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The Navy’s aircraft carrier programs are once again at the vortex of intense scrutiny and debate, fueled by strategic ambiguity, questions about spending billions of dollars for a single ship during a period of painfully tight budgets, and uncertainty whether advanced technologies and systems will deliver the “goods.” As well, carrier critics point to supposed warfighting vulnerabilities to potential adversaries’ anti-access/area-denial strategies, tactics and weapons as reasons to change the Navy’s course.

The critics are short-sighted. Indeed, as long we need to protect vital U.S. interests, citizens and friends in critical world regions from the sea, the nation’s naval forces will project national power in support of national strategy and policy. Because of this, regional commanders continue to ask the question every admiral loves to quote: “where are the carriers?”  Certainly, no ship is invulnerable, but the modern carrier is “least vulnerable among equals” and much less at risk than bases ashore. And, while the Navy’s next-generation carriers are pushing technological envelopes and experiencing what some have called “birthing pains,” the service and its industry partners are committed to resolving all issues and getting on with it.

Winston Churchill once noted, “The farther backward you look the farther forward you can see.”  This can help put today’s controversies in a useful perspective.

In the spring of 1977, the Carter administration had been in office only a few months when it virtually declared war on defense spending. Inheriting a federal budget deficit of some $74 billion (about $316 billion in fiscal 2013 dollars), Carter’s Office of Management and Budget Director Bert Lance identified some $10 billion (about $43 billion today) to cut from defense. No “rice bowls” or “sacred cows” would go unchallenged.

Ominously for the Navy’s carrier forces, the administration supported former-President Gerald Ford’s decision to cancel the Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71)––the fourth Nimitz (CVN-68)-class nuclear-powered aircraft carrier––and to buy instead two smaller, conventional oil-fired “Tentative Conceptual Baseline” (TCBL) carriers. The new TCBL/CVX carriers were to take advantage of the promise of supersonic V/STOL (vertical/short takeoff and landing) aircraft. During the next 18 months, the TCBL/CVX design (such as it was) morphed into the smallish (roughly 65,000 tons full load), V/STOL Support Carrier (CVV), which would also be capable of operating the Navy’s conventional takeoff/landing aircraft in addition to the still-conceptual V/STOL “A” and “B” aircraft. An even smaller, 25,000-ton V/STOL Support Ship (VSS) was also mooted, to embark V/STOL aircraft and helicopters.

In 1978 Carter vetoed the FY1979 DoD Authorization bill because Congress inserted funding for CVN-71.

However, the Iranian Hostage crisis of 1979, which sparked a dramatic increase in aircraft carrier battle group deployments to the region – with the USS Nimitz forward deployed from September 1979 to May 1980 and continuously underway for a total of 144 days – changed Carter’s mind about CVNs. The Congress funded TR in FY1980, and there was no threat of a presidential veto. (CVN-71 cost about $2 billion in fiscal 1980 dollars, some $6.8B in fiscal 2013.) A political cartoon soon appeared, showing a Brontosaurus with its head under the Capitol Dome––munching dollars––and a flight deck affixed to its back and hull number CVN-71 scrawled across its flanks, with the caption: “Quick! How do we tell it that this is the last time?”

“Last time,” indeed! What followed almost immediately was a period of no-holds barred Naval Aviation self-assessment––the Sea-Based Air Master Plan (1979-80) and the Sea-Based Air Platform Project (1981-82) are two studies that stand out among others––which identified more than 40 distinct aircraft carrier concepts before concluding that the Nimitz class was superior. So compelling was the analysis that six more CVN-68 class ships have been acquired since 1979: remarkably two were authorized in fiscal 1983 and two again in fiscal 1988, with the last two Nimitz carriers funded in 1995 and 2001, respectively.

In the meantime, between 1980 and 2013, aircraft carriers and battle group surface warships, submarines and replenishment vessels have deployed to virtually every crisis and conflict – in addition to routine forward deployments to important world regions. The only major crisis that did NOT have a carrier – or several flattops – on scene was Operation Odyssey Dawn’s regime change in Libya in 2011. [Editor’s note: While no one in the Navy will, we will point out that Libya marked the very successful deployment of what one can only call one of the Marines’ aircraft carriers, the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3).]

In 2013, like 1977-1979, the Navy’s plans for CVNs are coming under intense scrutiny. Although initial efforts for a next-generation “CVN-21” carrier were kicked off in 1993, the formal program for a Nimitiz follow-on began in earnest five years later. This would be the Navy’s first new-design since 1968.

But, unlike that earlier period, when the Carter Administration looked to alternative ways to sustain sea-based tactical aviation at the expense of Theodore Roosevelt and follow-on CVNs, the Obama Administration has remained steadfast in its decision to sustain 11 CVNs and 10 carrier air wings and to continue with the next-generation Ford (CVN-78) class––even in the face of excruciating fiscal cuts as a result of sequestration.

“We’re an 11-carrier Navy in a 15-carrier world,” Rear Adm. Thomas Moore, program executive officer for carriers, noted in October 2012. “The demand signal is not likely to go down any time soon….”

“We need 11 carriers to do the job,” Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert affirmed a month later.

When CVN-71 was conceived, the “minimum essential” carrier force-level goal was 15 deployable oil-fired and nuclear-powered carriers, with another flattop undergoing a lengthy service life extension availability. The requirement for global naval warfighting against the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact was for more than 20 carriers and associated battle group surface warships and submarines.

Good enough. However, today’s critics point to the “unaffordable” cost of these enormous ships, capped at $12.8 billion for the first of the Ford class, according to Navy data. But that figure includes about $3.3 billion in non-recurring costs that will be spread over the planned 10-carrier Ford class. Factor these out and the cost of CVN-78 will be approximately $9.5 billion – still a high-visibility item as the Navy goes about looking for ways to meet sequestration “bogeys.”

That said, these increased upfront costs for much-increased increased technology density would pay some $5 billion in reductions in the total acquisition and ownership cost over the 50-year lifetimes of each of the 10 Ford-class carriers, compared to the in-service CVNs.

Another way of looking at the costs is to figure out how much a “pound of warship” costs today. Clearly, all are needed to protect important U.S. interests worldwide, but the 100,000-ton CVN-78 is a bargain at about $48 a pound; the Navy’s restarted Arleigh Burke Flight IIA guided-missile destroyers are coming in at some $98 a pound; and Virginia-class nuclear attack submarines at $195 a pound. (This isn’t all that superficial, as for years Navy cost-estimators have used a “pound of combat system” or a “pound of hull” to guide early approximations.) By way of comparison, according to U.S. Air Force data, the F-22 Raptor runs about $3,300 a pound.

While the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a September 2013 report raised concerns about lead-ship testing and reliability of advanced systems in the first two Ford CVNs, which the Navy and the shipbuilder are addressing, nowhere did the GAO question the inherent value of sea-based tactical aviation or call for an assessment of alternatives to the CVN.

This also plays to the CNO’s new “payloads over platforms” initiative, looking at ways in which the Navy can take full advantage of modular weapon, sensor, and unmanned vehicle payloads a platform carries or employs. “In addition to being more affordable,” Greenert explained, “this decoupling of payload development from platform development will take advantage of a set of emerging trends in precision weapons, stealth, ship and aircraft construction, economics, and warfare….”

His number-one example of the payload-centric approach to adaptability and warfighting was the USS Enterprise (CVN-65), which was deactivated in December 2012 after 51 years of operations. CORRECTED DATE OF DEACTIVATION Oct. 3 at 3:05 p.m. “The Enterprise was conceived in the 1950s to deal with a growing Soviet threat,” Greenert wrote. “At the time our national strategy was to contain the Soviet Union…. But times change,” he acknowledged, “and so do trends in economics, technology, and warfare. The Enterprise went from carrying a mix of A-7 Corsairs, A-6 Intruders, and F-14 Tomcats—designed predominantly to counter the Soviets—to homogeneous air wings of multi-mission F/A-18 Hornets to address the range of post–Cold War operations.”

Finally, carrier Cassandras worry about vulnerabilities against advanced weapons, including anti-carrier ballistic missiles. “Regardless of the number of carriers national leadership decides to maintain,” wrote retired Navy Commander John Patch, “because they remain the U.S. Navy’s preeminent capital ship and a symbol of American global power and prestige, they are a potential key target for both unconventional and conventional adversaries.”

Acknowledged.

However, one inexplicable aspect of the “carriers are vulnerable!” argument, particularly versus the Chinese DF-21 ballistic missile threat, is that while the carrier’s vulnerability is trumpeted, there is little mention of the fact that every ship suffers from similar, if not greater, vulnerabilities – particularly ships built to commercial standards and simply painted haze-gray. This includes platforms on the various lists of options if the Navy were to stop building carriers. It also ignores enhanced passive and active systems––e.g., the cruise- and ballistic-missile defenses provided by the Navy’s Aegis cruisers and destroyers––that are designed to defeat tomorrow’s threats. Finally, to put the entire vulnerability issue in context, land bases, which never move, are much more vulnerable to attack than are mobile naval forces at sea.

So, it’s déjà vu all over again. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Scott Truver is director of Gryphon Technologies’ TeamBlue National Security Programs. 

Comments

  • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

    With Allies around the Globe I don’t think we need them. I would think B-2′s and B-52′s from our Allies could travel anywhere on the Globe to deal with the problem. If that don’t do it I am sure our sub fleet could. But build 1, name it Savannah. I’ll chip in the Piggy Bank and all the loose change I can gather up. That ought to buy a roll of toilet tissue for the Admiral who wants to dream of days past.

    • shozbot

      Too bad our Allies don’t have B-2′s and B-52′s, then your comment would make sense. Also, be aware that a carrier in the AOR is worth more than a B-2 or B-52 based back in the states. Also realize, that due to sequestration the Air Force did not deploy any B-2s for training to any forward areas during FY 2013.

      • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

        You left out the subs. I think they can hold their own til our aircraft arrive.

      • toumanbeg

        Why are we in the AOR? No politician is going to give the nod to squeezing any triggers. Why not stay home and let the wogs kill each other?

    • allbuss84

      We have roughly 100 heavy bombers in the US. That includes only 20 B-2′s. The rest would be shot down as they were 40 years ago in Vietnam if exposed to an actual modern air defense. Our allies are useless. They ran out of bombs after 2 weeks in Libya. What good would they be in a real war? No one has the capacity to fight a war across the globe except the US, and the US cannot fight a war across the globe without aircraft carriers.

      How are subs at close air support and rescue?

      • SOPA_NOPA

        We could go ahead and just not prepare to fight a war across the globe. The massive global armies are for adventurism and utopian social engineering projects, not keeping America safe. There are no serious military threats on our borders and if things ever actually got dangerous we have nukes. Don’t even pretend this is about protecting America; protecting “America’s” interests is a fundamentally different thing that has more to do with statism, corporatism and government waste.

        • SouthOhioGipper

          They should make such ugly cynicism and naivete as yours illegal. The above is the statement of a naive child, or a grossly undereducated adult. You isolationists are the kind of people who would see a woman getting gang raped in a back alley and close your door and go watch TV saying “its not my business, I might face blowback from that gang”

      • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

        I thought we just had 19 B-2′s, one of the Billion Dollar Babys crashed. Close support with GPS and missiles from subs. I think if a real war has a chance of getting going we will be using mass destruction with the subs missiles. Also this machine of war will kick into high gear, in the end they will have to shoot down 1,500 bombers. And I imagine we would take out anybodies satelites in space so our eyes would be the only eyes seeing all that is going on in the conflict on the battlefield. But a real war and you are probably talking nukes.

      • toumanbeg

        You missed the point.

        America WILL NOT fight a war on a global basis. It makes no difference how many carriers there are if we WILL NOT use them.
        That is what Syria was all about. America has lost it’s WILL to fight. Having the best weapons does not matter if they won’t be used.

        A carrier that will not fight is no more dangerous then a john boat with a 4 horse motor. Harder to fish from too.

        • jubalbiggs

          A carrier is entirely capable of stopping a war from happening when a belligerent little bastard like Venezuela or whoever finds one on their doorstep and they have to sit and think about whatever overheated rhetoric brought it there. Will or not, the enemy has to make the calculation whether or not we have will, once they SEE that we have capability.

          • toumanbeg

            An unproven theory. Regardless, it isn’t cost effective. Letting the SOB know we are adding him to the SEAL Team 6 to-do list will have the same effect for the cost of an E-mail. This is the 21st century. Save a few hundred Billion dollars. Spend it on something besides lining the pockets of a few military contractors.

            The MIC needs to be Quaddiffied, then buried in a crossroads at midnight with a stake thru it’s heart.

    • PolicyWonk

      Allies have a way of not cooperating when you might need them to for a lot of reasons (note: in the case of the Turks and French not cooperating before we stupidly invaded Iraq – they were right to not cooperate). Aircraft carriers provide several acres of American territory anywhere there’s an ocean.
      And the primary thing about submarines, is that they are covert. Carriers are overt, and it certainly lets other know we’re interested.
      That said, I don’t think we should be the worlds policeman either.

      • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

        That’s probably true on the Allies but Saddam had to go. All that has happened after everybody thinks as Saddam didn’t kill no-one and it was the majority ruled. I think anybody sees the destruction once the B-2′s fly over or the sub missiles land will let those know we are interested. The U.N. should be the police force, and we should put an equal number of policemen in that force as other countries should. In fact all the police now need to go into Syria and get that straightened out and see if we can find 2 people there who can get along without wanting to kill each other and see if a change can be fostered to save the Middle East and stop the killing. Of course the U.N. needs to show up in Chicago too and a few other places in America.

  • http://john101b.ipage.com/globalwarming/climatechange.html Jack Everett —– Mato

    Carriars are needed but today the corporate owned pentagon has gone overboard creating a fleet of super carriers that they are already complaining are to big to move and are becoming sitting ducks because of today’s advancement of missile technology. The military is employing more civilian workers than they are military personal which adds to the burden of funding these behemoths. It’s the same old same old with this military industrial complex, design high tech weaponry, spend billions on building them and then claim they are outdated before the first one is even delivered. We also have a constitutional government that says in plain English that the U.S. will not create and fund a standing army for a period of more than two years. We don’t need to start any more corporate wars to set up puppets like we have in the Middle East we need to start support our own people. Take money to pay our combat troops that shed their blood and many that come home in body bags defending these corporate pigs. Get these worthless corporate contractors out of our military operations we don’t need them to serve warmed over pizza but we have to defend these civilians along with the people we are supposed to be fighting for.

  • PolicyWonk

    Interesting article. While we’ve all seen the usefulness of large-deck carriers, as the submariners like to say there are two kinds of ships: Submarines, and targets.
    Carriers have often proven to be a useful tool diplomatically, as there are few ways the US government can send an indication of its interest to a foreign nation than by having a carrier steaming off its coast (submarines are a stealth platform, who’s primary assets is that it can’t be seen). Getting rid of carriers is pretty much out of the question – the real question is how should they be developed in the future.
    The marines have taken a lot of heat over the LHA-6 that some had the gall to call “highly innovative” (by removing the well deck to make more space for aircraft, fuel, etc.), when all they did was create a CV (this has been done before). That said, LHA-6 costs $3.4B, where the USS Ford is estimated to cost ~$14B. Hence, we’d get better coverage with 4 LHA-6 type carriers than we can with 1 USS Ford (and LHA-6′s are as large as virtually everyone else’s carriers). This goes a long way to resolving the “coverage” issue, while still showing the flag and demonstrating interest in a give part of the world, while smaller platforms with better weapons developed over more recent years have radically increased the lethality of a smaller number of aircraft.
    In the mean time, the smaller deck carriers can be used as replacements in less-volatile parts of the world where a large-deck carrier is almost a waste. In short – I agree with the analysts that believe the smaller-deck carriers are a better way to go, maybe as part of an expanded system of ARG’s, that together comprise a formidable deterrent.

    • CharleyA

      Over 40 studies have shown the CVN is the way to go over smaller carriers – in the article. The simple fact is smaller carriers – like LHAs for instance – are slower and more vulnerable than the larger CVNs. It’s just physics. And don’t fool yourself that LHA/smaller carriers are harder to target than the CVNs – that is not the case. The easiest target is a land air base…

      • TX Chainsaw

        The discussion here is more about balance, similar to the hi-lo mix the USAF went thru with the F-22/F-35 and F-15/F-16. The scale is obviously different for the USN, but the punch of the USMC L-class ships has risen significantly when deployed with the F-35B (extended range, firepower, survivability, ISR and battle management.

        This greatly increases DoD and Joint Force commanders the flexibility to use the great firepower of the CVN in the highly likely, high consequence confrontations, and deploy the very capable L-class ships on the other, lower intense situations.

        • Don Bacon

          The F-35C has a spec range radius of 600nm; the DF-21D has a range of 1500 miles.

          • JohnJubly

            So basically you’re saying F-35C with drop tanks, on the hi-hi-hi mission and JASSM-ER will outange the vaunted DF-21d. Good to know.

          • Don Bacon

            It’ll need those external tanks if it ever gets them — it’s a fat fuselage gas hog.

    • Don Bacon

      “smaller-deck carriers are a better way to go” with unmanned aircraft.

      Manned strike force aircraft are also obsolete.

  • Don Bacon

    Aircraft carriers are obsolete. They started off as fleet auxiliaries a century ago, scouting and screening for the battle line, before taking their place as the chief repository of U.S. Navy striking power during World War II. Battleships became obsolete when they came into 200-mile range from aircraft operating from carriers, and now carriers are vulnerable to ballistic missiles at a 1500-mile range from land. Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack.

    Carriers have problems. The GAO has noted the problems with the new $14 billion (each) Ford-class carriers. Citing cost-growth, technological immaturity and schedule delays with the Navy’s Ford-class carrier program, a government watchdog has recommended the Pentagon re-examine requirements and testing and conduct a cost-benefit analysis. The carrier’s dual band radar, arresting gear and the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System are all in arrested development. GAO: “Key ship systems face reliability shortfalls that the Navy does not expect to resolve until many years after [Ford] commissioning, which will limit the ship’s mission effectiveness during initial deployments and likely increase costs to the government.”

    Talk about problems — the Navy’s timetable calls for the Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) to enter maintenance soon after commissioning, followed by years of testing during its initial operations. The carrier would be fully capable by February 2019, according to the report. That’s not unusual for carriers. most of them are unavailable for duty because they are in port for replenishment and maintenance. Usually six or seven of the ten-carrier fleet are in port. Currently there are six (of ten) in port as seen here. At least it saves money — carriers cost $7 million a day to operate.

    http://o.aolcdn.com/mars/27194/471/265/ex-navy-carrier-sinking21.jpg

    • SS BdM Fuhress ‘Savannah

      Don I am curious. How you rapped up in all this knowledge? Very good stuff! Also can this country, the USA save itself from it’s Greed with a Free Enterprise system? I don’t think it can myself.

      • jgelt

        IMO, we don’t have a free enterprise system. We have at best a mixed system. The greed in our system comes from special interests with undue influence on the sectors of government that hand out goodies and control competition. Boeing and Martin Marietta don’t have much fear of outside competition. Why would anybody work to build replacement systems if they are outside the MIC? The fix is already in.

    • WilltheFree

      Whaddya mean we don’t have ballistic missile defenses? Not true at all. We have very good defenses against ballistic missiles, to the point where our navy is confident that we can develop more advanced counter-measures far quicker than BM capabilities could increase.

      • SOPA_NOPA

        We are only confident because nobody has had the balls to actually try to sink one for 50 years. If and when that changes things will get very interesting indeed if carriers turn out to be a big bluff.

    • The Savage

      Yup. Just like tanks and heavy armor was said to be obsolete… Then ooops, in Iraq suddenly that armor become awfully handy.

      Everything has problems. All systems, all weapons, all programs. I’ve never worked at a company in which a new database or software program was rolled out without problems.

      • Mike

        Savage,
        Well said… I believe the French had about the same thing to say as their Maginot line was being taken apart by German howitzers and the Panzers were pushing into the rear areas of France….

        • raimius

          Which forts in the Maginot line fell to artillery bombardment?
          The Maginot Line was supposed to force the Germans to take the long path, while the rest of the French military responded and held the Germans near the border. The French military just was not prepared for a real combined arms offensive.

          • Mike

            Google “German railroad mounted cannons”…. The Germans just sat back and blasted the Maginot line with cannons with more range than the French cannons, until the French surrendered and, or course, the French failed to see the need for modern tanks, nor did they read and heed the writings of Rommel….. What Don fails to understand is that our aircraft carriers are indeed those long range cannons and Panzers all rolled into one fighting platform….

    • GammaFoxtrot

      Carries obsolete? What shit are you smoking? Yeah I just typed up the reason why Carries are so important.

      • Don Bacon

        1941? That was then, this is now.

        The Japanese Imperial Navy didn’t have the Dong Feng 21D ballistic missile with target data from a dedicated military synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite and a related new high-resolution digital imaging satellite, with single or multiple warheads coming in at you at Mach-10. See it here.

        • Don Bacon

          Two guys didn’t like the whitewalls. Go figure.

          • JohnJubly

            So any reports of your Chinese wunder-weapon hitting any targets at sea? I hope so because SM-3 has intercepted DF-21d representative targets.

            I doubt even that will be necessary. Just like the Pershing II, the DF-21d would have to slow down below Mach 6 and perhaps even Mach 4 in order for its guidance to work and allow enough time for terminal corrections. In fact it’s quite possible even SM-6 could deal with this unproven weapon.

            Very shortly SM-3s block IIAs will bring every Chinese satellite capable of providing targeting data under threat.
            Course terminal guidance against fixed targets is one thing, hitting a moving ship you have a very hazy idea of the location is quite another.

            Aren’t you an F-35 hater? You are willing to give 100% credibility to the Chinese propaganda machine but you won’t believe Lockheed’s and the USAFs claims about EODAS, APG-81 and the benefits of low observability? Are you being paid in reminbi or dollars?

          • Don Bacon

            Terminal guidance against a giant emitter like a carrier is simple. Anyhow, why gamble 5,000 lives on an obsolete relic?

            And I won’t go into the f-35 here, except to say I am absolutely committed to help kill it.

          • JohnJubly

            I guess you’ve never heard of EMCON, or the fact the US Navy has been practicing defense against a similar threat, supersonic bombers with cruise missiles, for longer than you’ve probably been alive.

            There’s a much greater probability that you will be the one to die before the F-35 ever does.

    • GammaFoxtrot

      During WWII the Japanese launched the raid on Pearl Harbour in hopes to cripple the US ability to launch any form of offensive into their territories. Although that raid did cause heavy casulties it was also a failure. The Imperial Navy failed to sink any of the US carries at that time, this failure would cost them the war.

  • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

    No country besides the US have Aircraft carriers that have more than our allies Air Forces put together.

  • enzomedici

    They are needed if you want to fight stupid wars like in Iraq or Afghanistan. We have subs with cruise missiles and ICBMs. We can attack or retaliate for any major contingency. Aircraft carriers would be useless in a war with China or Russia who both have missiles and can easily sink carriers. What are these national interests we are trying to protect? Can you make a list please? These idiots want to go fight in Syria and Iran which have zero US interests. Time to cut US military budget in half and stop fighting useless wars and playing world policeman.

    • john_koenig

      If that’s the case, why is China in the middle of an ambitious carrier building program?

      • Don Bacon

        Ambitious?

        • john_koenig

          Like I said, we’ll see how things look in 2030.

          • jgelt

            You keep repeating this like it means something. The idea that what makes sense today will make just as much sense nearly 20 years years from now is a guess at best. In 1920, America and Japan guessed that carriers would be the next best thing. They were right. There hasn’t been a super power war since 1945. They work, in a fashion, for our current foreign policy scenarios. The French guessed in 1918 that fortifications would be the key to
            victory in the next war, bad guess. In 1945 America guesses that any
            country could be bombed into submission, bad guess.

            By 2030 we will likely be dealing with a mufti-polar world, which is a real good be. Will the best carrier we can possibly build stand the test of the next generation of submarines, missiles, drones, long range torpedoes and weapons systems I haven’t imagine yet? I’m betting against the carriers.

        • GoNavy

          I do not think China values a Carrier Navy as much as we Americans think they do.

          I expect them to bypass it as the costs do not work out.

          Besides they have no real ambitions to build a blue water fleet that traipses across the globe like we do.

          They are foremostly concerned with territorial integrity and sovereignty hence they need to just be able to defend a few thousand miles from their coasts.

      • SOPA_NOPA

        Because America has an awesome carrier fleet?

        Have you ever heard of leadership?

        Are you familiar with Mao’s backyard furnace project during the Great Leap Forward?

        http://youtu.be/60_Q-kAZbXA

        Obviously, China has come a long, long way since then, but do you think it is better to imitate or innovate?

        • john_koenig

          Forward projected air power is never going away.

    • DD-470

      ALL weapon systems have strengths and weaknesses. Carriers also have the ability to “stand off”, launching air intelligence drones, submarine drones, and rocket weapons pretty far off. Except in the tamest of circumstances, they are escorted by 2 or 3 modern fast attack nuclear submarines, (not to mention at least five surface ships with sonar) Most foreign nuclear submarines capable of doing 28 knotts, are making noise at that speed. We are quieter, and the US has means of listening and tracking and forwarding that intelligence to those escorting submarines.

    • Brady Lyter

      Subs dont have ICBMs dude…

  • chrismalllory

    At actually defending the United States the carriers are useless. For the unconstitutional job of playing world policeman, they are wanted. It is time we focused on defending the United States and left the rest of the nations of the world to deal with their own problems. Yes, I am proudly an isolationist.

    • jubalbiggs

      That is a fantastically cartoonish understanding of military strategy you have there. You think that mobile air fields are worthless in defending CONUS. Ok, so, don’t you think it would maybe be worthwhile to control the water around CONUS in the event of a threat, and aren’t tactical aircraft fantastic for that mission and don’t they need airfields? Isn’t it a great asset to be able to move your airfields around to counter the biggest problem area instead of relying on static defense infrastructure (Manginot or Bar Lev line style)? Let me put it this way, mr isolationist; did it serve the Confederacy well to lose control of the waters around them to the Union navy? Think a little bit.

      • thatguy

        But do we need 10 carriers when no other nation has more than one?

        • jubalbiggs

          No other nation has one? Google is your friend, dude. Just off the top of my head, France, the UK, Russia, and India all have more than one. Japan will soon (though they don’t call them carriers), as will China. The number of nations fielding more than just a token single aircraft carrier for status purposes is going UP, not down as more states realize they could use a bit of power projection capability.

    • SouthOhioGipper

      Sure, just close your door and try to ignore the screams of the woman getting gangraped behind your house because its none of your business and you might face blowback from the rapists. That is what iisolationism is.

      • jgelt

        So Gipper,

        Are you recommending immediate war with India to solve the gang rape issues there?

    • Ruben

      Yes, be practical. In order to help other nations you have to let them evolve, by giving them education and access to open their minds. I would rather fight a war for freedom of the mind, then for and end of a Dicatatorship. Let them get out of ignorance by themselves through the internet and other knowledge resources. By internet I do not mean controlled internet. I mean free world wide internet, so they may get all the viewpoints not just in their closed world. If not you will be fighting with Millineum old age thinking which is known to cause havoc. Once they have evolved then give them a helping hand to get out of the pit, if they need it. Make sure you are secure outside and your hand is strong to take them out with minimal effort, pain, and negative consequence for all.

  • Jason Hubbard

    Land bases also don’t cost 9.5 billion to build and billions more to outfit with an attendant carrier group and aircraft compliment. Much less billion more in maintenance for the carrier, it’s grouping of support ships, and aircraft compliment.

    Moreover, Carriers carry a risk land bases do not. A carrier entering contested waters is a valid warfighting target under deterrance theory; a hypersonic missile attack on a land base on sovereign territory is a first strike threat inviting rapid nuclear reprisal. The threat of mutually assured destruction is a better shield than Aegis or it’s presumptive successors will ever be.

    The Navy has yet to demonstrate that the Aegis system can defend against passive hypersonic ballistic missiles, much less actively controlled hypersonic missiles on tomorrow’s horizon. Once the active control targeting barrier is crossed, computational speed needed to defend against an incoming kill vehicle increases exponentially beyond Moore’s law, all the more so as the processing speed of the kill vehicle’s on board guidance system keeps pace.

    Your complete failure to discuss supersonic subsurface torpedos is also telling.

    You say looking back further into the past gives us a clearer picture of the future, but you’re not looking far enough. At one time, Nations spent significant portions of their economy building Dreadnaughts, only to see them sunk by the advent of aerial combat. Today’s super carriers are Dreadnaughts by another name, which will be sunk by the advent of hypersonic flight in the event we ever see a true conflict of equals again.

  • Jamawani

    Today’s carriers are like battleships a hundred years ago – expensive, impressive, and obsolete. Other than the 1000-pound gorilla factor, there is nothing that aircraft carriers do that cannot be accomplished by other technologies at far, far less cost and less risk, as well. Unlike battleship construction in the naval race of the early 1900s which nearly bankrupted Great Britain in its efforts to maintain 2-to-1 superiority, no other nation is embarking on a massive carrier building program. That begs the question “Why not?”

    • AD1980

      Because their Defense industries aren’t nearly as large and well connected?

    • john_koenig

      India, China and Britain are all bringing new carriers online this decade.

      • Don Bacon

        They are status symbols only, to impress people like you.

        • john_koenig

          The Chinese government doesn’t do bling.

      • Jamawani

        Not a program of 10 nuclear aircraft carriers.
        The Chinese carrier is a refurbished 1980s Soviet hulk.
        The Indian carrier is 1/3 the size of the Ford class.
        The British carrier is 2/3s the size – and the 2nd one may be cancelled.
        Comparing apples to apples is better practice.

        • john_koenig

          Get back to me in 2030.

        • PolicyWonk

          The Chinese carrier is of Soviet origin, but all accounts I’ve read report that its an impressive ship. Whether they get decent aircraft and crews to operate and maintain it is a different matter.
          But the Chinese have one thing we use to have before irresponsible politicians killed the economy of the US: LOTS of MONEY to spend.

      • jgelt

        Using that logic we should be building bi-planes, ultralights, armed speed boats and IED’s. If North Korea has AN2 colts, so should we. Iran has armed ultra-lights and speed boats, so should we. And al Qaeda…well you get the idea.

    • SOPA_NOPA

      Yep, we already have working drones. They don’t need to eat or sleep. Soon they will be able to refuel in flight autonomously; how much longer before the tankers themselves are autonomous and we can run a network of combat aircraft without human intervention?

      How about looking to the future instead of deciding we need to subsidize the past just because?

      • Jamawani

        It’s sad how low the reading comprehension level has fallen. I am comparing unnecessary and expensive battleships of a century ago to unnecessary and expensive aircraft carriers of today.

        • SOPA_NOPA

          I agree, I was following up on your point. I think we have better tech than carriers and should be looking to the future.

  • joe

    Jimmy Carter was a submariner and severed in Admiral Rickover’s navy. He knew what all informed naval experts understand – there are
    submarines and the rest are only targets.

    • Douglas6

      Submarines are not very useful at projecting force on land, at least not compared to aircraft carriers.

      • MLRS

        Tell that to anybody who has been at the receiving end of a submarine launched Tomahawk.

  • Don Bacon

    Think of us as part of a “stakeholder audience” for Scott Truver, director of Gryphon Technologies’ TeamBlue National Security Programs, a Navy contractor, who is here promoting aircraft carriers for the Navy.

    from Gryphon’s website:

    Strategic Comms — Gryphon’s TeamBlue National Security Programs enables our customers to articulate long-range visions, define communications goals and achieve results. Gryphon’s TeamBlue prepares and implements high-level business and communications plans and executes targeted national and international outreach initiatives to ensure aligned messaging successfully reaches key partner and stakeholder audiences

    strategic communication, from the DOD Dictionary:

    Strategic communication is focused United States Government efforts to understand and engage key audiences to create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable for the advancement of United States Government interests, policies, and objectives through the use of coordinated programs, plans, themes, messages, and products synchronized with the actions of all instruments of national power.

    recent contract award:

    Gryphon Technologies L.C., is being awarded $13,409,846, and if all options are exercised, the total aggregate value will be $41,353,490. awarded a indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity. . . multiple-award contract with fixed-price provisions for operational test and evaluation analytical support services to Command Operational Test and Evaluation Force. –May 29, 2013

    • Jamawani

      Lovely. How disingenuous of Mr. Truver. You know, I’ve always wanted to start a religion where I was the Great Prophet and all the believers simply opened their wallets up for me. Apparently, Mr. Truver has beaten me to the punch.

  • Don Bacon

    General Cartwright:

    The former Joint Chiefs of Staff vice chairman questioned the emphasis on additional manned aircraft, tanks and land vehicles, saying unmanned systems will prove more effective.

    Admiral Greenert:

    To strike a single target, however, the total training, maintenance, and operations cost to get a manned aircraft close enough to deliver the JDAM is several times higher than the cost of launching a Tomahawk at the same target from a destroyer, submarine or aircraft operating several hundred miles away. That is one of the trends leading us to focus more effort on improving and evolving our standoff sensor and munition payloads. Taking advantage of that learning curve while ensuring each hull or airframe has relevant capability for its time requires that we look at platforms more as trucks.

    news report, today

    The Pentagon’s high-tech research arm is trying to develop a submarine that would host unmanned underwater and airborne drones to help U.S. forces penetrate an adversary’s sophisticated defenses or cope with collapsed states and international piracy, Pentagon planning documents show.

    • GoNavy

      All makes sense to me.

      I do not understand why such obvious things seem oblivious to others though.

      • jgelt

        It’s easy to grasp the why of it. R&D is paid for by the government to the companies that produce the solutions. The solution is going to look a lot like what that company already produces. The military people that make the decisions on short, mid and long term planning; tend to end up working for the same companies. Even when these decision makers aren’t corrupted by greed to get a high paid job with the contractor producing the next weapons platform, they are often tainted by getting most of their information from the people developing the next platform.

        Until this relationship, in what is the MIC, is ended this is the only result possible.

  • johnwerneken

    The USA is the country most able to, with the most reason to, and most trusted to, provide for sufficient war-fighting capability to attempt to maintain peace and commerce on this planet.

    • toumanbeg

      WHY? What does it get us? Who profits?

    • Don Bacon

      That peace-maintaining didn’t go so well, did it. In fact one might say it went in the opposite direction — endless war.

      The commerce-maintaining is only hype, the Navy claiming that it “maintains the global commons” all by itself whereas the only threat to ocean commerce is pirates, and combating piracy is a multi-national effort involving many countries including Iran and China.

    • jgelt

      Who “most trusts” the U.S. to police the world? The U.S. has a history of prevarication and provoking conflicts. Rarely are these wars entered for the “good of all” as government propaganda would like the U.S. population to believe. More often than not, the reason the U.S. goes to war as at the behest of special interests, cloaked in fabricated stories to get the citizens to go along or at least not complain.

  • GoNavy

    How about stealthy robotic submarines with stealthy aircraft drones that can be launched when and where needed.

    Such assets could just sit in critical areas and launch resources for defense/attack or recon when needed.

    And if found and destroyed little is lost.

    We could make many and expect losses and control them all remotely from many places across the world or even in space.

    Think of the cost savings and the increased capabilities of such a system.

    • toumanbeg

      Google “God’s Rods”. The reentry targeting issue has been resolved.

      • GoNavy

        Certainly another class of weapons that will someday become a reality.

    • DD-715

      In the real world this stuff one, is not yet highly reliable and two, usually needs a “master” nearby to control it properly. When I joined the Navy navy brass was high on Drone Anti Submarine Helicopers. All the leftover WW II destroyers were getting Fram II conversions and a special shack on the aft end to house them.
      The idea was to remotely control these remote control helicopters to do antisubmarine warfare and launch Mark 48 or even nuclear devices if necessary. The prooblem ? They turned upside down and crashed a lot. They were also susceptible to jamming. The idea was not ready for prime time. Also Naval admirals had nightmares about a loaded DASH crashing or ditching with a nuclear weapon in its cradle.

      • GoNavy

        Of course this is not real world yet… it may take us another century to perfect such technology.

    • jubalbiggs

      Great; and then the Chinese hack it and turn it around and attack you with it.
      This idea of replacing carriers with submarines is stupid on many, many levels. Have you ever heard of a term called “gunboat diplomacy”? Navies have always played a very important role in serving as a visible element in state power. When a big fleet showed up outside a belligerent enemy’s city, wars were averted when they recalculated the cost of starting one. The carrier is a big, visible stick. It replaces the battleship in this role. A submarine relies on stealth to survive, which makes it totally worthless for intimidation. Now, if you worry about the bang for the buck you are getting out of the navy, NOTHING has been better for avoiding, averting, and NOT fighting wars since WWII than the intimidation factor of the aircraft carrier. (I say this as a former airborne infantryman). You use a carrier so do WONT have to fight. Your stealth drone BS just makes wars more likely as minor players miscalculate their chances at taking down the big dog. Also, maintenance of a big fleet of automated submarines would be an INCREDIBLE nightmare. The expense is mind-boggling. We’d have to have a secondary fleet of full time, manned tow and retrieval ships doing nothing but fishing out stalled or broken robot subs that had broken something and couldn’t get home. Just thinking through the logistics is crazy. A military is not a video game, see, and real machines require real people to keep them functioning, and you would lose so much more money trying to keep this busted robot fleet operating. I have several more major objections, but I’ll stop there.

      • Don Bacon

        You make a major argument regarding the carrier’s ability to avert wars. How about providing some examples. Otherwise it’s just talk.

        • GoNavy

          When China invaded India after India harbored our CIA spy the Dalai Lama with his CIA armed terrorist group where India was used as bases for these terrorist attacks into China orchestrated by the CIA…. Operation ST Circus was abandoned.

          China withdrew their forces when a Carrier group entered into the surrounding seas.

          China developing the DF21 was the response to this.

          We gave India the keys to developing nuclear weapons for harboring our CIA spy the Dalai Lama and his clan of terrorists.

      • GoNavy

        You think the costs of a carrier battle group is small compared to drones and other unmanned craft?

        I think you have not thought much about the costs with such a statement.

        When several thousand drones are sent aloft in a moments notice over territory that was deemed safe – you will have a deterrent that makes a carrier group appear small.

        • jubalbiggs

          Given that the technology is not proven at all and would require decades in R&D and acquisition costs, and that you would need a LOT of them to saturate airspace in a critical region, and a lot more to do that in multiple theaters, and that minor maintenance issues on these unmanned vessels would rapidly turn into major and expensive repair problems in the extremely harsh environment they’d be expected to operate in, and that we have operated carriers effectively for decades and know what the costs are, I don’t think I’m the one underestimating costs on your cool star wars idea, there.

          • GoNavy

            Maintenance costs… these are disposable assets, consider it like tissue paper, with costs per unit so low you could literally throw them away.

            R&D and acquisition costs are still far lower than keeping and retrofitting and deploying several carrier battle groups. Besides the R&D is already up and running and we certainly are going to add to drone and robotic capabilities while we keep our current carrier battle groups. So no cost savings here.

            Basically the carrier battle group is a dead end and will be gone in the next 200 years. The question is what will replace it.

  • PolicyWonk

    If you think the carriers are a problem, check this out. This is what our carriers are doomed to be carrying :-P

    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/2013/09/joint-strike-fighter-lockheed-martin

    • Don Bacon

      Carriers won’t be carrying F-35′s any time soon, because they have tons of problems including sloppy quality control, according to a recent IG report.

      Operational testing won’t even start for four or five more years, meanwhile the F-35 is a $200 million dollar turkey with significant technical and structural concerns, a plane which can’t fly over 550 knots, nor exceed +18 deg angle of attack, nor maneuver more that -1 or +5 G’s, or fly at night or in weather, and also there should be no rapid stick or rudder movements (from DOT&E report). Also no mid-air refueling or flying within 25 miles of lightning.

      • JohnJubly

        Well the T-50 can’t even fire missiles, so there should be no problems with future adversaries.

  • Cracker122049

    What part of beware of the Military Industrial Complex is it that so many have a hard time understanding? The fact is the continual fleecing of the citizens and the war machine is going to roll on until it is physically stopped.When have you ever seen so many upper level military commanders being sacked,or so many seals dieing,or foreign troops being trained at urban warfare while this government is buying ammo and magazines for their guns.militarized police everywhere and the number is growing,drones and cameras all over the place.Does anyone really believe this is happening for the safety of the citizens or the protection of the real terrorist,I think the latter!

  • HAL 9000

    Carriers are only good a weapon as their aircraft. Compare Nimitz circa 1987 with Nimitz today: Its combat radius is smaller, it’s ability to project power is far less by weight of ordinance, its ability to defend itself at distance has shrunk remarkably (no more F-14/AIM54) making it far more dependent on supporting warships. In a world of weapons like Brahmos that is an important point.

    Even if the F-35 worked perfectly as a program (it most definitely does not) why build next-generation carriers to launch essentially lightweight tactical fighters with no theater defense capability or strategic projection? I find it odd the author of this piece fixated so much on carriers as a projection-platform without mentioning once the sheer physical atrophy – in absolute terms of range, ordinance weight, and specialization – its physical projection has become with modern naval aircraft compared to airframe mix of naval wings twenty, thirty years ago.

    Without answering that question you cannot make a cogent argument for such expensive ships with such a limited capacity – again, carriers are only capable as their airplanes, and in basic physics modern naval airplanes now and tomorrow are far more limited machines than in Reagan’s time. Bizarre.

    • Don Bacon

      The F-35 was intended to be a stealthy strike bomber, nothing else — until they tasked it with all these other roles which meant it can’t do anything well.

      The deep strike mission entirely depends upon its alleged stealth. The CNO Admiral Jonathan Greenert had some thoughts on that:

      “The rapid expansion of computing power ushers in new sensors and methods that will make stealth and its advantages increasingly difficult to maintain,” Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, wrote in the July 2012 issue of Proceedings magazine, published by the U.S. Naval Institute.

      Unfortunately the Navy is being forces to accept an aircraft it can’t afford and doesn’t want because the price has to be kept out of the stratosphere for the Air Force, and the foreign sales prospects are collapsing.

  • toumanbeg

    While a CVBG is a multi-purpose tool, it’s primary purpose is offensive, IE: power projection. Ideal for aggressive action in defence of the global commons, it is a waste of money for a nation interested is just defending itself.
    A Cold war tool that has outlived it’s usefulness.

    The concept of International Law and a Global Commons dates from the Greatest Generation and the Post WW2 period. The Megadeath of WW2 shocked a generation, which promoted the UN and the Idea of International Law as a way of avoiding another nuclear powered mega death. Boomers bought into that Idea. Generation ‘X’ is lukewarm to it. The Mellinials are calling ‘Bullshit”.
    For the Idea to work, there MUST be a cop. As Blackstone said “The law does not go where enforcement cannot reach.” No cops, no law.

    Since the Mellinials will be working the weapons and Generation “X” paying for them, the USA as world cop is dead as a Dodo.

    That means a return to the great game of the 18th and 19th centuries. Only Great Game 2.0 won’t be played by a handful of European Nations armed with cannons on wooden ships but almost 200 nations armed with Nuclear weapons and ICBM’s.
    I don’t see anything good coming from that.

  • Robert G. Berry Jr.

    To all of you that say we should scrap the carriers, I ask this. When all of the Airforce bases and the Army posts have been attacked and destroyed, and their planes have no place to land, how will you maintian air supremacy? This is the second mission of the carrier after forward power projection. An active, 12 carrier fleet with full support compliment, meets the seapower security needs for now, but the author is correct when stating that this will grow as well.

    • Don Bacon

      Well if it happens in California, there’s a lot of bases in the midwest. Same goes for Virginia.

      • SouthOhioGipper

        American defense does not end at our borders! What about our global economic presence? Our free trade agreements? Our treaty
        Commitments? sorry but just defending our borders is not an option. Our “borders” at least economically are global.

        • jgelt

          Bombers can reach worldwide targets. Missiles can be launched from subs and and cheap cruisers. There are alternatives to giant expensive floating targets.

    • jgelt

      How do carriers escape the cataclysm that takes out every runway in the U.S. and every oversea base we have? Will carriers dodge and weave to avoid super-sonic missiles? A carrier doesn’t have to sink to be unusable. A carrier group is a relatively easy thing to find with today’s technology, even that available to our adversaries. It’s not like world war 2 where an adversary has to fly around to find it.

      • Robert G. Berry Jr.

        Carriers have technology to hide from everything but satelites, and even then, they have a speed that is classified. US nuke carriers can generate enough speed they can launch planes in a dead calm. Dodge and weave? Yes plus their defenses are not confined to the ship itself. They do have multi-purpose air wings and for example ageis class destroyers and crusiers have the capacity to locate, track , and attack up to 250 targets at once, and there is rarely only one in a carrier group.

        • ImaginaryD

          All the technology you suggest can equally protect a fixed base. The only tradeoff is mobility vs heavier land based firepower. And today, commercial satellites can find carrier groups let alone any enemy capable of taking out “all the airforce and army bases”.

          If you want survivability due to stealth go for actually stealthy platforms like submarines.

  • urgelt

    What worries me most isn’t the carrier concept itself, but aircraft range. The F-35 that will be used to equip the Navy’s carriers has ridiculously short legs. Carriers will have to get pretty close to targets to bring firepower to bear on them. Working in close raises carrier vulnerability.

    Perhaps expanded use of next-gen drones will resolve this, but as it stands now, carriers with short-legged aircraft won’t be nearly as useful as they should be for the expense.

  • Russ

    I think it was sort of an unfortunate decision to decide to play with electromagnetic catapults, eh? Also, I wonder at the people who insist that China would launch ANY ICBM, even a ship killer, when at a state of war or near war with the US. Unless mutually assured destruction sounds like a fun thing in Asia.

  • ImaginaryD

    The purpose of carrier groups is to project force to areas we want to influence. Fundamentally the reason carriers are getting marginalized is the developing ability to project force from greater range with other weapon systems.

    This presents an obvious comparison to those defending dreadnoughts against aircraft carriers in a another era.

    “So, it’s déjà vu all over again. The more things change the more they stay the same.”