Quotulatiousness

May 8, 2015

Resolved – aircraft carriers are obsolete

Filed under: Military,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Jerry Hendrix thinks it’s time the US Navy re-assesses its dependence on the aircraft carrier, specifically that the Navy needs to stop building aircraft carriers altogether:

This might seem like a radical change. After all, the aircraft carrier has been the dominant naval platform and the center of the Navy’s force structure for the past 70 years — an era marked by unprecedented peace on the oceans. In the past generation, aircraft have flown thousands of sorties from the decks of American carriers in support of the nation’s wars. For the first 54 days of the current round of airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, the USS George H. W. Bush was the sole source of air power. But the economic, technological, and strategic developments of recent years indicate that the day of the carrier is over and, in fact, might have already passed a generation ago — a fact that has been obscured by the preponderance of U.S. power on the seas.

The carrier has been operating in low-threat, permissive environments almost continuously since World War II. At no time since 1946 has a carrier had to fend off attacks by enemy aircraft, surface ships, or submarines. No carrier has had to establish a sanctuary for operations and then defend it. More often than not, carriers have recently found themselves operating unmolested closer to enemy shores than previous Cold War–era doctrine permitted, secure in the knowledge that the chance of an attack ranged between unlikely and impossible.

Such confidence in the dominance of the carrier encouraged naval architects to put more capabilities into their design, going from the 30,000-ton Essex-class carrier in 1942 to the 94,000-ton Nimitz-class carrier in 1975. Crew size of a typical carrier went from 3,000 to 5,200 over the same period, a 73 percent increase. Costs similarly burgeoned, from $1.1 billion for the Essex to $5 billion for the Nimitz (all in adjusted 2014 dollars), owing to the increased technical complexity and sheer physical growth of the platforms in order to host the larger aircraft that operated at longer ranges during the Cold War. The lessons of World War II, in which several large fleet carriers were lost or badly damaged, convinced Navy leaders to pursue a goal of a 100,000-ton carrier that could support a 100,000-pound aircraft capable of carrying larger bomb payloads, including nuclear weapons, 2,000 miles or more to hit strategic targets, making the platform larger, more expensive, and manned with more of the Navy’s most valuable assets, its people. Today’s new class of carrier, the Ford, which will be placed into commission next year, displaces 100,000 tons of water, and has a crew of 4,800 and a price of $14 billion. The great cost of the Cold War–era “super-carriers” has resulted in a reduction of the carrier force, from over 30 fleet carriers in World War II to just ten carriers today. While the carrier of today is more capable, each of the ten can be in only one place at a time, limiting the Navy’s range of effectiveness.

And putting the case for continued dependence on the aircraft carrier as the key capital ship, Seth Cropsey and Bryan McGrath say that the situation favours the continued development and deployment of the carriers:

Hendrix invests 2,700-plus words in an argument for eliminating the aircraft carrier, yet undercuts himself effectively with only 32: “The same outside observer would also discern where the difficulty with the carrier design lies. The efficacy of the carrier lies not in the ship but in the capabilities of its planes.” This raises the question of whether Hendrix’s target is the aircraft carrier or the weapons system (airplanes) it employs. And while he wishes to ride the wave of notoriety as a notable carrier critic, his argument essentially boils down to this: “The airplanes the carrier employs require it to operate too close to danger. Therefore, we should get rid of carriers.”

This logic ignores seven decades of history and experience in which the airplanes assigned to the carrier have changed dramatically in response to the missions that were asked of the Navy. And while he quite rightly points to the current airwing’s lack of useful range as highly problematic, he fails to note this was itself a choice made by the Navy to reflect the threat environment. When the Berlin Wall fell, there was no power that could check the U.S. Navy at sea, and therefore the carrier could operate much closer to land. Aircraft range as an attribute was [de-emphasized]. Now that there is a rising threat of powers capable of more aggressively targeting the carrier, it will, in some scenarios, have to operate from farther away. If the Navy chooses to build the right airplanes, the carrier will remain central to U.S. power projection.

Keep in mind, though, that the carrier does not simply charge into the teeth of an aggressive targeting environment and disgorge itself of its strike aircraft from unending sanctuary. It fights as part of a larger combat system, that of the Joint Force. Elements of the enemy’s surveillance network would necessarily be targeted for destruction by precision weapons launched from submarines, other ships, or long-range bombers. An elaborate cyber campaign would also be key to blinding an opponent, creating a window of opportunity for the carrier to launch its strikes before relocating. As this process is repeated over time, the risks to the carrier dissipate, and it can move closer to the defended territory, thereby enabling higher-tempo strike operations.

May 4, 2015

More on the Mistral class

Filed under: Europe,Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Last month, Strategy Page looked at the Mistral class ships, both the original French Navy ships and the two that have been built for — but not delivered to — the Russian navy:

Russia has not bought foreign warships for a long time, but the Mistral purchase was largely because of an eagerness to acquire Western shipbuilding technology and construction skills. This has already paid off, although not exactly how the Russians had planned. This became evident when a Russian official announced that the first Mistral would be built entirely in France. It had earlier been decided to have Russian shipyards build some sections of the first Mistral. It was quickly discovered that the Russian shipyard was not capable of building to the French specifications or do it according to the French timetable. The Russians expected to learn some valuable lessons from the French and, while embarrassing, this was one very valuable lesson. Russian shipyard officials have had their faces rubbed in the embarrassment of not being able to compete while using their current practices. Russian experts on Western production methods and techniques have long complained of the antiquated and inefficient methods still favored by Russian shipbuilders. Navy leaders have been complaining for decades about the poor quality of work coming out of Russian shipyards. The Mistral purchase was to put this to the test because additional Mistrals were to be built in Russia, with plenty of French supervision and technical assistance. That is also being withheld because of the Ukraine situation.

The Russian Navy has made some changes in the existing Mistral design. This Russian model will be called the Vladivostok Class and carry 30 helicopters (compared to 16 on the French version). The Vladivostoks will be armed with two AK-630 multibarrel 30mm autocannon for anti-missile defense. There will also be two quad-launchers of shoulder fired type anti-aircraft missiles (with a 5 kilometer range and does well against helicopters) and two or more DP-65 55mm grenade launchers for defense against divers.

The Vladivostoks will also be winterized for use in arctic conditions. The hull will be strengthened to deal with ice and the well deck door will completely close. The flight deck will have a deicing system and the ship will be modified to operate for extended periods in arctic conditions. There is also different electronics and this means a different arrangement of radomes and antennae.

In the aircraft handling areas below the deck, there will be more space made for the taller Ka-52K and Ka-29 helicopters. The Ka-52K is a navalized version of the Ka-52. In addition to being equipped with coatings to resist sea water corrosion, the K model will also have a lightweight version of the high-definition Zhuk-AE AESA radar used on jet fighters. This radar currently weighs 275 kg (605 pounds), but the helicopter version will weigh only 80 kg (176 pounds) and enables the Kh-52K to use the Kh-31 anti-ship missile. This weapon has a range of 110 kilometers and travels at high speed (about one kilometer a second). The Kh-52K can also carry the sub-sonic Kh-31 missile, which has a range of 130 kilometers. Both of these missiles weigh about 600 kg (1,300 pounds) each.

The French navy received the first of their own 21,500 ton Mistrals in 2006, with the second one arriving in 2007. Both were ordered in 2001. These two ships replaced two older amphibious landing ships. This gave France a force of four amphibious ships. The two Mistrals are also equipped to serve as command vessels for amphibious operations. The French have been very happy with how the Mistrals have performed.

I believe the French navy actually has three ships of this class in service: Mistral, Tonnerre, and Dixmude.

April 20, 2015

Twice-nuked aircraft carrier sunk 80 km from San Francisco

Filed under: History,Military,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

If you’d ever wondered what happened to the ships that were used in the Bikini Atoll nuclear tests, here’s one that might surprise you:

The sonar image with oranges color tones (lower) shows an outline of a possible airplane in the forward aircraft elevator hatch opening. Credit: NOAA, Boeing, and Coda Octopus

The sonar image with oranges color tones (lower) shows an outline of a possible airplane in the forward aircraft elevator hatch opening. Credit: NOAA, Boeing, and Coda Octopus

The Independence (CVL-22) was commissioned as cruiser, but adapted to become a light carrier as the demands of the Pacific war made mobile air power desirable. The ship served in the Pacific from November 1943 to August 1945, but by 1946 was deemed fit for duty as a test vessel at an atomic bomb test near Bikini Atoll. Independence was stationed less than half a mile from ground zero on a July 1st test, survived that ordeal without sinking so was nuked again on the 25th.

The US Navy then brought the vessel back to San Francisco to assess the damage, and to try nuclear decontamination techniques. By 1951 Independence was felt to be at risk of sinking, so with a colossal radioactive carcass not the sort of thing one wants near a major city it was sunk.

And so the Independence passed into history, its fate largely forgotten … until the NOAA decided to embark on a mission to “to locate, map and study historic shipwrecks in Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and nearby waters.” As part of that effort, Independence was found “in 2,600 feet of water off California’s Farallon Islands”, which one can find here, at what looks to be a distance of about 80kms from San Francisco.

November 9, 2014

A Canadian Mistral (or two)? Not likely say the experts

Filed under: Cancon,Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:07

Remember those palmy days of summer, when the French helicopter carrier Mistral visited Canadian waters for a joint exercise with the Canadian Army? I half-joking referred to it as Canada “kicking the tires” … but the idea hasn’t gone away completely. In the Ottawa Citizen, David Pugliese reported earlier last week that the International Business Times had run an article about it.

Halifax, Nova Scotia. FS Mistral (L-9013) is an amphibious assault ship, and lead ship of her class. She was commissioned in 2006. She features a landing craft dock, and helicopter facilities. Photo: Halifax Shipping News

Halifax, Nova Scotia. FS Mistral (L-9013) is an amphibious assault ship, and lead ship of her class. She was commissioned in 2006. She features a landing craft dock, and helicopter facilities. Photo: Halifax Shipping News

The deal is worth $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion (different figures are out there) to the French. The Russians are interested in three of the ships. The French haven’t proceeded yet with the sale to Russia because of the situation in Ukraine.

But how probable is it that Canada would buy the Mistral-class ships?

Earlier this year, the Royal Canadian Navy was looking at buying surplus U.S. Navy supply ships. But that is not going to happen, RCN commander Vice Admiral Mark Norman told Defence Watch. What is being examined is the purchase of a commercial oiler (maybe).

The RCN is in dire need of an oiler/supply ship……not, at this point, an amphibious assault ship. So if there is an extra billion dollars or more around, the focus might be on acquiring an oiler/supply fleet to replace the decommissioned AORs.

Mistral-class ships are capable of carrying 16 helicopters, landing barges, up to 70 vehicles and 450 soldiers. They also come equipped with a hospital.

Canadian shipyards could also be expected to oppose such a purchase. There would be little for them (except maybe in-service support) in such an acquisition and they could argue that such a purchase would undermine the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy.

In September, I called the idea of Canada buying the Mistrals as the maritime equivalent of “pie in the sky”, despite a passionate article in the US Naval Institute News pushing the idea. They even showed what a Canadian Mistral would look like:

Mistral-class ship, ‘Sevastopol’ configured as a NATO/Canadian Navy ship. CASR Image

Mistral-class ship, Sevastopol configured as a NATO/Canadian Navy ship. CASR Image

So, on the surface, the idea isn’t likely to go anywhere for practical and economic reasons. But, a couple of days later Pugliese posted another article on the Mistral debate, responding to criticism from University of Ottawa professor Roland Paris:

If the Paris had actually read the articles in question he would have found out that the stories arose not from Hugh Segal’s comments from May but from the fact that the delegation led this week by French President François Hollande to Canada contained a significant contingent of the country’s defence industry representatives, including those from Mistral shipbuilder DCNS. That group included the firm’s diplomatic adviser.

In addition, sources have told Defence Watch that the delegation did indeed try to interest Canada in Mistral-class ships, as well as the FREMM class frigates.

Will they succeed with Mistral? Like I have mentioned a number of times at Defence Watch, including in the posting cited by Paris, the answer is likely no.

[…]

France, over the last two years, has embarked on a significant push into Canada to promote its defence products, particularly in the naval arena. With $35 billion on the table for shipbuilding who can blame them?

There was a specific reason a Mistral-class warship sailed across the Atlantic this summer to take Canadian soldiers on board for amphibious exercises. And it wasn’t about any close relationship between the French and Canadian militaries, although that might have played a minor role.

No, the French are interested in selling. They want to sell Canada warships, warship designs, and naval equipment like that on board the Mistral-class and the FREMM frigates. That is the reason the FREMM ship Aquitaine also visited Canada.

Personally, I’d love to see the RCN acquire a pair of Mistral-class ships, but they would not come cheap, they wouldn’t create a lot of jobs in Nova Scotia, Quebec, or British Columbia (and therefore wouldn’t be useful for gathering votes from those provinces), and they’d require the government to fully equip them … helicopters are extra. And we all know how the Canadian government can’t manage to say the word “helicopter” without wasting millions of dollars, never mind actually buying any.

November 1, 2014

World of Warships previews aircraft carriers

Filed under: Gaming — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:36

While I probably won’t have enough spare time to add World of Warships to my gaming habits, I’ve been interested in watching the development of the game. Here’s their latest reveal, the aircraft carrier class:

Published on 30 Oct 2014

Wargaming gladly announces the release of the third episode of World of Warships developer diaries series. This video is dedicated to aircraft carriers, the most unique type of vessels in World of Warships. Enjoy!

October 26, 2014

A bit of perspective on the damage to China’s aircraft carrier

Filed under: China,Military,Pacific — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:40

At The Diplomat, James R. Holmes talks about the recent accident on board the Chinese carrier Liaoning:

Reports of Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning’s death — or debilitating wounds — are greatly exaggerated. The flattop suffered some sort of steam leak that prompted her crew to stop at sea and conduct repairs before resuming operations. The news comes from Robert Beckhusen of War Is Boring, who relays a Sina.com story that Liaoning suffered a “steam explosion” following “a leak in ‘the machine oven compartment to the water pipes.’”

Beckhusen denies that PLA Navy leaders will decommission the flattop because of mechanical problems. (By raising the possibility, though, he seems to imply they might.) He does speculate that the accident will force the navy to relegate her to training duty.

Would an engineering casualty represent a setback unseen in the annals of naval history? Hardly. All sea services have been there, done that, and will likely find themselves there again. It’s doubtful such travails will induce PLA Navy officials to overreact, demoting Liaoning from whatever plans they have in mind for her. China’s first aircraft carrier is probably destined to serve as a training platform in any event — a ship used to groom China’s first generation of naval aviators, flight-deck crewmen, and air-group commanders. She will remain such despite minor hardware problems belowdecks.

Indeed, if suffering zero engineering casualties were the standard for maritime competence, the briny main would be empty of shipping. Think about what going to sea involves. A warship is a metal box largely encased in an environment hostile to metal — namely seawater and salt air. And it’s a box packed with machinery, flammables and explosives of various sorts, and human bodies. In such surroundings, rare is the seaman without a hair-raising tale to tell about fires or floods, equipment failures, and sundry mishaps.

I could spin a few such yarns myself. One involves a pipe springing a pinhole leak. And spraying fuel. On a steaming boiler. While crewmen are loading ammunition. At anchor. In rough weather. And that was a good-luck ship for the most part. Murphy’s Law — a.k.a. s*#t happens — is an iron law of marine engineering, and of seafaring writ large. When it does happen, you fix the damage, learn whatever lessons there are to learn, and move on.

September 23, 2014

HMCS Bonaventure (CVL 22) – Majestic Class Aircraft Carrier

Filed under: Cancon,History,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:00

Published on 14 Apr 2013

HMCS Bonaventure (CVL 22) was a Majestic class aircraft carrier. She served in the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Forces Maritime Command from 1957 to 1970 and was the third and the last aircraft carrier to serve Canada. The ship was laid down for the British Royal Navy as HMS Powerful in November 1943. At the end of World War II, work on the ship was suspended in 1946. At the time of purchase, it was decided to incorporate new aircraft carrier technologies into the design. Bonaventure never saw action during her career having only peripheral, non-combat roles. However, she was involved in major NATO fleet-at-sea patrol during the Cuban Missile Crisis. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMCS_Bonaventure (CVL_22)

September 16, 2014

HMS Queen Elizabeth full build timelapse

Filed under: Britain,Military,Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:50

Published on 15 Sep 2014

Start to finish view of the construction of HMS Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier. This is the first of the two new carriers being constructed by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance for the Royal Navy at Rosyth Dockyard.

Update: That was the assembly of the ship, but how does the UK government expect to use her in service?

Published on 7 Jul 2014

This powerful video demonstrates the capabilities and effectiveness of the new Queen Elizabeth class carriers demonstrating, via amazing CGI, the workings of the carriers and the F35 Fighters.

The First Sea Lord talks about the incredible journey that the construction and original concept of the carriers has taken and what the carriers mean to the future of the Royal Navy.

The British Army and the RAF also talk about what carriers mean to them and the important role they will play in the future of defence.

These highly advanced ships will have a huge variety of roles that she will be able to perform when the first ship launches and the amazing technology that has been built into them to put them at the fore-front of the Fleet. They really will be the Jewel in the Crown of the Royal Navy.

This stunning video was show to her Majesty the Queen and other guests at the amazing naming ceremony on the 4th July.

September 11, 2014

Evolution versus revolution in the design of HMS Queen Elizabeth

Filed under: Britain,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Peter Roberts analyzes the design trade-offs of the Queen Elizabeth class for the Royal United Services Institute:

Queen Elizabeth class side and overhead views

Queen Elizabeth class side and overhead views

The most important change in the Queen Elizabeth class is the open acknowledgement of the primacy of running costs at the heart of the project – manifest in crew numbers, unmanned monitoring and power generation. The UK carriers are platforms designed by economists, not warriors.

The largest costs for running maritime platforms are manpower and fuel. In terms of manpower, the Queen Elizabeth will have a crew of 650 with an additional thousand berths available for the air group. By comparison, the American Nimitz class and new Gerald Ford class, which displace around 40,000 tonnes more, are crewed by 6,000 and 4,500 personnel respectively. The French Charles de Gaulle, which in terms of tonnage is about a third smaller its British counterpart, carries a crew of around 2,500. The UK figures were driven by the necessity to avoid increasing the manpower bill of the Royal Navy. As such, the 650 figure is exactly the same as the preceding Invincible class. Allowing the same complement to effectively operate a vessel three times the size of her predecessor has forced some innovative thinking.

The use of automation and remote monitoring has been essential to meet the manpower restrictions. Cameras and monitoring equipment have been built into almost every system in the new ships. From machinery spaces to bilge areas, remote performance monitoring has allowed a marked reduction in the manpower requirements of the ships. Whilst this makes good sense in financial terms, it does not in terms of pure war-fighting capability. Naval vessels differ significantly from their commercial counterparts in terms of damage control and fire-fighting. These roles are remarkably manpower intensive. The experiences of major damage in the Falklands conflict have been reinforced at intervals by peacetime incidents on HMS Nottingham (2002) and Endurance (2008), which required the efforts of the full ship’s complement to remain afloat. The damage-control capabilities of the UK carrier platforms should, therefore, be a primary concern.

[…]

There is one further element that has not been well considered in the Carrier-Enabled Power Projection doctrine of the Royal Navy and the MoD. Protection of these assets from threats has effectively been taken ‘on-risk’, and against all operational analysis. The self defence capabilities of these ships are extremely limited. The provision of close-in weapon systems and automatic small-calibre guns does not guarantee adequate protection against a small scale naval threat, let alone a shore-based one. Naval doctrine instead requires protection of the carriers by destroyers and frigates. This is a cost-effective solution provided that the task group has the necessary units to provide such protection. But there is no evidence that the projected Royal Navy combined frigate/destroyer force could do so.

The Queen Elizabeth class is therefore an interesting example of innovation: rather than in the sense of equipment and capability, it might be more relevant to think about how risk to the platforms is being dealt with in an ‘innovative’ manner.

The second ship in the class, HMS Prince of Wales just reached a major milestone in construction:

HMS Prince of Wales hull sections

Construction of HMS Prince of Wales, the second of two new aircraft carriers for the UK Royal Navy, has moved forward with the docking of two of the ship’s largest hull sections – Lower Block 02 and Lower Block 03.

The movement of the blocks into the dock at Rosyth marks the beginning of the ship’s assembly phase and comes only days after Prime Minister David Cameron announced that HMS Prince of Wales will enter into service, ensuring that the UK will always have one aircraft carrier available.

Ian Booth, Managing Director at the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, said: “Every milestone in the carrier programme is hugely significant and the recent announcement that HMS Prince of Wales will enter service means there is a real sense of excitement as we start to bring the second ship together. Everyone working across the Alliance is incredibly proud of the work undertaken so far, in what is currently one of the biggest engineering projects in the country, and we remain focused on delivering both ships to the highest standards.”

September 6, 2014

HMS Prince of Wales will join the fleet after all

Filed under: Britain,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:03

British PM David Cameron announced that the under-construction aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales will be active after completion, reversing the decision from the SDSR in 2010:

HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales

At the close of the NATO summit in Wales this week David Cameron delivered the good news that the Royal Navy will be allowed to retain the second aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales. This was another U-turn, reversing one of the many mistaken decisions of Cameron’s 2010 Defence Review that stated the ship would be mothballed or sold. Although undoubtedly good news for the navy, and more importantly the defence of the UK, it is difficult not to be cynical about the entire situation and timing of the announcement.

[…]

The announcement was not accompanied by much detail and leaves a lot of unanswered questions. The RN and its major procurement projects must successfully navigate a general election and the 2015 Defence Review before we can be really certain about HMS Prince of Wales’ future. The biggest unknown is how will the costs of the second carrier be carried by the RN, have the additional costs been found by cuts elsewhere or has this been funded by new money?

The photo above is a computer generated fantasy, apart from the fact carriers would rarely sail in such close formation, it is highly unlikely the RN will ever have the resources to field both carriers simultaneously. Generating the extra crew that the second carrier needs will be one of the first challenges for the RN, already in the throes of a manpower crisis. Although the carrier in refit or maintenance will not require anything like a full crew, it will still require an overlap of manning.

As noted earlier this week, the Royal Navy has shrunk from 38,730 to 33,330 since 2010. It’s going to be a scramble to train (and retain) enough skilled personnel to crew even HMS Queen Elizabeth, never mind at least a cadre for the second aircraft carrier.

Update, 7 September: An interesting, but not surprising revelation from Ali Kefford (retweeted by @NavyLookout).

July 27, 2014

Floating HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time

Filed under: Britain,Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Three hours of careful work compressed into a short video:

July 4, 2014

The Queen formally names the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth

Filed under: Britain,Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:18

A break with tradition, as the ship was christened with a bottle of Bowmore whisky, rather than a bottle of champagne:

HMS Queen Elizabeth is pictured in Rosyth Dockyard where Queen Elizabeth II will formally name the Royal Navy’s biggest ever ship on July 4, 2014 in Fife, Scotland. With whisky replacing the more traditional champagne at the ceremony, Queen Elizabeth II will smash a bottle of Islay malt whisky against HMS Queen Elizabeth at the event at Rosyth Dockyard, where the 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier has been assembled and fitted out. (Photo by Andrew Milligan – WPA Pool /Getty Images)

A bottle of whisky was smashed on the hull of the 65,000-tonne HMS Queen Elizabeth — the first of two new Royal Navy aircraft carriers being built.

The Red Arrows flew over the dockyard before the ship was officially named.

First Sea Lord Admiral George Zambellas said the ship was “fit for a Queen”.

HMS Queen Elizabeth will be a national instrument of power and a national symbol of authority,” he said in a speech.

“That means she will be a national icon too, all the while keeping the great in Great Britain and the royal in Royal Navy.”

Addressing the audience, the Queen said the “innovative and first class” warship, the largest ever to be built in the UK, ushered in an “exciting new era”.

“In sponsoring this new aircraft carrier, I believe the Queen Elizabeth will be a source of inspiration and pride for us all,” she said.

“May God bless her and all who sail in her.”

And even the bloody BBC gets it wrong: the ship is named for Queen Elizabeth I, not the current monarch … when the Royal Navy names a ship for a monarch, like the battleship HMS King George V for example, it indicates which King George is being memorialized. HMS Queen Elizabeth is the third time the Royal Navy has named a ship for the Virgin Queen: the first being the lead ship of a class of super-dreadnoughts launched just before the outbreak of WW1, and the second being the lead ship of a class of never-built aircraft carriers in the 1960s (no, I don’t know why that counts: ask the RN about that).

Update 17 July: A few photos from Jeff Head’s Flickr stream show the contrast between the soon-to-be-retired HMS Illustrious and the soon-to-be-launched HMS Queen Elizabeth:

Queen Elizabeth ready for launch, next to HMS Illustrious (Photo by Jeff Head)

HMS Queen Elizabeth ready for launch, next to HMS Illustrious (Photo by Jeff Head)

HMS Queen Elizabeth ready for christening, with HMS Illustrious in the foreground. (Photo by Jeff Head)

HMS Queen Elizabeth ready for christening, with HMS Illustrious in the foreground. (Photo by Jeff Head)

April 20, 2014

When is a carrier not a carrier?

Filed under: Military,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 11:00

Robert Farley examines the claim that the US Navy has 10 aircraft carriers:

The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) returns to Huntington Ingalls Shipyard, Pascagoula, Mississippi (USA), after completing sea trials. During the trials, the ship's main propulsion, communications, steering, navigational and radar systems were tested for the first time at sea. America will be the first ship of its class, replacing the Tarawa-class of amphibious assault ships.

The U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) returns to Huntington Ingalls Shipyard, Pascagoula, Mississippi (USA), after completing sea trials. During the trials, the ship’s main propulsion, communications, steering, navigational and radar systems were tested for the first time at sea. America will be the first ship of its class, replacing the Tarawa-class of amphibious assault ships.

Last week the U.S. Navy accepted USS America, first of the America-class amphibious assault ships, into service. Unlike most recent amphibious assault ships, USS America and her sister USS Tripoli lack well-decks, instead focusing on aviation facilities. When fully operational, America and Tripoli will operate as many as 20 F-35Bs, potentially playing a critical role in what the Navy projects as the future of air superiority.

Inevitably, the delivery of USS America rekindles the ongoing conversation over what, precisely, constitutes an aircraft carrier. In the United States, we endure the polite fiction that the USN’s 45,000 ton aircraft carriers are not aircraft carriers, but rather some other kind of creature. USS America is roughly the same size as the French Charles De Gaulle and the INS Vikramaditya, although a bit smaller than the RFS Admiral Kuzetsov or her Chinese sister, the Liaoning. America is considerably larger than recent aircraft-carrying ships constructed for the Korean, Japanese, and Australian navies.

As an educator, I can attest to some frustration in relating to students that the United States operates ten aircraft carriers, plus another nine ships that we would refer to as aircraft carriers if they served in any other navy. And while I appreciate the desire of analysts to differently categorize the capabilities of Wasp and Nimitz-class carriers, I wish that people had a firmer grasp on the abject silliness of claiming that a 45,000 ton flat-decked aircraft-carrying warship is not, in fact, an aircraft carrier. Think of the children.

Wikimedia offers this visual aid to understanding the relative sizes and carrying capacity of aircraft carriers from the US Navy and other navies:

World navy aircraft carrier size comparison

April 19, 2014

The Doolittle Raid, 18 April 1942

Filed under: History,Japan,Military,Pacific,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:35

I was busy with away-from-the-computer stuff yesterday, so I didn’t see this post until today:

Brig. Gen. James Doolittle poses beside an Air Corps recruiting poster that alludes to his bombing raid on Japan in April 1942. (c) 1943

Brig. Gen. James Doolittle poses beside an Air Corps recruiting poster that alludes to his bombing raid on Japan in April 1942. (c) 1943

Less than 19 weeks after the U.S. Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the American military struck back. On April 18, 1942 – 72 years ago today – sixteen Army Air Force bombers launched from a Navy aircraft carrier to attack the enemy’s homeland.

Led by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, the raid was launched from USS Hornet, commanded by Capt. Marc Mitscher and escorted by ships under the command of Vice Adm. “Bull” Halsey aboard his flagship, USS Enterprise.

The extraordinary joint Doolittle Raid showed Imperial Japan’s military leaders their vulnerability and America’s resolve.

The raid also demonstrated innovation, courage and resilience.

The five-man B-25 crews trained relentlessly prior to their mission, with specialized training led by Navy flight instructor Lt. Henry F. Miller. The Army Air Force made ingenious modifications so the bombers could have extra fuel but less weight.

Pilots, all volunteers, needed to be extremely fearless, taking off in their huge planes from a short flight deck. On rough seas they launched in bitter cold, 75-knot winds and foam-flecked spray, as Sailors aboard recalled.

Doolittle, as his team’s leader, took off first. His success inspired the other pilots just as their entire mission would inspire the nation – putting action to the nationwide words of resolve heard throughout the world: “Remember Pearl Harbor!”

[…]

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV 8) at the start of the raid, April 18, 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives – Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV 8) at the start of the raid, April 18, 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives – Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

Seven Doolittle Raiders were killed in the mission: Two drowned and a third was killed by the fall after bailing out; eight were captured by the Japanese. Three of the eight POWs were executed Oct. 15, 1942, and another died of malnutrition Dec. 1, 1943. The surviving four POWs were released in August 1945.

The Raiders who landed in China were assisted by American missionary Rev. John M. Birch, whose contacts within Japanese-occupied China helped the Raiders to escape. Afterward, Birch was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Air Force, continuing his work as a missionary while gathering intelligence on the Japanese. He was killed Aug. 25, 1945, at the age of 27, during a confrontation with Chinese Communists. The John Birch Society honors Birch, a recipient of both the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medal.

Even though the Doolittle Raiders bombed Tokyo, it was the Chinese who suffered the most from the raid. Furious the Chinese nationalists were protecting the Americans, the Japanese retaliated against several coastal cities suspected of harboring the Americans, killing an estimated 250,000 Chinese citizens.

Doolittle was so convinced his mission had been a failure, he was convinced he would face a court-martial upon his return to the United States. Instead, he was promoted to general, skipping the rank of colonel. He and all of his Raiders were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Mitscher served in a variety of command leadership positions for the rest of World War II, earning the rank of admiral and title as Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

January 31, 2014

Paper Dragon?

Filed under: China,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:41

In The Diplomat, Ian Easton gives some anecdotal run-downs of People’s Liberation Army operations (and mishaps) over the last decade:

In April 2003, the Chinese Navy decided to put a large group of its best submarine talent on the same boat as part of an experiment to synergize its naval elite. The result? Within hours of leaving port, the Type 035 Ming III class submarine sank with all hands lost. Never having fully recovered from this maritime disaster, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is still the only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council never to have conducted an operational patrol with a nuclear missile submarine.

China is also the only member of the UN’s “Big Five” never to have built and operated an aircraft carrier. While it launched a refurbished Ukrainian built carrier amidst much fanfare in September 2012 – then-President Hu Jintao and all the top brass showed up – soon afterward the big ship had to return to the docks for extensive overhauls because of suspected engine failure; not the most auspicious of starts for China’s fledgling “blue water” navy, and not the least example of a modernizing military that has yet to master last century’s technology.

Indeed, today the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) still conducts long-distance maneuver training at speeds measured by how fast the next available cargo train can transport its tanks and guns forward. And if mobilizing and moving armies around on railway tracks sounds a bit antiquated in an era of global airlift, it should – that was how it was done in the First World War.

[…]

While recent years have witnessed a tremendous Chinese propaganda effort aimed at convincing the world that the PRC is a serious military player that is owed respect, outsiders often forget that China does not even have a professional military. The PLA, unlike the armed forces of the United States, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other regional heavyweights, is by definition not a professional fighting force. Rather, it is a “party army,” the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Indeed, all career officers in the PLA are members of the CCP and all units at the company level and above have political officers assigned to enforce party control. Likewise, all important decisions in the PLA are made by Communist Party committees that are dominated by political officers, not by operators. This system ensures that the interests of the party’s civilian and military leaders are merged, and for this reason new Chinese soldiers entering into the PLA swear their allegiance to the CCP, not to the PRC constitution or the people of China.

This may be one reason why China’s marines (or “naval infantry” in PLA parlance) and other amphibious warfare units train by landing on big white sandy beaches that look nothing like the west coast of Taiwan (or for that matter anyplace else they could conceivably be sent in the East China Sea or South China Sea). It could also be why PLA Air Force pilots still typically get less than ten hours of flight time a month (well below regional standards), and only in 2012 began to have the ability to submit their own flight plans (previously, overbearing staff officers assigned pilots their flight plans and would not even allow them to taxi and take-off on the runways by themselves).

And yet, despite the occasional comic opera situation, the PLA (especially the PLAN) seems to be more dangerous to neighbouring countries:

Yet none of this should be comforting to China’s potential military adversaries. It is precisely China’s military weakness that makes it so dangerous. Take the PLA’s lack of combat experience, for example. A few minor border scraps aside, the PLA hasn’t seen real combat since the Korean War. This appears to be a major factor leading it to act so brazenly in the East and South China Seas. Indeed, China’s navy now appears to be itching for a fight anywhere it can find one. Experienced combat veterans almost never act this way. Indeed, history shows that military commanders that have gone to war are significantly less hawkish than their inexperienced counterparts. Lacking the somber wisdom that comes from combat experience, today’s PLA is all hawk and no dove.

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