Then we can save a lot of money!

Over the next few decades the Pentagon is planning to spend more than $50 billion on its Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carriers. The first of these 100,000-ton ships is due for completion in 2015, with others following as vessels in the existing 12-carrier fleet are retired. Since aircraft carriers are near helpless without a protective ring of about ten destroyers, frigates and cruisers, the military wants to invest in newer versions of these, too, at a cost of an additional $50 billion.

This plan constitutes a huge waste of taxpayer money and exemplifies the Defense Department’s fixation on preserving legacy systems designed for a kind of war that the U.S. is likely never to fight again.

Is that the best argument out there? That is from NPS professor John Arquilla in Forbes. Pause.

Though it is one of the weaker anti-Carrier arguments I have seen over the years – I don’t want to ping on that part of it – I will let the Beltway Bandits …. I mean fellow my USNI Bloggers ponder that (just nudg’n fellas – nut’n but luv).

No, let’s look at the quote that sticks in my craw,

….a kind of war that the U.S. is likely never to fight again.

From the carriers in the Royal Navy in the late 70s and early 80s to counter-insurgency prior to this decade – where in this line of work have we heard this line of thinking before? How many thousands have died because people in comfortable chairs thought “was was new?”

H/t LargeBill.

Posted by CDRSalamander in Aviation

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  • Byron

    Here’s the answer: Every president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has said at least once during his administation, “Where are the carriers?”. It’d really suck to have to tell the CINC, “Well, we just de’com’d the last one, Mr. President, and it’s gonna take the Air Force at least three weeks to build up a ground footprint to enable it to sustain ops in the area of interest”.

    That’s a “duh” moment if I ever heard one.

  • Carriers provide flexibility in the ever changing political climes and war fronts, not limitations. Yes carriers are primarily designed for blue water ops, but their ability to power project ashore, not just virtually but pragmatically has been proven time and time again.

    From the instant the Japanese leveraged carriers some 67 years ago at Pearl to today’s battles in Afghanistan, carriers have proven flexibility beyond any other platform in the US Navy (or other services for that matter) arsenal, and the new Gerald R. Ford Class of CVN look to continue that tradition well in to the future… of UNKNOWN battles to come. And if Mr. Arquilla has such a profound ability to see exactly what types of battles we will be fighting in the future, well I have a stock portfolio I would really like him to review.

    This is not an “either/or” argument, all of our systems have strengths and weaknesses, and yes– costs. But for the flexibility afforded by a carrier… my allowance is on the flattop. Or of course we could always purchase 100 more B-2s with their broad range of tactical, strategic and humanitarian capabilities.


  • Over the next decade we will see China, and several emerging navies like South Korea, Turkey, and possibly Japan introduce Aircraft Carriers. Additionally we will see the UK and India renew theirs. The features they provide and the benefits gained are apparent to most.

    There is a need for our public to be more mindful of the comparative position US Navy holds/maintains relative to other sea-based nations.



  • Halsey and Spruance avoided sending carriers close to the shoreline, save for quick hit and run strikes, preferring instead to use cheap and expendable escort carriers for this very dangerous mission. Why are we so much smarter today?

    So if we don’t or perhaps shouldn’t use them for littoral operations, what Navy are we going to fight the next battle of Midway against since no other country possesses a single big deck carrier even approaching the capabilities of our own? We keep waiting, and waiting…

  • Byron

    Mike, what was the first asset that we could put in place shortly after 9/11? That’s your answer. Secondary to that, how much of the worlds population lives within 200 miles of the coastlines? Tertiary, how many of the worlds major military installations are withing 200 miles of the coastline? And last, he who controls the seas, controls the world.

  • Byron, You make a good point, but what weapon do we use to control the seas is the bottom line. Will it be heavy carriers which themselves are at risk from cruise missile armed submarines? In order to afford ever mostly costly giant flattops, the major navies are gutting the very type of warships which we were forced to build in great numbers during the world wars to contain the threat, ASW escorts. And now the modern nuke submarine is so much more advanced than the tiny pig boats of yesteryear that spent most of their time on the surface and possessed only short range weapons for their defense.

    The fact is, over the past few decades we have been building hi-tech warships to fight lo-tech enemies. This is hardly an adequate test of the carriers ability to survive modern war. And if the submarine can sink the carrier before it can launch its aircraft against our land enemies, then our entire expeditionary strategy becomes moot. Yeah, the carriers have been pretty handy in our land wars, but they have to get there first. Can we trust in the fact that we will only have non-naval powers to contend with in future wars, that won’t use their weapons to fight back against our awesome armadas?

  • Byron

    Mike, submarines have always been able to kill carriers. That fact by itself has not diminished the need for or use of carriers. The obvious answer to your question is A) bringing back the art of ASW to the fleet, and B) the best weapon to find and sink a sub is another sub.

    You lose the CVN capability at your dire peril…dire, very dire, like put a gun to your head and pull the trigger, because you’ve already screwed up so bad, there’s no coming back from it.

  • So the carrier advocates keep telling us, but if we try nothing else, how will we know? We are told we can’t build arsenal ships because potentially they could displace aircraft carriers in some low-threat environments, same as light carriers. We invest all our strategy and national treasure in a handful of vulnerable platforms and what do we do if this is the wrong strategy? There must always be defense alternatives, but with the US racing increasingly toward a 200 ship Navy building a “battleship only fleet”, what will we have to fall back on?

  • Mike M.

    We have tried these things…with mixed results. We don’t have anything labeled “arsenal ship”, just CGs and DDGs with Tomahawk-heavy weapons loads and the SSGNs.

    As to a small carrier, it’s worth remembering that ship steel is cheap. The powerplant and electronics are the cost drivers. And the investment in political capital is the same. If Congress is only willing to fund 10-12 carriers, better to build big ones and gain versatility.

  • Carriers are of course necessary. However we have in part imperiled them because of our aviation choices-and our surface ship choices.

    Probably the biggest difference between the CVBG of today and 20 years ago is that the carrier is now, just a transporter of aircraft from one location to another. For things like Iraq-operating from the ship is more of a nusicance than a benefit, especially in terms of the tanker bill operating sorties from the gulf entails. 20 years ago the carrier was the centerpiece of a multi-mission battlegroup that trained to fight as a battlegroup. The Air Wing was muti-mission team, instead of todays airwing of Hornets and more Hornets.

    We’ve done this to ourselves by not building the battlegroups we need and using that to drive our ship numbers. The US Navy needs 14-15 Battlegroups. Now just as much as during the Cold War. We’ve got enough ships to barely populate 9. Something has to give.

  • Byron

    Need to remember, that 11 CSGs really translates to 4 on deployment. (and yes, this applies to all ships, training, refit, exercises, time for sailors to get to know their families again).

  • Chris

    It is amazing that the idea of retiring aircraft carriers is even on the table. While we look internally at ways to cut defense spending in the US, other nations are looking at the value of adding aircraft carriers as an offensive capability. Of course, one need only look at the list of characters who presented future defense spending options to the incoming administration and you see it is heavily represented by USA/USAF interests. I recall the hearings during the Clinton years in which the USAF claimed “presence” could be achieved through strategic bombers in CONUS, that there no longer was a need for those big gray things which have been the first on scene strikers to conflict.

  • Flashman

    The relevancy and versatility of the carrier strike group is fundamentally dependent on the composition of the air wing and the integration of the strike group as a multi-mission task element. Aviation provides a tremendous advantage in terms of flexibility, lethality, range, and speed to naval warfare – all attributes still relevant to control of the seas. Integration of aviation, subsurface, and surface capabilities has time, and time again, proven to be the best way to fight as a Navy – but aviation brings key elements of speed, distance, and force projection into land that complements other warfare disciplines and but also brings attributes not replicated by surface and subsurface combatants.

    To argue that the Navy reduce aircraft carriers and build up the numbers of small combatants and submarines would signal a shift to a fundamentally defensive approach to naval warfare – the gunboat Navy. Our opponents have historically taken this approach to combating the U.S. Navy’s ability to maneuver, destroy their fleet from afar, and bring military force to bear on in the littoral. America still requires the power projection brought by a balanced, multi-mission, carrier-based force…

  • With today’s technology, every ship could be an aircraft carrier, considering the flexibility offered by V/STOL aircraft, the increasing power of UAVs, cruise missiles that are falling in price and rising in capability. Instead we have every ship supporting the aircraft carrier, which we claim is our only means of projecting power ashore.

    Meanwhile we mostly ignore the submarine threat, and with each new major war we are “surprised” again by the capabilities of a deadly silent and stealthy diving boat which now spends most of its time underwater.

    And yes we do need a gunboat navy, which the Royal Navy of the Victorian Age found very useful in taming the littorals of the Third World. Back then a steamer with a Maxim gun could tame an outbreak of piracy. Today the USN has to have an Aegis battleship for the same mission.

  • Flashman

    I would disagree that the carrier is our only means of projecting power ashore, but it is a very significant means that cannot be disregarded in terms of sustained presence and strike operations. To compare a TLAM-armed surface combatant to a carrier is to compare apples and oranges in terms of sustainability and lethal firepower as far as the effect on shore-based targets. Additionally, should we shift back to the days of the multi-mission carrier rather than the Hornet-based one-trick pony, the carrier will be able to be a significant asset in terms of ISR, sea control, and ASW.

    As a guy who was a sailor aboard the TR at the beginning of OIF, I’m quite aware that there’s a role for surface combatants to project power ashore and conduct surface missions – controlling sea lanes and showing the flag. TR lost its escort at the outset of OIF – TR stayed in the Med, supporting CVW-8 strike operations in Iraq, while the surface component transited through the Suez to conduct TLAM strike operations and sea control. I’d argue that the role of surface combatants – supporting a carrier – is very situationally dependent.

    A gunboat Navy, to me, is inherently different from what you’re suggesting – which is a flotilla of light combatants that are capable of self-sustaining and providing a force presence. The gunboat Navy that I’m wary of is the Jeffersonian gunboat Navy – a defensive posture that mirror images the largely defensive arrangement of our potential opponent navies. I do not question the need for versatile surface combatants.