Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Super Carriers. Why not 6?

Check out a couple of passages from National Defense Magazine.
“Go back and look at the capabilities or reasons we used carriers 20 and 30 years ago and then look today,” Polmar said. “You’re going to reprogram a satellite — it’s cheaper, easier, faster.You’re going to send [an unmanned aerial vehicle], you’re going to dispatch a U-2 or you’re going to try to do it with cyber.”

The Navy has more than 50 submarines and more than 80 surface combatants that can launch Tomahawk missiles.
While Preble believes 11 is too many, he doesn’t necessarily buy into the idea that the heyday of the super carrier is over. Large numbers of relatively low-cost anti-ship missiles and quiet submarines can cause serious problems for an aircraft carrier task force, but these threats are not insurmountable, Preble said.

“There are some people who believe that subs are such a game-changing technology and the advantage so disproportionately in the subs’ favor that a carrier is a sitting duck. I don’t believe that,” Preble said. “They’re big and they’re targets, but we have other big targets. Yes, we’re investing a lot of resources and money and time and people in a really, really big vessel. And so we invest a lot in protecting that vessel. This is not a new phenomena. We did the same thing with battleships.” 
Seems like the establishment is having the same conversation we are.


But it brings me to the real issue.  11 carriers is definitely too many.  Especially in light of how we're using them and the utility that the bring to the fleet.

If we lack the courage to change the size of our carriers then its time to change the number.  We need 8 max, 6 minimum.  I'd lean toward the 6.  We could have one deployed, one doing workups and one on a rest period.  Duplicating that on both coasts and you have it.

What do we get out of the deal?  A surplus instead of a deficit.  We will finally have enough aircraft to fully man our aircraft carriers.  Going to sea with 60 airplanes on deck is a crime.  We can pump that number up to a little over 100. 

Its doable.


  1. We had six carriers deployed for Desert Storm alone. You plan on stripping all carriers worldwide and somehow shoving those out in maintenence next time we have a war? Six carriers is utterly retarded. We should have stayed at twelve.

  2. yeah and in world war two we had 30 or more. the problem is this. we have 100,000 ton carriers that are going out with only one half of the number of planes that they can carry, yet we have a glut of ships to move them around. it would be like having a shipping company and having 12 trucks but you send them out on runs around town only half full.

    would it be better to load half those trucks to capacity and prioritize your deliveries or keep doing things the way that they have been done?

    1. You say that deploying a half filled carrier is a crime, okay fine. How about we figure out a way to fully load them and still keep 11 aircraft carriers. That's what I want. Why don't we fully reform the DoD and the federal government as a whole in order to pay for it. I almost never like defense downsizing, especially when it comes to our Navy.

  3. It's not about the amount of planes. Just because we aren't loading each platform to capacity doesn't mean we have too many platforms. First, the unused capacity is an asset when seen as reserve capacity. Second, a carrier is as much a diplomatic tool as a tool of war. They are strategic assets. The less we have, the more narrow our area of operations is at any given time, and the more degraded our international presence becomes. Another thing to consider is that the biggest cost associated with a carrier is the air wing. So running six carriers with 100 planes is probably a similar expense to running 12 with 50 planes.

  4. The carriers are operating with 70 or so aircraft. It's not clear that we could actually cut the number of carriers to 8 and keep the production and maintenance cycle. On a broader level we're better served with more carriers and a smaller Air Force.

    We have in fact used half half our carriers a few times the past 20 years but there's really not any potential conflicts where we could deploy half the USAF. Mobile carriers are far more flexible than trying to secure potential foreign basing for land based air. Afghanistan required the Navy as would other potential conflicts. The choice shouldn't be about how many carriers the nation has but rather how much carrier aviation vs land based.

  5. Sol I don't understand, you've just done posts on how vulnerable a carrier is, surely one way to make it less vulnerable is to have two, with double the escorts and air wings to deal with threats, and for a reserve if one does get hit.

    In your fantasy scenario the Chinese put all their might into attacking one, so surely having more makes it harder for them to cripple the navy entirely?

    If you actually were replacing those 6 cut ships for a larger number of smaller carriers to complement the 6 supers, that might make more sense.

  6. hey all. the point on reducing the number of carriers is that you get more escorts for the reduced number of super carriers you have. by doubling the size of the airwing you get the same punch from one carrier that you get for two...

    more escorts per CBG, same numbr of airplanes as 2 CBG's and yet the operating expenses of less super carriers.

    1. I buy your increased punch and better escort argument -- it makes good sense to get more munitions on station -- but I'm not convinced by your expense-savings claim. Your air wing numbers stay near-static, and per-carrier crew numbers increase with increased air operations (even potential), so the operational cost savings looks marginal. In addition, you'll see incremental cost increases in production as you reduce numbers. Sure the savings are there, but are they there to a degree that justifies replacing redundancy with a more robustly defended less redundant force projection tool? The conversation goes all numbers game from here.

  7. if we said today. ok. we're going to go down to 6 carriers. we mothball 4 in deep storage, put one into some type of standby in case we need it for wartime use but still continue development. the understanding is that we won't increase the size of our carriers but we will update them. once a significant upgrade has been developed then you use the one that's on standby to get it up to speed and put one that was on duty in mothballs. the whole process continues. manning won't necessarily increase because with the decreased wing size we've maintained the same number of billets on ship. the only thing that will increase is the number of planes pilots and maintainers. since they're coming from ships that have been mothballed you don't spend more money and since you'll still end up with two extra ships because of the doubling of airwings then you save by taking them out of service.

    i think its a winner.

  8. When the Admirals explain to Congress they only need 6 carriers exactly how do they answer when Congress asks why not 6 amphibious groups?

    This entire argument is extremely platform centric. Conceptually a carrier is a mobile airfield we don't require foreign basing permission to use. When did we suddenly gain so many new reliable allies we don't carrier air?

    How about looking at the entire tactical aviation force in the USAF, USN, and USMC and making a judgement about overall requirements? Because one can talk about 4, 6, or 8 carriers but the main point is that we have around 3,500 fighters and we need to be able to deploy and base them in a potential conflict or they're useless. Six carriers means maybe you could deploy 3 and thus at most around 210 fighters. Where do the other 3,300 operate from?

    In my view the much better argument is increasing the number of carriers and cutting land based aviation. Carriers are power projection tools and I don't see any evidence our requirements have decreased.

  9. Lane. read it again. i didn't mention one word about cutting naval aviation. i only want to double up the number of planes per carrier and mothbal the carriers not in use.

    we sail with 60 planes per carrier when they can all carry well over 100. thats what i want to get back to.

    in essence we have a surplus of hulls. a deficit of escorts to deal with the threat and if we doubled up the number of planes per carrier we could get back to a significant strike force per carrier.

    1. Sol we used to operate with 90 aircraft including 4 fighter and a medium attack sqdn and today we operate about 72 aircraft in 4 fighter sqdn's minus the attack sqdn. Your premise is incorrect.

      I've got a better idea. How about we decide how many carriers we need with what type of air wings, along with all supporting ships, and just bloody fund it? Take the money directly from the land based fighter forces because we can not get even half of them deployed in any potential conflict.

      The one really flexible aviation asset we have are the carriers and even if your premise were correct we can't afford that many eggs in one basket. Moreover, however many aircraft each carrier has they can only be in one place at a time. At some point too few become too few. Six are also probably too few to support the shipbuilding base required to build and maintain them.

      Frankly if I was supreme dictator I'd go to 12 carriers as quickly as possible and, again, cut the land based air forces to pay for it.

      Finally it's a tad problematic one day pointing out our 10 carriers are too vulnerable and we should spread out the risk by operating more smaller carriers and another day arguing we're better off with just 6. Your original risk argument alone is enough to make going to 6 a bad idea and doubling the protection of each battle group is not in my view adequate insurance against the increased concentrated risk.

    2. Lane,

      As supreme dictator, I would attempt to restore balance in land-based air forces. This would entail purchasing fewer tactical aircraft and more theater and strategic aircraft.

      As part of this shift, I would entertain the idea of moving some of the remaining land-based tactical air fleet to the Navy, but only if they can get their heads out of their *sses with regards to aircraft programs.

      The USN should've stuck with the all Tomcat plan way back when, and never gone down the Hornet/Super Hornet road. They've been fighting to get back that combat radius ever since.

      Maybe F/A-XX should be a joint USAF/USN program. I know we haven't had much success with joint air programs in the past, but maybe the nth time is a charm.

  10. Assuming one in refit, one in training, one in active operations, 6 would allow four to be rushed into war, assuming one gets hit in an Alpha Strike, you can put three into war.

    I could live with that, but then, the UKs navy would struggle to put three destroyers to sea right now.....

    Ignore "strategic effect" of 11 carriers.
    No one cares when the last carrier visited, they care that a fleet of them can arrive when TSHTF

    As for production
    Why not replicate the Trident arrangement?
    Every 200 (300? 400?) days, the UK (and France) turn up at a New Port news, debark one carrier and sail away in another.

    Ok, the last ones never gonna happen, still


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