03 May 2010

First F-22s, then tanks, now carriers?

In addition to the lamentations over the capping of the F-22 Raptor and the decline of America's armored formations is the concern over the state of the US Navy's carrier fleet. Consisting of 11 nuclear-powered "supercarriers", these ships are facing the ever-expanding navies of Russia and China, each of which have a grand total of...

...one carrier. Both of which are about half the size of a Nimitz-class carrier.

Now I will be the first to admit that aircraft carriers give America an unparalleled advantage in force projection, allowing over a hundred fighters, strike aircraft, helicopters and AWACS planes to operate nearly anywhere in the world. Yet, as surface combatants, they face threats ranging from speedboat swarms, to portable anti-ship missiles, ballistic missiles, submarines, and other asymetric threats. And at a cost of $20 billion to man and equip, there's doubt that a cash-strapped America can afford to purchase more.

There's also the question of the competition. China and Russia can only manage to put a light carrier to sea. Says Kenneth Payne of Kings of War:
The Varyag was China’s attempt to play by the big boys rules. It’s a status symbol that says, ‘we’ve arrived’. Or that was the aim. In fact, that won’t cut it, because whichever way you squint at it, it’s still a reverse engineered Soviet hand-me-down. Or an upgraded Macao casino. Regardless of its capabilities, proper respect will have to wait till China has designed and built one themselves from the keel up (and that’s from a native of a country currently hard at work on a French designed carrier).

Naval aviators--what do you think? Does this latest batch of carriers pose a threat? What threats should the Navy be concentrating on?

Bonus: Don't let the Russians or Chinese see this--they might close the carrier gap.

Edit: Karaka Pend beat me to this one, too.


SunJun said...

My personal thought is that there is no reason to expand the size of our carrier fleet simply to match any other nation. We have such overwhelming naval superiority and force projection capability, that additional carrier groups, while a nice luxury, would probably not any sort of new, expanded capability.

The real question though is what level of force projection does our nation require in order to maintain security of the commons, and how many carrier groups do we require to do so? I understand completely that we have to rotate them in and out of service for maintenance so a certain level of redundancy is required. I also understand that you need multiple sets in order to cover the various theaters and maintain a reasonable response time (the oceans are a big place after all). However, how much is truly necessary, and how much is sort of extra bonus? I'm not a naval strategy expert, so I won't speculate on a number, but do we really need more than the eleven battle groups we already possess?

limabeanium said...

I think it would be more to the point to provide better protection for the carrier. I know during my time on a carrier we felt like we were big targets and our defenses were nothing to brag about. It was Backfire bombers and Mach 3 cruise missiles, now it's those new Chinese ones. One torpedo in the rudder and we were done. Radar's always have holes in the coverage, some plane can get lucky. Basically Death Star vs X-Wings