Tag Archives: aircraft carrier

Introducing the Izumo


Kyodo News/Associated Press
Kyodo News/Associated Press

Meet the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force’s (JMSDF) newest and largest member, the Izumo (DDH-183). With its 248-meter flight deck and 27,000-ton displacement, the new helicopter destroyer – capable of carrying up to 14 helicopters – dwarfs its 197-meter Hyuga-class cousins (the Hyuga, commissioned in 2009 and its sister ship Ise, which entered service in 2011).

As with Japan’s two other helicopter destroyers, the Izumo does not have fighter-launching catapults and is unable to support fixed-wing aircraft. Even so, eventual conversion of any of Japan’s three helicopter destroyers is not out of the question. Given the constraints of their design (such as small elevators and hangars), the conversion of the two older ships would be more difficult, while the Izumo’s larger dimensions could eventually accommodate aircraft such as the F-35B, the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the new fifth-generation fighter.

Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images
Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images

The launch is sure to cause concern in China, which remains embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. The islands are administered by Japan, but claimed by both sides. Although Tokyo has been careful to include tasks such as the transport of personnel and supplies in response to natural disasters high on the list of the new ship’s priorities, the destroyer presents a potent addition to the operational capabilities and strategic reach of the JMSDF. Crucially, it helps Tokyo keep pace with – or indeed, stay ahead of – China’s own rapidly growing navy. All recent and forthcoming changes to Japan’s defense policy aside, keeping pace with Beijing has proven a challenge as the country continues to feel the squeeze of its frail economy and the limits of its 1%-of-GDP defense spending cap. Even so, the Izumo may provide renewed impetus for those who believe that East Asia is already knee-deep in an arms race, as well as those who believe that Japan is emerging from its long pacifist slumber.

At the time of writing, an official reaction from Beijing has yet to be made, but it will be interesting to read in light of the still-fresh images of China’s second aircraft carrier under construction. Whatever the official line may be, the symbolism of choosing 6 August – the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 – to unveil Japan’s largest post-WWII ‘aircraft carrier’ is sure not to go unnoticed in Beijing.

Below is a comparison of the ship with the Ise in a photograph taken by the author in Kure in March this year.

Despite their different angles, both photographs hopefully provide a decent overview of the two ships and offer sharp eyes enough material for comparison. Even from this distance, the difference in size is apparent. Any insightful observations from our readers are welcome in the comments below.

Miha Hribernik is Research Coordinator at the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) in Brussels and an analyst at the geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

Meeting the Full Demands of Sea Control

CVF or LHDIf you remember from my previous post I suggested that a fleet consisting of 13 frigates, 3 CVL, 5-6 tankers, and 4 RFA-operated assault ships struggles to provide a continuous offensive presence because we have to off-deck many of the required ASW helicopters onto the assault ships. There are many solutions to this problem. One is simply “more ships”. There are however, two other options that immediately spring to mind, namely CVF or LHD.

Larger Carrier (CVF)

Increasing the size of the airwing on the CVL from 20 aircraft to 30 allows the carrier to be dedicated to Sea Control aviation duties, including ASW. This relieves the burden on the amphibious ships and allows them to concentrate on supporting the landed troops.

Increasing the size still further to around the 40 aircraft mark allows us to embark many of the additional aircraft required for assault/support operations and removes the need for any aviation maintenance capability on the assault ships. This makes the assault ships even cheaper as they become simply lillypads for helicopter landing, takeoff, and refuel.

We also end up with a carrier that can do some serious damage if needed.

Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD)

The other option is to “bolt” the Sea Control Carrier onto the top of the assault ship to save money on crews and hulls. This yields a ship that can operate as either a Sea Control Carrier or an assault ship. It cannot easily do both at the same time as a flooded well deck and manuevering to launch landing craft would conflict with the need to manuever for winds to launch and recover jets. This means we would need more ships which negates the cost saving advantage.

That said, it is worth bearing in mind that four such ships could provide sustained defensive sea control near one’s home waters, or the ability to “surge” two ships forward for an offensive – with one tasked for sea control and the other as a true helicopter-carrying assault ship. The two on station would be sustained by the two back at port.

It then becomes a costing exercise to determine which is the most sensible avenue to pursue.


Given the original £2b figure per CVF, the choice is obvious. Increase the size of the aircraft carrier. Furthermore, by accepting possible gaps in sustained operations, we can reduce the number of carrier hulls to two.

This along with RFA-owned/operated amphibious assault ships is the way I belive the U.K. is headed. The need for a heavy amphibious assault is diminishing. The need for continuous presence and logistical support is increasing.

I therefore question the sale in 2011 of the RFA Largs Bay to Australia in favour of keeping our LPDs.

“Simon” is a tax-payer (annoyed about: the aircraft carrier debacle, and generally the way the U.K. is run) – okay I’m just a grumpy old man! I have a degree in aerospace engineering and work as a self-employed IT consultant. Unfortunately the bottom fell out of the defence industry when I graduated so I was left high-and-dry with a degree in a discipline considered unimportant by HMG. I’m just biding my time until Britain wants to rebuild her empire with imagination, ingenuity, and a nice hot cuppa.

This post appeared in its original form and was cross-posted by permission from Think Defence.

Sea Control and the Minimum Capability of Carriers

Sea ControlBy Simon of ThinkDefence.co.uk

Someone recently turned the tables on me with a question about what “military effect” I was actually after when I argue for the concept of a Sea Control Carrier. What follows is an attempt to indicate the minimum capabilities of such a platform necessary to achieve any realistic sustained defence or offence. It’s not really based on a known threat, but rather a “theoretical” nation [albeit using Royal Navy models] with aspirations of international reach and influence based on a series of requirements to “fly the flag”, protect an area of investment, or launch 3Cdo [3rd Commando Brigade] into hostile territory (ish). It assumes threats from land, sea and air in all circumstances.

After some careful consideration I have come up with the following requirements:

1.To provide 24-7 Combat Air Patrol (CAP – lead and wingman continually airborne).
2.To provide 24-7 Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW – two helicopters continually in the air “dipping” and deploying sonobuoys)
3.To provide 24-7 Airborne Early Warning (AEW- a single asset continually monitoring the horizon for incoming threats)

My desire for 24-7 CAP is because I do not believe that Deck-Launched Intercept (DLI) will give a fast enough or far-reaching enough response in the future (see graph below). In addition, it “sizes” the requirement such that the ship can swing-role for rapid-response air support. The ASW capability is assumed to work in conjunction with a towed-array frigate. Now let’s work some rough math…

An enemy incoming at Mach 0.9 and a Deck-Launched and CAP Intercept. At point of detection (200km) both aircraft accelerate as fast as possible giving the enemy aircraft a massive advantage when up against the DLI jet starting from zero knots. Current technologies are probably about “break even” in terms of AMRAAM intercept distance and anti-ship missiles, however this is likely to change.
An enemy incoming at Mach 0.9 and a Deck-Launched and CAP Intercept. At point of detection (200km) both aircraft accelerate as fast as possible giving the enemy aircraft a massive advantage when up against the DLI jet starting from zero knots. Current technologies are probably about “break even” in terms of AMRAAM intercept distance and anti-ship missiles, however this is likely to change.

Flight Hours and Air Crew
The above requirements mean 48 flight-hours for the jets, which we’ll assume require 25 man-maintenance-hours per flight-hour (1200 maintenance hours) which equates to a minimum of 150 man-days. Likely to be more if the aircraft is Low Observable. Similarly, there is a total of 72 flight-hours for the helicopters which we’ll assume require 10 man-maintenance-hours per flight-hour (720 maintenance hours) which equates to a minimum of 90 man-days.

A total maintenance team of 240 men, along with around 60 further pilots and systems operators and another 10% for “management”. A total of about 330 airgroup personnel. Minimum.

It is my impression that a ~27,000 tonne, 20 aircraft, CVL can provide this with 8 jets, 8 ASW helicopters and 4 AEW helicopters.

However, I am asking for this airgroup to undertake three two-hour CAP sorties per day, per aircraft, forever (well at least for a couple of months). Regardless of how hard I try to push my head into the sand it simply isn’t going to happen. History has shown carrier air wings to deliver between one and two sorties per day over a sustained period so perhaps we can settle for 1.5 sorties per day and 16-18 jets.

The point here is that a small “Cavour-sized carrier can only deliver about half of my requirement. In other words it can deliver the “jet” component, or daytime cover, or single aircraft CAP and ASW. Any CVL will therefore need to be supplemented with enough escort/support ships to sustain the required ASW capability.

The Fleet
Following from this conceptual CVL I’d now like to examine how the fleet could operate to provide sustained presence, defence, and ultimately offence. Much of the numbers following are for illustrative purposes only, again representing a “theoretical” nation:

We’ll begin with frigates. Thirteen of them. 3-4 of them in deep maintenance/refit and the remainder providing 85% availability. This gives us eight active ships, with two assigned to each of four key locations around the globe – rotating back-to-back – operating independently, policing, and flying the flag.

In addition we’ll need a number of tankers to sustain their presence.

This is the real point of this section. This is the ability to supplement the active frigate as local tensions rise in one of the four key locations. This supplement increases the area of control/dominance from a ~20km to ~200km radius using the Sea Control Carrier above.

We therefore require a sustained sea control capability, which can only come about with at least three Sea Control Carriers.

Furthermore, we have already identified that the CVL above cannot sustain the level of aviation that is required to totally dominate the area. We can assume that the CVL can support the jets and AEW capability, but we need other ships to operate the ASW squadron. Well, we already have a frigate with an embarked helicopter and in order to sustain any kind of operation we are going to need one of the tankers on station for much of the time.

This therefore puts the onus on the tanker to embark the remaining seven helicopters with hangar facilities for at least three of them. This is hardly a tanker. The ship that fits the bill is probably more akin to RFA Argus or an aviation optimised Bay class. This means dragging another ship along in order to provide sustained control of the sea.

We now have a frigate, a tanker, a carrier and an aviation heavy support ship on station.

Obviously the above task group provides a fair level of offensive air power, however, here I mean “offence” in the form of amphibious assault.

RFA Argus
  RFA Argus

I’ll keep this relatively simple and just suggest that we need to sustain a single commando battalion in theatre or launch a heavy assault with almost all of 3Cdo. To this end we will need four amphibious assault ships all similar to the Rotterdam/Galicia design. These ships would generally be operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) with a small contingent of Royal Marines so the assumption is that four such ships will provide three operational, one for each of 40, 42 and 45 Commando [battalions].

Again, the point is not to discuss force balance or numbers, but simply to indicate that these ships could double up as the aviation heavy support ships as required above.

All-out war would see all eight frigates on the front line operating the majority of the ASW squadron, therefore freeing up space on the assault ships to operate utility/lift helicopters.

Total Approximate Numbers:
13 frigates (8 available, 4 tasks)
3 Sea Control Carriers (2 available, 1 task)
5-6 tankers (4 available, one per task)
4 assault ships (3 available, one per Commando)

Aircraft for Sea Control
16-18 jets on the carrier
4 AEW helicopters on the carrier
1 ASW helicopter on the frigate
1 ASW helicopter on the tanker
6 ASW helicopters on the assault ship operating as the aviation heavy support ship

What I have tried to do here is provide a minimal fleet design. It is not a fantasy fleet, it is simply an indication of how a fleet could be built to provide various levels of capability. The use of a small carrier keeps the cost minimal, but at a high price in terms of overall effectiveness. We are severely limited with our aviation assets because we have to “off deck” much of our sea control ASW squadron onto tankers and assault ships that would otherwise be operating utility/lift helicopters.

This means that our sustained offensive presence deploys almost zero utility/lift helicopters because the aviation space on the amphib is being used to operate the majority of the ASW squadron.

A larger carrier would be better, which I will cover in a second post entitled “CVF or LHD”.

“Simon” is a tax-payer (annoyed about: the aircraft carrier debacle, and generally the way the U.K. is run) – okay I’m just a grumpy old man! I have a degree in aerospace engineering and work as a self-employed IT consultant. Unfortunately the bottom fell out of the defence industry when I graduated so I was left high-and-dry with a degree in a discipline considered unimportant by HMG. I’m just biding my time until Britain wants to rebuild her empire with imagination, ingenuity, and a nice hot cuppa.

This post appeared in its original form and was cross-posted by permission from Think Defence.

The Vanishing Amphibious Fleet: Why Our Next Inchon May Begin off the Deck of a Container Ship

Christopher Barber is a Marine Corps Reserve Captain mobilized in the national capital region. While on active duty, he served in Helmand, Afghanistan as an Intelligence Officer and Scout Sniper Platoon Commander. He is a 2008 graduate of the United States Merchant Marine Academy and a USCG licensed deck officer.


American strategic thought has been dominated by the recently self-proclaimed “pivot” to the Pacific and Asia. A student of history, or simple geography, can easily demonstrate that conflict in the Pacific has always, and will always, be a primarily naval endeavor. The same research will reveal that even with a naval focus, any future conflicts are likely to involve putting troops ashore in some fashion. However, seaborne basing, forcible entry, and general contingency planning for amphibious operations are at risk in our military’s current force structure.

Sheer numbers show that the capability to move and fight amphibiously is at a relative historical low point. The US Navy does not indicate in its ship building priorities that this unsettling fact is likely to change. Unorthodox options such as using Maritime Preposition Force ships, auxiliary ships (MSC), or contracted merchant ships are not desirable for operational planners at this time due to the legal and political problems of sending these ships into harm’s way. In light of our strategic desires and growing delta from our amphibious capabilities, the Navy/Marine Corps teams should reexamine these means to supplement capability until reason can guide (along with fiscal ability) necessary, capable amphibious forces.


The US Navy possesses its lowest number in history of amphibious vessels. There is currently questionable accounting concerning the ability to put an entire MEB (Marine Expeditionary Brigade) to sea. Latest estimates place the required ships to conduct forcible entry options with a MEB, deemed necessary for major combat operations, at 33.  Realistically, that number leaves no real reserve and more worrying is the open secret that we will not maintain this force level past 2015. MEUs and ARGs are staying out longer, and being split in order to fulfill operational needs. The 15th MEU, which captured Somali pirates in September 2010, was split conducting counter piracy while simultaneously supporting Afghanistan combat operations and theater reserve.

While such split operations are within the kit bag of the MEU, such practices dilute the nature of the ready force that is forward and concentrated. Current naval planning does not indicate these trends will reverse. In the near term, FY13 budgeted shipbuilding plans for the procurement of 10 combatant vessels, none of which are designed as amphibious troop carrying vessels.

Longer-term outlooks are no more promising, with the 30-year shipbuilding plan designating amphibious ships to remain the smallest portion of the surface ship layout. These trends indicate that while we point to a pivot in the Pacific, a lack of focus on the real possibility of amphibious operations exists in the Navy.  Amphibious operations would only make up a portion of the large pie of commitments facing the Pacific Fleet. Within the large spectrum of possible kinetic or non-kinetic operations in the Pacific, it can be predicted that any amphibious operation would be a decisive moment strategically and the planning should be weighted accordingly.


Viewed through the lens of history (Normandy, Inchon, or Guadalcanal) it is difficult to find any amphibious operations that did not mark a dramatic turning point in a campaign or war.  If it is then self-evident that such an event would be so strategically critical, why does the current plan to build and maintain such a force seem akin to a family choosing to forgo insurance while deciding to move to earthquake prone area? The prime stakeholder in any amphibious operation, the Marine Corps, cannot dictate the procurement of other services, but it should consider alternative courses of action to ensure its capabilities remain viable.

It is important to remember that any alternatives to procuring and maintaining a robust combatant amphibious fleet should be only temporary. To rely on merchant shipping or other means that are not 100% dedicated to amphibious operations under fire would be a fool’s errand, but more dangerous would be to gap a crucial element of national power when the world is becoming more dangerous.

Numerous historical precedents counter the argument that only dedicated ships of war can be used under fire. Most apparent was the massive emergency nationalization of merchant shipping during World War II. Thousands of tons of civilian shipping, manned by civilian mariners, were mobilized and made a crucial contribution to winning the war. Losses were great, with 1,614 ships sunk from 1940 to 1947 (post conflict losses due to remnants of war) and 9,521 merchant seaman giving their lives in service to the country. Merchant seaman had a 1 in 26 chance of being killed in action, greater than that of any the four services. Clearly, our national history shows that civilian mariners are capable of risking all in service to their country.

The SS Atlantic Conveyor became an unorthodox aircraft carrier during the Falklands War
The SS Atlantic Conveyor became an unorthodox aircraft carrier during the Falklands War

Another useful example is that of Great Britain during the Falklands war of 1982. In an economic situation eerily similar to today, the British government had to make many choices of need rather than want during the 1970s. Economic malaise led to drastic defense cuts, and all strategic guidance pointed toward the threat of the Soviet Union and continental Europe.  History demonstrated that war rarely happens where governments want or plan for it to occur. Only a year after London mothballed several of its carriers and amphibious ships, Argentina invaded the Falklands and presented operational and strategic challenges of the highest order to the British Government.  In an amazing example of military mobalization, Great Britain took two civilian container/roll on-roll off (RO/RO) ships and converted them to ad hoc helicopters and VTOL carriers. They carried Harrier GR.1’s and Sea King Helicopters, and gave British commanders operational agility in the form of air cover and lift capacity. Tragically one of the ships was sunk along with several Royal Navy combatants.

The lesson to take away is that, while as much as we may want to envision a conflict of our choosing, it is more likely that we will end up faced with decisions we did not anticipate. If we have to create capability on the fly and mobilize merchant shipping after we are on the right sight of boom, our forces will face greater risks.


Now is the time to begin planning for the worst. Using civilian shipping in amphibious operations is feasible and more cost-effective than waiting on billion dollar ships that have procurement cycles measured in decades. Training on the lower end of the conflict spectrum in operations such as humanitarian and disaster relief will increase civilian/ military amphibious force ability. Earlier integration into MEU and ARG structures to work out inevitable issues of interoperability will make the inclusion of merchant ships into higher spectrum operations a more risk tolerant option.

Most critically, planning for and using merchant shipping options now will keep our amphibious blade sharp, and capabilities will be less affected than if we remain on our current course of a letting them wither, and eventually die, on the vine. Few operations rival an amphibious movement in terms of complexity, and hoping for the best when marines and sailors conduct one under fire in the future is not only negligent, it is immoral. Utilizing the merchant shipping now and planning for its use until our amphibious force is stabilized is a viable strategy that deserves greater attention.