April 26, 2015

AND THERE ARE NO THREATS:

The U.S. Navy Needs to Radically Reassess How It Projects Power (JERRY HENDRIX, May 4, 2015, National Review)

 If the Navy wants to address its budget crisis, its falling ship count, its atrophying strategic position, and the problem of its now-marginal combat effectiveness -- and reassert its traditional dominance of the seas -- it should embrace technological innovation and increase its efficiency. 

In short: It needs to stop building aircraft carriers. 

 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. 

This points to the first reason the U.S. should stop building carriers: They are too valuable to lose. At $14 billion apiece, one of them can cost the equivalent of nearly an entire year's shipbuilding budget. (Carriers are in fact funded and built over a five-year period.) And the cost of losing a carrier would not be only monetary. Each carrier holds the population of a small town. Americans are willing to risk their lives for important reasons, but they have also become increasingly averse to casualties. Losing a platform with nearly 5,000 American souls onboard would not just raise an outcry, but would undermine public faith in elected officials -- and the officials know it. It would take an existential threat to the homeland to convince leaders to introduce carriers into a high-threat environment.


Posted by at April 26, 2015 7:11 PM
  

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