In Defense News, US Marine Colonel Mark Desens, CO of 26th MEU currently operating off the coast of Libya, had some very interesting and incisive comments regarding the need for the F-35B STOVL variant of the JSF.

Desens and others noted that the F-35B would be a vast improvement over the Harrier. Not only does it carry more weapons and fuel, its sensors allow it to target enemy air defenses and vacuum up intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data and feed it back to the fleet.

“When you look at the capabilities of the F-35B and how much it expands the tool box, that aircraft is going to push us way out in front of any future potential threats out there,” the colonel said.

Read the full article here.

But what really jumps out from Col Desens’ comments is the possibility that a smaller aircraft carrier with such a weapon as the F-35B could have efficacy as an alternative to the traditional supercarrier that has been the sole contestant in the US Navy’s aircraft carrier building arena since the commissioning of the Forrestals in the late 1950s.

More from Colonel Desens:

“It would be lovely to have an aircraft carrier here, but there are not enough to go round,” said Col. Mark Desens, the commander of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which operates the AV-8Bs aboard the Kearsarge. “What we do have is the opportunity to do a lot of things with this vessel, and we are accomplishing a tremendous return on investment with these six STOVL jets.”

He continues:

“With an AV-8B or an F-35B, you get an immediate ability to start impacting a wide range of things,” Desens said. “As you look down the road, the need for a STOVL jet sells itself, because you are not going to get more aircraft carriers. An F-35B costs a lot less than a carrier.”Desens noted that a STOVL jet can also move ashore with troops as they push farther away from the beachhead, landing and flying from far smaller patches of ground than regular fixed-wing planes.

“You have tremendous operational flexibility if you are going to do a projected land war, like Iraq and Afghanistan, where those jets were sea-based…”

The nuclear-powered Nimitz-class super-carrier has been the symbol of US Naval power and influence for nearly four decades. However, the price tag for such vessels will continue to rise. The first of its class USS Gerald R. Ford is projected to cost upwards of $10 billion. While the Nimitz-class is expected to soldier on for several more decades, operating costs of the 102,000-ton, 5,000-sailor behemoths will continue to be a serious concern in this era of fiscal austerity.

With each crisis anywhere on the globe that involves US interests, the question that is invariably posed is “where are the carriers?”; the latest instance being a mere two weeks ago off Libya. But, does every situation in which the question is asked have to be answered with a Carrier Battle Group built around a CVN? Is it necessary to bring the extremely high-end solution to low- and medium- threat problems? Is that now what we see with billion dollar warships chasing pirate skiffs off Somalia?

During the Second World War, smaller flattops provided air assets to amphibious assaults and other operations in what we now describe as the Littoral, such as is being conducted in Libya at present. There were myriad reasons for this, but the predominant was the desire not to risk the trump cards, the Fleet Carriers, in confined waters and within range of enemy land-based weapons systems, any more than necessary. One would think a 21st century corollary of that rule is still a good idea in today’s A2/AD environment, particularly as we look to the western Pacific.

With the building of the America (LHA-6) class of amphibs, it is possible that the Navy has itself a hull form that could be adapted for the role of smaller aircraft carrier. At 45,000 tons, 844 feet long, with a beam of 106 feet, the Americas will be very similar in dimension, though with a higher displacement, to the famous Essex-class carriers of World War II, one might hesitate to label such a “light carrier”. Perhaps, in a redux of previous nomenclature, the former term “attack carrier” (CVA) seems most descriptive. As General Amos, Marine Commandant, noted in January of this year in a speech to the Surface Navy Association, the America class LHA is already “maximized for aviation” already. So let’s take the next step of logic.

An adaptation of that warship class, one dedicated to Naval and USMC STOVL aviation assets, one that does NOT have an amphibious mission, doesn’t require billeting for 1,700 Marines and their equipment, that doesn’t have a requirement for V-22 or attack helicopters as a part of its organic air component (but still capable of handling them if desired), a warship like that could prove exceedingly handy and valuable to a fleet which may be looking at a shortage of its heavyweights.

Of course, the obvious argument about efficiency of sorties is a consideration, but would a warship with a complement of STOVL fighters of the capabilities expected of the F-35B create a new baseline for measuring such efficiency of sortie generation? Would 60-65 aircraft still remain the minimum aircraft complement for efficient operation? I would love to see some projections using the F-35B to that end. The speed of the Americas might have to be enhanced, as the 22-knot capability may or may not be sufficient, but options may be available for more powerful propulsion systems to achieve desired speeds.

In addition, operating costs of such a ship would very likely be significantly less. A crew of 1,000-1,200 Officers and Sailors, with a suitably-sized air component is less than half that of the 4,500-5,000 complement of the Nimitz/Ford CVNs.

If the number of CVNs in commission shrinks to 9 or even 8 in the coming decade, which is a distinct possibility, we are left with a shortage of assets to cover a world-wide commitment. When the question is asked again, as it will be, “Where are the carriers?”, there are two answers that we should take great pains to avoid.

The first is “Rusting away in Philadelphia.”

The second is “Busy elsewhere, and not coming.”

A STOVL-dedicated CVA based on the America-class LHA may provide a cost-effective and combat capable alternative to the CVBG that may or may not be available when we need it. If we are to maintain a global power projection presence, as the Maritime Strategy asserts, the approach offered here deserves more scholarship than it has been given.

Posted by UltimaRatioReg in Air Force, Aviation, Foreign Policy, Hard Power, Marine Corps, Maritime Security, Navy, Piracy

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  • JAV

    I can’t remember where I read it, but there have been comments from congress before that we can only afford so many carriers-and for every light carrier authorized there would be a CVN cut. I believe it was part of the last study that looked into carrier size.

  • Old Soldier

    Let’s not forget another WWII concept: the escort carrier. Put a deck on a tanker, load it with aircraft designed explicitly for the counter-insurgency mission, and you have a cheap substitute for the carrier(s) parked off Pakistan.

  • B.Smitty

    ARAPAHO and the more recent Afloat Forward Staging Base both build on the escort carrier concept.

    IMHO, Libya is not the best situation to highlight carrier-based STOVL aviation. It is well within range of land-based tactical air power from Europe. There are 60 to 70 land-based fighters participating, compared to six Marine Harriers.

    If you decide to build a CVA, why not go slightly larger and add catapults? Then you can fly E-2D, Super Hornets, Growlers, and F-35s (B and C). In the future you might add a UCLASS and UCAV to the mix. You can’t do that with a STOVL carrier.

    The two biggest problems here are cost and politics. Adding additional carriers means something else has to be cut. Changing from the status quo will step on entrenched toes, and will be resisted.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    “Changing from the status quo will step on entrenched toes, and will be resisted.”

    Probably true, Smitty, but the lamest of excuses for not doing what is in the best interests of the Navy and the nation.

    Catapults? Dunno, maybe. But a straight deck will not accommodate arrested landings, so non-VL airframes are not likely to work.

  • Chuck Hill
  • UltimaRatioReg


    Interesting. But could America’s hull form be adapted to a STOVL dedicated mission, and have a complement of 35-50 aircraft? That would be a different set of computations, it would seem.

  • B.Smitty


    An angled deck CTOL version would definitely require a major redesign, if not clean-sheet.

    Maybe that’s a good thing. You could cast off all of the amphibious vestiges and have a more cost effective carrier in the long run.

    And you aren’t tied to the most risky F-35 variant. You can still fly relatively “cheap” and proven F/A-18s.

    However if we go this route, perhaps we should just consider a conventional version of the Ford class. Estimates years ago put a conventional carrier at around half the purchase price of a nuclear one, all else being roughly equal. Life cycle costs were closer, of course.

  • Mike M.

    If you limit yourself to STOVL platforms, you give up AEW and COD capability. This didn’t work out too well for the British in the Falklands. You COULD work around the deficit by adopting a non-carrier-based AEW platform (the YEZ-2A airship was designed for that role), but the development costs for such a system need to be considered.

    As to going with a smaller (40-50Kton) CV, you get back COD and AEW capabilities, but start running into cost-effectiveness issues. Ship steel is cheap. It’s the electronics that drive the cost up.

    A better question might be to discuss the virtues of building a CVN, but adding a squadron of V-22s and a Marine assault force.

  • SNAFU talked about the “Brits use AMERICA” idea this weekend:

    Mike M perfectly highlights the standard criticism (which I will paraphrase and boil down to it’s core): A CVL will never be able to do what a CVN can, so why buy a CVL?

    Which is, frankly, a bad argument.

    Navy already killed the ESG concept by trying to treat them like CVBGs instead of the different kind of animal they really were. The culture is all about “we need the biggest that can do the most” and with the exception of CVNs, Hornets and Aegis we will screw it up over, and over, and over again.

    URR – if you choose to present this argument further you will want to read up on deck cycle…that metric comes up when aviators think that someone has a chance of getting a small carrier approved because the analysis always shows that a bigger carrier can get more firepower out than a smaller one (duh).

    ‘Course, they tend to ignore the argument that it’s better to have your assets spread out rather than all on one ship…but then we do tend to be a binary lot.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    At the risk of pulling a muscle in my head, I took a look at the sortie generation computations in a few places, but they are all (that I found anyway) based on CATOBAR platforms.

    One has to wonder if a STOVL strike aircraft would change the equation significantly, and even if not, would be far preferable to an empty hole in the ocean where a CV/CVN might once have bobbed up and down. While the sortie cycle may be less efficient, if the difference in building and operating costs is several billion dollars, how much does that really mean?

    “Biggest that can do the most”. Roger. Holding out for more CVNs may mean they get nothing.

  • “Sortie generation” – that’s the phrase my brain wouldn’t give me!

    Yes, CATOBAR…because the analysis needs to be gamed. And when analysis needs to be gamed, then you know something is wrong with the argument.

    If only we had raised a cadre of Naval officers who could look at things in something other than a binary way.

  • AT1 Charles Berlemann Jr


    If you want to look at the sortie completion rate for a Surface Combatant Ship testing that was done with a Iwo Jima class LPH back in the late 1970’s. To test a concept of using VSTOL fighters and ASW helos. I have a write up of this in an old edition of USNI’s Ships and Aircraft of the US Navy by Norman Polmar. The idea was that Navy could save money on carriers by building smaller ships with just VSTOLs (first AV-8A’s and later was supposed to be XFV-12) along with SH(X) assets. They could provide protection to convoys during a war while the big decks of NATO were seeking the enemy and trying to regain the initative.

    If I remember right the Navy and the GAO said that the sortie rates at the time were smaller, less effect, and in general eating up more of the dollar for defense than just a regular sized CVN. Although it is pretty old, here is one of the referred to GAO reports: I hope this might help you out in trying to strain your brain.

    If I might add history had shown even during WW2, that the only places the CVE’s could succeed in supplying air support to the ground was when the major fleet units or land based USAAF units had sweeped the Axis air fields enough that the only units left were overwhelmed by the older VCF and VOF units on the CVE’s. So unless there is overwhelming air superiority in the region, then risking a CVE/Large L-class gator might be too risky in certain situations. Remember for fleet defense you need eyes that can see out further then the horizion. If you can’t see out further then that, it is going to be a serious sticky wicket when the bad guys decided to fly or fight against you.

  • Derrick

    I guess this really depends on what the requirement the taxpayer has for the US navy. If they expect the US navy to do these “minor policing” type of operations where the target is either a non-state actor or tiny 3rd world state actor with limited naval capabilities, then I think it’s not unreasonable to ask the taxpayer to set aside a few billion USD to fund 1-2 smaller carriers. But I think if the US taxpayer has the expectation that the US navy is to be focused on deterrence of peer competitors and keeping the sea lanes clear for cheap global projection of US military power, then I don’t think it’s a worthwhile expenditure.

    I understand there are lots of military missions the US navy could be involved in, but my personal preference is to focus on deterrence of peer competitors and protecting the ability to resupply US forces overseas. I don’t need to see US naval jets deploying from a CVN to take out some overseas military targets to know the US navy is a worthwhile expenditure.

    Just my 2 cents worth. Feel free to reject. I’m no expert. 🙂

  • Chuck Hill

    The question seems to boil down to, is there a continuing mission requirement that can be satisfied by a single smaller CV while the CVNs are busy elsewhere?

    We know, on a per aircraft basis, the large carriers are cheaper, so the number of aircraft required would have to be significantly less than supplied by a large carrier air wing.

  • Byron

    Smitty: Have you ever been in the hell known as the “fire room” and have you ever had to work on one of those nasty SOB? I can tell you that the ONLY thing that was good about a boiler re-tube was the overtime because there was going to be a LOT of it.

    Besides, where the hell would the Navy find BTs at?

  • B.Smitty

    IIRC, the deck cycle for a STOVL carrier is actually simpler and faster than an equivalent CTOL carrier. So more sorties for a given number of aircraft. Of course YMMV. Much depends on the deck layout, number and type of aircraft, munitions and fuel handling, range to target, and so on.

    How often are these smaller packets of naval air power really needed?

  • B.Smitty

    Byron, I wasn’t suggesting going back to boilers. With EMALS, the Ford class won’t need steam. So a conventional version could use modern gas turbines, just like the British CVF.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Three points, one AT1 Berlemann, one to Derrick and one to Smitty:

    AT1, I might question the validity of the study using AV-8As and the Iwo Jima class amphibs. We are talking here about a dedicated STOVL platform to maximize sorties, with an airframe of much greater capability and lethality. And this isn’t a CVE, much more comparable to a CVL or even a pre-Essex Fleet Carrier by comparison. While venturing into enemy waters with just one of these proposed CVAs may not give you the same warm-fuzzy that a CVN might, it beats the hell out of nothing at all if you must venture.

    Derrick, the US Navy will be tasked with missions both large and small, both regional and global presence. Going back to a comment M Ittleschmertz made on another post about re-reading Zumwalt’s hi-lo mix discussion. If you have to do both, but cannot afford the number of CVNs to do it, then there had better be a viable alternative. Is something like this it?

    Smitty, your question “how often are these smaller packets of naval air power really needed?” might be turned around. How often are the larger packets of naval air power going to be available with 8 or 9 CVNs? This “smaller packet” may have 35-50 highly capable Joint Strike Aircraft. There are plenty who would find that highly useful, especially when the alternative may be little else.

  • AT1 Charles Berlemann Jr

    I don’t doubt that even having a LH(X) or your proposed CVL concept would be better. I do believe it might be worthwhile to look again at sortie completion rates with more modern equipment vs the older LPH/AV-8A combo. I just cited that since this idea had been brought up once before in the 1970’s.

  • Derrick

    But what is the requirement for those missions that are against a non-peer competitor or non-state actor? Just provide no-fly zone air support? What about supporting ground forces? What type of aircraft would be required on this CVL/CVA? How many of each?

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Agreed in full. Would love to see the numbers with a purpose-built vessel and a modern STOVL airframe….

  • Spade

    From wikipedia, since I don’t feel like doing real research but:

    LHA-6 is supposed to be 844 feet long and about 45k tons.
    Charles de Gaulle is 858 feet long and comes in at 42k tons. (pretty sure those are both the metric kind of tons).

    Charles de Gaulle has twice the beam and an angle deck, and with that gets real fighters and E-2s.

    So it’s not like a LHA sized real modern carrier is inventing the wheel or anything.

  • URR:
    Your argument for a CVL is predicated on a viable STOVL strike-fighter, something I find problematic in light of the historical record and current continued difficulties the F-35B has shown in development with weight, heat-load, much shorter lifespan than predicted for critical subcomponents (like the lift fan doors) — and all before we even begin to get to the weapons system integration and software tales of woe. All while the cost per unit climbs – something not helped when the Brits stepped away from the F-35B in favor of the F-35C.
    I would not be surprised if the F-35B is offered on the altar of major program restructuring and due to unremitting budgetary pressures. If that happens – the CVL becomes just another heavy helicopter hauler.
    w/r, SJS

  • UltimaRatioReg


    True enough that the F-35B may not work out quite as planned, but the problems of a viable STOVL airframe will be solved eventually. Therefore, looking at a STOVL CVA (rather than CVL) option that is smaller and much lower procurement and operating cost (thus more available and readily risked) than a Nimitz/Ford CVN seems a very prudent thing to do. That we have an existing hull form that could provide much of the answers should not be overlooked.

    I am reminded of Salamander’s admonition for experimentation. Maybe the F-35B doesn’t work out, but what if it does? And what if the next generation does? Will we have explored its potential operational concepts fully or have stymied ourselves by betting against it?

  • leesea

    I suggest that you all go read the “New Navy Fighting Machine” by Capt Wayne Hughes of the Naval Postgraduate School?

  • AT1 Charles H. Berlemann Jr

    Could that also be the same paper that advocates a small, highly expendable ship to fight from the littorals?

  • Redeye80


    I agree the concept has merit. However, if you think the Harrier mafia is bad wait until you meet the Big Deck Carrier Mafia. Watch your back and your wallet.

    I am not as fond of moving STOVL into the dirt with a small EAF. Most don’t realize the logistical requirements to make that happen. We were successful in OIF with opening, moving and closing FOBs becuase we had the extra logistical capabilities that normally don’t exist in a MEU sized unit. KC-130s were used to support these moves and without thier support the rapid movement would not have been so rapid.

    I’ll question the source article a little bit. I’ve never seen a Harrier go 600KTS carrying bombs. “150 miles in 15 minutes” If they could, they would screaming for gas.

  • AT1 Charles H. Berlemann Jr


    It sounds then that the carrier your advocating is this, If not that the we should re examine the Typhoon Strike Cruiser concept. At its most advance design before it was canceled, it had the AEGIS system and a flight deck and the capability to handle anywhere between 8 to 12 VSTOL aircraft and 4 to 5 helos. The biggest stickler was propulsion (nuke or gas turbine) and costs of all the electronics (specificlaly the AEGIS).

  • Spade

    Why are a bunch of the arguments based on “CVL = STOVL” because I’m not sure why that would have to be true? CVL could also equal “less normal carrier jets” like the escort carriers of old.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    The argument centers around Col Desens’ comments about the AV-8B and the potential (if successful) of the F-35B. I am positing a carrier for them to operate from that would not have to be BAR-capable. The question would be how much that changes the sortie generation computation, and what would such a carrier’s complement of F-35Bs look like if the ship did not have an amphibious mission or was required to carry attack and cargo helos.

    This mythical ship is much larger proportionally than was the CVE concept in WWII.

  • B.Smitty


    The 65,000 tonne CVF is supposed to have an air group of around 40 aircraft. A carrier based on the LHA-6 would have a smaller one.

    Here is some background reading on the CVF program,

    Page 12, in particular, talks about STOVL vs CTOL,


    I’ve added a couple of pictures to the discussion over at my ‘place’, but my basic point is this: we’ve already done this in 1991 and in 2003 using the LHA/LHD platforms, and I suspect the resistance to keep using these platforms in this manner is concern that it would take funding from super carriers. I like 25 Harriers on an LHD.

    On an aside, the LHD that doesn’t seem to get a lot of press is USS Wasp. I’ve seen her deploy once just to bring Osprey’s to AFG. Is she just used as a test bed? All the other LHD’s seem to rotate reg. in the deployment schedule.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Here’s the deal. The government is broke and in unsustainable debt. The Congress is functionally deadlocked, having overpromised everybody to the point of inability to cut anything in the line of a social program for fear of loss of (the horror!) seats long considered safe.

    The nation’s will to fight has been sapped by forces obvious to anyone who watches the news and has read 2 history books about wars fought before 1955.

    Folks were told there was to be a “peace dividend” from transfer of funds from military readiness to income redistribution at the end of the cold war, and cut the armed services in half, and then in half again. The current “plan” in some quarters is to back away from any conflict in progress, ASAP… and do it again.

    At the same time deindustrialization proceeds apace, justified by the rush to “free” trade. The green’s environmental agenda has placed in-country natural resources increasingly out of reach, sopping up capital beyond that available to import resources, most notably energy.

    It’s all economics kids, and we’re in a death spiral. Thus the pressure for cheaper, less capable combatants and the snuffing out of auxiliaries. Not to mention jettisoning personnel with irreplacable expertise like a drunk lighting cigars with the cash in his wallet.

    Admirals, we’ve got lots of, and all problems are defined as failures of leadership and trust on the part of the jo’s (which includes anybody not an Admiral.) Summary relief is the universal remedy. That’ll fix it. Decisive career termination with prejudice, that’s the ticket! No straw for the bricks, it’s a failure of trust/leadership, pack your bags.

    We’re just imitating the decline of the Royal Navy, but 40 years behind. Only worse.

    Should present trends continue, what will the US Navy look like in 2111?


    Look upon the destiny set for you by the powers that be today, ye seamen, firemen, airmen, constructionmen, and commissioning aspirants….and despair.

    Don’t mind me, though. Feel free to return to rearranging deck chairs.

  • Grandpa Bluewater: If I could hit the like button 10 times, I would, or 50 times. You couldn’t be more spot on.

    It is incredible, outrageous that ‘smart’ political people can’t understand the simple concept, you can’t spend more than you take in, or you can’t spend more than you can pay back. My mortgage is well within my means to pay it back. You can’t say that of the United State government.

  • Grandpa – I prominently featured your comment at my ‘place’.

    It should be up on a billboard on every freeway in the country.

  • Question: what is Great Britain doing with their Harriers? with the concern about the F-35B, are they similar enough for us to grab a few? Will the current roster of about 170 Harriers (correct me if I’m wrong – too lazy to look at Marines web page) last until full implementation of F-35B?

  • Mongo

    As General Amos, Marine Commandant, noted in January of this year in a speech to the Surface Navy Association, the America class LHA is already “maximized for aviation” already. So let’s take the next step of logic.

    And build them as nukes. LHDN & LPDN as centerpieces of the gator Navy. Up front cost is higher, but operational costs going down the road will be much reduced.

    Utilizing CVN-78 technology for LHDN/LPDN, we maximize machine efficiency towards fighting. One bugaboo with smaller decks – remember the 27C in snotty seas. Nobody had fun coming aboard, and, to paraphrase a former VFA-41 CO’s comment, a multi-million dollar jet, CATOBAR or non, is pretty useless at the bottom of the ocean.

    CVF in the MEU places an additional hull requirement for hauling the GCE, whereas LHD carries GCE & ACE. Size up the hull to adequately meet the needs of both GCE & ACE.

    F-35B – If they ever get the darn thing operational, then start talking about building it a sea-borne platform. As it stands, even SecDef doesn’t know where the Bravo will be in two years. In an effort to maximize my tax dollars:
    1. If USAF absolutely has to have it, then let them build the F-35A. Keep the rest of the Services out of that flailex.
    2. Cancel F-35B and burn the blueprints, unless Britain wants to join in on development costs and help redesign the platform into something workable. Currently, all we’re doing is throwing precious tax dollars into a sinkhole.
    3. Cancel F-35C and tell the Navy to design and build a twin engine Carrier based jet that can incorporate F-35 technology. Make it large enough to carry more than a pair of bombs and missiles each. Think beyond the first day of war, and keep at the forefront that the frame has to haul all kinds of trash in all kinds of weather in the worst operating environment known to man. In short, go back and relearn the lessons learned from the history of building Naval aircraft.

    That’s all for now.
    Happy April 1st! Had something in mind to say about ‘we happy band of fools’, but civility and all that…

  • virgil xenophon

    Grandpa Bluewater speak heap big medicine. The sad, horrible, ugly truth is that all the retained expertise in both the active and retired force is all for naught unless our politics get fixed. And to do THAT means doing something which most of us absolutely LOATH–which is to become VERY active 24/7 (in the same manner the communists burrow in–live, eat and sleep it) in both local AND national politics. At the local level the school board is vital. Checked out whats actually being taught in K-12 these days? Its naught but a propaganda/brain-washing exercise to install socialism/eco-fascism in all too many jurisdictions. Not overtly, mind you, most of the teachers are too–how shall I say this politely?–“politically unaware” to realize the source behind much of what is taught in Univ Education Depts and curriculum development associations like the ones William Ayers rides herd on. Latest surveys say 67% of those under 30 have a favorable view of socialism. Where do you think that’s coming from? Unless we get a grip on the culture wars long-term and electoral politics in the short-term, it’s all, as GB says, about re-arranging the deck chairs..

  • virgil xenophon

    PS: Look at the PC rot within our own house. When the CNO of the Navy and the Super at Annapolis say “diversity” is their number one priority, and when the Chief of Staff of the Army states that, if the shooting at Ft. Hood harmed the concept of “diversity” in the armed forces, it would be an even GREATER tragedy than the death of his OWN TROOPS, one has ABSOLUTE living proof of the extent to which the leftist tide of cultural marxism–PC–has overwhelmed even people who should know better. The budget is out of whack because of the attempt of the left to “spread the wealth around” in the best leftist fashion. How do you think the mind-set of those that voted for Obama came to be developed? Did you know that Obama’s approval ratings among the college-age crowd has just hit a new HIGH!?–even as I type this?
    Yes, we have big short-term DOD budget problems, but they can ONLY get worse unless we fix/reverse the long-term cultural trends.

  • Derrick

    Not sure how PC and diversity are related to this topic regarding whether every carrier should be a CVN or if the US navy should purchase a few CVL’s…

    I’m on the fence here…a CVL that can move quickly to trouble spots outside of US air force reach would be very handy, but I personally would not like to overcommit US military forces or distract them from their primary mission.

    I guess as a compromise the US navy should purchase a CVL or 2 for flexibility in terms of what missions it can engage in. As for whether the money should be taken from CVN budget…well…why not take the money from the B-2 budget? I’m still not convinced a plane as big as the B-2 can be stealthy…isn’t it big enough to be seen by a lookout standing on a hill with binoculars? I don’t know…never fought in a war before so I’m just speculating…

  • Retired Now

    While being 100 % in agreement with the LHA-6 design (which is also the LHA-7 design), does everyone know what the Navy is buying ?

    LHA-6 shares the same propulsion as LHD-8. However, LHA-6 has significantly increased her displacement when fully loaded out. Imagine putting an FFG onto the deck of LHA-6 and 7, and then see what her max speed is. Recall that FFG-7 class weighs roughly 4,500 tons fully loaded with helo’s, fuel, and a full loadout of SM-1 and Harpoon missiles in her old MK-13 GMLS one-armed bandit, which has been neutered on this fine old workhorse frigate.

    Results: While LHD-8 could achieve a sustained speed of over 25 knots loaded for deployment, LHA-6 class is estimated to do max sustained speed of 22 knots.

    So, is 22 knots of max speed OK to help launch and recover those new Lockheed F-35B ? You don’t always have alot of wind in the Persian Gulf, so the max speed of a carrier is critical.

    One of the fantastic new features of LHA-6/7 is that they carry significantly more cargo JP-5 fuel than LHD-8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1. Expect LHA-6 class to spend alot less time hunting for an oiler and remaining alongside at a tempting 12 knots while taking on more JP-5 jet fuel.

  • AT1 Charles H. Berlemann Jr

    The only other question I have is if we want to look at this CVL/CVH concept any further will be what sort of mission sets that we expect to be done by a full sized air wing will be sacrificed for this smaller sized air wing. Currently a full sized CVW has the missions of fleet air defense, close air support, anti-surface warfare, fleet airborne early warning, ASW, Electronic Warfare, SAR/CSAR, SpecOps insertation, organic tanking, and elements of the air wing also provide replacement parts/personnel/morale via the COD/VOD,. Right now VSTOL and heliborne machines are not fully capable yet to preform some of these assests and get over the horizion to do the mission effectively. The Briish have the AEW.7/ASaC.7 but that helicopter can only get so high and the radar only has a certain range. Where even the E-2A with its variant of the APS-120 series of the radar that it even out preforms the Searchwater2000 that is installd in the AEW.7. However, for the UK they had to make that sacrifice since they couldn’t successfully get the money to develop a better system. To make AEW work successfully, you need to extend those eyes in your asset over the horizion so that you can see the bad guys before they show up. Look at all of the 5 major carrier battles and the naval battle off the Philippines and Okinawa. The inability of the Allied forces to see the Japanese forces taking off and coming to the fleet. There is a strong evidence that a number of units were sunk or heavily damaged because the fleet couldn’t intercept the raid in time.

    On the EW side of the house meanwhile you need to take just as much equipment in the air as the AEW side. You also need to have the capability to get heavy electronics airborne. Some of the EW pods can weigh up to a ton configured a certain way. Low Observable technology can help you so far, but there are plenty of other systems out there that LO tech can not defeat. So there is still a need for EW roles in operations. Plus the folks on the ground love the EWCAS [Electronic Warfare Close Air Support] mission set that is being preformed by some assests. So if you have to carry at least a ton of electronics to provide EW missions to either the fleet or the ground pounder, then you need to sacrifice fuel to carry that ton. Which means you either need to steam closer to the shore (and closer to shore battery systems) or provide tanking to stand off.

    Organic tanking is going to be a big question if we create a CVLW. I don’t know if the F-35 aircraft have been tested with buddy store systems or even the V-22 has been tested with a tanking system of some sort. So if we give up organic tanking and try to depend on land based air assets. If we are going to depend on land based air to provide that tanking, then what why not depend on land base air to provide some of the other mission sets. Of course we could be totally out of the range of land based air in some places. Which again leads to the CVL to get closer to the beach.

    The final thing to ponder is how many aircraft can you sacrifice to preform some of the missions that the fleet will require. Just because we are off the coast of a supposed “friendly” nation, the fleet will still need provide defense of the fleet just in case that “friendly” nation’s military attempts to strike out against us with air/surface/or subsurface units.

    I only bring up these missions because even in a premissive enviroment like we are supposedly seeing off the coast of Libya, these are still mission sets that need to be considered. I am not disregarding this idea, rather I don’t have a good feeling that the technology for this thought process is there completely to remove the large deck carriers from funding priorities.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    The concept I am positing is whether or not a CVA of the size and capability of a modified America-class LHA, with a generational leap forward in STOVL capability, would be an alternative to counting on a shrinking CVN inventory which may number as few as 8 by this time next decade, if not sooner.

    It would seem that construction costs leveraging an existing design (LHA-6) would be far lower than a Ford-class CVN, with comparable savings in operating costs.

    Questions of AEW and EW platforms needn’t be the determining factor for proceeding with some conceptual computations. What will EW or AEW apparatus look like in 2020? Small enough to go into a smaller airframe, perhaps even the F-35 airframe? Will AEW or EW be a space asset? Tough to say.

    The experimentation of the 1920s and 30s with the NWC games and Fleet Problems looked beyond existing technology toward future platform capabilities, so that when those capabilities became a reality, there was a semi-mature doctrinal concept in which to employ them. The same needs to be true here.

    Two things that would be devastatingly shortsighted:

    The first is to declare that the “Big-deck Navy” would never go for it, so the idea is pigeonholed.

    The second is to dismiss the concept with the “tried that, didn’t work” meme, when the “tried that” was two generations of technology ago and capabilities were in their infancy.

    If one rejects what may be a workable CVN-scarce Plan B because we think it is an all or nothing game, somewhere in the future a COCOM will get precisely the latter, when Plan B would have been infinitely preferable. The CVA concept, if workable, is far preferable to the CVN that isn’t there.

  • Grandpa Bluewater


    CV’s exist to provide concentration of all the elements of air power necessary to the task force to maintain sea supremacy and project power (break things and hurt people so the enemy can’t do it to the task force). The idea is economy of scale. It works.

    CVL’s mean fewer aircraft of too little variety, fewer sorties, too small magazines, bunkers, endurance, survivability.

    Useful once you have enough CVs, waste of resources until you do.

    The drive to replace capital ships with more limited vessels of too little capability to provide decisive optempo, endurance, organic defense/DC capability (a weak punch with a glass jaw) is a sign of an underfunded navy, concentrating on process, with no strategic plan or meaningful ability to resource the operational units and formations necessary to achieve or maintain a strategy.

    It’s a sign of building down to oblivion. Not the only one manifest at the moment, either.

    Unless there is a specific requirement missing which can be only be filled by a (very) small number of specialist designed small carriers, which will be a force multiplier in an essential supporting campaign of economy of force, they just aren’t cost effective.

    The Falklands were a close run thing, admirable for the skilful use of substandard assets against an unskilled (mostly) enemy.
    Lousy example of strategic planning or resourcing.

    Not the right answer.

    Hope you can tie the two posts together.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Define “cost-effective”. This slow-witted Marine would think it would take an awful lot of the cheaper sortie generation of a CVN to make up $8 billion in additional construction cost vis a vis the CV based on the LHA-6 platform, and the massive differential in operating costs.

    The premise was to begin to explore the concept with this generation of STOVL strike fighters, not to immediately begin building, or replace CVNs one for one. See what the numbers tell you. They may point to something not nearly as limited as you seem to believe them to be.

  • virgil xenophon

    If anyone would care to dig into the government documents section of any library and read the Congressional DOD budget hearings of 1970 in the House Armed services committee one would read the testimony of one Hyman Rickover, USN, advocating the building of the MAX number of CVNs possible during peace-time due to a) the long lead times needed to do so and b) the increased capability for sortie generation because of space otherwise used for fuel bunkers in conventional carriers being used for ordnance and Jp4/5, etc., and c) the speed and rapidity with which the CVBG can cover ocean-space unencumbered by max speed of oilers, etc.,
    not to mention monies saved by lessened need for oilers, and even ammunition ships (due to greater hull storage capacity of CVN)

    Rickover the submariner was NOT an advocate of the small carrier.

    And to those like Derrick who, unlike Grandpa Bluewater, cant see the connection between the culture wars and a shrinking DOD (and, hence,Navy) budget I would suggest you are doomed to disappointing times as you watch the Navy circle down the drain before your very eyes with the plug being pulled by those very leftist legislators that are the products of a neo-marxist leftist-controlled school system. You fools are, like Grandpa says, simply re-arranging the deck chairs while the neo-marxist controlled educational system is pumping out the sort of people only too willing to scuttle the fleet by opening the scuppers. The TRUE existential threat is our educational system and the 24/7/365 drum-beat of the cultural left in the Media and films and TV. The PRC is merely a potential opponent to be reckoned with in the future. The William Ayers controlled curriculum of K-12 and the very active pacifist political left IN ALL ITS MANIFESTATIONS in the 24/7 here and now is THE ENEMY. Failure to confront this fact will eventually mean–and sooner rather than later–that you won’t have a Navy worth mentioning to make your “innovative” plans around. There are presently more operating submarines in the artificial lake in the Canadian super-mall in Alberta then there are in the entire Canadian Navy. Look north USN! That’s your future Navy if you don’t heavily weigh in on the culture wars.

    And don’t delude yourselves. In a day when the OFFICIAL Army after-action report on the Ft. Hood massacre COULD NOT BRING ITS PC SELF to mention EITHER the word “Muslim” OR “Islam” the days of an “apolitical” officer corps content to busy itself with the daily nuts & bolts of maintaining a Navy are LOOOONG GONE..Your budgets and the kind of ships future budgets will support will be shaped by the very people who wish to whistle past the graveyard whistling the Fox’s “we didn’t want those grapes” tune all the way. Appeasement via “unofficial” unilateral budgetary disarmament is the future unless DRASTIC changes in the political sea-state. Embrace the suck or get in the political trenches and fight for your beliefs! Discussion of anything else is esoteric B.S. The day of the “apolitical” officer is OVER! Except most here don’t want to accept the reality of what is before your very noses. And it’s not as if you have a choice–it’s being forced upon you. Rip your blinders off and talk about MEANINGFUL things–NOT about ships that will never be built because they never make it out of the budget and appropriations committees. “None are so blind as who will not see.”

  • AT1 Charles H. Berlemann Jr


    I am only getting a reaquainted with the 1920’s and 1930’s Fleet Problems and the NWC wargames of the interwar period. I know they were looking at the beyond the technology to start asking the questions of where can we go from here, plus what do we need to start building or developing to get there.

    I only ask the questions because I want to see this potentially succed, but also to prevent an issue of “We build this as step 1, Step 2 is kind if fuzzy, Step 3 we win!”. Some of those questions we need to start asking of ourselves about some of our plans. I would also suggest that some of us who are advocates for a system like this, be the devil’s advocate. Draw up some of the complaints and the hold backs. Generate the solutions before the questions are asked and the idea is shot down.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    URR: Cost effective: Spend a little less, get a lot less…Not cost effective. Spend some more, get a lot more, that lasts longer and wears less. Carpenter’s tools for a carpenter, not DIY light duty stuff.

    Or, if you prefer, if you are hauling frozen gourmet quality pies from the bakery on the east coast to San Francisco, you want a really reliable refer on the front of a really good 53′ trailer on an air suspension, with a computer controlled engine, top grade transmission/transaxle, jake brake, air ride, first class tractor: not…a 6 wheel straight truck you bought at a Chevy dealer at an end of model sale with leaf springs, cheap shocks and a stock automobile engine and transmission, which would be OK as a cross town appliance delivery truck in Milwaukee.

    Quality, durability, utility, ease of operation, economies of scale.

  • Derrick

    What would be the air wing complement of the theoretical CVL? What would be the sortie rate of the theoretical CVL? What would be the cost of a theoretical CVL? That way we could quantify the cost savings vs combat efficiency…For example, if a CVL had half the cost of a CVN but only a 25% smaller sortie rate, wouldn’t a CVL be more cost effective?

    virgil xenophon:
    Just because I cannot see how you concluded that the US government’s diversity policy is affecting the US navy’s budget doesn’t make me a fool. We just agree to disagree. Calling me names won’t convince me to your point; it tends to have the opposite effect.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    I understand economies of scale. But I am not at all convinced they are quite as great as you make them to be. Not without a realistic look at sortie generation for a dedicated CV platform such as I discuss here, with a modern STOVL airframe. Maybe it is indeed a very large imbalance, but it certainly bears another look.

    As for “spend a little less”, the difference between $2.5 billion for such a design and $12-14 billion for a Ford-class CVN may be the difference between having something and having nothing. Not to mention a sustained cost in the CVN of around $400 million per year for operation against some significantly smaller number for a CVA as I posit here.

    How much are we using the 53′ reefer truck to deliver appliances across town in Milwaukee?


    And if you just need to deliver, I don’t know, 500 pies as opposed to 2000, across country, do you still want a huge 18 wheeler with the associated costs or will a smaller truck work? Of course your example isn’t really that reasonable since we are not delivering things. Perhaps a travel coach like a Greyhound versus a smaller bus. Does the benefit of a common, more capable, but smaller fleet overcome the problem that three quarters of your buses are normally half empty and you have destinations you would like to serve but can’t justify with the higher cost or limited fleet size?

    The discussion of carrier size is similiar to the discussion of the KC-X tanker. A bigger aircraft does more on the extreme scenario, but every single fight it is more expensive to operate. Is the bigger aircraft worth it? What if you have a fleet of tankers, is it still worth it?

    A Gas Turbine powered, integrated electric drive medium sized carrier with a third of the crew of a CVN (personnel costs are by far the biggest part of the life cycle costs) could cost half as much and easily carry half as many aircraft and fly half as many sorties in a day (after all, you can only land one aircraft at a time).

    For the vast majority of possible future scenarios, the smaller carrier is probably enough. And two smaller carriers are in many ways superior to one large one (besides the being in two places at once thing).

    Lets look at three scenarios
    Force A: All CVN all the time: 10-11 CVNs
    Force B: Mixed force: 7 CVNs and 6 CVLs
    Force C: All CVLs, all the time: 20 CVLs

    Against a high end opponent, Force A, the all CVN force, is probably better. With up to 6 available all the time, you have enough redundancy and the superior sustained sortie generation, larger ordnance magazines, and endurance all work to your advantage. So from a battle force standpoint, Force A is better. But when was the last time we used the battle force?

    Against low end opponents, say Libya, force C is better. With 10 or more available, I can be in more places at once with enough force. With two CVLs available, I can do around the clock flight ops or be in two places at once. A CVN is overkill, even if it is more capable of sortie generation than two CVLs. So from a maritime security, cooperative engaement standpoint, Force C is better. But you still have to watch out for the high end threat.

    No surprises so far, but what if you have a mixed force. I don’t know. But the benefits are many. You have greater redundancy with a larger force. You still have 3-4 CVNs to cover the high end, but also 3-4 CVLs to cover the low end. So every time you do student aviator quals, you don’t need a CVN. Did we really need a CVN off Haiti (either time) or would a CVL work just as well? You can be in more places at once than with an all CVN force and presence matters. Would two modern ESSEXs or MIDWAYs really be that inferior to a FORD. Would a battle force of 2 CVNs and 2 CVLs be less capable than 3 CVNs? Sure if you compare them one on one, the CVN is better, but what about force on force?

    Of course the same could be said for the current surface fleet or, for that matter, the submarine fleet. When all you have are high end ships, you end up using them to do all the low end missions like chasing pirates, doing presence missions, multi-lateral training, maritime intercept operations, or rescuing refugees. A balanced fleet might allow your high end combatants to concentrate on the high end, making them more effective while the low end ships handle the other missions and augment the high end ships when needed. Its worth looking at without a kneejerk reaction either way.

    Simple metrics like cost per gallon delivered, sorties per day, cost per seat mile, dollars per sortie, or cost per bomb dropped without any frame of reference or qualifiers, rarely tells the whole story.

    You are comparing apples and oranges. A dedicated CVA with a unit price of $2.5billion would probably cost on the order of $6-8 billion for the first ship. The first FORD costs a lot more than the later ones will cost because all the R&D (design work, new catapults, new arresting gear, integrated electric drive, all electric auxillaries, etc) is payed with the first one. Estimates are it will cost about the same as a NIMITZ class in unit production. Same dynamic applies to your CVA.

  • B.Smitty

    If we already have LHAs, don’t we have most of what a CVL offers?

    Why not a conventional Ford? Yes it would require significant redesign, but dropping the nuclear requirement should decrease the up front and life cycle costs on subsequent ships. If we could get back up to 12+ super carriers, maybe that’s enough?

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Why redesign it. Waste of money we don’t have. If you must modify a late in life LHA as a test bed.

    Life cycle costs include fuel. The effect of time off station chasing the oiler isn’t in the formula.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    USNVO: I think we’ve stretched the analogy beyond the edge of validity.
    The LPH was developed and proven on clapped out Essex hulls, once validated, they went to new construction, and didn’t get much of it right (McNamara, Hhok, ptui) the first time.

    Take a high milage LHA and modify it, run it as your CVL test bed and see if the F35 VSTOL delivers the goods. Try before you buy.

  • Byron

    What Grandpa said…amazing how us old farts think alike!

  • UltimaRatioRegis

    “Take a high milage LHA and modify it, run it as your CVL test bed and see if the F35 VSTOL delivers the goods. Try before you buy.”

    Absolutely. Let’s break free from the concept of calling something “the future of the Navy” before the steel (or aluminum) has even hit salt water…. and you know what I mean!

  • B.Smitty

    Grandpa Bluewater,

    The GAO did an analysis on the cost-effectiveness of conventional vs nuclear carriers back in ’98.

    Granted, some of this analysis was “back of the napkin”.

    There were a number of trade-offs, however they showed that time off station hitting an oiler was very similar between the two. CVNs still have to replenish JP-5 and munitions every 3 days or so of heavy use. CVs have to hit an oiler more frequently when transiting, but the differences in transit times was not that great (IMHO) because escorts still need to refuel.

    There would be significant up-front costs to redesign, yes. My assumption is that follow on vessels would be much cheaper (both in acquisition and life-cycle costs). In the long run, this differential would result in a large net savings.

    Some of this depends on the price of oil, but both CVs and CVNs use a lot of JP-5, so they are both heavily dependent on oil prices. We may need to purchase additional CLF ships, but we probably need to do that anyway.

    The GAO did not investigate the potential savings from using modern gas turbines instead of a steam plant. This should significantly reduce manning.

    Lastly, going to an all conventional CV fleet allows us to reduce the infrastructure required to build and sustain naval nuclear plants.

  • B.Smitty

    Why do we even need to modify LHAs? Just use them as-is. A CVL version won’t be THAT much better. Definitely not “apples-to-oranges”, maybe “apples-to-bigger-apples”.

    Neither has the force multipliers (e.g. AEW, buddy tanking, jamming, COD), and they rely on the most risky F-35 variant.

  • UltimaRatioRegis

    B Smitty,

    Any modifications I suggest to a modified LHA-6 is because such a warship would no longer have an amphibious mission, and not be required to carry 1,700 Marines, their equipment, cargo or attack helos.

    Real estate being at a premium on every ship, those spaces freed up by not having those requirements might be very useful if some design changes were done.

  • Byron

    Smitty, nuke carriers do not burn fossil fuels..their aircraft and the ships of the group do. If you use a convential carriers expenditures in the equation, the fuel DOUBLES…both the fuel to run the carrier, and the fuel for aircraft and other ships.

    Minor, but important difference…

  • B.Smitty


    I agree that modifications would make it a modestly better CVL, but is it worth the cost? LHAs can and have operated as CVLs, while retaining the ability to carry Marines (a very handy feature). If the task exceeds the capacity of one LHA, add another, supplement with land-based air, or assign a CVN.

    Just MHO.

  • B.Smitty


    The GAO looked at this in the report I posted earlier. During ODS, conventional carriers burned around 2,700 barrels of DFM and 6,500 barrels of JP-5 per day. (Table III.2 on page 128)

    I wonder if a modern, conventional gas turbine plant would be more efficient?

  • Byron

    Smitty, it would not matter; your comparison does not work. The ONLY fossil fuels a CVN uses is those she either hands off to other ships or to her air wing.

  • B.Smitty


    Just pointing out it’s not necessarily “double”.

    The CVN requires a lot of expensive baggage to design, build, maintain, train crews on, and dispose of its nuclear plant. For example, the GAO estimates it cost $900 million (FY97) to inactivate and dispose of a Nimitz CVN, compared to just $53 million for a conventional carrier. I imagine it’s a lot higher now.

  • Byron

    So now the objection is disposal? Have you any idea how man power intensive a steam plant is? Or that it requires regular maintenance that isn’t cheap? Or that finding people that know how to work on steam plants is going to be expensive?

    pk, where are you, dude?

  • B.Smitty


    As i said before, no need to go back to a steam plant. EMALS doesn’t need it.

    Use modern gas turbines and/or diesels with integrated electric propulsion. The British CVF uses two Rolls Royce MT30s and two Wärtsilä 38 diesel engines.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Gas turbines are gas hogs. JP fuels are “jet propulsion” fuels, for the planes, hence a constant (sort of, varies mostly with tempo of flight ops and composition of the air wing)unless you go with gas turbines. Fuel is an art and science all by itself.

    Propulsion, hotel load, electronics, , hydraulics for what and where. All new, all different from what was pretty standard stuff. Fuel lines, day tanks, purifiers, filters, Fire Pumps?Well, there goes the installed firefighting systems standardization.

    Diesel is the fuel economy champ. If you thinks it’s easier than steam or gas turbine in warship application, mmm, not so much. It’s all about picking and living with the right engines. CODAG, or some other hybrid? Decisions, decisions. Electric swbds, distribution busses, fire pumps, oh my this is getting complex.

    All that new design work, got anybody in mind with recent very large warship expertise? Brooklyn, Boston, Mare Island, Hunters Point, Charleston? Oh dear, gone with the wind.

    Savings? Maybe. Until it blows up, breaks down, won’t meet spec.

    This could get expensive. What extras are we getting. Oh yeah, we’re getting LESS. And we need more oilers.

    “And the Gods of the Copybook Headings say: “Stick to the Devil You Know.”

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Seems you could use that poem for explaining why we might have only 7 CVNs and none where a COCOM would need then when they are needed.

    “…they promised abundance for all, by robbing the selected Peter, to pay the collective Paul…”

    Maybe you live with 22 knots or whatever propulsion plant improvements can be made on the current LHA-6 design to get a little higher.

  • B.Smitty

    Grandpa Bluewater,

    The up-front design work would be significant. No argument there. In addition to the points you mentioned, designing the gas turbine intakes and exhausts would be particularly challenging.

    I’m going off of the GAO report’s conclusions that the resulting carrier would be much less expensive to build and operate over its lifetime.

    There are residual benefits like shorter maintenance cycles (which can lead to greater availability), and fewer foreign and domestic basing restrictions, greater ability to surge while in maintenance cycles.

    The combination of shorter conventional carrier maintenance cycles, and homeporting at foreign bases could mean significantly higher deployed availability from fewer carriers. The GAO estimated a force of 10 conventional carriers could have 29 more days of presence coverage than 10 CVNs, just due to shorter depot maintenance cycles. (303 days vs 274 days) This meant that we could get by with one fewer CV and still provide the same annual coverage.

    We can also put older conventional carriers in the reserve fleet rather than retiring them, or sell them off to allies when we’re done with them.

    Converting an LHA into a CVL probably would be cheaper. However, the resulting carrier would be hamstrung by its inability to carry the critical force multipliers, and could not operate forthcoming unmanned systems (UCAV, UCLASS). And if the F-35B dies, it would just be an expensive, inefficient LPH.

  • Byron

    Here’s another wrench in the gears…our LHAs are simple straight decks, thus, our VTOL/VSTOL jets HAVE to take off vertically. The Brits discovered the sloping ramp (which the Sov’s shamelessly stole) so that their Harriers would not need to use so much fuel just taking off. This means your Marine F/A-35s are going to have a lot less fuel to a) get to and from the battlefied and b) will be able to carry less ordinance (see “A”)

  • B.Smitty


    Harriers routinely use rolling takeoffs from LHAs (not VTOL). A ski jump just allows for significantly heavier loads.

    Presumably any LHA conversion would include one.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Smitty: It’s about the economy. The price of fuel is going up, way up. It won’t be cheaper.

    If we were a major industrial power, we wouldn’t be in this mess. As Jerry Pournelle says: we base our economy on pulling boxes off ships from China, opening the boxes and retailing the stuff inside, using money borrowed from Chinese bankers; then putting the stuff in foreign cars and driving home on Saudi oil. We are a great power by virtue of inertia, and the ships we threw away over the last 20 years.

    What’s the sign up ahead? Tipping point, slow to exit the great power freeway! But whyyyyyyyyyy?

    But I digress, sort of….
    Selective FRAM is cheaper than new construction, particularly when the pieces may or may not fit together and make the picture.
    This is where we came in…convert a collier, learn, convert a couple of orphan half finished cruisers,learn, screw up the first built for purpose (too small, no room for new systems)hull, then get it mostly right, then get the production model, then fram those for a generation while you scale up….familiar?)

    The carriers’ key role is CAPITAL SHIP. Not CAS. So naturally, some folks want to cut the capital ships to get CAS specific ships. Smaller, cheaper, yadda, yadda.

    Sweep the seas, then invade. Island hopping? Special case.

    The devil is in the details. The proposal is NOT much cheaper (specialized, new design equals expensive), and leapfrogging the learning curve which is 4 generations deep is a lure and a self deception. Revolutions don’t usually work so good (France, Germany, Russia, China), evolution is the better way to go.

    Give up the capital ships, give up command of the sea; which you have to have before the first CAS sortie.

    Navy too damn small. We’re (as a nation) broke and still spending. All the rest is commentary.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    The idea of evaluating efficacy of a CVA with F-35 STOVL technology is not simply for the airframe itself, but as a proof of concept for whatever STOVL platform winds up being a success, as one is sure to be. The F-35B is two generations ahead of the last time the concept was tested using AV-8As.

    You would want a proof of concept before deciding to build anything. Grandpa’s excellent idea of using a high-mileage hull as an experimentation unit, like the USN was very good at some decades ago…

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    There is no “just” in “significantly heavier loads” when you are talking CAS. Less ordnance or less fuel=loiter time or range, take your pick. Big limitation, really big deal.

  • Byron

    “There is no “just” in “significantly heavier loads” when you are talking CAS. Less ordnance or less fuel=loiter time or range, take your pick. Big limitation, really big deal.”

    Don’t forget, when the bad guys are pouring it in on you, and you need warheads on foreheads, the biggest thing you need is time over the target area. Strafe, snake and nape are the medicines troops in contact need. If what you end up with is 10 minute overhead time, then the troops that this concept is suppposed to help will be screwed. Giving those -35s a ramp to take off from will mean more fuel/more weapons over the target area. It’s amazing to me that we never used that innovation on our LHA’s…since we got most of our good carrier ideas from the Royal Navy anyway.

  • B.Smitty

    Grandpa Bluewater,

    The price of fuel is a concern, but it’s a fraction of the total life cycle cost of a CV. Looking at the total, loaded cost (including indirect) for nuclear power vs conventional, I have a feeling conventional would still win out. But that’s just my guess.

    The initial CV would be expensive. But would we reap rewards 10 or 15 years down the road after churning out 2 or three ships? Who knows. If it means we could build and run carriers cheaper in the long run, and get more days on station out of the ones we have, it may worth revisiting.

    Staying the course certainly leverages everything we’ve learned so far, and preserves existing training, support and production pipelines.

    I would be interested to see a revised GAO study on the matter, with up-to-date cost data.

    I won’t hold my breath.

  • B.Smitty


    What’s going to give you more time on station? A STOVL F-35B off of a small deck? Or a UCLASS or UCAV with the potential for days of refueled endurance?

    A GA Avenger UCLASS will carry up to 3000 lbs internally with up to 20 hours of endurance. The endurance of an air-refuelable X-47 might only be limited by engine oil life (i.e. 100+ hours).

  • Byron

    If I was a Marine unit in close contact and in need of CAS, the LAST thing I’d want on call is a remotely piloted aircraft. Let the robots handle deep strike, thank you.

  • B.Smitty


    What if the choice is waiting for CAS from a manned aircraft for who knows how long, or getting it immediately from a long-endurance UCAV overhead?

  • Grandpa Bluewater


    Checked the price at the pump lately? We control niether the price nor the availability of POL. This is a strategic liability of major proportions. Everything you have proposed reduces the capability of the force to the detriment of the power of the republic. The new study won’t find last time’s findings to be less so, but rather more.

    Our suppliers, of cash and oil, have gained the ability to counter our military power. It’s the logistics.

    I don’t favor making it worse. I favor making the case for a strong balanced fleet to deter war (including of course the Marines).

    Like I said before, It’s a matter of economics and we are in a death spiral.

    Those deck chairs are heavy, and it’s not accomplishing anything useful.
    Catch you next topic.

  • AT1 Charles H. Berlemann Jr

    B Smitty,

    Only problem is that we haven’t proven that UAV/UCAV’s are able to work in a heavy EW enviroment or at least that data isn’t available on the unclassified side of the house. So I wouldn’t completely depend on them just yet. They too need a proof of concept stage. We need to execute a few Fleet exercises under real world situtations with maybe Naval War College refs and trying to simulate a full 30 day line period of at sea time on both an L-class aviation ship and a CVN.

    As to the power for a carrier since we made the decision to standardize carrier power in the mid 1980’s to be nuclear, we have purged the large boiler systems from our training pipeline. So your going to have to add in the costs of expanding or even restarting that large boiler training pipe line. Along with purchasing a whole series of parts and maintenance facilities capable of providing repair to those boilers. Yes, some of the current generation of L-class aviation ships have boilers, but thsoe are different then what were installed into the Kitty Hawk class, Kennedy, and even Forrestall class carriers. In the era of Lean Six Sigma, AirSpeed, and a number of other business mantras that have entered the Department of Defense supply side; you will need to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is advantageous for you to buy yet another seperate and different supply chain to manage.

    I would have to re-examine the GAO’s report, but I don’t think they factored in life cycle costs of maintenance between a boiler and a nuclear steam turbine propulsion system. The realities are as we saw onboard both the USS America near the end of her life and onboard the USS Iwo Jima in the late 1990’s; with a boiler explosion (a catastrophic event) the damage is severe enough that the ship is written off even though we just expended tons of money to extend its service life. As of yet, in either the surface side or the submarine side have we had a catastrophic propulsion failure in a nuclear plant.

    So realistically, this calls for proof of concept. That we could run a CVL using the F-35 in a VSTOL/STOVL situtation. That accepting the sorite generation rates and time on station will be less then a CVN in the same situtation; what are the advantages vs the disadvantages. Finally ending with an test deployment trying to fully prove the concept outside of the view of NavAirSysCom, Naval War College, USMC, and a slew of others; what a real deployment of a L-class ship modified to strictly be a carrier no more no less could preform in places where air power is needed but not a full carrier. Such as disaster assistance, covering NEO, supporting limit objective punative raids, etc. Once proof of concept has been done, then progress to purpose built ship and start all over again. Remember it took just over twenty years to get from converted coal ship to purpose built Yorktown class carriers and it took only another thirty years after that to hit the seminal large deck fleet carrier design in the Kitty Hawk class of which we haven’t varied from at all in the last 50 yrs.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Excellent summary, AT1.


    Smitty, just a few points on a conventional FORD. Lets look at an apples to apples comparison.

    1. A FORD has over 270,000SHP for propulsion available plus all the electrical power. To duplicate that would require something like 8 MT30s (The brits go slower but the USN has different requirements as well as different planes). So, image the island size of a CV, now make it 3-4 times greater (3x the amount of air per horsepower in, 3x out for a GT over steam). The below deck loss of space is even worse. That directly leads to less deck space, less hanger space, less of everything. The whole design of the FORD is maximized to increase flightdeck to allow greater sorties (33% greater per day). A conventional FORD would probably do no better than a NIMITZ, and probably not as well.
    2. A FORD will never refuel in 50 years, so the maintenance advantage of a CV over a CVN just went out the window (no more long and expensive ROHs which take several years).
    3. Fuel bunkerage for a non-nuclear FORD are probably 50% greater than a CV, which already carried less of overything, (ordnance, aviation fuel, spares, food, etc) as a Nimitz class.
    4. Survivability. One of the most vulnerable parts of a ship is the engineering plant. A CVN is armored without huge intakes and exhaust. You conventional CV has huge intakes and exhaust vulnerable to damage as well as making the ship more vulnerable.

    A Nuclear ship is more expensive to build, probably a little cheaper to operate over time, and more expensive to dispose of. However, it also offers
    1. More sorties per day
    2. More ordnance magazines
    3. Greater aviation bunkerage (usually at least 50% better
    4. Less maintenance on the aircraft (no stack gas on aircraft)
    5. Less disruption to pilots landing (no stack gas)
    6. More time on station and fewer oilers
    7. Better survivability
    8. More internal volume and better optimized volume

    All in all, its probably worth the added cost when you are talking something the size of a CVN and when you already have a nuclear infrastructure in place to support it.

  • Byron

    And there is nearly zero infrastructure to support 1200 pd steam boilers.

  • B.Smitty

    Why do we keep talking about steam boilers?


    1. 200MWs equals six 36 MW GT30s. However my guess is it would be a combination of turbines and diesels. Yes, it would significantly impact the island design and below deck spaces. This would, in turn, impact the maximum, theoretical sortie rates. However, as we’ve seen in the real world, carriers can’t produce their maximum theoretical rates except in specifically tuned exercises. Operationally, the sortie rate depends far more on the distance to targets and the number of aircraft carried than on the max theoretical rate. So, IMHO, while nice, optimizing for strikes against 200nm range targets isn’t tremendously relevant in the real world. The GAO paper determined no real difference in the actual sortie rates between CVs and CVNs during ODS. I imagine a re-run in OIF and OEF would show the same thing.

    2. IIRC, the Ford reactors still have to be refueled once. They do reduce the number or time of maintenance intervals (I can’t remember which) over their life, but some of that would be carried over to a conventional Ford as well.

    3. The GAO report showed the difference in fuel bunkerage between the CVs and CVNs had less to do with different propulsion and more to do with design requirements. In any case, operational usage data showed that CVs and CVNs both have to hit a replenishment ship every 3-3.5 days of heavy use.

    4. From the GAO report, “Officials of the Naval Sea Systems Command told us, according to their survivability analyses, neither type of carrier possesses any inherent, overriding advantage over the other in its susceptibility to detection or its vulnerability to the damage inflicted by the weapons. They also said that the two types of carriers are very similar in construction, were built to the same shock standards, and use similar machinery and equipment. Thus, while there are some differences, neither has a distinct advantage withstanding or recovering from the effects of enemy weapons that can be attributed specifically to the ship’s propulsion type.”

  • Byron

    Smitty, what part of “the CVN does not need to take on fuel for her engines every 3-5 days” do you not understand? The oiler is there ONLY for aviation fuel and any fuel the carrier might carry to act as an oiler for her escorsts…and ONLY that. Furthermore, the fuel for gas turbines is expensive…would you ask the Navy to purchase more than they already do?

  • B.Smitty


    I understand that a CVN only has to take JP-5 every few days while a CV has to take JP-5 and DFM. During ODS, the difference didn’t change the frequency with which CVs or CVNs had to refuel.

    AFAIK, MT30s require the same fuel delivered to every escort and amphibious ship.

    Of course cost of fuel has to be factored into the analysis. But so does total direct and indirect costs of designing, building, operating, and disposing of nuclear power plants.

  • AT1 Charles Berlemann Jr


    The line from NavAirSysCom about carrier survivability has changed since ODS. In 2000 the US Navy used the USS America as a target and a test bed. The information generated and learned is still classified, but I would bet things were learned. Just as things were learned in the damage survival after the three major carrier fires in the 1960’s. Using a GAO report that is not well over 20yrs old to validate some concepts when technology has changed is questionable. We probably need to have the GAO do another study of recent carrier operations and update the numbers comparing and contrasting the Kitty Hawk class that were in combat during OEF vs the Nimitz and Roosevelt class CVNs.

    As to the questions with regards to steam boilers, simply cause that is the only other way to move a large ship like an L-class aviation ship through the water is via marine diesel engine or via a steam boiler. Most modern commerical cargo carriers, including the E-class container ships of the Maersk shipping line use marine diesels. Gas Turbines are great for smaller ships like the Destroyers and Cruisers, but they drink fuel like a fish. The US Army and US Marines have learned this with the M1 Abrams compared to the M60. During both ODS and OEF the rate of advance was highly tied to how fast the fuel was brought up for the Abrams units compared to the M60A3 equipped units.

    As to needing to put aircraft out further then 200nm from the fleet. That is a mission we strived for post-1942. Simply cause it protected the fleet from the opposing air. As we transition from WW2 to the Cold War, the ability to help form the third part of the nuclear triad and support the SIOP; lead to carrier aircraft being developed that can get away from the carrier and deep into enemy territory. We let that deep strike mission atrophy due to the belief that most of our conflicts would be similar to ODS where we could have the USAF near by and they would be able to preform the deep strike with thier platforms. Instead as we learned the hard way with OEF and we are learning with Operations over Libya. We still need deep strike capabilities since tanking support may not always be there or it might be severely limited.

    Again, we need to take an older LHA or even LHD. Convert it into this proposed CVL concept. Run some fleet exercises with it, take it on a few deployments where it could for the nucleus of a CVLBG. See how well it preforms the mission roles we expect of it. Then if that succeeds, work on building an purpose built CVL that expands on some of the lessons learned. We keep doing that we might have a CVL of some worth. The thing that would need to be accepted is that it would be severely hampered if we expected it to go toe to toe against another major fleet or even try and enter in combat against a significate land based air power threat. We might need to be willing to accept the loss of that battle group or unit in that situtation.

  • AT1 Charles Berlemann Jr

    I would also note that we tried turbo-electric drives on some capital ships for a while, but found them highly suspect to shock damage from even near misses. They were great to generate high speeds, but when the torpedos or bombs struck those power plants went off line pretty quick.

  • B.Smitty


    Earlier, I suggested using a combination of gas turbines and diesels in an integrated electric propulsion system. The 65,000 tonne British CVF CTOL carrier is doing just that with a combination of MT30s and Wärtsilä diesels.

    I agree that new studies with updated information would be required to give this idea any legs. I don’t see it happening though.

    On sortie ranges, I think greater than 200nm should be considered the norm, and we should optimize for that. The Ford class tries to optimized for the sub-200nm, maximum sortie rate. That might look good on paper, but in the real world it isn’t as useful.

    Just MHO.

  • Hello,

    integrated electric propulsion is currently in service on the British Daring class,Wave class and Albion class and will power the 65,000 tonne Queen Elizabeth class.
    I believe it is also used on the American L.H.D. 8/U.S.S.Makin Island,the Lewis and Clark class an Zumwalt class.
    I am sure there must be plenty of others.
    In many of those cases the system was designed by Converteam.

    With electric catapults,there is no longer any need for boilers.

    To generate 270,000 shp,would require 6 MT30 generator sets (48,000 shp each)weighing about 30 tonnes each and probably costing around $25 Million per set.
    The uptakes would be no larger than on the Kitty Hawk class carriers.
    Take a look at the size of the uptakes on U.S.S. Freedom/L.C.S.1,she has 2 MT30s.

    The second Queen Elizabeth class carrier is costing just $1,600 Million to build,annual running costs are expected to be about $80 Million a year and fuel costs were estimated to be about 5% of lifecycle costs.

    Historically catapult aircraft have generated sortie rates in combat just as high as vertical landing aircraft have managed.
    If an aircraft spends hours flying a sortie and then has hours on deck,the few minutes saved by landing vertically make little difference to how many sorties can be flown in a day.

    The longer endurance of an F35C over an f35B also means you will be able to generate the same number of hours on station with fewer sorties.


  • Hello,

    edit to the above,26 tonnes may be the weight of the MT30 on it’s own,and 77 tonnes the weight as a complete generator set.

    Also,I understand a Refit and Complex Over Hall (R.C.O.H.) on a Nimitz class costs $3,100 Million,about twice the cost of building H.M.S.Prince of Wales.

    The nuclear carriers are incredibly capable,much more so than the Queen Elizabeths,but the are also incredibly expensive to buy and operate.


  • Byron

    Mr. Logistics: An aircraft launched via catapault will carry much more fuel and ordinance that one that launches via VTOL or VSTOL. This equates into reduced combat range, loiter time and payload over target.

  • Chuck Hill

    While the original plan for Queen Elizabeths was a VSTOL, current plan is for an electric catapult.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Chuck, would an electric cat be an option for a STOVL airframe to be able to carry more fuel/ordnance at launch? If so, let’s experiment with it.

  • AT1 Charles Berlemann Jr

    Intergrated Electric Propulsion. Okay, as we are finding out with the LCS platforms the MT30’s are having maintenance issues from being installed improperly and in general the high maintenance fact from having an untried system installed, just to cite a recent example. You can cite what the expected design for the CVF Queen Elizabeth may look like and may operate, but they are still in the builder’s yards and have not conducted any real world operations. On top of that just like this proposal for the USN’s own CVL, they are married at the hip to the F-35 project succeeding across the board in all requirements. It to use the latest terminology, become a platform “Too big to fail”.

    With respects to history, the loss of DC efforts onboard some of the major ships in Pearl Harbor and the USS Lexington were from thier expensive, complex, and technological advance engines. When these ships suffered heavy shock damage from underwater explosions and near misses from bombs overhead. As thier engine plants, which were turbo-electric drives, went off line the damage control and war fighting efforts went off line as well. Most self defense guns had to depend on local hand power to train and elevate, loss of water for fire-fighting efforts as well, finally loss of power across the ships made communication efforts complicated as well in both the DC and warfighting efforts.
    I just remain highly skeptical that this proposed intergrated electronics engine system will work out right. The same with the EMALS system. We have been toying with EMALS since the mid-90’s and only recently has Lakehurst been able to conduct some successful launches with it. Technology advancements are great, but sometimes evolutionary needs to come before revoultionary.

  • B.Smitty


    If EMALS doesn’t work, the Ford class is likely sunk. Ripping it out and installing steam cats is probably cost-prohibitive.

    We wouldn’t have to use MT30s, There are other options. LM2500+G4s produce almost the same power.

    Neither LCS design uses Integrated Electric Propulsion. The LHD-8 and LHA-6 do, as will the DDG-1000s.

    Now that the British have committed to CTOL (something they should’ve done from the beginning IMHO), they are no longer wedded to the F-35. If it fails, they can always buy Rafale or F/A-18s.

  • AT1 Charles Berlemann Jr


    I understand what your saying. I am just trying to express that it appears to this sailor, our ship building priorities have been messed up in the last few years. Instead of evoloving our technology we are trying to be revolutionary with our technology. It recent years this has bit us in the rear with cost overruns in platforms and costly repairs when systems weren’t installed properly. Those have causes costs in such platforms as the LCS, DD(X), CG(X), Deepwater cutter, LPD-17, Virgina SSN’s. I would also remind you that the CVN-76 was originally slated to be the first carrier to have EMALS when that bid was initally signed off on by NAVSYSCOM in 1994, instead due to the tech not being ready on time, instead she was plumped for the C13 Mk2 cats. The plan again when I heard about EMALS back in an Proceedings article almost two decades now; was that EMALS upgrade is planned for all ships with steam cats during thier next RCOH. As we have seen that plan is being deviated from.

    I just ask that if we are going to do intergrated electric propulsion and all these other “vunder veapon technology” as a friend puts it; we test it small scale. Work the big kinks out first before we start sinking careers, mass sums of money, and wasted man hours into the process before the program becomes “too big to fail”

  • B.Smitty

    I feel your pain with regards to ship building priorities. We spent the last decade or two trying to “leap-ahead” everywhere, while skipping evolutionary advances.

    I was wrong about LHD-8 and LHA-6. They both use a hybrid electric drive, with the turbine directly connected to the reduction gear, and diesels connected via electric drives.

    DDG-1000 will use a full Integrated Electric Propulsion. That can serve as a test bed. Its power plant produces 78MW: a third of what would be needed on a conventional Ford.

    One nice thing about IEP is that the turbines and diesels don’t have to be co-located with the electric drives and reduction gears. They can be spread out around the ship, or put in locations that minimize inlet and exhaust routes. On the Queen Elizabeth, a gas turbine in a sponson is directly below each tower, outside of the hangar.



    – FORD has two 50year life of the ship reactors, no refueling required ever. They woll also have reduced maintenance requirements from the reactors on the NIMITZ class. Without a ROH, a conventional and nuclear carrier has about the same maintenance requirements (largely driven by other factors).

    – Your six MT30s only cover propulsion, you still need more for the other electrical loads. And you lose propulsive efficiency with electric drive (although the tech is getting better).

    – The whole point of the FORD is to maximize the ability to use airplanes. Put an island probably four to six times larger and in a different place on the ship and you significantly degrade its potential capabilities. A FORD (and a NIMITZ) can carry more aircraft although for a variety of reasons, they don’t.

    “The GAO paper determined no real difference in the actual sortie rates between CVs and CVNs during ODS. I imagine a re-run in OIF and OEF would show the same thing.”
    – Your confusing what we did with what we could have done. The fact that we did not use the full capability of either a conventional or nuclear carrier in recent conflict doesn’t say anything about their capability. The same is true with refueling. We used a 3 day on, 1 day off cycle because we did not need the full capability of the carrier and their airwings. That may not always be the case. For the same size, a nuclear carrier can carry more aviation fuel, ordnance, planes and everything else. We may not use the capability, but it is there.

    ” 4. From the GAO report, “Officials of the Naval Sea Systems Command told us, according to their survivability analyses, neither type of carrier possesses any inherent, overriding advantage over the other in its susceptibility to detection or its vulnerability to the damage inflicted by the weapons. They also said that the two types of carriers are very similar in construction, were built to the same shock standards, and use similar machinery and equipment. Thus, while there are some differences, neither has a distinct advantage withstanding or recovering from the effects of enemy weapons that can be attributed specifically to the ship’s propulsion type.””

    Except that the reactors are not vulnerable to losing power because the intakes and exhaust trunks are damaged. The armored deck is not penetrated by humoungous air intakes and exhaust trunks and there is no vulnerable stacks or intakes above the armored deck. A missile hitting on or below the island (most likely point of impact since it has the largest RCS) will take out most of the engineering plant by simply destroying the intakes. Even with a half diesel-half GT mixed plant, you are talking 4 times the air in, and out, as a Kitty Hawk class conventional carrier. Thats a lot of uptakes.

    You can argue that we don’t need the extra capability of a nuclear carrier, but the simple fact is, after a ship reaches a certain size, normally considered to be around 40-60k LT, a nuclear plant is better because the conventional plant just eats up to much space.

  • B.Smitty


    1. I haven’t seen anything to indicate the Ford reactors can go 50 years without refueling. Can you point me to something showing this? If so, then it definitely changes the equation.

    2. Six MT30s can generate 216MW (289,000 shp). The Nimitz class reactors generate 194MW (260,000 shp). So a conventional Ford using this propulsion scheme would have an additional 22MW. I can’t find figures on the Ford’s A1B plant, so I don’t know how this compares.

    My guess is we wouldn’t use six gas turbines. Instead we’d use a mix of turbines and more efficient diesels.

    3. I would rather have more, somewhat less capable carriers, than fewer “exquisite” ones. The point of this blog post was to propose a solution to the carrier coverage gap we have today. URR chose a CVL as his solution. I would prefer to use full-sized, but cheaper, CVs. (Sorry URR for hijacking this thread)

    Of course my plan is predicated on a major up front and life-cycle cost savings from switching to conventional power. If this is not possible, then the plan has no merit.

    We used the 3 day on and 1 day off cycle because carriers needed to replenish JP-5 and stores. Conventional carriers took on DFM as well, but that was not the driving factor.

    The primary reasons we couldn’t generate the maximum sortie rates were the distance to targets and the number of aircraft carried. I don’t see us buying a lot more aircraft and going to the old days of 100+ aircraft air wings. And I don’t see many situations involving a short range to target. Certainly the Ford class advances are nice to have even in these cases, but not necessarily operationally relevant, IMHO.

  • Byron

    So the Navy will have to go back to using fossil fuels? Have you figured out the cost of all that fuel over 50 years? Have you factored in rising fuel costs?

    If I’m going to push 100,000 tons of steel through the water I want nuclear power to do it.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    What about 45,000 tons? Is a reactor still economical?

  • Byron

    Why not? It’s already been done…USS Long Beach, USS California…

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Roger that, but what would the added cost be for modifying an existing warship design like LHA-6? If we are looking to leverage design and development costs for existing platforms, how much does that add?

  • Byron

    I just build ’em, I don’t get into procurement 🙂 And if I did, there’d be a lot of hurt feelings and shipwrecked careers.

  • B.Smitty

    Crunched a few numbers.

    I took the GAO costs for a CV vs a CVN (page 74, minus fuel) and adjusted for inflation from FY97 to FY10.

    Then I used the fully loaded price to deliver a barrel of fuel (including cost of oiler, and so on) from here,

    Instead of the $70.02/barrel of crude assumed there, I used an average of $112/barrel.

    The GAO assumed 25 million barrels of fuel delivered to a CV over its lifetime.

    The total life-cycle costs for each came to the following,

    CV – $23.327 billion
    CVN – $30.05 billion

    My spreadsheet is here here,

    There’s a HUGE YMMV with all of this, of course.

  • Derrick

    What does the US taxpayer perceive to be the primary purpose of the carrier? If it is deterring peer competitors, than wouldn’t more CVNs and a few CVLs be the mix to meet that requirement? If the requirement is more on participating in minor skirmishes like Libya, then would a mix of more CVLs and fewer CVNs suffice?

    I think if the US taxpayer is willing to live with less involvement in other countries’ internal affairs and just stick to deterrence of peer competitors, then every carrier should be a CVN. If not, then perhaps money should be set aside for a few CVLs?

    For example, from what I can understand from some posts, there are some who believe the carrier is to be used for major naval combat, like World War 2 style. In that case, I think you need a CVN.

    However, other posters would like to use the carrier for things like Libya and the like. For them, a CVL would suffice.

    Also…I am concerned about the statement that the theoretical sortie rates for carriers could only be acheived in finely tuned exercises, as opposed to real life. Why is this the case? Isn’t the purpose of an exercise to mimic real life? I think the US taxpayer would like to be reassured that their several billion USD CVNs can do 120 sorties per day…

  • Derrick

    Thanks for providing the cost comparison spreadsheet, B.Smitty. Your efforts to quantify this discussion are greatly appreciated, especially by ignorant civilians such as me. 🙂

    I must ask one more favour though…would someone please list out the sortie generation rates for both the CVN and the proposed CV/CVL? I mean, how many aircraft and what type can each carry, and how many targets can be attacked by each with only the supplies on the carrier?

    I appreciate the cost comparison, but I would like to see the differences in terms of “combat capability”, if one could call it that. 🙂

  • UltimaRatioReg


    The premise is that someone needs to compute sortie generation with a modern STOVL airframe (F-35B) off a dedicated CVA (I am not calling it a CVL at 45,000 tons) to see where the numbers compare with sortie generation off a CVN. Without a need to house attack helicopters and 1,700 Marines, the stowage capacity for such a ship might be made to greatly exceed that of the current LHA-6 design.

  • Derrick

    How long will it take for someone to compute those sortie generation numbers based on the modern STOVL airframe?

  • B.Smitty


    Sortie rates are highly dependent on the distance to target and number of aircraft on the ship. A carrier flying 12 hours on and 12 hours off won’t get much more than 1 sortie per day per aircraft, regardless of deck efficiencies, if each sortie lasts 5+ hours.

  • Byron

    URR, it’s not stowage or room that dictates sortie rate (at least not at the front end, when all aircraft are “up”): it’s distance to target and mission requirements.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Understand, but there was some significant discussion about how often a smaller CV would have to be resupplied with ordnance/aviation fuel, which means time off station.

  • Derrick

    How many aircraft will the CVA carry?

    I guess the CVA, being lighter than the CVN, will be able to get closer in to shore to let its aircraft strike deeper?

    Will the CVA be capable of carrying tactical nuclear weapons?


    Sortie rate, although useful as one of many metrics to access the overall effectiveness of a carrier, is merely a part of the picture. Endurance, range, seakeeping, etc, are also important. For instance, bigger magazines means not just more of everything but also more diversity of ordnance is possible. However, a larger carrier will also generate more sorties by being able to rearm faster, refuel faster, more efficiently moving aircraft, etc. Additionally, with a bigger airwing, they have more flexibility as to the type of sortie they generate. Having said that it is not a linear increase, so a LHA with 50% the number of aircraft will generate, potentially, more than 50% sorties.

    Historically, the CVL was an extremely useful warship, but especially because we already had Fleet Carriers. It was found that the 30-40 or so planes that the CVL carried was too small to have an effective mixed airwing and it created severe problems with aircraft spotting, launch and recovery, etc. But, since they operated as part of a fleet of aircraft carriers, they were extremely useful. They became the primary CAP providers (high cyclic operations of only one type of aircraft (fighters) and minimal aircraft arming). This freed the larger fleet carriers to be able to concentrate on being the primary strike assets (bigger decks, more room for arming and spotting, more pulsing of power, less cyclic ops). By having both types of carriers, the limitations of the CVL could be hidden and its strength (it had a flight deck and could operate aircraft almost as fast as a fleet carrier) was optimized.

    The FORD is clearly optimized for generating strike sorties and handling a large diverse airwing. It will be able to re-fuel and re-arm aircaft faster, move them about easier, spot them faster, and generally support them longer than the NIMITZ class. Its the modern day Fleet Carrier. However, normally it would launch and recover aircraft at about the same rate as a smaller carrier, at least until the smaller aircaft carrier ran out of planes.

    An unmodified LHA-6 supporting only F-35Bs would probably carry around 30-35 F-35B. My rational is that
    1. A LHD can easily carry 24 AV-8Bs and six SH-60s since they have done it before.
    2. A LHA-6 is better optimized for avaiation and is planned to routinely carry 12 F-35Bs in addition to the MEU helicopters (4 CH-53E/K, 10 MV-22Bs, 4 AH-1Z, and 3 UH-1Y). So I am figuring 30-35 F-35Bs if you remove the the helos.

    How many F-18/F-35s are there in a normal CVW? Somewhere around 44-46 total. So a LHA-6 could carry almost as many fighters as a CVN but of course nothing else. So it should be able to generate almost as many fighter sorties as the larger carrier in the same timeframe. In other words, a modern CVL (which is why I like CVL as a designation even if it is ESSEX sized like a LHA).

    So, if (a big if) you can build and operate two optimized light carriers (I think it would make sense to go all the way and have a angled flight deck and catapults) for the cost of one Fleet carrier, you can have a force of 6 CVLs and 7 CVNs for the same cost as 10 CVNs. A conventional CVL that carried say 36 F-35Cs and 2 E-3Ds, (Strike airwing) about the same as the French Charles de Gaulle, or alternatively, 24 F-35Cs, 2-3 EF-18Gs, 2 E-2Ds, and 4-7 MH-60s (multi-purpose airwing) could be very useful as a battle group assets but would also be able to operate independently in lower threat regions. Now, the smaller CVL would have less endurance, probably only one quarter of the magazine space, lower seakeeping limits, etc. but they would add significantly to the number of flight decks (a 30% improvement) and would provide, when configured for the maximum fighter configuration, a greater than 50% increase in the numbers of fighter sorties, at half the cost. As a pure fighter carrier, it can easily support the required sorties. As a attack plane carrier, it is not nearly as good but, operating with a CVN or in a low threat environment, how good does it really need to be?



    On the 50 year life reactors, I saw it from a story on the FORD class aquisition from the Defense Industry Daily website that discussed the changes from the NIMITZ class (which is why a fleet of 10 FORDs have about the same operational time as a fleet of 12 NIMITZ class across their service lives). I checked, and the website currently has that story is now only available to members.

    The navy ( estimates that a NIMITZ class has around a $32.1 billion total ownership cost (FY04) while the FORD class (after the first one of course) is around $26.8 billion. Approximately $5 billion cheaper over the life of the ship.

  • B.Smitty


    I’ll have to keep looking for that. You’d think that it would be such a huge selling point, they would trumpet it all over the place.

    So far, I’ve seen no reference to it, so I will remain a bit skeptical.

    On the total ownership costs, a conventional Ford would benefit from many of the same enhancements as its nuclear cousin. Many of those enhancements, if not most, are in areas other than propulsion.

  • B.Smitty

    For the LHA-6, assuming it can normally carry the following air wing,

    12 x F-35B
    4 x CH-53E/K
    10 x MV-22Bs
    4 x AH-1Z
    3 x UH-1Y

    Using the hangar spot factors from here,

    The air wing above uses 68.42 “spots”.

    Assuming the same spot factors and packing density, LHA-6 could carry 25 F-35Bs.

  • B.Smitty

    While I’m not crazy about an LHA-sized STOVL carrier, I do still find the old Sea Control Ship concept interesting.

    To gain high sortie rates for a given number of aircraft, you have to be close to the target. There are many cases where we won’t want to risk a CVN, CV or even LHA/CVL very close to shore (e.g. in the Persian Gulf in a conflict with Iran). However, we have shown willingness to operate destroyer or cruiser-sized ships in the same circumstances.

    An SCS the size of the Principe de Asturias or Giuseppe Garibaldi could carry an multipurpose air wing of 12 F-35Bs and 9 H-60s; a long-ranged CSAR wing of 9 F-35Bs, 4 H-60s and 6 V-22s; an ASW/MIW-heavy wing of 6 F-35Bs, 18 H-60s and 12 Fire Scouts; or a Marine/SPECOPs deep insertion wing of 6 F-35Bs and 12 V-22s.

    In other words, an air group much bigger and more flexible than a surface combatant can carry, but not one so big that it requires an expensive LHA/CVL/CV/CVN to carry it.

    Clearly 9-12 F-35Bs won’t generate a large number of traditional, long distance sorties. However they could fly 2-3 sorties per day, per aircraft, out to 200nm or so. The SCS would rapidly exhaust its munitions and fuel stores in this situation, but, if bought in numbers, it could rotate with other Sea Control Ships to provide continuous (albeit limited) coverage.

    If given the ability to defend itself with a robust AAW/ASW suite, an SCS could even operate independently. The large flight deck and hangar make it much more flexible than a Burke, even if it doesn’t cost any less.

  • B.Smitty

    BTW, RAND thinks the Ford class will still require a RCOH.