Quotulatiousness

August 30, 2015

Argentina’s decaying armed forces

Filed under: Americas, Economics, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Argentina is, once again, suffering the consequences of populist-but-incompetent governance, and the state of the armed forces clearly reflect the economic woes of the country. Last year, Rowan Allport contrasted the Argentinian military in the late 1970s leading up to the Falkland War with the hollow shell of today:

It is difficult to believe from the vantage point of 2014, but in 1978, Argentina came within hours of invading Chile. The scheme arose as a result of a conflict between the two countries regarding the ownership of the Picton, Nueva and Lennox islands, which are situated at the western entrance to the Beagle Channel – a waterway running between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. The plan envisaged the seizure by the Argentine military of these and a number of other islands, to be followed shortly after by an invasion of mainland Chile, with the intent of capturing the capital Santiago and other key population centres. From this position, the Argentine leadership believed that it would be in an unassailable position to force Chile into a beggar’s peace regarding its territorial demands. Whilst the operation was ultimately aborted at the last minute, it was the then government’s belief that Buenos Ares had the ability to exercise hard power on a substantial scale – together the domestic economic crisis it was experiencing – that ultimately led it to once again travel down the path of aggression with the invasion of the British-governed Falkland Islands in 1982. Although Argentina did not expect the British to attempt to retake the territory and ultimately lost the conflict, its armed forces were – in addition to performing the initial amphibious assault which captured the islands – able to deploy a carrier group, surface action groups and submarines into the South Atlantic, and managed to inflict significant losses on the British using modern anti-ship weapons and a substantial fleet of jet aircraft.

Flashing forward over three decades, the Argentine Armed Forces find themselves in a calamitous state. The depleted Argentine Navy rarely puts to sea, is desperately short of spare parts, and much of the ordinance carried by its ships is past its expiration date. 2012 saw the training ship ARA Libertad seized in Ghana on the orders of a hedge fund seeking reparations from the Argentinian government [blogged here]. Shortly afterward, the corvette ARA Espora was stranded in South Africa for seventy-three days after the German company hired to repair a mechanical fault refused to carry out the work as a result of the Argentine government’s unpaid bills. Then, in a final indignity, 2013 saw the sinking of the decommissioned destroyer ARA Santísima Trinidad in port as a consequence of poor maintenance [blogged here]. The Argentine Air Force largely consists of a collection of obsolete aircraft mostly dating back to the 1970s, which are frequently grounded due to poor serviceability. The Argentine Army has deployed on operations without some of even the most basic equipment and rarely has the resources for training.

So how did this situation arise? As with most such calamities, the root causes are both financial and political. The story of Argentina’s economic fall from grace – both historical and contemporary – is well known. In 1914, Argentina was the tenth wealthiest country in the world, but a century later it has fallen to fifty-fourth place. The last three decades has seen the country careen from crisis to crisis. During the 1980s, Argentina was crippled by inflation and external debt. The free market reforms begun under President Carlos Menem allowed a short reprieve, but a succession of financial crises in Mexico, Brazil, Russia and South East Asia during the 1990s – combined with a failure to tackle numerous underlying domestic economic issues and corruption – sowed the seeds of further catastrophe. In 1998, Argentina’s economy fell into a depression, climaxing with the largest debt default in human history. Though a commodities boom and a currency devaluation allowed room for a brief recovery, the increasing use of interventionist economic policies by the government, along with the 2008 global financial crash and attempts by so-called ‘vulture funds’ to obtain payment for debts on which Argentina had previously defaulted led the country back into crisis, forcing another default in 2014.

So how bad is it now? Argentina is being forced to retire the last of their supersonic jet fighters because they can neither maintain nor replace them:

According to IHS Janes

    “The Argentine Air Force is drastically cutting staff working hours and decommissioning its last fighter aircraft amid continuing budget issues.

    A recently published daily agenda indicates that the service’s working hours have been significantly reduced, from 0800 to 1300; rationing of food, energy consumption, and office supplies has been directed headquarters staff and property residents; and only the minimum personnel required to staff headquarters, directorates, and commands are working.

    These orders, issued on 11 August, take effect 18 August. A next step will cut Monday and Tuesday as working days. Moreover, air force officials said any aircraft taken out of service will not undergo maintenance for now.”

This leaves the Argentine military with just two types of jet aircraft A-4’s and IA-63’s and both are subsonic, decades old and barely serviceable. Argentina had looked into buying new Gripen’s from Sweden via Brazil but this was vetoed by the United Kingdom which makes a large number of internal components for the aircraft. They had also looked at JF-17’s from China, but the JF-17s proved too expensive to modify.

August 25, 2015

We finally find someone (not funded by Lockheed Martin) who likes the F-35

Filed under: Britain, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Okay, I poke a bit of fun … there are defenders of the F-35 who are funded by other stakeholders … I kid, I kid! Here’s a contrarian take by Think Defence justifying the UK’s F-35 commitment:

In the 7 years I have been dribbling my thoughts into Think Defence there are a few things on which I have been consistent; the ISO container is the greatest invention since the Bailey Bridge, commonality is not a dirty word, logistics are critically important, and, the F-35B is worth it.

Yet to be discovered tribes in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest could not have failed to notice the untrammelled hype that surrounds the F-35 in general, and the STOVL F-35B in particular. The amount of coverage is staggering, some of it informed, some of it not. Being developed under the un-staring eye of social media and a long line of people who seem to live for being critical has exposed every developmental misstep to ruthless criticism. Reports are often selectively quoted, conclusions drawn without context, over-simplification of complex subjects is rife and correlation confused with causation.

It is also an extremely polarising aircraft, read anything on-line and it seems you are either a Lockheed Martin shill or thick as mince critic who knows nothing.

I suspect, the reality is somewhere between, whilst the F-35 is not the cure for cancer, it is not cancer either.

f35b-power-and-propulsion-740x428

Although I have written about the F-35B many times, including this 5 part series, this is the first for a while

Into this toxic environment I go, a look at the F-35B.

August 23, 2015

The Falklands War – The Untold Story

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

Published on 19 Aug 2013

Falklands Crisis was a 1982 war between Argentina and the United Kingdom. The conflict resulted from the long-standing dispute over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which lie in the South Atlantic, east of Argentina.

H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.

August 21, 2015

Escalation At Sea and Russia Up Against the Wall I THE GREAT WAR – Week 56

Filed under: History, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 20 Aug 2015

The Entente was in desperate need of American supplies and so the German submarine campaign in the Atlantic was a real problem. The British started to run false flag operations with so called Q-Ships to hunt down U-Boats which lead to the so called Baralong Incident this week. In the meantime, Russia was standing up against the wall as the fortresses of Kovno and Novogeorgievsk were falling to the Germans leading to a catastrophic loss in men, equipment and supplies.

August 12, 2015

Who might buy a Mistral?

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At the International Business Times, Christopher Harress reports on the two Mistral-class helicopter carriers France built for Russia and is now trying to find new homes for:

The Sevastopol (left) and the Vladivostok warships, two Mistral class LHD amphibious vessels ordered by Russia from STX France, are seen in St. Nazaire, France, Dec. 20, 2014. Jean-Sebastien Evrard/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The Sevastopol (left) and the Vladivostok warships, two Mistral class LHD amphibious vessels ordered by Russia from STX France, are seen in St. Nazaire, France, Dec. 20, 2014. Jean-Sebastien Evrard/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Inside the sprawling dockyard in the ancient town of St. Nazaire in southwestern France sits $1.2 billion worth of unsold naval hardware. Despite having never left the dock, the two Mistral helicopter landing ships, originally built by France for use in the Russian navy, inadvertently have become involved in the growing international dispute between Russia and the West over the annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine.

Now they are causing problems in France.

Two days after managing to negotiate a way out of the deal with Moscow that had become a divisive, ethical and political dilemma in Europe, France faces the fresh challenge of looking for a new buyer that has both the military need and the hard cash for the two 21,000 ton warships.

“I think this will be a difficult product to sell,” said Dakota Wood, senior research fellow of defense programs at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank. “Military ships are highly specialized and designed for a specific purpose that accounts for all the weapons systems and unique specifications that the navy in questions needs. In this case, the spacing and logistics to accommodate the unique aircraft that Russia was going to use. What other country shares those exact specifications?”

With Canada in the middle of a long, long election campaign, there’s no point in pretending that one or both of the ships might end up as part of the Royal Canadian Navy (unlike a few earlier reports), so France is forced to look further abroad for countries that have both the ready money (like Saudi Arabia) and the pressing need (uh, like Saudi Arabia).

August 5, 2015

The state of the Royal Canadian Navy

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

It’s worse than you might think:

HMCS Athabaskan

HMCS Athabaskan

Maclean's maritime chartThis October, NATO is launching Trident Juncture, its largest and most ambitious military exercise in a decade. The massive land, sea and air exercise will be held in the Mediterranean and will include 36,000 troops from 30 nations. Its goal will be to help the fictitious country of Sorotan, “a non-NATO member torn by internal strife and facing an armed threat from an opportunistic neighbour.” Not surprisingly, this is widely seen as an explicit response to Moscow’s increasingly belligerent pressure on the alliances’ eastern borders. The Canadian government, an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine, had planned to send its flagship destroyer, HMCS Athabaskan, as “a strong signal to the Russians,” whose ships and aircraft have also been bumping up against Canada’s territorial claims in the Arctic.

But, last week, it was reported by the Ottawa Citizen that the 43-year-old Athabaskan was no longer seaworthy and is being sent back to Halifax for extensive repairs. Athabaskan is a fitting symbol of the overall state of the Navy: Its engines require an overhaul, the hull is cracked, the decks need replacing, and the weapon systems are questionable. Even Rear Admiral John Newton, commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic, describes his flagship as worn and tired.

In February, during a storm off the East Coast, Athabaskan was damaged and a number of engines failed. After that, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) decided it was no longer capable of weathering the heavy seas of the North Atlantic, so it was sent south for calmer seas. Nonetheless, its engines broke down in Florida, then again in placid Caribbean waters.

“It was garbage. Everything was always breaking,” says Jason Brown, who served as an electrician and technician on Athabaskan for seven years, ending in 2010. “We did 150 to 300 corrective maintenances a month.” Although Brown praises the ship’s crew, he often spent 20-hour days trying to fix equipment. “The two main engines didn’t like to play nice together. It was 4½ years before that issue got fixed.”

[…]

Compared to its allies, the Canadian Navy is now only one-third the size it should be, given our GDP, and can only play smaller and smaller roles. Stanley Weeks of the U.S. Naval War College, a former U.S. admiral who follows NATO closely, is dismayed at the decline of the RCN. “[Canadian politicians] need more seriousness. Canada is an inherently maritime nation, dependent on overseas markets, especially in Asia Pacific, and, therefore, it has to be a contributing stakeholder, militarily and diplomatically.” He believes American military leaders in the Pentagon have not yet grasped the serious implications of losing the Canadian destroyers. Regardless, “Canadians should worry more about this than Washington.”

QotD: The Anglo-German Naval Race

Filed under: Africa, Britain, Europe, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Germany’s decision to embark on an ambitious naval programme has occupied a commanding position in the literature on the origins of the First World War. Viewed with hindsight, it might appear to foreshadow, or even perhaps to explain, the conflict that broke out in 1914. Wasn’t the decision to challenge British naval hegemony a needless provocation that permanently soured relations between the two states and deepened the polarization of the European system?

There are many criticisms one can make of German naval strategy, the most serious being that it was not embedded in a broader policy concept, beyond the quest for a free hand in world affairs. But the new naval programme was neither an outrageous nor an unwarranted move. The Germans had ample reason to believe that they would not be taken seriously unless they acquired a credible naval weapon. It should not be forgotten that the British were accustomed to using a rather masterful tone in their communications with the Germans. In March 1897, for example, a meeting took place between the assistant under-secretary at the British Foreign Office, Sir Francis Bertie, known as “the Bull” for his aggressive manner, and the chargé d’affaires and acting German ambassador in London, Baron Hermann von Eckardstein. In the course of their discussion, Eckardstein, a notorious Anglophile who dressed in the manner of Edward VII and loved to be seen about the London clubs, touched on the question of German interests in southern Africa. Bertie’s response came as a shock. Should the Germans lay so much as a finger on the Transvaal, Bertie declared, the British government would not stop at any step, “even the ultimate” (an unmistakable reference to war), to “repel any German intervention”. “Should it come to a war with Germany,” he went on, “the entire English nation would be behind it, and a blockade of Hamburg and Bremen and the annihilation of German commerce on the high seas would be child’s play for the English fleet.”

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.

July 18, 2015

Want to bone up on India’s armed forces?

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

If so, you’ll want to read all of Shashank Joshi‘s recommendations (full disclosure … I haven’t actually read any of the linked sites myself):

Peter Mattis’ explanation of what one should read to be an expert on China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) made me wonder: What might a similar list look like for India-watchers? Western interest in India’s armed forces is considerably slighter, largely because India looms far smaller in U.S. strategic thinking and is viewed as a potential partner rather than probable military adversary. But there’s a large and growing volume of writing on Indian military affairs, almost all of it in English, with cutting-edge books or articles appearing every month. So where should one begin?

Each service has its own doctrine and/or strategy — most recently the army in 2004, the navy in 2009 (remarkably, it is not available online), and the air force in 2012 (the official link is — perhaps aptly — perpetually broken, but you can get it here) — but these are of limited use, not least because they’re not written in close coordination with other services or with a coherent national military strategy in mind. So most analyses depend on secondary texts, occasional statements by serving officers, and writing by retirees.

July 8, 2015

QotD: The “voice of command”

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Heinlein had, over the years, developed his own version of Captain — Admiral — King’s “voice of command”:

    The “voice of command” somehow carries with it to the hearer the subconscious knowledge that its owner is used to being obeyed, has the power to require obedience, expects to be obeyed, and does not encompass any possibility of not being obeyed.

With Heinlein it was something more inward, which George Scithers characterized as “quiet persistence and presence of command”. Scithers related an incident he saw at a lunch counter, possibly at this very convention. Heinlein sat down nearby, and there was a paper at the other end he wanted; the waitress didn’t seem inclined to put herself out to get it, but by the time Heinlein was finished with the contest of wills, she got the paper for him — and he tipped her accordingly. It was more attitude than technique, something that came from inside. There was something primal about Heinlein that the fans wanted from him — they came to warm themselves at his fire.

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Theodore Cogswell 1959-12-04, quoted in William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

July 7, 2015

World of Warships open beta

Filed under: Gaming, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

I’ve been keeping an eye on World of Warships, if only due to the renderings of the various ships (as a kid, I used to love the diagrams of ships in publications like Purnell’s History of the Second World War). I doubt I have the time to play the game very much, but I’ll probably sign up for the open beta which began last week.

At Massively Overpowered, MJ Guthrie talks to the developers:

Immersion. That’s not a word you often hear associated with lobby-based PvP games. But in the case of World of Warships, the third title in Wargaming’s WWII-era trilogy, it’s more than just fitting; it’s defining. Although not a battle simulation, WoWS offers a genuinely immersive experience thanks to the historical authenticity and the level of detail in both the audio and visual departments. You’ve heard the devil is in the details? Well that’s where the immersion is, too. And now that open beta has started, more players are finally able to dive in and experience this for themselves.

To learn more about how the development team achieved such a high level of immersion, I went to the source: I visited Wargaming’s headquarters in St. Petersburg and talked with the devs who create everything you see and hear in the game. And after watching the creation process in action, I appreciated the ambiance all the more when I jumped in for a hands-on in the closed beta.

Accuracy must take second place to what the players say they want, however:

Sounds really start to shine through once you turn the music down. Although the game’s smart music slider suppresses it when you fire, try clicking it off sometime to focus on the many ambient sounds. Tohtash said that the team has already added “about 3,000″ different sounds to the game. Players will actually hear different metallic sounds from the engines and hulls when the ships change speeds and from the guns when they fire. Engines have four different sound elements (engine, turbine, resonance, and post effects), and guns have three (attack, body, and echo or tail), which combine with recoil, load, and double echo. Using the various elements, the team took care to make different caliber of guns have different sounds. On top of all the types of sounds is the fact that they are positional, changing depending on what view players are in. If your camera is too close to the gun, you will get ringing in your ears after the shot!

Artillery sounds in World of Warships are something that diverges from historical accuracy. The team has access to reference videos, but focus groups have not wanted the more accurate gunfire sounds; they favor big booming ones. Tohtash admitted that actual sounds alone are a bit dry, but once effects such as implementing the bass and the full range of frequencies are added in, the sound is richer and fuller.

June 4, 2015

Installing the forward island on HMS Prince of Wales

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

The second of the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy is still under construction. Here’s a time-lapse video of the transportation and installation of the forward island:

Published on 26 May 2015

Timelapse video charting the incredible journey of the 680-tonne command centre of the Royal Navy’s latest aircraft carrier – HMS Prince of Wales – as it left its construction hall in Govan, Glasgow this month before being installed on the under-construction carrier in Rosyth dockyard, near Edinburgh.

June 1, 2015

Royal Navy 1960s Promotional Film 1400 ZULU

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

Published on 26 Feb 2015

Created in 1965, 1400 Zulu is a classic British propaganda and recruiting film that profiles the Royal Navy’s operations around the world: from the Caribbean to Aden to the Suez Canal and beyond. It’s a job that involves hundreds of ships and tens of thousands of men both above, on and below the water of all the world’s oceans. The film shows some of the newest weapons in the RN’s arsenal including nuclear submarines, missile systems and the Guided Missile Destroyer HMS Hampshire, Harrier Jump Jets and carrier-based Buccaneers, and helicopters. The Royal Marines including frogmen are shown performing maneuvers, and various military exercises are shown and activities demonstrated.

HMS Hampshire was a County-class destroyer of the Royal Navy. Laid down, in March 1959 a couple of weeks behind the class leader Devonshire, she was classified as a guided missile destroyer, as the Sea Lords regarded the concept of the cruiser and big gun ship as discredited by the perceived failure of the Tiger class and the obsolescence of the heavy gun. The description of guided missile destroyer seemed more likely to win approval from the Treasury and Government for an adequate number of warships the size of small cruisers which could play many traditional cruiser flagship and command functions but had armour around neither its gun or missile magazine.

The Blackburn Buccaneer originated in the early 1950s as a design for a carrier-borne attack aircraft able to carry a nuclear bomb below radar coverage. It was a British low-level subsonic strike aircraft that served with the Royal Navy (RN) and later the Royal Air Force (RAF), retiring from service in 1994. Designed and initially produced by Blackburn Aircraft at Brough, it was later known as the Hawker Siddeley Buccaneer when Blackburn became a part of the Hawker Siddeley group.

The Royal Navy originally procured the Buccaneer as a naval strike aircraft capable of operating from their aircraft carriers, introducing the type to service in 1962 to counterbalance advances made in the Soviet Navy. The Buccaneer was capable of delivering nuclear weapons as well as conventional munitions for anti-shipping warfare, and was typically active in the North Sea area during its service. Early on the initial production aircraft suffered a series of accidents due to insufficient engine power, thus the Buccaneer S.2, equipped with more powerful Rolls-Royce Spey engines, was soon introduced.

Although they originally rejected it in favour of the supersonic BAC TSR-2, the RAF later procured the Buccaneer as a substitute following the cancellation of both the TSR-2 and its planned replacement, the F-111K. When the RN retired the last of its large aircraft carriers, its Buccaneers were transferred to the RAF. The South African Air Force also procured the type. Buccaneers saw combat action in the Gulf War and the South African Border War. In RN service, the Buccaneer was replaced with the V/STOL British Aerospace Sea Harrier. In RAF service, they were replaced by the Panavia Tornado.

H/T to @NavyLookout for the link.

May 20, 2015

Scuttled Soviet submarines in the Arctic

Filed under: Environment, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

The Soviet Union had a remarkably casual approach to disposing of nuclear-powered submarines that were no longer useful in active service:

Russian scientists have made a worst-case scenario map for possible spreading of radionuclides from the wreck of the K-159 nuclear-powered submarine that sank twelve years ago in one of the best fishing areas of the Barents Sea.

Mikhail Kobrinsky with the Nuclear Safety Institute of the Russian Academy of Science says the sunken November-class submarine can’t stay at the seabed. The two reactors contain 800 kilos of spent uranium fuel.

The map shows expected spreading of radioactive Cs-137 from potential releases from the K-159 that still lays on the seabed northeast of Murmansk in the Barents Sea.

The map shows expected spreading of radioactive Cs-137 from potential releases from the K-159 that still lays on the seabed northeast of Murmansk in the Barents Sea.

At a recent seminar in Murmansk organized jointly by Russia’s nuclear agency Rosatom and the Norwegian environmental group Bellona, Kobrinsky presented the scenario map most fishermen in the Barents Sea would get nightmares by seeing.

Some areas could be sealed off for commercial fisheries for up to two years, Mikhail Kobrinsky explained.

Ocean currents would bring the radioactivity eastwards in the Barents Sea towards the inlet to the White Sea in the south and towards the Pechora Sea and Novaya Zemlya in the northeast.

May 11, 2015

After 74 years, the remains of HMS Urge discovered off the Libyan coast

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

In The Telegraph a report on the discovery of a Royal Navy submarine wreck from 1942:

British U class submarine HMS URGE underway. (via Wikipedia)

British U class submarine HMS Urge underway. (via Wikipedia)

A Royal Navy submarine paid for by a town holding dances and whist drives is believed to have been discovered more than 70 years after it vanished during the Second World War.

The British submarine HMS Urge was paid for by the townspeople of Bridgend, South Wales, but sunk without trace in the Mediterranean in 1942.

It disappeared while making a voyage from the island of Malta to the Egyptian city of Alexandria – and families of the 29 crew and 10 passengers never knew what happened.

For more than 70 years, its resting place has remained a mystery. But a 76-year-old scuba diver claims he has discovered its wreck 160ft (50m) below the waves off the Libyan coast.

HMS Urge sonar image

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.

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