With enviable regularity, there are articles and discussions in which aircraft carriers are viewed from different angles and corresponding conclusions are drawn. Naturally, supporters and opponents of this class of ships find in the available facts arguments in favor of their point of view. Therefore, in the foreseeable future, the dispute will not only cease, but will intensify. Let us try to consider the opinions of the parties and draw our own conclusions about the prospects of aircraft carriers in their current state.
The main argument in favor of AUG in general and aircraft carriers in particular is the long-term experience of the successful use of such compounds. Aircraft carrier groups participated in the mass of armed conflicts and almost always showed high efficiency of combat work. In recent decades, with the development of guided weapons, the benefits of AUG have only increased, since it became possible to attack targets not only by aviation weapons, but also cruise missiles launched from cruisers or destroyers.
If we ignore stories combat use of aircraft carriers and other ships from the AUG, it is easy to see that the main advantage of such compounds is their versatility. A group of several ships of various types is capable of protecting itself from the enemy’s missile or air strikes with the aid of anti-aircraft missiles or artillery mounts and at the same time attacking them with their own weapons. Cruisers and destroyers in this case, use anti-ship or anti-submarine missiles, and the aircraft carrier provides the work of attacking aircraft.
On the role of an aircraft carrier in the composition of the AUG should pay special attention. In fact, a modern aircraft carrier of the Nimitz type (the only type of ships of this class currently in use) is a floating airfield with an air group capable of performing a wide range of tasks. First of all, it is air combat and ground attack, for which there are three squadrons of F / A-18 Hornet fighter-bomber aboard a ship of the Nimitz type. Since the ship cannot independently coordinate full-fledged combat work of the aircraft at a long distance, the air group also includes four E-2 Hawkeye long-range radar detection aircraft and EA-6A Prowler electronic warfare aircraft. Finally, there are several transport aircraft and helicopters for transporting people and goods on aircraft carriers. Thus, aircraft carrier aircraft are able to independently perform a wide range of combat missions, which provides the ship or the naval compound with high flexibility of use.
However, modern US aircraft carriers can not independently defend themselves from enemy ships or submarines. Therefore, the composition of the AUG has a number of ships with anti-ship, anti-submarine and anti-aircraft weapons. This fact also significantly increases the combat capability of the entire strike group.
The shock power and versatility of AUG in combination with their mobility allow using them not only for military purposes. The potential of strike groups is known in the world and therefore their presence in a certain region alone can to some extent change the situation in it. This so-called power projection can either simply demonstrate the US presence in the region, or exert psychological or political pressure on local countries. Thus, carrier strike groups are also a political and diplomatic tool.
As a result, aircraft carriers and AUGs turn out to be a multi-purpose political and military tool capable of performing tasks of various kinds. On the example of military conflicts in recent years, we can consider the traditional scheme of work of AUG. With the tensions of the international situation in any region, the ships of the United States come there and only by their presence demonstrate the seriousness of the intentions of their country. If the situation does not change for a long time, one group can change the other. This ensures the almost uninterrupted presence of ships in the area.
If it comes to armed confrontation, then the cruisers and destroyers of the attack group attack the ground and surface targets of the enemy with guided missiles, and the aircraft carrier ensures the combat work of its aircraft: fighter-bombers, long-range aircraft, etc. As a result, by joint efforts, AUG can destroy enemy forces within a radius of several hundred kilometers from its location. Due to the geographical features of the planet, aircraft carriers and other ships are capable of striking most of the land.
In the future, the Pentagon plans to develop carrier-based aircraft, as well as actively work towards the creation of unmanned fighter-bombers. As expected, such systems will positively affect the combat capabilities of ships and AUG. First of all, it refers to the economic component. An unmanned aerial vehicle costs significantly less than a manned aircraft of the same purpose. At the same time, he is also not without flaws. The main problem is to find the right balance between advantages and disadvantages. Then deck-based unmanned aerial vehicles can, if not completely replace, then at least press their “brothers” with the pilots on board and thereby improve the financial aspect of AUG as a whole.
The arguments of the opponents of aircraft carriers and AUG as a whole are quite diverse, but mostly go back to the same thing - money. In the middle of March, the month came another article of one of the main critics of the modern concept of aircraft carriers, G. Hendrix. Among other things, the American analyst mentioned the unacceptably high cost of operating existing aircraft carriers, and the price of building new ones. Thus, the operation of AUG, which has one aircraft carrier, five cruisers and destroyers, one multipurpose nuclear submarine and about 80 airplanes and helicopters, as well as about 6700-6800 manpower, costs 6,5 million dollars a day. All in all, the US Navy currently has ten carrier strike groups, and their exact composition and, as a result, the cost of operation, is significantly different from those given by Hendrix.
By 2015, the US Navy should receive a new aircraft carrier of the Gerald R. Ford type. The lead ship, after whom the project is named, will cost 13,5 billion dollars to US taxpayers. Thus, the cost of a new aircraft carrier is almost twice the price of the previous aircraft carrier. USS George HW Bush (CVN-77) cost about seven billion. Over the next ten years, two more aircraft carriers of the Gerald R. Ford type will be put into operation: USS John F. Kennedy and USS Enterprise. According to current plans, the construction of three ships in total will cost about 42 billion dollars. It is easy to calculate that for this money it would be possible to build six “George Bush” at once.
The second argument of the opponents of aircraft carriers concerns the inadequate cost-effectiveness ratio. For example, steam catapults of modern US aircraft carriers can carry out up to 120 sorties a day. The new “Gerald R. Ford” will be equipped with electromagnetic catapults that can provide normal “rate of fire” at the level of 160 departures per day. Thus, with an equal number of catapults, the new aircraft carriers will be able to provide only 30-percentage increase in the intensity of sorties. The effectiveness of combat work in this case is likely to increase proportionally, because in the coming years, F / A-18 will remain the main attack aircraft of aircraft carriers. Thus, a two-fold increase in price has insufficient tactical implications.
It is noteworthy that even the use of deck fighters-bombers to perform combat missions is being criticized. G. Hendrix gives the following figures. The full life cycle of each F / A-18 of about a thousand existing in the Navy costs about 115-120 million dollars (50 million aircraft itself, plus the cost of maintenance, training of pilots and technical staff, etc.). Over the past ten years, all US Navy aircraft have spent around 16000 missiles and bombs. By simple calculations, you can find out that each plane drops all 1,5-1,6 conditional ammunition per year, and each such discharge ultimately costs more than seven million dollars.
It is worth noting that critics of the idea of carrier strike groups adhere to the well-known principle of "criticize - offer." So, in light of the financial features of the aircraft carrier fleet It is proposed to build missile cruisers and destroyers. With similar strike capabilities, these ships will cost the budget much cheaper: instead of one Gerald R. Ford, you can build at least three or four Ticonderoga cruisers or the Arleigh Burke destroyer. Although such an approach to the formation of naval strike groups will have specific consequences, such as the need to revise a number of important requirements, the economic benefit will cover all costs.
Instead of aircraft in a similar shock fleet, it is proposed to use cruise missiles. The latest modifications of the Tomahawk family of missiles, with some reservations, are capable of performing the same tasks as airplanes, but they cost significantly less. Using one Tomahawk will cost at most 2,5-3 million dollars, which is much cheaper than a single missile or bomb with a total cost of seven million. With regard to air, anti-ship or anti-submarine defense, modern American cruisers or destroyers are quite capable of leading it independently. In extreme cases, as suggested by opponents of aircraft carriers, it is possible to give a multi-purpose nuclear submarine to the strike compound. And even with such a composition, the construction and operation of the ship's shock group will cost several times less than in the case of the modern AUG.
Looking from the outside
It is difficult to say who is right, the supporters or opponents of aircraft carriers. At first glance, the arguments of both sides seem logical and reasonable. This is not surprising, because aircraft carriers and AUG, like any other thing, have their own advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, both supporters and opponents can only look for facts that satisfy their point of view.
Nevertheless, the positions of the parties are good in that they help the outside observer, and also the high-ranking commander of the US Navy, to form their own opinion and come to some solution. This decision, perhaps, will not be in favor of critics of aircraft carriers and AUG. The fact is that for all their shortcomings, aircraft carriers have a number of characteristic advantages that no other class of ships possesses. First of all, these are airplanes. Yes, the attack of targets with the help of carrier-based aircraft ultimately turns out to be too expensive compared to alternative methods. However, the aircraft has a great advantage over cruise missiles. It is controlled by the pilot and therefore can act in accordance with the changing situation. In the case of cruise missiles, a change in the target, the cancellation of an attack or the breakthrough of an air defense will almost always be associated with an increase in ammunition consumption.
Naturally, in some situations, the use of guided missiles placed on ships will be much more convenient and smarter, but in the case of direct support for ground formations or other similar operations, the aircraft remain the only acceptable "tool." In the context of aviation technology, one should also remember airborne early warning and electronic warfare aircraft. They significantly increase the range and combat capabilities of the ship group, but by definition they need a base in the form of an aircraft carrier. Theoretically, instead of the E-2 Hawkeye, you can use specially converted helicopters. However, such development will entail extremely additional costs, but not cost savings.
Finally, the political component. The carrier strike group combines ships of several classes and therefore creates a formidable impression. As already mentioned, the mere appearance of AUG in the region leads to a corresponding statement by political scientists. For several decades, carrier groups have become such a convenient and mastered tool of influence on third countries that they should not be abandoned. Probably, connections from cruisers and destroyers can also, as they say, project force, but in the present circumstances an attempt to rebuild the existing system will not be justified. AUG has long shown its worth, and other types of shock groups will have to demonstrate their capabilities and prove their necessity.
Arguing about the future of US aircraft carriers, one involuntarily recalls the well-known principle of “working — don't touch”. The US naval system, with ten carrier strike groups, performs the tasks assigned to it and has repeatedly shown its necessity. Therefore, it is definitely not worth waiting for a complete abandonment of AUG in general and aircraft carriers in particular. First of all, for the reason that such a move would require a significant reworking of almost all views on the conduct of modern warfare. At the same time, the economic state of the United States transparently hints at a possible reduction in carrier groups.
If such a reduction will be, it is unlikely that it will become widespread. The AUG is the main strike force of the US Navy, and no one will significantly reduce its combat potential. Now ten of the US-owned aircraft carriers are divided into ten strike groups, not counting the combat training 4, in which there are currently no ships with an air group. Six AUG serves as part of the Atlantic fleet, the rest - in the Pacific. It should be remembered that the 14-I AUG is also devoid of an aircraft carrier. Thus, any reduction in the AUG of the Atlantic fleet will significantly affect its defense potential, and the same actions in relation to the Pacific Ocean will only significantly reduce its capabilities. Therefore, opponents of aircraft carriers can count on the reduction of only one or two carrier-assault groups, but no more.
In general, there are many more aircraft carrier supporters in the Pentagon than opponents. Therefore, even in the face of a significant reduction in the military budget, the power of the United States naval forces will continue to be held by carrier-based attack groups. Opponents of this strategy, in turn, will continue to insist on their position and in the foreseeable future, disputes will not subside. Who knows what will end these disputes. Perhaps the aircraft carrier project following the “Gerald R. Ford” will be deprived of the characteristic flaws of previous ships and at the same time significantly surpass them in their combat capabilities. However, the construction of these ships will begin no earlier than the end of the current decade. The estimated service life (50 years) of the oldest USS Nimitz aircraft carrier (CVN-68) ends only in the mid-twenties, after the expected entry into service of the last planned Fords, the new Enterprise. Therefore, the command of the US Navy still has enough time for a balanced analysis of the current situation, prospects and needs. How will this analysis end? It's too early to talk about it. So far, it is safe to say only about the preservation of aircraft carriers and carrier-assault strike groups.
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