 kts or 9 days at 20 kts; hardly a several week to month long return. You may believe that's still too long and use that as an argument but we're not going to just make up wildly inaccurate numbers to support a contention.

      As you know from your studies of warfare, naval vessels don't just camp out at some spot in the ocean. They sortie, execute a mission, return to base for repairs and replenishing, and plan for the next mission. Therefore, the fact that an SSGN has to return after launching all its missiles is irrelevant.

      You also note that bombers have to return to base after launching all their weapons. And no, a bomber doesn't just reload in an hour and take off again for another mission. Stealth bombers require intensive maintenance. It would be a minor miracle to sustain one mission per week.

      A B-2 has a limited weapons carry compared to an SSGN. I don't know the exact number but it appears that the B-2 can carry something around 1-2 dozen of the long-ish range JASSM and its variants compared to 150 Tomahawks that the SSGN can carry.

      The survivability of the SSGN is much greater than a B-2 bomber due, in part, to the greater stand off range of the Tomahawk as well as the submerged nature of the submarine.

      Note that I am not, in the least, arguing for one or the other, exclusively. Only a fool would do that. We can use both.

      "The money is better spent on bombers"

      The B-2 bomber cost nearly a billion dollars each in 1997 ($1.85B in 2022 dollars). Program cost was a bit over two billion dollars for each aircraft in 1997 dollars ($3.93B in 2022 dollars). Unfortunately, there are no reliable cost estimates for the B-21 although I've seen guesses ranging from $560M to over a billion and it is a 100% certainty that whatever estimates are floating around will prove far too low.

      "cheap arsenal ships"

      Given the Navy's history, there is no such thing as a cheap ship and no reason to believe that an arsenal ship would be cheap. The supposed $200M LCS wound up costing somewhere around $600M and that's for an incomplete ship that lacks any combat capability, meaning modules. An arsenal ship will NOT be cheap. One might reasonably expect that it would be cheaper than a Columbia SSGN but it would also be far less survivable which negates a large portion of any purported cost savings.

    5. Your exact words were, "They're the SSGNs. They mystery to me is why are aren't frantically building more of them?"

      I explained why we can't frantically build more of them. Therefore, not a strawman.

      "That's a 13 day trip at 15 kts or 9 days at 20 kts; hardly a several week to month long return."

      By "reload cycle" I meant a full sortie round trip. 4,600 nmi x 2 = 9,200nmi. Add a day for the actual reload. That means one sortie every 27 days at 15kts or 19 days at 20kts. 3.8 weeks per sortie at 15kts, pretty much a month. 2.6 weeks per sortie at 20kts.

      Throughput for these systems = number of weapons carried x sortie rate

      @ 15kts
      154 TLAM x 1/27 = 5.7 TLAM per day

      @ 20kts
      154 TLAM x 1/19 = 8.1 TLAM per day

      A B-2 can carry 16 JASSMs. It can't fly every day, but can fly every third or fourth day.

      16 x 1/3 = 5.3 JASSM per day
      16 x 1/4 = 4 JASSM per day


      You can buy multiple B-2s for the cost of each SSGN.

      We don't know how much the B-21 will ultimately cost. We also don't know how much a Columbia will cost. We do know the Columbias are expected to cost at least $9B each and only carry 16 tubes. If two are used up for lockout chambers as per the existing SSGNs, then only 14 x 7 = 98 TLAMS will be carried.

      By your B-21 numbers, we could buy as many as 9-16 B-21s for the price of every Columbia SSGN. I expect the B-21 will only carry half as many JASSMs as the B-2.


      1 x Columbia SSGN @ 20kts
      98 x 1/19 = 5.2 TLAM per day

      9 x B-21s
      8 x 1/4 * 9 = 18 JASSM per day

      16 B-21s
      8 x 1/4 * 16 = 32 JASSMs per day

      Therefore, B-21s win by delivering 3.5-6 times as many missiles per day for the same initial expenditure.

    6. "followed by a several week to month long return to base"

      Your exact words were, "followed by a several week to month long return to base"

      There's no ambiguity in that statement. We've now established the RTB is somewhere in the vicinity of ten days so this is settled.

      "sortie rate"

      This is one of the most irrelevant factors in warfare since militaries don't fight that way. I get tired of explaining this repeatedly. Warfare is about missions, not an unending, continuous stream of ordnance - which would deplete our entire inventory of weapons in very short order. Between missions, intel needs to be gathered, assets assembled, missions planned, etc. Continuous streams of weapons are not possible nor practical.

      "I explained why we can't frantically build more of them. "

      I did, and do, call for more SSGNs. That doesn't mean restarting the Ohio production line, and, indeed, that was never stated. It means modifying Virginias and/or Columbias and possibly looking at modifying existing Ohios, if they have sufficient life left. I'm certain you can understand this so there's no need to belabor it since you're not the type to argue for sake of arguing.

      "Therefore, B-21s win by delivering 3.5-6 times as many missiles per day for the same initial expenditure."

      Assuming the B-21 even has the endurance/range for a Pacific theater war, which is an unknown, any bomber will suffer attrition losses many times greater than a SSGN. Thus, the SSGN is a more cost effective option in the long run.

      That should just about wrap this up.

    7. "This is one of the most irrelevant factors in warfare since militaries don't fight that way. I get tired of explaining this repeatedly."

      This style of sortie rate defines the maximum rate at which you can prosecute a conflict with a given system. It is very relevant. If an SSGN is spending weeks transiting back and forth between replenishment and its firing location, it is irrelevant to the conflict for these weeks on end.

      It doesn't take weeks to assemble intel packages and plan strike missions, especially for a measly 100 missiles. It takes days. If we're doing our jobs right, we are generating target quality data for enemy fixed facilities now.

      Read anything about target planning during the Desert Storm air war, or OIF. There will be no shortage of actionable targets in a war with China.

      I agree we will likely run out of munitions, so I'd spend the $9B per boat you want to spend on additional SSGNs on more JASSMs instead.

      The B-21 is being designed with a war against China in mind. So it will have sufficient range. It likely will require air refueling though. As a JASSM shooter, it will be far more survivable than a slow SSGN simply because it doesn't spend very long in the threat area.

      The SSGN has to sneak into its firing location, probably at much slower than 20kts, reveal itself by firing 100 TLAMs, and then sneak out, avoiding any focused ASW efforts that result.

      B-21s will do all of this at ~500kts.

    8. Modelling a China war (which I don't believe will happen, but that's another point) after live-fire exercises against lightly armed desert heathens is a mistake, in my opinion.

  6. Carriers made battle ships with large guns obsolete from WWII.

    Today, a debate goes on - missile (swamp) vs carrier. Of course, both sides have strong opinions.

    1. "Carriers made battle ships with large guns obsolete from WWII."

      How do you account for the Navy reactivating battleships multiple times after WWII?

    2. Eventually, after USS Iowa, no more.

      Not just US, no other nation operates this kind ship.

    3. "no other nation operates this kind ship."

      No other nation has the commitments we do nor the financial resources.

      I have higher standards for this blog. Simply repeating some tired trope about battleships is below the standard. There are arguments for and against the battleship. If you wish to make an argument, please do so. Parroting an empty platitude is not sufficient.

    4. "How do you account for the Navy reactivating battleships multiple times after WWII?"

      Except in every instance, there was never a serious threat from coastal defenses, aircraft, ships, or submarines. Even if a battleship's gun could hit out to 100 nmi, that's still within range of heavy antiship missiles like BrahMos and Oniks.

    5. "Even if a battleship's gun could hit out to 100 nmi, that's still within range of heavy antiship missiles like BrahMos and Oniks."

      This is yet another example of the utterly pointless discussions that occur when people try to compare a single weapon system (battleship, in this case) to an enemy's entire military force and then, unsurprisingly, conclude that the weapon system cannot succeed. Of course it can't under those conditions! Nothing could!

      I'll say this yet again for the slow of learning. We don't fight with single units against entire military forces. We fight joint and mutual. A battleship is not going to stand off an enemy's coast and just sit there fighting against wave after wave of enemy assets until it, inevitably, sinks. Instead, it will contribute what it is supremely good at when the conditions are appropriate and it will do so in company with many other mutually supporting assets to produce an overall positive effect.


      There is no evidence that I'm aware of that this missile can penetrate battleship armor and do significant damage. There is, however, plenty of experimental and operational evidence that 2000 lb shells travelling at over Mach 2 cannot reliably penetrate battleship armor. The missile lacks armor piercing shaping, as far as I know and battleship armor was designed to defeat 2000 lb armor piercing shells. The Navy also conducted actual tests of Harpoon missiles against battleship armor plate and found that they did nothing but scratch the paint.

      If you have proof that a BrahMos can penetrate battleship armor and inflict significant damage, please share it. Lacking that, you're engaging in pure, unsupported speculation.

    6. "The Navy also conducted actual tests of Harpoon missiles against battleship armor plate and found that they did nothing but scratch the paint."

      Would love to hear more about this test, do you have any link to the results?

    7. "Would love to hear more about this test, do you have any link to the results?"

      No, this was conducted long before Internet documentation of everything. The tests are referenced scattered throughout various scientific type reports about munitions, armor, and such. Somewhere, buried in some government file, there is an original typed report but I've been unable to track it down. I only see the repeated references to it in various writings. If I ever find the original, I'll be sure to publish it.

    8. "There is no evidence that I'm aware of that this missile can penetrate battleship armor and do significant damage."

      You don't have to penetrate a battleship's armor to do significant damage. Damaging radars, sensors, antenneas, and self-defense weapons would do significant damage. And, it's not like Russia or China could field a penetrating warhead for their heavy antiship missiles.

      Battleships are not unsinkable, just more difficult to sink. We sank the Yamato with bombs and torpedoes.

    9. "You don't have to penetrate a battleship's armor to do significant damage."

      You most certainly do. Any vital piece of equipment on a battleship is well protected. A modernized or modern version of a battleship would, similarly, have vital equipment well protected. A battleship is not like a Burke that depends on exquisitely aligned radar arrays, VLS, and delicate electronics. A battleship, even a modern version, is/would be built to absorb damage with little impact on combat functionality. No ship ever built is better designed to absorb damage and continue to fight.

      A modern version would have many isolated self-defense weapons (SeaRAM, CIWS) each of which has its own self-contained radar. A single hit could not damage much of a ship's defensive weapons. Besides, defense is what escorts are for. Citing the fact that a battleship was sunk somewhere in history does not invalidate the power and survivability of the type. Despite my preceding comment, you're again engaging in one-versus-all thinking. This is utterly irrelevant.

      No ship is invulnerable but a battleship is the least vulnerable ship ever built. A battleship group with Aegis escorts would be an exceedingly difficult group to defeat.

      This is a very low quality comment. Improve your quality or desist from commenting. The standards of this blog must be met. I want comments that are informative, factual, logical, and PRODUCTIVE.

    10. WW2 showed that it's possible to bypass a battleship's belt armor with top-attack munitions - note the Yamato, and plenty of other ships destroyed by bombs. Given the proliferation of popup terminal attack profiles amongst cruise missiles and the top-attack flight profile of ASBMs, plus the large heavyweight Russian shipkiller missiles, this would suggest that a modern battleship would require greater deck protection - the Iowa has combined 7.5 inches* of deck armor, versus the 12 inches of the belt armor. This is doable, but as ComNavOps has noted, steel is what makes ships expensive.

      * 1.5 inch main deck, 6 inch second deck.

      In my opinion, the bigger minus against a modern gun battleship, in the near future, is the lack of long-range gun for servicing targets**. The old 16" guns had a range of 24 miles, which, as the main post shows, does not afford us much standoff range. The Zumwalt's 100 mile gun affords us a bit more range, but at a million dollars a shell, that's a hell of an expensive fire mission (and there are only 6 Zumwalt guns in existence, anyhow). We could, of course, put VLS cells into a battleship and carry cruise missiles, as they did with the Iowas, but then that goes back to the question of what is a battleship, what is the CONOPS of a battleship, and how do we envision the form of said battleship to take place (i.e., is it a gun BB or is it a missile BB)?

      (As an aside, if we're going to primarily use these boats for cruise missile shore bombardment and ASuW, then do we need Aegis or long range guns? Maybe what we really need is a repeat of the Spruances: good, no frills ships that did their job well, in sufficient anumbers.)

      ** On the other hand, a battleship would make a viable hull platform for railguns, being large enough to hold the railguns and the necessary power generation, which would be in excess of what can be contained on a destroyer hull. This would, however, require that railguns actually become viable weapons in the near future (as opposed to the next 50 years - I'm reminded of how Aegis was conceptualised in the 50s, began development in the 70s, and was only deployed in the late 80s: it took almost 4 decades for the vision to be realised).

    11. "note the Yamato, and plenty of other ships destroyed by bombs"

      To be accurate, Yamato was hit by at least 11 torpedoes and 7 bombs before sinking. Sister ship Musashi was hit by 19 torpedoes and 17 bombs before sinking. Bombs didn't sink either ship; torpedoes - lots of them - did the fatal damage. Descriptions of their final battles make clear that the bombs caused topside damage but did not, in any way, threaten to sink the ships.

      It should also be noted that the bombs that were used were mainly armor piercing. In contrast, the most common types of anti-ship missiles are not armor piercing and would be unlikely to penetrate a battleship.

    12. Our adversaries already have armor large armor piercing warheads as options for their large carrier killer missiles: it seems overly optimistic to assume more of such warheads will not propagate as we return battleships to service.

      I think people tend to get too hung up on the survivability of the battleship, and don't consider the conops enough. What is the point of the battleship? What is the CONOPS? Back in the day it was carrier escort and shore bombardment and ASuW. The old 16" guns only give us 24 miles of range, which means that we can only really strike the beach head and shore batteries throwing missiles at us have the range advantage. We can of course put VLS cells for missiles to do Tomahawk shoots and fire SAMs to defend the carrier, but then do we really need a battleship to do that when a new no-frills Spruance would perform just as well as a missile shooter?

      For sure, there's a time and place for naval gunfire, but we actually need to have the guns to do the naval gunfire. I don't actually think the Zumwalt CONOPS was entirely flawed in its thinking - I see value in a longish range gun to do accurate shore bombardment, so that Tomhawk can be reserved for targets truly deserving its range. But as with so many things, it's the execution...

    13. "have armor large armor piercing warheads"

      I've been unable to find any definitive evidence of armor piercing warheads on missiles. I've seen Russian claims but not from any authoritative source. I've also seen descriptions of armor piercing that seem like they're not actually armor piercing constructs. If you have a definitive, authoritative source, please let me know.

    14. "The old 16" guns only give us 24 miles of range, which means that we can only really strike the beach head and shore batteries throwing missiles at us have the range advantage."

      If we simply parked a battleship off an enemy's beach and challenged them to sink it, this observation would have some validity. This is an example of the common one-versus-everything-the-enemy-has thinking. The reality is that a battleship would be supported by escorts whose job is to take on anti-ship missiles and air support whose job is to hunt and destroy anti-ship missile launchers. The battleship would only have to cope with the occasional missile that got through the layered protection. In the meantime, it would be providing immensely valuable gun support.

      Of course, that's only one scenario. A battleship, as part of a joint force, would excel in many other scenarios.

    15. My point is that 24 miles really isn't much range, and while the individual rounds are of course more powerful, in terms of reach it's about the same with existing 5" guns. while an escort squadron is an inevitability, if the escorts are gonna be throwing Tomahawks to counter battery... why did we need have a battleship again?

      If we're going to be really serious about naval gunfire, then legacy 16" and 5" won't cut it. We need to seriously look into developing longer ranged guns , because more range gives us more flexibility: like SSM batteries, we can either position at a greater offset from the shore, or reach further in and remain more of a threat. A gun able to range 100 to 200 miles would give us more engagement brackets beyond just the 24 miles of 5" and the 1000 miles of Tomahawk. Zumwalt and AGS is a failed opportunity there.

      But the elephant in the room is that naval gunfire is not really a priority for the navy, and it doesn't seem likely that the Navy believes it will ever do an opposed landing against a peer opponent anymore...

    16. "My point is that 24 miles really isn't much range"

      An infantry soldier's rifle has a range of only a mile or so and far less than that for effective range. So, should we get rid of all our infantry rifles? Of course not but why not? Go ahead and answer that and you'll be on your way to understanding naval guns.

    17. On your infantry rifle analogy, the relatively short range of the rifle squad's weapons is mitigated by the fact that the rifle squad has LEGS. The purpose of the infantry is to use fire and maneuver to close with the enemy and defeat them in close combat. A battleship in the naval gunfire context, on the other hand, cannot close with a land-based enemy beyond the beach, because ships can't travel on dry ground.

      I'm not saying to get rid of naval guns. I'm saying that if we are going to be serious about naval gunfire, we need to be developing longer ranged guns, because short ranged guns aren't going to cut it, and aren't going to give us enough range to deal with land based fires. Yay, we pounded the beach! But what good does it do when we can't suppress enemy fires, because they're staged beyond the range of our guns?

      Ignore the issue of SSM batteries, and let's talk about enemy tube and rocket artillery. Until the Marines land their own artillery, the Navy has to provide naval gunfire and attempt to counterbattery enemy fires. But 24 miles means that our reach inland, and thus our ability to counterbattery enemy artillery, is limited. Let's assume we've come within 1 mile of the beach, which means that we can range inland 23 miles. Our European competitors have already made tube artillery that can shoot out to 40 miles. The Army's working on new artillery guns that can shoot out to 70 miles.

      What this means is that the adversary's artillery can fire on the beach and hammer the landing force with impunity, because they can't be suppressed. I guess we could try use strikefighters and helicopters like long range artillery to hunt and suppress enemy fires, but then they'll be running into enemy air defenses so they're going to be suppressed, the F-35's stealth doesn't work, and I recall you viewing tac air with a well-founded skepticism. Plus, how many fighters can we even spare for this? We need to keep a CAP to protect the carrier.

      What I'm saying is that if we are going to be serious about naval gunfire and battleships, we need to be serious about developing new guns that are competitive with the pace of developments on land. Long range guns aren't viable on destroyers because they're built too light, but that's a non-issue with battleships. But otherwise, if we think that 24 miles is enough range, then we shouldn't build battleships for naval gunfire, we should build more destroyers: steel is expensive, and we shouldn't be paying for 45,000 tons of warship just to carry 5" guns. And historical records show that destroyers contributed a lot to naval gunfire missions in the pacific war...

      Big Army is working on long range artillery, the Europeans are working on long range artillery, the Chinese are working on long range artillery, and the Russians were working on long range artillery. I don't understand how this is so controversial, the idea that we need more range if we want to be serious about naval gunfire.

      But that assumes that we, America, as a nation, actually WANT to be serious about naval gunfire.

      Coming back to the infantry rifle analogy - infantry rifles used to be short ranged weapons, effective out to two football fields or so, because iron sights are ass to use. Today, infantry rifles worldwide average 400 yards effective range. The M4A1 rifle can get lethal hits at 550 yards and wounding hits at 650 yards*, and Big Army's mass issue of ACOGs, DVOs and NGSW-FC optics means the soldier can exploit his weapon's range to the fullest**. He has a greater zone of control, as opposed to giving up, hunkering down and calling for fires (mortar, artillery, airstrike, etc), and his rifle is still just as effective in close combat.

    18. Some further details:

      * The M4A1's 14.5" barrel gives enough velocity to M855A1 rounds that at 550 yards, the round retains sufficient velocity on impact to consistently violently fragment and create lethal wounds. At 650 yards, the round's velocity has slowed enough that it does not consistently fragment, "merely" creating a wounding effect in human tissue - which is still good enough to suppress an enemy rifleman and his squad.

      ** All three magnified optics enhance the soldier's ability to fight at range, as iron sights become less effective outside of 200 yards, due to the limitations of the human eye. ACOG is a no frills 4x fixed magnification sight; DVO is a 1-6x Low Power Variable Optic, and NGSW-FC is a 1-8x LPVO with an integral laser rangefinder and ballistic computer. Both DVO and NGSW-FC can be used as close combat optics on the 1x power setting, and all three optics feature etched reticles that do not require batteries***.

      *** ACOG has a fiber optic tube that collects sunlight to illuminate a chevron in the reticle to make it easier to see; DVO uses a battery to light up the reticle, creating a red dot in 1x mode for faster target acquisition. NGSW-FC uses a battery to power the laser rangefinder, ballistic computer, and illuminated red dot in 1x mode. Both DVO and NGSW-FC can be used on 1x power for close combat, without the illuminated dot; the dot function exists as decades of experience has shown that the human eye more easily perceives a red dot versus a crosshair reticle at close range (note the Aimpoint brand of close combat optics, which feature a red dot).

    19. "The purpose of the infantry"

      Excellent. You understand the role of infantry/rifles and you see a value in them despite the fact that many enemy artillery, rockets, missiles, aircraft, etc. are beyond the range of infantry with just their rifles.

      Now, go study and contemplate the role of naval gun fire. Hint: there are many more uses than just standing off a beach.

      " rifle squad has LEGS"

      And a ship has ENGINES.

    20. I will repeat again the problem as I see it:

      "A battleship in the naval gunfire context, on the other hand, cannot close with a land-based enemy beyond the beach, because ships can't travel on dry ground."

      You have been critical of what infantry have been doing in Afghanistan, where they are engaged by weapons that outrange them, and thus resort to taking cover and calling in supporting fires to deal with those problems. I don't understand why you seem to consider that approach valid for a battleship, when the battleship is supposed to be the supporting fires that deals with the problem.

      In any other context on the high seas, outside of naval gunfire support, the battleship and its targets have equal freedom of movement, in the same way my rifle squad has equal freedom of movement with enemy infantry. That's why I haven't bothered to address that, because that's not a problem at sea. The problem is that in NAVAL GUNFIRE SUPPORT, the shore is impassable terrain to a battleship. The only weapons available that can threaten enemy fires staged inland are missiles and PGMs and strike fighters, which are expensive and, as you've repeatedly said over the years, are not suitable for area bombardments - the role which naval gunfire and artillery serves.

      Sure, we can bombard the immediate defenses on the beach, and our desron can fire tomahawks to take care of the big, obvious fixed targets. But we can't touch the enemy's mobile artillery, who can fire on the beach and slaughter the landing force with impunity. Yes, the Marines' doctrinal counter to enemy mobile artillery is HIMARS, and HIMARS is an excellent weapon. But to use HIMARS, we have to unload those trucks from the landing craft, all while under fire from the enemy.

      Any plan that requires my enemy to let me set up perfectly to counter him, is a plan that is doomed to failure.

      "You understand the role of infantry/rifles and you see a value in them despite the fact that many enemy artillery, rockets, missiles, aircraft, etc. are beyond the range of infantry with just their rifles."

      We have counters to the enemy's weapons that allow our infantry to close with the enemy. We drive to the battlefield in APCs and IFVs, we suppress the enemy's long range fires with our own long range fires, and we the Air Force as our long range deep strike precision artillery. If our tubes are rockets are out of range, we drive closer. We don't have a counter for the fact a ship cannot drive onto dry land, and our lack of long range naval gunfire is a weakness that the enemy can exploit.

      The Army, our biggest competitor, is making 70 mile guns, and they are still trying to make 1000 mile guns. But the Navy seems wholly uninterested in long range artillery after the failure of the railgun, and I suppose I'm just disappointed in how this is not a priority for the Navy.

      Evidently the Navy and Marines no longer think we're in the opposed landing business, and if we're not doing opposed landings, I suppose we don't really need naval gunfire, so this is all a moot point and academic. It's frustrating, is what it is, seeing the decisions being made in the Pentagon.

    21. "Now, go study and contemplate the role of naval gun fire. Hint: there are many more uses than just standing off a beach."

      Sir, if you're going to teach me, please, TEACH ME. I don't understand why you're disagreeing with me so when I have read your blog for years and I have tried to understand your thinking, and from where I am sitting I am genuinely bewildered because it looks like you are departing from the body of thought you have developed over the years, while I have been posting based my understanding of the principles you have developed.

    22. " slaughter the landing force with impunity. "

      You need to grasp how an amphibious assault is conducted. It is performed by a single battleship and a few troops. Instead, it is performed by a co-ordinated and joint assembly of forces, each of which offers mutually supporting capabilities. A battleship is not solely responsible for all land attack responsibilities. A battleship will provide immediate, close range fire support. Missiles will provide longer range precision attack. Aircraft will establish local air dominance and inland ground attack. Helicopters will hunt and kill medium range artillery and missile launchers. And so on. An assault provides for layered ground attack at all ranges against all threats. Battleships play their part in that assembly of force and play it supremely well.

      Before you comment further, you need to study how assaults are planned and conducted. You also need to avoid the common trap of evaluating assets in isolation. We do not fight in isolation. We fight as components in a multi-faceted force.

    23. "if you're going to teach me, please, TEACH ME."

      I am not going to teach you. I state this very clearly in the Comment Policy page. A certain level of knowledge is required to productively participate in these discussions and to be gently blunt, you do not seem to have that level of knowledge. There are many good sites where you can go to learn the basics of amphibious assaults. I urge you to make use of them.

      I am happy to explain particular, specific points for readers but I simply don't have the time to engage in fundamental-level education on broad topics.

      "I am genuinely bewildered "

      That is because you appear to lack a fundamental understanding of warfare in general and naval warfare, in particular. Thus, some of what's being presented seems incongruous to you.

      Brush up on the fundamentals and then this blog will make more sense to you.

      For example, study Normandy. We used battleships to great effect. Why? Why weren't the sunk by enemy artillery? Why weren't they sunk by enemy subs? Why weren't they sunk by enemy aircraft? Why did we use paratroops and gliders? These are all related questions and if you understand the fundamentals, you'll know the answer(s). Hint: it's all, essentially, the same answer.

      What were our fleet carriers doing during WWII Pacific island assaults?

    24. @ComNavOps: Not gonna lie, after reading your blog for years, I wasn't expecting that turn, sempai.

      This has been a spirited argument, gentlemen. But this is all a moot point because the USMC as it exists is not built to perform an assault landing against a peer opponent, nor does it _intend_ to assault a peer opponent. A lot of these problems go away when you aren't trying to kick the door in against a defended coast.

      Over the years, I've come to the opinion that the Marines' amphibious assault force is really more akin to undeployed paratroopers, in that they are a threat in being that has a greater degree of freedom to chose the time and place of attack. The adversary is presented with a dilema: does he to hold a greater portion of his forces in reserve to respond to the paratroopers/marines, or does he reinforce his forces currently engaged and risk giving the paratroopers/marines a free zone to operate? (Note Desert Storm, with the amphibious landing threat to Iraq that pulled the General Staff's focus.)

      Mind you, the problem with using paratroopers and marines is that this threat in being lasts only so long as they are not committed. Once you commit them, the enemy knows where you are and how large your force is, and you either need to reinforce them ASAP or write off your force. Note VDV's air assault of Hostomel Airport, where they dropped in unsupported, fought hard, and got mauled because there was no armor linkup, which was ???

      On the other hand, there are times when your intention is to do just that. Back in the 90s, Singapore Army's warplans called for dropping heliborne infantry batts into Johor to act as roadbumps on Malaysian invasion routes. The units were expected to be completely destroyed within 24 hours, and MINDEF saw that as the cost it had to pay stall TDM and buy time for mobilisation of reservists.

    25. "The table makes it clear that the Navy does not operate weapons with sufficient range to keep the launch aircraft out of range of land based SAMs and intercepting aircraft. It might be possible to safely and successfully attack lightly defended targets but major, well defended targets will have layered SAM defenses and nearby air bases supporting intercepting aircraft."

      "Aircraft will establish local air dominance and inland ground attack. Helicopters will hunt and kill medium range artillery and missile launchers."

      The premise of the your main post is that the Navy does not have sufficient long range weapons to allow carrier aircraft to conduct land attack, both in terms of deliverable quantity as well as weapon types; furthermore, enemy IADS and fighters will restrict air power from being brought to bear on the objective. At the same time, you are also arguing that in an amphibious landing scenario, it will be possible for aircraft to secure air dominance and hunt enemy fires in the face of an enemy IADS.

      My question is this: if we can therefore secure air dominance and operate our aircraft in the face of an enemy IADS during an amphibious assault, doesn't that suggest that the we can therefore suppress enemy air defenses sufficiently to allow us operational freedom?

      If we can suppress enemy air defenses to allow the air wing to support an amphibious landing, is it not possible to suppress enemy air defenses to allow the air wing to perform land attack?

    26. "If we can suppress enemy air defenses to allow the air wing to support an amphibious landing, is it not possible to suppress enemy air defenses to allow the air wing to perform land attack?"

      No. You're conflating two entirely different scenarios: amphibious assault and long range land attack against a far distant, single target.

      In an assault, you have land forces, air forces, surface forces, and sub-surface forces all working in a mutually supporting way to push additional land forces ashore and you do this by establishing temporary air dominance. That allows aircraft and helos to operate without fear of enemy air which means they can hunt and destroy enemy artillery, missiles, and air defenses. AT THE SAME TIME (the mutual support part !), naval gun fire, helos, ground forces, and SEAD will be working to find and kill enemy SAMs. Ground forces will search for and destroy radars, MANPADs, SAM sites, and the like. And so on. Each component of the overall force will be supporting each other and eliminating the threats to the other components.

      In contrast, an isolated, long range carrier strike against an enemy base will have no supporting components. There won't be any ground forces hunting enemy anti-air SAMs. There won't be any establishment of local, temporary air dominance. There won't be any surface naval gun support providing general suppression and area bombardment. And so on. Without those things, it becomes very difficult to successfully conduct carrier strikes.

      One should also note that amphibious assaults, almost by definition, are conducted at the edge of enemy territory whereas carrier strike targets are located WITHIN enemy territory.

      Do you understand now?

  7. The USN has never been at the forefront of missile development--or at least not in a long, long time. I think it was partly because the airdale community has always seen missiles as a threat to air power. Without substantial carrier air, Russia and China have always relied heavily on missiles, leaving the USN behind. But now that the lack of missiles is impacting air power negatively, maybe we will see some positive movement.


  8. I wonder if it would make sense to modify the Tomahawk for air launch. They weigh less than a 480 gallon drop tank, of which the Super Hornet can carry 4. Probably less in an actual strike, as you noted. And it has several hundred miles more range than even the JASSM-ER.

    Obviously your comments about the number of weapons that can be launched in a strike being inadequate remains true.

  9. RE: Arsenal ships. One problem with arsenal ships that hasn't been mentioned (at least so far in this thread) is that if you have a single ship carrying hundreds of missiles and it is sunk, it will take all of those hundreds of missiles (a significant share of our total inventory) to the bottom with it.

    1. If you make em real big, yes.
      But nowhere it sez than "arsenal ships" have to carry 300 missiles or whatever.

    2. "nowhere it sez than "arsenal ships" have to carry 300 missiles "

      True, however, as the number of missiles carried decreases, the cost per missile carried increases. As a ridiculous, illustrative example, if a $500M ship carries 2 missiles, the cost per missile carried is much higher than if the same ship carries 1000 missiles. There's a balance point, somewhere, with the optimum number of missiles, risk of loss of inventory, cost of the ship, etc. Where that balance point is, no one knows. My assessment would be around 150 missiles. Less than that is not economical or operationally useful; more than that risks too much inventory in one basket. That would probably require an LCS size vessel and would likely cost around $500M the way the Navy builds ships. Just my considered opinion, for what it's worth.

    3. 64-96 cells seems to be the sweet spot for a destroyer-sized combatant; the Spruances had 61 cells, the Burkes have 96. More ships is less efficient in generating large salvoes, but lets is mitigate risk by spreading out the missile inventory, and affords more opportunities for sea duty and command.

  10. About bomber vs. SSGN : if the launch is "far away" > 500km - does the bomber has to be stealthy ? An old B52 or a converted civilian jet could do the job at a fraction of the price ! The advantage of the SSGN is that it can loiter on station undetected, the advantage of the "non-stealthy" bomber is that it can make several sorties and should be cheaper.

    1. Only issue I see here is that the Tomahawks are relatively slow and unstealthy, especially if theres a cloud of them inbound. Every minute and mile they spend in the air is more opportunity to shoot them down. ( CNO did a neat piece on escorting Tomahawks in if I recall correctly) Of course the closer in a SSGN is to the target, the riskier it is, but its ability to get in significantly closer before launching is certainly a positive, even if its unmeasureable and mostly based on random factors.

    2. "An old B52 or a converted civilian jet could do the job at a fraction of the price "

      Bear in mind that a bomber can only carry a limited number of weapons. For example, the B-52 can carry 12 underwing AGM-86 cruise missiles (some have been modified to carry an additional 8 on an internal rotary launcher). So it would require 8-13 bombers to equal the load of a single SSGN, assuming the max load was carried. Max loads are rarely carried outside of publicity photos. So, perhaps 16-26 bombers in a real world scenario to equal a single SSGN.

      That many bombers assembling for a strike would trigger an enemy reaction and with fighters/missiles able to cover a thousand mile range or more, that would put the bombers at severe risk. One could always supply escort fighters but that further increases the cost.

      So, the 'fraction of the price' is a very debatable concept that entirely depends on the specific conditions of the strike.

    3. OK, so we have 2 complementary options, SSGN and bombers (possibly non stealthy), and they could well prove superior (tactically and cost wise) for strike than Burkes, which have a limited capacity for cruise missiles (30 ?) and need escort for ASW, plus a carrier for AA. In that case, what is the role of surface force ?

    4. "Burkes, which have a limited capacity for cruise missiles (30 ?)"

      False. A Burke has the capacity for 96 cruise missiles, if desired. A surface force with multiple Tomahawk-loaded Burkes would constitute a powerful land attack force. A Burke is an AAW platform with the option to become, in a sense, an arsenal ship.

      "what is the role of surface force ?"

      As you know from your thorough reading of the many posts and comments on this blog, a surface force does what surface forces have always done: land attack, ASuW, ASW, AAW, supporting amphibious landings, establishing sea control, establishing local air superiority, and so on. They do what navies do.

    5. Of course there are many other roles for surface force. But isn't the AAW capability the most expensive part of the Burke (Aegis ... etc.) ? If the Burke becomes an arsenal ship it would not be very cost efficient. And I thought that destroyers' role was AAW escort for carriers - now if carriers are meant to be AAW escort for destroyers, isn't it a catch 22 situation ?

    6. "isn't the AAW capability the most expensive part of the Burke"

      No. The basic hull and machinery are far and away the most expensive part. I've done a couple of posts on this and presented actual cost data. Please feel free to use the archives and come up to speed on this.

  11. Read where the navy contracted to have an upgraded Tomahawk missile. Several years ago they talked about replacing this missile.

  12. It will be interesting to see how Boeing's Powered JDAM project goes along. It's essentially a wing and engine kit to turn 500 lbs JDAMs into cruise missiles (or powered glide bombs if we're being pedantic). Promised range is 200 miles.

    It has its limitations, of course, and likely won't be as effective against moving targets as purpose built cruise missiles with multiple seekers, but if pursued, it could be a worthwhile option for increasing standoff weaponry, potentially at a lower cost than buying more cruise missiles - JSM has been suggested to cost 2 million apiece.

    First test over the Gulf of Mexico on December 16, 2021 using MC-130J flown by Air Force Special Operations Command.

    Future plans, to launch it from EC-130 SJ and C-17A
    It is said that
    C-130 variants could launch 12 JASSM cruise missiles
    while C-17A could launch 45 JASSM cruise missiles

    Air Force's Strategic Development Planning and Experimentation (SDPE) group is also researching integration of
    - Live tests with C-17s, AGM-158C Long Range Anti Ship (LRASM) and 1900km range AGM-158D JASSM-XR which became available in low production numbers in 2021
    - Boeing's lower cost but shorter range (80 km) JDAM-ER bombs
    - Raytheon's ADM-160 MALD decoys

    What do think of this Palletized airdrop standoff missile launch system, Its Payload and How is it going to received target data from a distant command and control node while in flight ( as stated by them ).


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.