Interesting opinion piece from Professor Jim Homes of the Naval War College at USNI News, Opinion: History’s Costliest Fleet Auxiliary:

Carriers 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. The CVN could trace the same trajectory followed by the battleships—from capital ship, to expensive fleet auxiliary, and into eventual obsolescence and retirement.

Why is he thinking this way?

This is a milieu populated not just by adversary cruisers and destroyers, but

Old “Silkworm” Anti-Ship Missiles

by missile-toting subs and fast patrol craft. This is also an age of land-based sea power. Extended-range fire support has come a long way since the days of Corbett and Mahan, when a fort’s guns could clear enemy vessels out of a few miles of offshore waters, and that was it. Tactical aircraft flying from airfields ashore, batteries of antiship cruise missiles, and even an exotic antiship ballistic missile are among the weaponry with which U.S. Navy defenders must now contend. This latter-day, hybrid land/sea flotilla menaces not just CVNs but all surface forces that venture within its range.

Modern Iranian Chinese C-801/2 Dispenser

Actually, it is a return to the old days, when Lord Nelson’s adage “A ship’s a fool to fight a fort” was the wisdom of the day.

Anti-access weapons and capability have just added to their range, as land-based powers seek to convert their “near seas” into safe, controlled space.

What does it mean if Professor Holmes is right?

I would suggest starting with building up the submarine fleet. A slew of diesel/AIP boats would be good (in theory, cheaper than nukes). Or something different – submersible missile hydrofoil ships? Break out the old Tom Swift books and see if anything makes sense.

I should also note that one of the original arguments for something like the Littoral Combat Ship was that it was an inexpensive asset that could be put in harm’s way . . . to keep the sea lanes open among other things.

The U.S. Navy needs to be very careful to the avoid the hammer/nail approach to problem solving.




Posted by Mark Tempest in Innovation, Naval Institute, Navy


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  • http://twitter.com/Byron230 Byron

    Ah…in the days of the Red Bear, when US CVs went very carefully north of 40 and trembled at the thought of Lehmans nightmare mission should the flag go up (to attack the ports and airfields of the Kola) with carriers, subs and escorts, our carriers faced: attack subs with very good torpedoes and missile subs that lofted huge cruise missiles, and of course, Bears and Badgers and Backfires, oh, my. It all sounds a lot like the reasons given for downsizing the big deck carrier. Our weapon platforms grow steadily smarter more destructive as theirs match ours. The difference is the men and women who fight the battles (and die in them) Who’s is more trained, more motivated, has the best elan?

    AIP subs: watched a German type 212 (or 214) refueling it’s fuel cells. A day of setting up the equipment and making sure the gases were on-site, two days of pumping. Wonder if the tender attached to her can do that at sea, in the thick of the fight?

    • Sperrwaffe

      Byron,
      It was a 212. U32 and “Main” as its Tender. They are there for Westlant Deployment.
      You are right about the time consumable process. However, please keep in mind, that they just went over the Atlantic, most of the time submerged ( and “Main” got beaten upstairs in the waves…)

      • http://twitter.com/Byron230 Byron

        And how fast do they use up the fuel cell if they have to manuever at speeds exceeding 12 knots?

      • Sperrwaffe

        Since they are not supposed to do that, this is not a problem. And even if I knew these details, I would not dare to mention them in an unclass forum.
        Again you are coming from the nuclear, speed, more power, more speed, Tim Taylor point of view.

      • http://twitter.com/Byron230 Byron

        Actually we did some work on the Main (repaired the keel rest foundations for the two life boats, cut off old, welded new in less than 7 hours, including getting our gear rolled up and head back to the shop and the ship cleaned up) and U32 was nested outboard Main. I didn’t know if I was allowed on board, but since I was working like a dog to get the job done in time I didn’t have much time to sight-see. I did notice something about the apparent “hull” and made some interesting conclusions with admiration for German engineering.

        Speed: don’t know who Tim Taylor is, only know that the only time “speed” is a good thing is when you’re trying to make a square corner with a torpedo behind you. Subs fight SLOW, even nukes. Flow noise is a problem for all subs.

        Ask the admin for my email, I’ll go into my reasoning in much more detail.

      • Sperrwaffe

        Sorry for the confusion.
        Tim Taylor (Tim Allen), “Tool Time”, more power…arrhhh…

        Just trying to make some fun.
        So I was right, “Main” got beaten up. Typical damage for this class when you hit heavy waters. Also in our area. I had enough “fun” on them when being on board as MCM staff and the waves tried to tickle us. Anyhow, these Tender are perfect for supply group for FPB and MCM SQNs. “Main” was actually converted for the subs after his original FPB SQN Class 148 was decommissioned.

        If the opportunity is there try it again to have a look.

        Of course we can continue the discussion. We are now on Easter Holidays so don’t expect me to answer my mails (since I left my office mail) before Tuesday.

    • http://www.facebook.com/art.corbett.3 Art Corbett

      Agree with the operational considerations you point out. We need to consider how we too can control sea from the land.
      I also agree with your point about the quality of the force. Saw the arrival of a Chinese Ship returning to home port. Clearly they don’t have any appreciation for diversity. Looked like a bunch of Neanderthal warriors–the Chinese equivalent of a bunch of brawny white-guys we used to send to sea. No women, no gay kisses on the pier, not even any calorically challenged sailors–just these stony faced fellows, some with actual weapons in hand, on a sparkling ship. How do they expect to win a fight without quality OBGYN clinics? Probably don’t even have child care anywhere near pier side. These guys are way behind our Navy and won’t catch up in the near future. Talented single parents probably have to take care of their kids instead of contributing to national defense.
      Of course, there is one contrarian bit of evidence to our agreed position that crew quality is most important. SECNAV announced that ending sexual harassment is the Navy’s top priority. That problem has been innovatively solved on one class of platforms–UAVs. Look to similar innovations in the future–we are on a learning curve.

  • http://www.militaryairships.blogspot.com campbell

    “…..Break out the old Tom Swift books and see if anything makes sense….”

    Once again (and again and again and again until someone “gets” it)…..flying aircraft carriers. Airships. Not blimps, not zeppelins, not “hybrid”s.

    Modern tech, modern materials. Fully rigid shelled hulls, amphibious, to 500ton payload. UCAV’s. No catapult needed. No wake No sonar. Constructed properly, as stealthy as a B-2. Littorals, blue water, brown water, ice, mountains. deploy direct from CONUS, solar powered/virtually no range limit. 130kts, all weather.

    • http://thepressuresoftime.blogspot.com Benjamin Walthrop

      How big is this thing with a 500 ton payload?

      • http://www.militaryairships.blogspot.com campbell

        Airship approximately 600′ long x 360′ wide x 125′ height.

        Total volume approximately 22 Million cubic feet. Deadweight allowance of 176 tons would allow for 500 ton payload. That deadweight may be light…..in which case, if one were to “settle” for, say, a 400 ton payload instead, the deadweight would be kosher; in line with historic precedents deadweight to payload ratio…..

        might add……just four or five years ago, Navy was seeking such craft, (Google up and see: “PMA-262LTARFI”)

  • vtbikerider

    My quick response to this is that carriers are relevant to today’s battle– their difference is that a carrier battle group has a three dimensional threat– surface, air and undersea. Plus, add into the increased capabilities of sensors and communication makes the comparison between Nelson and today hard to keep. The missiles that any potential enemy has is of course something to be wary of, but what is worse– today’s at sea fight or say, mid 1980′s when the USSR was at it’s height?

    The PLAN may have nice new ships, and has made this century all about sea power, but we have to keep in mind that we are their biggest trading partner and their military build up is funded by our markets continually buying cheap from their manufacturers. Moving against the United States would destroy their economy which is built to serve our markets. Perhaps that is what they want, but it seems a bit illogical.

    As many have pointed out here in the past China is probably moving first to be a regional blue water navy with efforts to intimidate it’s local neigbors. Unsettling to all involved for sure. Perhaps the question that we should be asking ourselves is “How to we fight in close quarters with modern weapons?” That’s a question we might want to discuss here as a theoretical exercise.

  • http://www.facebook.com/derrick.lau.75 Derrick Lau

    Generally speaking because the cheapest method to travel between countries is by sea, the ability for the US to project power via its navy remains an essential ingredient to its national security strategy.

    In terms of carriers being obsolete, well, they still remain the cheapest way to bring air power to foreign shores, so I don’t think they will be obsolete anytime soon. Until the US perfects affordable space travel, in that case large spaceships may be cheaper and more effective but that would violate the global ban on the militarization of space.

    And to look at it in extremes, in all conflicts with peer competitors, it could be argued all weaponry are obsolete with the exception of nuclear weapons. Realistically any conflict with China would lead to the use of nuclear weapons; it’s the only way the US can be assured of victory. So all this thought in reality is for China’s benefit, not the US.

    But since we are so generous and gracious, I guess we could spend a little time investigating how these new threats to the CVN work:

    Are they network centric? I mean do the ASBMs and whatever else China may have require the weapon to talk to a radar or satellite? If so then the simplest approach to defeat such systems is to pre-empt them with some form of cyber-attack to flood China’s military networks with useless network packets. It may be easiest to just use the Internet to hack Chinese networks and create a cyber disruption so they cannot use their access denial weaponry effectively. If China can unplug itself from the Internet, then we should look at how to hack onto their radio transmissions between satellites and to create problems that way.

    What about decoys? Can we create fake radar/satellite signatures of CVNs? Another simple way to confuse them.

    Is there a way to simulate a potential Chinese-US military conflict so we can actually study and quantify what happens? Although blogs make great discussion areas I’m not sure if any conclusions can be drawn until proper tests are designed and executed. It would be interesting to experiment and see what are the combinations of techniques China could employ: ie use of salvos of ASBMs in conjunction with those little missile boats, etc…

    Just some thoughts…don’t really understand the issue in depth.

  • http://cgblog.org/ Chuck Hill

    I’ve begun to wonder if SSNs have priced themselves out of the commerce raider business, because every flaming datum puts them at risk for small return. Additionally lots of traffic does not justify a torpedo.

    • grandpabluewater

      SSN’s are quite deliberately designed, and their crews trained, to be evasive, They are VERY good at catch me who can. The need to hunt targets whose sinking will disrupt the enemy’s cunning plans is not new, and is something of an obsession with operational staffs, and properly so. The objective is to attack the enemy’s ability to wage war by cutting his SLOC’s.

      War at sea IS risk.

      • http://twitter.com/Byron230 Byron

        And a smart CO knows how to take advantage of a “flaming datum”

      • grandpabluewater

        Otto Weddigen in 1914 comes to mind…..

      • http://cgblog.org/ Chuck Hill

        US SSNs are primarily designed for ASW. Sinking enemy combatants and land attack are significant secondary capabilities, but to use them to attack merchant ships seems a poor use of a precious resource when we can interdict Chinese merchant ships with surface ships.

        US submarines sank a bid over 1,100 ships of a little less than 4.9M tons.

        The much more numerous German U-boats were responsible for 2828 ships of 14.69 million tons.

        Toward the end of WWII US subs started carrying up to two 5″ because there were lots of targets that did not justify a torpedo even then with many more subs and relatively cheap torpedoes. Today’s subs don’t have anything similar that would allow them to sink a smaller lower priority target without using up the limited number of torpedoes and missiles.

        Today’s torpedoes are of course more destructive and much more likely to hit, mitigating the need for a spread, but today’s merchant ships are also ten to a hundred times bigger meaning the largest are likely to need more than one to put them down and there are now many more ships than there were during WWII

        As reported by Equasis “The World Merchant Fleet in 2011″ included 50788 ships over 500 Gross Tons totalling 1,000,532,000 gross tons, averaging 19,700 tons. If China controls only 10% of the total that is over 5,000 ships and over 100M tons. Sinking a substantial part of that fleet would take an awful lot of torpedoes and a lot of submarine patrols, and result in a lot of flaming datums.

        I’m not saying don’t risk the submarines, but risk them for targets that justify the exposure and use surface ships to interdict the merchant shipping on the high seas and at choke points along the first island chain.

        The other alternative is to develop diesel electric subs that can be produced cheaply in large numbers to do the work of commerce raiding.

      • Sperrwaffe

        That is why I am talking about a mixture of capabilities. SSN in Blue Water, SSK in Littorals and so on.

        When you compare the tonnage of WWII please keep in mind the loss ratio of the submariners. For German U-Boats it was rather large. Of 40000 submariners 30000 did not return home. I don’t have the US numbers present but they must be extremely lower due to the surface superiority after Midway (generally speaking…don’t kill me with that sloppy assumption…)

        I agree with your point about larger merchant vessels. However, a warhead of 1,3 tons (e.g. Seahake) should do enough damage when exploding 2m under your keel.

        But why do you always forget the easiest way do create a barrier? You take the Chinese Sea? Entrances? Harbour approaches?
        Mines….
        Some offensive mining campaigns and you have the first channeling of merchant traffic. Then you can place your assets for other barriers. The Chinese are preparing the opposite in terms of A2/AD by using their growing mine stock.

      • http://cgblog.org/ Chuck Hill

        Not only that, but we will have to permit some shipping into the South China Sea to reach neutrals and hopefully allies. We will need to confirm the destination of shipping and let some of it through just as the British allowed shipping to reach neutral Netherlands during WWI.

        Losses among US submarines were also high, but not nearly so high as among the German U-boats. British submarine losses were probably higher than those of the US.

      • grandpabluewater

        Sperrwaffe, of USN WWII submarine crewmembers 1 in 5 remain on patrol. Warm regards/Gramps

      • grandpabluewater

        Chuck, Blood is the price of Admiralty

        .We will lose ships if we use them, we will lose wars if we don’t.

        One of the reasons that the USN submarines utterly failed to repel the Japanese invasion of the Philippines is tactical timidity. The fellow thought to be the most likely to succeed as a submarine CO cracked early in his first war patrol (very capable Engineer).

        The guy who was the most successful CO of the Philippine flotilla, with an old S boat, was thought to be less than remarkably gifted, pre war. What he had was a thorough grasp of the fundamentals, and sensible imaginative daring, aka guts and skill; and a ship that would only shoot the Mk 10, old fashioned, low tech, reliable torpedo.

      • http://cgblog.org/ Chuck Hill

        The other part of the pricing themselves out of the commerce raiding equation is that there are so few of them being built that by the time we consider their other assigned missions, there will be very few available for that purpose.

      • grandpabluewater

        All depends on the Navy/Nation you are going to war with.

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