Tag Archives: aircraft carrier

The Carrier and National Security Variables

 

Worth the price of influence?
Worth the price of influence?

The report At What Cost a Carrier? published by CNAS and written by CAPT Henry J. Hendrix contains all the necessary ingredients for a simple model-structuring discussion about the validity and viability of the “Carrier Force” concept. With such a model, individual variables can be discussed or discarded without undermining the need to answer the leading cost question or the model itself. These are the basic variables we get with a carrier:

  • Influence: The amount of influence a navy can project on the world is indirectly measured by carrier military power – sets of “90,000 tons of diplomacy” – and not limited to it. In fact, the rest most of the world uses other means to influence events in order to achieve favorable outcomes.  Other nations may want a carrier but, because they cannot afford one, have to look for alternatives.
  • Cost: The cost of achieving a carrier’s desired capabilities, whether measured by the price of procurement, life-cycle cost, or the cost to restore damaged capabilities during armed conflict. Inversely, not building carriers incurs the cost of losing industrial base and know-how.
  • Risk: This is commonly understood as vulnerability from a lack of assets (the risk of going without), but there are also consequences of losing a carrier. The magnitude of lost military power, cost, influence, and image in such a case would enormous.

Military effectiveness-related attributes, like striking power and affordability, are relatively easy to measure and remain at the center of discussions. On the other hand, political-value calculations are less structured (and harder to quantify) but probably represent the biggest threat to the carrier-centric concept, especially if linked with a shift in strategy. What is the acceptable Cost to have X amount of Influence? Or to reduce X amount of Risk? Is increasing Influence worth increasing Risk? What is our strategy to have Influence on opponent?

There are many examples of proposals aimed at undermining the delicate balance between the above attributes.

During the 1980s, Surface Action Groups (SAGs) built around battleships (then still in service) were considered partial substitutes for Carrier Battle Groups (CBGs). It was a compromise, which in effect supplemented carriers but did not replace them.

In the same category we can place contemporary “Influence Squadrons.”

“If the Navy rethinks the role of Carrier Strike Groups (Ferrari) and deploys new, scaled-down Influence Squadrons (Ford), the result will be 320 hulls in water for three-quarters the price,” said Capt. Hendrix. This fits well with the trends of other nations, purchasing LPH-class helicopter carriers as affordable naval air power, and spurs grim predictions for carriers from bloggers:

Were Humphrey a betting man, then he’d be willing to place a small wager that within 20 years, there will be six nations operating aircraft carriers (down from nine today), and only two of them will be in the West…

Sir Humphrey depicts the world (almost) without carriers and shows how easily – through the cascading effects of delayed deployments, reduced training, and backlogs in nuclear refueling – sequestration could drastically reduce U.S. naval air power (or its useful part). In this context, if the variables above are the right ones, than DF-21 is the modern equivalent of the Star Wars project and cruise missiles from Cold War-era. Development of these weapon systems created such strong financial pressures on their opponent that they ultimately put the enemy’s whole system on the edge of collapse. DF-21 is presented as a weapon targeting carriers’ vulnerabilities, but in a way it becomes strategic weapon with political calculations behind it.

Ballistic missiles represent yet another area of exploration, which potentially could result in changing the prime positions of carriers in a national defense portfolio. We’ve lately seen the latest attempts to reinvent conventionally armed Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs). These concepts are not new and in this case risk-calculation will probably prevail, as launching ballistic missiles from submerged submarines creates a danger of triggering nuclear conflict as the adversary may have a hard time differentiating the conventional launch from the nuclear variety.

 

Challenging the old calculus.
                             Challenging the old calculus.

The impression is that there is no threat today to aircraft carriers’ primacy because they still represent such a large capability to influence events. Experimenting with other alternatives shouldn’t be viewed as a budgetary threat to carriers but rather as a way to limit the risk if an opponent changes the balance between Influence, Cost, and Risk in favor of other means or weapon systems. The time elapsed between construction of HMS Dreadnought and the Jutland Battle was only 10 years. In the battle, the British Grand Fleet validated the concept of the distant blockade of Germany, but at the same time forced Hochseeflotte to switch resources toward U-Boats, which in turn made the Grand Fleet obsolete in maintaining a distant blockade. Preparing defensive measures against the new threat was costly during the war and forgotten in peacetime.

Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland.  His area of interest is broad context of purpose and structure of Navy and promoting discussions on these subjects In his country

The Falklands: The Carrier

 

Skis Up!
                                     Skis Up!

By Ben Brockschmidt

It has been over a month since Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner called for the U.K. to give up the Falkland Islands to Argentina. While this could have been nothing more than an attempted distraction by President Kirchner from a multitude of domestic issues, the dispute over the islands is constant background noise for both countries. In the meantime a referendum on the future sovereignty of the islands is scheduled for March. What this latest uptick allows is an opportunity to look at the logistics of fighting on the other side of the world and the role of aircraft carriers in modern conflict.

During the Falkland Islands conflict in 1982, the UK deployed two aircraft carriers and a sizable fleet to the South Atlantic. Since then, the end of the Cold War and shifting priorities have changed the composition of military forces for both Argentina and the UK. There is ample research comparing the naval forces of 1982 with those of today, but the lack of a British aircraft carrier remains of particular concern. This disadvantage was evident during the intervention in Libya. The absence of a mobile platform to launch aircraft contributed to a more expensive conflict as RAF sorties were flown out of airfields in Southern Europe. The result was longer flight times, fewer missions, and higher rates of fatigue.

With the exception of the facilities maintained in the Falklands themselves, the region is as far away as the U.K. can get from its bases, and it won’t have the benefit of friendly airfields and support sites nearby. While the U.K. has significantly increased the units deployed in defense of the islands, its airfields are known targets.

During the gap between carriers (The first of the two new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers isn’t expected to undergo sea trials for at least a year), questions remain about the functionality of the future ships. The carriers in development lack capabilities that existed during the first Falklands conflict, such as aerial refueling, that are essential for lengthy engagements.

What turns aircraft carriers into a truly formidable force are the carrier strike groups and support craft. By themselves, carriers are offensive weapons and have limited operations. Strike groups combine a carrier with a mix of frigates, destroyers, supply ships, and other vessels. These ships ensure non-stop air operations while protecting the carriers from land-, air-, and sea-based threats. Under its current makeup the Royal Navy, while smaller than it used to be, still maintains a modern and efficient force with all the pieces of a carrier strike group in place, minus the carrier.

The next round of predictions on the Falklands Islands won’t start until after the referendum in March. Until then, the UK needs to identify how it plans to projects its power and defends its interests abroad – both while short a carrier, and in view of the carriers’ limitations.

A 2006 graduate of Illinois State University, Ben Brockschmidt moved to Washington, D.C., on a whim in 2007. Concurrent internships in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, Ben worked for Congressman Tim Johnson of Illinois (retired) who was a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I). He is a 2012 CDE graduate of the U.S. Naval War College and today is the Executive Director of the Infrastructure Council and Director of Federal Affairs for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

This article appeared in its original form at TheRiskyShift.com

 

Read more with LT Kurt Albaugh’s examination of the effects the Falklands’ “Tyranny of Distance” had on the outcome of the war.

USS Enterprise – A British Memoriam

           We are Legend; Ready on Arrival; The First, the Finest; Eight Reactors, None FasterBig EWhen a crisis confronts the nation, the first question often asked by policymakers is: ‘What naval forces are available and how fast can they be on station?’
                 – Admiral C.A.H. Trost, USN Chief of Naval Operations Proceedings, May 1990

 

In December 2012, in execution of the recommendations set down in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the fiscal year 2010, the world’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise (CVN-65), was ‘inactivated’ at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia. Such ceremonies are always poignant events, a mixture of sadness and celebratory reflection on a ships life and achievements. It is estimated that some 100,000 American men and women had served on her during a distinguished 51-year career and many of them turned out to say farewell to this extraordinary warship.

She is not only extraordinary in her length of service in the U.S. Navy but also in her size and capabilities. She is 1,123 feet long (331 feet shorter than the height of the Empire State Building). Her displacement is 95,000 long tons, 4.5 times larger than the recently decommissioned Royal Navy Invincible-class carriers and still 25 – 30,000 long tons larger than, the new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, the first of which will enter service in 2018, 60 years after the hull of Enterprise was laid down in a Virginian ship yard. Her 8 nuclear reactors allowed her to ‘steam’ at up to 35 knots, and meant she never had to refuel. She had a ships company of over 3,000 and could carry up to 95 aircraft. I often remember fondly a story my father told me in which he recalls acting as plane guard to a Nimitz class carrier in the Persian Gulf in 1991. In command of the Royal Navy frigate HMS Scylla (F71), he was struck by her effortless acceleration, while he practically had to burn the wardroom furniture to keep up. Even if not Enterprise, I imagine many a naval officer around the world has similar, lasting impressions of an American nuclear powered carrier.

Big E 2By any yardstick Enterprise is an impressive military asset, and all the more so when you consider she was laid down just 13 years after the end of the Second World War. Since then she has been involved in almost every major conflict since, beginning with the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, including;

• Six deployments in support of Operations in Vietnam, during which she survived a devastating fire.
• Operation Frequent Wind (1975); the evacuation of U.S. citizens and at-risk Vietnamese citizens during the North’s invasion of the South.
• Operation El Dorado Canyon (1886); the bombing of Libya.
• Operation Earnest Will (1988); escorting Kuwaiti oil tankers during the Tanker Wars.
• Operation Preying Mantis (1988) in response to the Iranian mining of an American warship during Earnest Will.
• Operation Classic Resolve (1989); demonstrating American support to Philippine President Corazon Aquino during an attempted rebel coup.
• Operation Joint Endeavour (1996) & Operation Southern Watch (1996); enforcing no fly zones over Bosnia and Iraq respectively.
• Operation Desert Fox (1998); launching airstrikes against targets in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq following his continued flagrant disregard for UN sanctions.

In more recent years, Enterprise was first to provide direct air support for Operation Enduring Freedom, the 2001 invasion of land-locked Afghanistan, delivering 700 seaborne airstrikes in just 3 weeks. She would later provide continued air support for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. She has even supported operations off the Horn of Africa against Somali pirates, quite a contrast to her baptism of fire off Cuba. I only list the most salient operations in which she played a significant part, but this list – by no means exhaustive – is sufficient to demonstrate the flexibility and utility of such a vessel. The above record also does not account for the ever-valuable ‘showing the flag’ missions, a task for which she would have had a powerful talent. One must never underestimate the diplomatic leverage a warship with such destructive potential can afford, either sitting offshore or docked in harbour; wherever she is in the world she is a potent expression of America’s engagement with that region. There is something sublime and deeply affecting in the design, scale and military capability of a carrier such as Enterprise.

But she is more than a military asset; she is also an American icon. She has hosted rock concerts, she had starring roles in the films Top Gun and Hunt for the Red October, and of course, her futuristic namesake explores the final frontier. She and her sister ships not only define how America prosecutes defence, but also help to shape an understanding of American culture and international identity. When commissioned in 1961 Enterprise was the embodiment of the post-war American spirit, powerful, flexible, responsive and technologically innovative, characteristics that all contributed to an over-arching commitment to global security1. She was a clear demonstration of America’s post-1945 ambitions and more significantly for a Brit like myself, a clear indication that the Royal Navy had been conclusively usurped as the world’s preponderant naval force (however I am yet to concede the title of the finest!). Seapowers around the globe still aspire towards what Enterprise defines. You only need to look to the shipyards of China, India, Russia and indeed, the United Kingdom, to get an appreciation for the far-reaching legacy of this ship, laid down half a century ago.

Big E 3Her inactivation has not hugely impacted America’s seaborne air-power capabilities. The U.S. Navy still operates 10 carrier battle groups across the globe (each purported to cost the equivalent of the entire Italian defence budget), capable of responding swiftly to any emergency, be it military or humanitarian. These groups continue to define America’s global defence posture. The Nimitz-class carriers, and the new generation currently under construction, present a clear indication that Washington still has an intention to remain a global presence to shape its and the world’s future from the sea and not from protracted and costly wars ashore.

At the de-commissioning event in December, Captain William C. Hamilton, Jr., the twenty-third and final commanding officer of Enterprise reflected on the ships history, “Enterprise is a special ship and crew, and it was special long before I got here”.

“Before I took command of this ship, I learned the definition of ‘enterprise’, which is ‘an especially daring and courageous undertaking driven by a bold and adventurous spirit.’ Fifty-one years ago, this ship was every bit of that definition.”

“Here we are 51 years later, celebrating the astonishing successes and accomplishments of this engineering marvel that has roamed the seas for more than half the history of Naval Aviation. Daring, courageous, bold, and adventurous indeed.”2

It is hardly surprising, and a reflection of the impression Enterprise has made on the American psyche, that a recent announcement declared that the latest Gerald R. Ford-class carrier will be named Enterprise, the 9th American warship to bear what has become a legendary title. When one considers the contribution of Big E to American security, diplomacy and military operations over the last half century, who can argue, as some are tempted to do here in London, if not in words but in their actions, that seapower is becoming less and less relevant to present and future global security?

 Simon Williams received a BA Hons in Contemporary History from the University of Leicester in 2008. In early 2011 he was awarded an MA in War Studies from King’s College London. His postgraduate dissertation was entitled The Second Boer War 1899-­1902: A Triumph of British Sea Power. He organised the Navy is the Nation Conference, which was held in April 2012 in Portsmouth, UK. The aim of this event was to explore the impact of the Royal Navy on British culture and national identity.

1. I must add at this point however that the USN relies heavily on RN mine-countermeasure vessels to ensure safe passage of his big-ticket assets in hostile waters.

2. ‘Enterprise, Navy’s First Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier, Inactivated’

The Royal Navy’s Type 26

 

Concept image of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship.

In 2020, the first of the new Royal Navy frigates – the Type 26 Global Combat Ships – will enter service, replacing the current fleet of 13 Type 23s. The ships are designed to be versatile and adaptable, making them useful within a broad range of strategic, operational, and tactical circumstances.

The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, said of the ships: “The T26 Global Combat Ship (GCS) will be a multi-mission warship designed for joint and multinational operations across the full spectrum of warfare, including complex combat operations, maritime security operations such as counter-piracy, as well as humanitarian and disaster relief work around the world… It will be capable of operating independently for significant periods or as part of a task group and will play a major role in the defence of this country for many years”1.

The Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Peter Luff, also said of the ships: “The Type 26 Global Combat Ship will be the backbone of the Royal Navy for decades to come. It is designed to be adaptable and easily upgraded, reacting to threats as they change”2.

As individual units, the Type 26 frigates will no doubt be potent warships. The intended fleet of 13 Type 26 frigates do indeed represent a flexible and adaptable platform, ideal for ever-changing technological, diplomatic, strategic, operational, and tactical contexts. The proposed armament bears this out:

  •          Anti-air missiles
  •          Anti-ship, submarine and land-attack missiles
  •          Anti-submarine torpedoes
  •          Guns
  •          A hanger to accommodate a Merlin or Wildcat Helicopter (and underwater, surface and air drones)
  •          Additional accommodation for Royal Marine detachments

The frigates is a concept, not just a particular type of ship. It is one that emphasizes wide-ranging utility, speed and cost-effectiveness. These fundamental functions have barely changed throughout the Royal Navy’s history. This quote from blogger Gabriele Molinelli posted on the Defence Management website supports this notion, “The Type 26 is going to reverse the Type 45 situation by adopting proven, legacy solutions for 80 percent of the design, and only innovating in the remaining 20 percent. This is an effort to stay within budget and get a minimum of 13 hulls into the water. Using existing and proven solutions whenever possible does not make the Type 26 obsolete. The ship will still be a great leap forwards in capability as it will be, effectively, the first true multi-mission ship of the “age of the drones” for the Royal Navy.’3. Considering the flexible nature of these warships and their obvious utility, they are understandably an exciting prospect for the Royal Navy and will represent the backbone of the fleet of the future.

But my concern is with numbers, concerns also felt at the highest levels of the military. Recent comments made by Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, at an Oxford University talk revealed one of his biggest concerns in relation to Britain’s modern armed forces is the number of frigates and destroyers the Navy has4. We often hear talk of how advanced and flexible modern warships are, however, no matter how advanced a warship may be, numbers are of critical importance – there is quality in quantity – for a nation that wishes to retain global influence. With the Royal Navy due to commission two 65,000 tonne Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers in 2016 and 2018, there is a chance of a distorted allocation of resources from the wider surface fleet.

Concept image of the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier.

A current American carrier battle-group is at a minimum often comprised of, but not limited to, the carrier itself, two guided missile cruisers, 1-2 ASW destroyers or frigates, and up to two attack submarines. To lose one of the new carriers would be unthinkable, even more so because the loss of one would halve Britain’s seaborne strike capacity (or all of it if one of the carriers is sold to the French!). It would thus be fair to assume that the Royal Navy will need levels of protection similar to that which the American Navy affords their carriers when on deployment (additional protection in time of conflict or crisis). When you consider that there will be only 6 destroyers and 13 frigates (Type 23, then 26) for the foreseeable future, factoring in periods in re-fit, ships returning from operations and the sheer importance of these assets, deployment of just one carrier would seriously hamper the Royal Navy’s ability to meet its wider global commitments. Consider the analogy of a football team; a side consisting of only a few world-class players will still struggle to compete against a full team of average players; unable to respond to every manoeuvre on the pitch. If a warship is thousands of miles from a crisis, technological superiority counts for nothing. It is all well and good having an adaptable and flexible warship, but a flexible fleet is vital.

Limited numbers also means that should any ships be lost during a crisis, regenerating forces to replace those loses becomes problematic. We only need to recall the loses sustained during the Falklands; the modern Royal Naval fleet could not sustain such damage. With procurement timelines as they are (many sailors who serve on the new carriers and frigates were not yet born when they were first conceived), it is important the service fights tooth and nail to get its full allocation of 26s in the first round; the MOD and the Navy must learn from the Type 45 fiasco, where construction delays led to spiraling costs and a halving of the initial building programme of 12 ships. Unlike days of yore, we can’t acquire several new warships after an afternoon sparing with the French.

In addition to the routine but important ‘kinetic’ tasks carried out by Royal Navy frigates and highlighted by Admiral Stanhope in the quote above, maintaining influence through ‘showing the flag’ missions remains of critical importance. For a nation disillusioned with liberal interventionist principles, with little thirst for future foreign policy entanglements and yet a desire, and duty, to influence events abroad, soft-power should be of primary consideration for British policy-makers; something the Navy can uniquely provide. The Type 26 will be a valuable asset for providing such diplomatic leverage.

Unlike the Type 45, the Royal Navy must secure its full allocation of Type 26 warships to ensure Britain has the ability to shape events abroad, both in times of peace and conflict. Britain must not allow the fleet to shrink any further, otherwise London must accept its global influence will continue to diminish.

 

Simon Williams received a BA Hons in Contemporary History from the University of Leicester in 2008. In early 2011 he was awarded an MA in War Studies from King’s College London. His postgraduate dissertation was entitled The Second Boer War 1899-­1902: A Triumph of British Sea Power. He organised the Navy is the Nation Conference, which was held in April 2012 in Portsmouth, UK. The aim of this event was to explore the impact of the Royal Navy on British culture and national identity.

 


[1] ‘Design unveiled of Royal Navy’s future warships’ 20 Aug 2012

http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/DefenceNews/EquipmentAndLogistics/DesignUnveiledOfRoyalNavysFutureWarships.htm accessed on 20/11/2012

[2] ‘Design unveiled of Royal Navy’s future warships’ 20 Aug 2012

http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/DefenceNews/EquipmentAndLogistics/DesignUnveiledOfRoyalNavysFutureWarships.htm accessed on 20/11/2012

 

[3] Gabriele Molinelli ‘The Type 26 will usher in the age of the drones for the Royal Navy’ 21 August 2012 http://www.defencemanagement.com/feature_story.asp?id=20530 accessed on 24/11/2012

[4] Kirkup, J. ‘Defence chief General Sir David Richards attacks Armed Forces cuts’ 14 Nov 2012 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/9679243/Defence-chief-General-Sir-David-Richards-attacks-Armed-Forces-cuts.html accessed on 14/11/2012