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Thread: Future Naval Air contribution to "small wars"

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    Council Member pvebber's Avatar
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    Default Future Naval Air contribution to "small wars"

    The CV is once again obsolete, "long live the CV!".

    Or should it?

    Aircraft were going to make surface ships obsolete, or so Billy Mitchell argued. Tac nukes made fleets obsolete in the late 60s and early 70s. Backfire bombers and conventional cruise missiles killed them off again in the late 70s early 80s. In the late 80s, and 90s wake homing torpedoes did them in. Now its antiship ballistic missiles.

    We have been through multiple periods when ships, CVs in particular were "sitting ducks" - yet we have dropped a whole lot of warheads on foreheads with a perrenially obsolete platform.

    Gazing into your crystal balls, is this "it" and finally the stake is about to be put into the heart of supercarriers? To surface ships in general? Is the risk to them to great for the role they have played delievering ordnance from 5 acres of soverign US territory placed where we want it?

    If we slashed our CV force, would that significantly affect our success in future small wars? Would any of you pointy end of the spear types know they were gone? Can we provide striking power in support of land operations with missiles from small ships and intercontinental land-based air?
    "All models are wrong, but some are useful"

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Good questions.

    No. No.

    Yes. Yes. Not nearly as effectively (and, in this era of excessive compassion and concern, as accurately and / or measured).

    Suggested added questions:

    Can anything else 'show the flag' as effectively? Can we get by with two or three fewer CVNs?

    No. Probably, accepting slight risk.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Simple answer to your last two points (intercontinental air and sea-based missiles) is that they can't replace the capability provided by CVs. Neither option is especially responsive to immediate demands or requirements, and both lack the visible deterrent factor that naval air can provide (although the B-52 has a similar capability, you still have the response time issue).

    There has always been talk of the "risk to surface ships," but I've yet to seriously see it appear outside of the writings of theorists and those with various axes to grind. And as overseas bases continue to disappear, the CV gives us a capability that can't easily be replaced or replicated.

    Just my $.02.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member Sergeant T's Avatar
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    Default Twilight of the $UPERfluous Carrier...

    Good piece along these lines in the May issue of Proceedings. Also a good analysis, as always, by Galrahn. From a sheer dollar standpoint, the price tag per unit doesn't look sustainable.

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    As a guy who cut his teeth supporting naval air, I do have a fondness for carriers. The reality is, though, that we don't know how they'd perform in a real war. They were never tested against tac nukes, wake homers, Backfires, etc. It may be that they will be proved obsolete in a real naval war. I hope we don't find out.

    That said, I think they are extremely useful and flexible platform. I don't think, though, they have much utility for small wars so I don't think cuts to the CV force would affect those wars much.
    Supporting "time-limited, scope limited military actions" for 20 years.

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    Council Member pvebber's Avatar
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    Thanks for the replies!

    Effectiveness vs efficiency is one of the issues with our current fleet design - and the CVs in particular as Ken points out. Supercarriers are very efficient, and have demonstrated effectiveness, but at a potential catastrophic risk that leads to questioning their ultimate effectiveness.

    The question one is left with after the proceeedings article (as galrahn points out) is if big carriers are sitting ducks, then small ones are - and what does that mean for the vulnerability of airbases ashore?

    The problem comes down to risk - is a lot eggs efficiently placed in a few baskets - at high risk, but with a low probability of that risk materializing better than a few more baskets? a LOT more baskets?

    Is the even higher cost of moving some capability undersea in SSGNs worth the expense agianst the liklihood of that risk?

    Or do you pay to increase range and speed so you can stand off farther?

    Our current plans seem to be a desire to hedge all bets, but the result will be a VERY limited capacity for each.

    The submarine force is lobbying for two additional VA Class subs, and starting in about 2020 putting a 4 SSGN tube "plug" in them to help recoup the payload space lost when the SSGNs end their service life in the middle 2020s.

    Capt Wayne Hughes proposed a bimodal "high-low" fleet mix in this paper:

    New Navy Fighting machine

    Others have proposed a trimodal Navy adding a "Stealthy, highly survivable" piece.

    Given what we have seen in Libya, the realty of the political limits on the decisive use of airpower in the Warden model may require "low end" sources of airpower (like the opening use of Harriers from an LHD). I think its argueable that Libya isn't a true "small war".

    While CV strike aircraft may not be as important to more tradtional COIN-based small wars, will the need for airborne ISR-T assets (some with reaper like strike capability) potentially require naval air assets to perform those functions, or will those tend to be more organic to ground units in the future?
    "All models are wrong, but some are useful"

    -George E.P. Box

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Obviously airbases on shore are outstanding targets, if for no other reason than they're fixed. They can be defended, but how many people do you tie up in that operation? And there's always the question of overflight rights or being able to launch missions from locations outside the US into other areas. Add in being able to supply overseas bases and the picture gets even more complex.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default CVNs for Small Wars be realistic

    The UK is effectively giving up aircraft carriers (although we will have a carrier without aircraft).

    My response is that in future 'Small Wars' the USA may undertake a mission which is far from the sea, e.g. like Darfur, does not warrant a CVN's commitment e.g. like El Salvador and does not require that level of coercive capability, e.g. chasing the LRA.

    The CVN provides IMHO for Small Wars an expeditionary / intervention capability and surely the USA after recent experiences will want to avoid such high-level commitments? It may affect the USN's budget and other factors not being able to deploy its gold standard coercive option - live with it and adapt. Yes, that may mean fewer CVNs.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Default Systems Analysis

    It's not so much that they are vulnerable, it is that they are obsolete!
    What is the purpose of an Aircraft Carrier? Why were they ever developed? Because we did not not have Aircraft that could travel the required distance to strike the target. We don't need to do that anymore.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Slap, I disagree. CVs allow you to circumvent some of the limitations of land-based platforms and missiles (and unmanned platforms). They also provide presence...something that you can't do with stealth aircraft or missiles.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Blair View Post
    Slap, I disagree. CVs allow you to circumvent some of the limitations of land-based platforms and missiles (and unmanned platforms). They also provide presence...something that you can't do with stealth aircraft or missiles.
    But if you have presence you have greater vulnerability. Also CV's have to have alot resources committed to defense just like a land base. Also presence is often one of our main problems...it provokes as much as it it prevents.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    But if you have presence you have greater vulnerability. Also CV's have to have alot resources committed to defense just like a land base. Also presence is often one of our main problems...it provokes as much as it it prevents.
    I still don't consider that convincing evidence that they are obsolete. And our use of unmanned vehicles (including cruise missiles) to attack targets is just a provoking. I'd argue that in some ways it's more provoking, as it's "easier" to launch unmanned vehicles and standoff ordnance at targets. The easier it is to use, the more likely (it seems) the political leadership is to use said systems, creating more provocation.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member pvebber's Avatar
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    It's not so much that they are vulnerable, it is that they are obsolete!
    Since most consider them obsolete becasue of their vulnerability, i take it you think that hte idea of a mobile airfiled (which is what a CV is) is what is obsolete? Is it the mobility is no longer of value? Or is it the idea Forward (inside an adversary strike envelope) airbases now replaced by distant ones? Would a unseen SSGN not be obsolete because it is unseen and less provacative?

    Is the time constraint associated with great distance not as important as it once was?

    Trying to understand what you mean seperating vulnerability and obsolesence? I know you can't mean the airplanes are obsolete
    "All models are wrong, but some are useful"

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pvebber View Post
    Since most consider them obsolete becasue of their vulnerability, i take it you think that hte idea of a mobile airfiled (which is what a CV is) is what is obsolete? Is it the mobility is no longer of value? Or is it the idea Forward (inside an adversary strike envelope) airbases now replaced by distant ones? Would a unseen SSGN not be obsolete because it is unseen and less provocative?

    Is the time constraint associated with great distance not as important as it once was?

    Trying to understand what you mean separating vulnerability and obsolescence? I know you can't mean the airplanes are obsolete
    It is the "function" that is obsolete...carrying the "Strike" aircraft... that can fly anywhere in the world on it's own.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Valid point.

    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    It is the "function" that is obsolete...carrying the "Strike" aircraft... that can fly anywhere in the world on it's own. (emphaisis added / kw)
    However, I don't think we're there yet -- nor will we be for another ten years or more, probably about two to three times that period. So, in the meantime...

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    Quote Originally Posted by slapout9 View Post
    It is the "function" that is obsolete...carrying the "Strike" aircraft... that can fly anywhere in the world on it's own.
    That has been true for many decades though - since the 1950's if not before.

    The problem with long-range strike aircraft, though, is flight time. A long flight time works ok for static targets (fixed facilities), but becomes problematic for moving targets. Secondly, a long flight time means there is a decreased response time. Third, a long flight time means you need more aircraft to generate an equivalent number of sorties.

    Finally, you still need other aircraft besides strike aircraft and many of those are, by necessity, short range.

    Added: The range/response problem is why conventionally-armed ICBM's (called "prompt global strike") were considered for a time - of course those come with a lot of baggage
    Supporting "time-limited, scope limited military actions" for 20 years.

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    Moderator Steve Blair's Avatar
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    Default What he said

    Agree with Entropy's response. Just look at the planning issues generated by one B-2 strike and you see how complicated that "strike aircraft ranging across the globe" model actually is...and how unresponsive it can be.
    "On the plains and mountains of the American West, the United States Army had once learned everything there was to learn about hit-and-run tactics and guerrilla warfare."
    T.R. Fehrenbach This Kind of War

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Rule of thumb:

    If you want to fight a war beyond the range of strike aircraft based on your or allied soil, DON'T.

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    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Entropy View Post
    Added: The range/response problem is why conventionally-armed ICBM's (called "prompt global strike") were considered for a time - of course those come with a lot of baggage
    No baggage just vested interest......but of all people it was Jimmie Carter that spoke the truth "All you need is a platfrom to launch a missile." 747's with a rotary launcher would do the air platform part. Do not send/risk any high cost platform when all you need to do is get the "Warhead" to the target. The Pershing II won the cold war and Pershing I caused Russia to blink during the Cuban Missile crisis along with all the Army anti-aircraft missiles we used to have

  20. #20
    Council Member slapout9's Avatar
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    All the big aircraft carriers should be converted to Marine Force Carriers....weld a couple of them together and amke really big platforms and protect them with guided missile destroyers. Parallel Amphibious operations carried out simultaneously all around the world, all at once is going to become more important not less important.

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