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The Aircraft Carrier Shitstorm Thread

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Probably the most egregious military reformer (מַּח שְׁמוֹ) belief that I sort-of-kind-of entertain is the idea that aircraft carriers may go the way of the battleship and prove to be too expensive and too vulnerable for the capability that they provide.


Now. OK. Calm down. Honestly, I am not a naval expert and I know it. So this is more of a feeling that I have than a measured assessment that I can give. This is even further softballed by the fact that carriers are a really complex issue, involving things like the political careers of Navy brass, the extensive defenses required to maintain a carrier presence in the face of real opposition, the capabilities that carriers provide, and the nature of future warfare. This all snowballs together into an issue that I really have no hope of assessing at my level of expertise on this topic (which is basically dogshit).

So, instead, I want to put a thread out there and let the folks on this board who actually know what they're talking about hash it out.

This is the aircraft carrier shitstorm thread.

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I don't necessarily think you are wrong, but I think it's going to wait until we're done with manned fighter aircraft.  I thinking that within 15-20 years we might be looking at the end of the carrier as the chosen method of power projection.  With stuff like IRST, Lo probability intercept radar, Laser proliferation,  and rail guns becoming a thing, that  may make manned aircraft in contested airspace a thing of the past. The a carrier becomes significantly less useful.

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It is not that carriers rendered battleships obsolete, it is that carrier aircraft rendered 16" (and similar) guns obsolete.

 

So I agree with Belesarius, the relevance of carriers is tied to the relevance of their aircraft.

 

I don't see them losing their status any time soon barring something radical like a proliferation of megawatt+ class lasers.

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When discussing carriers, I think we should make a distinction between US-style gigantic flattops and the smaller fleet carriers that the rest of the world uses. The former I think might be something of a peacetime weapon - too big and juicy for the capability they provide. The latter, I think, still have a long future ahead of them.

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I'm thinking of a US carrier group operating in a hostile Persian Gulf. Iran has a plethora of anti-ship missiles, from the lowly Silkworm to cruise missiles to an anti-ship ballistic missile. Iran's IRGC Navy and the regular Iranian Navy also can deploy swarms of fast attack and torpedo boats that could attack a US carrier group. I'd be worried that a carrier's defenses couldn't keep track with all of the potential threats. Would be a waste of a could $ billion if a carrier gets sunk by some dinghies.

 

I think a similar scenario could play out around the Korean peninsula if things go sour and a carrier isn't too far from the coast. 

 

Besides from operating in a littoral zone, I don't think carriers are that vulnerable. I think the threat from that Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile, the DF-21D, is a little over hyped and that Russian and Chinese submarines might not be quite good enough to sneak up on a carrier group. Could be wrong here though, and if they are highly vulnerable to these threats then the days of carriers as a weapon of interstate war may be numbered. 

 

Most of the wars that seem to be fought though are against non-state actors in regions where its hard to get a good airfield, so carriers will be useful to give air support against guerrillas/insurgents for some time to come and those groups won't have the capabilities to threaten a carrier. Toxn's point about small carriers being useful can be applied here as well. 

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I would argue that larger carriers are more suited for offensive warfare than smaller carriers.

 

Being able to have 'force multipliers' like electronic warfare and airborne early warning aircraft while still having an effective strike compliment will make or break your ability to go toe to toe with peer opponents.

 

 

Edited by Ramlaen
Last edit I swear.

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3 hours ago, Priory_of_Sion said:

I'm thinking of a US carrier group operating in a hostile Persian Gulf. Iran has a plethora of anti-ship missiles, from the lowly Silkworm to cruise missiles to an anti-ship ballistic missile. Iran's IRGC Navy and the regular Iranian Navy also can deploy swarms of fast attack and torpedo boats that could attack a US carrier group. I'd be worried that a carrier's defenses couldn't keep track with all of the potential threats. Would be a waste of a could $ billion if a carrier gets sunk by some dinghies.

 

I think a similar scenario could play out around the Korean peninsula if things go sour and a carrier isn't too far from the coast. 

 

Besides from operating in a littoral zone, I don't think carriers are that vulnerable. I think the threat from that Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile, the DF-21D, is a little over hyped and that Russian and Chinese submarines might not be quite good enough to sneak up on a carrier group. Could be wrong here though, and if they are highly vulnerable to these threats then the days of carriers as a weapon of interstate war may be numbered. 

 

Most of the wars that seem to be fought though are against non-state actors in regions where its hard to get a good airfield, so carriers will be useful to give air support against guerrillas/insurgents for some time to come and those groups won't have the capabilities to threaten a carrier. Toxn's point about small carriers being useful can be applied here as well. 

 

With China it's not any ONE system that is the issue in my personal opinion. The issue is instead that they have those really fast catamarans, a metric shit ton of aircraft which can carry antiship missiles, anti-ship ballistic missiles, diesel subs, nuclear subs, and I'm sure a bunch more things that I've missed!

 

When you look at it from that angle, and from the angle of our surface combatants of all classes having pretty sparse defensive armament as compared to their Russian counterparts, I believe that the Chinese could definitely sink one of our carriers operating inside the first island chain.

 

Even when you look at the very serious muscle that American super carriers travel with, like a famous actor's entourage, it's still readily apparent that the Chinese could pretty easily flat out run an entire carrier group out of defensive missiles and then sink an entire carrier group except for the sub(s).

 

The question then becomes exactly how willing they are to have a nuclear disaster x kilometers from their coastline and et cetera.

 

But they can definitely do it.

 

In a way, I look at the Nuclear reactors which power super carriers as their penultimate defensive system which allows them to operate with impunity well within range of hostile coastal defense missile systems.

 

Sort of one of those situations where sure you COULD sink us... But you won't because your country depends far too heavily on protein sources etc that come from the waters we're steaming in!

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47 minutes ago, roguetechie said:

and from the angle of our surface combatants of all classes having pretty sparse defensive armament as compared to their Russian counterparts

 

Even when you look at the very serious muscle that American super carriers travel with

 

Can you elaborate on this part, it strikes me as contradictory.

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If manned aircraft are dead, a carrier is a pretty good way to get drones in the air. Advanced anti-ship missiles are proliferating, but US research into lasers/high velocity projectiles for cheaper AA is also likely to benefit the defensive suite of a carrier group.

 

5 hours ago, Toxn said:

When discussing carriers, I think we should make a distinction between US-style gigantic flattops and the smaller fleet carriers that the rest of the world uses. The former I think might be something of a peacetime weapon - too big and juicy for the capability they provide. The latter, I think, still have a long future ahead of them.

 

The UK has come to the opposite conclusion, even after experience with conflict against a near-peer adversary (falklands)

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30 minutes ago, Ramlaen said:

 

Can you elaborate on this part, it strikes me as contradictory.

 

Ramlaen,

 

Not being a naval systems guy, other than a fascination with with Umoe surface effect ships (skjold class) small watercraft like the riverine warfare guys etc use anything really high speed WIG's concrete submarines and amphibious warfare systems, I tend to separate naval weapons into long range stuff like harpoon and SM series missiles and CIWS stuff like rolling airframe missiles and Vulcan guns.

 

With this in mind, with all the mark 41 VLS cells in a carrier strike group is a pretty substantial punch IF you're loaded up 80/20 or 75/25 defensive missiles to offensive systems. My assumption is that most of the time this would be the case for a carrier strike group's entourage.

 

But then we get to the close in antimissile and small boat knife fighting systems which a nuclear super carrier itself and her entourage carry, they're just not all that well armed compared to Russian equivalent platforms. Someone actually posted a picture somewhere on the SH forum showing the difference between kuznetsov and American nuclear super carriers. The graphic showed the number and location of missile and gun systems as well as the arcs each item covers and the difference between the two was very evocative!

 

Honestly, modern American naval vessels are really lightly armed on a tonnage basis from the LCS all the way on up to super carriers!

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US supercarriers have modest point defense systems, but they are going to traveling as part of a strike group that contains at least one aegis cruiser.  Smaller navies which can only deploy smaller strike groups have thicker defenses mounted on the carriers themselves.  INS Vikrant has short and long range SAMs, 76mm autocannons and 30mm CWIS, for example.

 

The tradeoff is that the Nimitz/Gerald R. Ford class carriers utterly dwarf all other carriers in sortie generation rate.  The Nimitz class can surge to 230 sorties per day for four days and sustain 120 sorties per day for extended periods.  The Navy was initially optimistic that the Gerald R Ford class could manage a 33% increase in sortie generation rate, but some newer sources are saying that it will only manage a 25% increase, at least initially.

 

The surge rates for the Queen Elizabeth class and the Charles de Gaulle are something like 120/day and 100/day respectively.  So even going all out, the next biggest non-US carriers can't even match a Nimitz's sustained sortie generation rate, much less a Gerald R Ford's.  Kuznetsov and her kin are lower still.  Not sure about the new Vikrant.

 

There appears to be an economy of scale that heavily favors really big carriers.  The US supercarriers appear to roughly match the best of their smaller peers in terms of maximum sorties per day per tonne of displacement, and appear to pull far ahead in terms of sustainable sorties per day per tonne of displacement (the figures for the CDG's latest cruise in Syria are not flattering, 12/day or something).  On top of that, the US supercarriers are a few knots faster than all the other carriers.

 

In short, giant, nuclear-driven American firepower for the win.

 

:ridethebomb:

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28 minutes ago, roguetechie said:

But then we get to the close in antimissile and small boat knife fighting systems which a nuclear super carrier itself and her entourage carry, they're just not all that well armed compared to Russian equivalent platforms. Someone actually posted a picture somewhere on the SH forum showing the difference between kuznetsov and American nuclear super carriers. The graphic showed the number and location of missile and gun systems as well as the arcs each item covers and the difference between the two was very evocative!

On 11/14/2016 at 5:04 PM, Scolopax said:

 

264kepu.jpg

CIWS in comparison to other modern carriers

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59 minutes ago, roguetechie said:

 

Ramlaen,

 

Not being a naval systems guy, other than a fascination with with Umoe surface effect ships (skjold class) small watercraft like the riverine warfare guys etc use anything really high speed WIG's concrete submarines and amphibious warfare systems, I tend to separate naval weapons into long range stuff like harpoon and SM series missiles and CIWS stuff like rolling airframe missiles and Vulcan guns.

 

With this in mind, with all the mark 41 VLS cells in a carrier strike group is a pretty substantial punch IF you're loaded up 80/20 or 75/25 defensive missiles to offensive systems. My assumption is that most of the time this would be the case for a carrier strike group's entourage.

 

But then we get to the close in antimissile and small boat knife fighting systems which a nuclear super carrier itself and her entourage carry, they're just not all that well armed compared to Russian equivalent platforms. Someone actually posted a picture somewhere on the SH forum showing the difference between kuznetsov and American nuclear super carriers. The graphic showed the number and location of missile and gun systems as well as the arcs each item covers and the difference between the two was very evocative!

 

Honestly, modern American naval vessels are really lightly armed on a tonnage basis from the LCS all the way on up to super carriers!

 

Ok I understand the distinction you are making, although I strongly disagree with the idea that a Burke or Tico are lightly armed for their tonnage.

 

When I get home I will post a graphic of their mk41 loadouts.

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Thank you Scolopax!

 

That would be the graphic I was referring to.

 

Colli,

 

This is definitely the vexing part for me. The nuclear super carrier most definitely has some extraordinarily clear advantages even without factoring in all the space there isn't required for fuel for the actual ship in addition to the fuel and ordnance that you need for the embarked aircraft.

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2 minutes ago, Ramlaen said:

 

Ok I understand the distinction you are making, although I strongly disagree with the idea that a Burke or Tico are lightly armed for their tonnage.

 

I am perfectly willing to acknowledge that I may just have a very poor understanding of big boy naval weapons.

 

It truly would not surprise me truthfully.

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4 hours ago, roguetechie said:

 

I am perfectly willing to acknowledge that I may just have a very poor understanding of big boy naval weapons.

 

It truly would not surprise me truthfully.

 

You are not wrong that American ships have a light armament outside of their VLS cells, and it is hard to quantify EW/decoys. But 90-122 cells is a hell of a lot of missiles, and it will get silly if we build some those BMD ships based on a San Antonio hull.

 

Some graphics from the .pdf I posted in the other thread. I am not sure if these loadouts are guesses or actually based on something, but for comparison the strike on that Syrian airfield would require more than a 25% loadout of Tomahawks.

 

LKmjUPZ.jpg

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So I'm happy with all but the railguns part.

 

As far as that goes I'm team Combustion light gas gun all the way!

 

I strongly believe that we picked the wrong dog in the fight between those two, and that in the near to medium term the CLGG's were a much better choice specifically because they fit our needs much better during that timespan.

 

This is partially due to their paraphernalia which would be installed in ships carrying them could be leveraged to do other stuff that would prove very useful. As well as said paraphernalia being very likely to be installed in such a way that if a ship carrying one took hits that took down a gun because of damage you'd be much more likely to be able to get the gun back up at a reduced but nonzero fire rate. Plus a few other things that I'm likely 100% wrong about!

 

Basically though I'm pissed that Lockheed POLAR and the CLGG weren't both funded since they represent capabilities we really need to have in the next decade at longest. Plus, with both programs being inherently very affordable, I feel like there would have been enough meat still on the bone to slow roll railguns a little bit so that they are ready when the technology is ready.

 

On the other hand though, F*** yeah!!! Railguns!!!

 

Now all we need is to get army's coilgun mortar across the finish line!

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I don't see carriers going extinct anytime soon. To the contrary - I can only see them growing in size and capability.

 

The Battleships are gone because their armament became obsolete in the face of newly arrived technologies, and sufficient armament became possible to carry in much smaller packages (e.g Destroyers, Corvettes, Frigates|| Cruisers are now also rare). Carriers do not face such threat because they merely carry the platforms that deliver the weaponry, thus are far more flexible to changing realities. As a class they do not provide a tactical capability, but a strategic one - power projection. This is something that is needed in at least some form. 

 

Unless someone figures out how to make a flying carrier as seen in Marvel movies without wasting a sheer amount of fuel and money on just a single take-off, or turns every military vehicle into some form of aircraft, I don't see carriers going anywhere.

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How hard is it to land on a carrier?  The U.S. Navy Aircraft Blog takes a look.

 

Quote

 

How big is the opening? About 20 feet by 20 feet. The target height for the end of the tail hook at the target angle of descent is about 14 feet above the ramp. Being only four feet or so higher means missing the last wire and having to take off again, a bolter.
 

 

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6 minutes ago, Collimatrix said:

How hard is it to land on a carrier?  The U.S. Navy Aircraft Blog takes a look.

 

 

And yet the new automated landing tech wore out the testing surface from super accurate hook strikes.

I think the link is on the forum already somewhere.

 

Edit: Found it.  Magic Carpet!

 

http://breakingdefense.com/2016/08/magi-carpet-ride-navy-software-eases-carrier-landings/

 

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A huge part of my total ignorance when it comes to naval stuff harkens back to my early teens, spent reading the shitty Robotech Novels.

 

It's basically permanently warped my ideas on what modern and future naval warfare should look like in favor of asinine missile spam which can only be adequately defended against using arrays of secondary gun stations that make the Iowa class look lightly armed for point defense.

 

This might be why I am so much in favor of the combustion light gas gun solutions we could have had for the Zumwalt.

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On 4/26/2017 at 5:17 PM, roguetechie said:

 

Ramlaen,

 

Not being a naval systems guy, other than a fascination with with Umoe surface effect ships (skjold class) small watercraft like the riverine warfare guys etc use anything really high speed WIG's concrete submarines and amphibious warfare systems, I tend to separate naval weapons into long range stuff like harpoon and SM series missiles and CIWS stuff like rolling airframe missiles and Vulcan guns.

 

With this in mind, with all the mark 41 VLS cells in a carrier strike group is a pretty substantial punch IF you're loaded up 80/20 or 75/25 defensive missiles to offensive systems. My assumption is that most of the time this would be the case for a carrier strike group's entourage.

 

But then we get to the close in antimissile and small boat knife fighting systems which a nuclear super carrier itself and her entourage carry, they're just not all that well armed compared to Russian equivalent platforms. Someone actually posted a picture somewhere on the SH forum showing the difference between kuznetsov and American nuclear super carriers. The graphic showed the number and location of missile and gun systems as well as the arcs each item covers and the difference between the two was very evocative!

 

Honestly, modern American naval vessels are really lightly armed on a tonnage basis from the LCS all the way on up to super carriers!

 

Ships haven't been tonnage critical since a little bit after WWII, instead they're volume critical. That's why a modern warship is an apartment building full of computers and coated in radars on top of a hull full of missile and engine. (Also this is a major factor in armor being obsoleted). Discounting the VLS and AEGIS is also probably a mistake. It allows very rapid engagement by a single coordinated system rather than Soviet/Russian style multiple systems, and packs a huge wad of missiles ready to go rather than having to wait for them to be readied from the magazines. You also get things like the Standard Missile being useful in offensive and defensive roles by dint of being a good long range anti-air missile with a lot of energy.

 

Also the USN is more worried than any other navy afloat about things like being able to spend as much time as possible at sea. Steaming to and from their destination is time spent with sailors and ships being used but producing none of the value that's their reason for existing. So seakeeping is a huge priority for the USN, and they tend to take it very seriously.

 

Given the proud tradition of secondary navies tending to use a greater fraction of displacement for armament and sitting in port until needed, the USN is doing pretty well.

 

On 4/26/2017 at 5:19 PM, Collimatrix said:

US supercarriers have modest point defense systems, but they are going to traveling as part of a strike group that contains at least one aegis cruiser.  Smaller navies which can only deploy smaller strike groups have thicker defenses mounted on the carriers themselves.  INS Vikrant has short and long range SAMs, 76mm autocannons and 30mm CWIS, for example.

 

The tradeoff is that the Nimitz/Gerald R. Ford class carriers utterly dwarf all other carriers in sortie generation rate.  The Nimitz class can surge to 230 sorties per day for four days and sustain 120 sorties per day for extended periods.  The Navy was initially optimistic that the Gerald R Ford class could manage a 33% increase in sortie generation rate, but some newer sources are saying that it will only manage a 25% increase, at least initially.

 

The surge rates for the Queen Elizabeth class and the Charles de Gaulle are something like 120/day and 100/day respectively.  So even going all out, the next biggest non-US carriers can't even match a Nimitz's sustained sortie generation rate, much less a Gerald R Ford's.  Kuznetsov and her kin are lower still.  Not sure about the new Vikrant.

 

There appears to be an economy of scale that heavily favors really big carriers.  The US supercarriers appear to roughly match the best of their smaller peers in terms of maximum sorties per day per tonne of displacement, and appear to pull far ahead in terms of sustainable sorties per day per tonne of displacement (the figures for the CDG's latest cruise in Syria are not flattering, 12/day or something).  On top of that, the US supercarriers are a few knots faster than all the other carriers.

 

In short, giant, nuclear-driven American firepower for the win.

 

 

 

Entirely agreed, but don't neglect to multiply those putative 'sorties' that lesser carriers manage by some fractional factor to represent how a ski jump leaves you choosing between a reasonable range or an actual weapons load (and if you take the latter by the former, multiply out by a factor to represent the fantastic odds of your carrier being close enough to be found and killed by real opponents).

 

On 4/27/2017 at 12:14 PM, Mighty_Zuk said:

I don't see carriers going extinct anytime soon. To the contrary - I can only see them growing in size and capability.

 

The Battleships are gone because their armament became obsolete in the face of newly arrived technologies, and sufficient armament became possible to carry in much smaller packages (e.g Destroyers, Corvettes, Frigates|| Cruisers are now also rare). Carriers do not face such threat because they merely carry the platforms that deliver the weaponry, thus are far more flexible to changing realities. As a class they do not provide a tactical capability, but a strategic one - power projection. This is something that is needed in at least some form. 

 

Unless someone figures out how to make a flying carrier as seen in Marvel movies without wasting a sheer amount of fuel and money on just a single take-off, or turns every military vehicle into some form of aircraft, I don't see carriers going anywhere.

 

It's probably worth considering that the battleship was obsoleted by the Essex class. Why, you might ask, is an evolutionary design what put the battleship out of business rather than some revolutionary new system that ? 24 hulls. By the end of that class, naval power was capable of tangling with land based air power if it was concentrated and well run. Coordinating with land based air was and is a huge help, but without that, the critical mass to just hunt and utterly destroy a battleship wasn't necessarily there and things like a guerre de course with battleships going into important areas at night (There's a reason Guadalcanal was a nightclub par excellence for surface fleets) were honestly totally viable.

 

The thing is that by 1945, the war wasn't about weaksauce raids into and out of enemy air cover, and careful island hopping, it was about "fuck you, we're the USN, and we're going to deploy the first proper integrated air defense setup on the high seas and dare you to come at us enough to make it count, which means mass attacks by guided munitions (human or otherwise)" And after the war, either you're deploying with or against that massed naval air power, or you don't matter (Sorry Argies but you got taken down by the British. The British. That's a geopolitical corgi-mauling considering what passes for a carrier over there).

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