On November 4, the American news agency CNN published an article by Zachary Cohen Report: US aircraft carriers could become ineffective (“Report: US aircraft carriers can become ineffective”). The author of this publication talks about the recent report of one of the leading experts in the field of naval forces. U.S. Army Command believes aircraft carriers will retain their role in the structure fleet and in the defense strategy, however, not all experts agree with this opinion.
The article begins with a reminder of the role of AUG and aircraft carriers in the US Navy. These ships are the "backbone" of the fleet, because they provide a presence in all areas of the oceans. Nevertheless, some experts believe that in the context of carrier groups there are certain risks that should be considered when creating plans for the future. The next report on this topic was read on Tuesday in the Committee on the Armed Forces of the US Congress.
Z. Cohen notes that the new report is markedly different from other papers on this topic. It addresses a number of serious issues that are not usually addressed by such works. This time, the authors of the report took into account not only the most general aspects of the carrier program, such as the number of ships and aircraft on them.
The author recalls that the US military and industry are now engaged in the creation of a promising carrier-based aircraft. This project can be characterized by the proverb “jack of all trades, master of none” (everything is taken, but nothing can). In the meantime, other countries are busy with their own advanced armament projects, as a result of which new systems should appear for the destruction of aircraft carriers. Thus, the author of the report notes, in the future, American aircraft carriers may become useless.
The author of the report, read out in the committee, is Henry J. Hendrix. Previously, this specialist served in the US Navy, and now works in the Center for New American Security organization. It should be noted that G. Hendrix is a consistent opponent of aircraft carriers and regularly publishes works in which he reveals his opinion and cites evidence in his favor. Nevertheless, despite the expert’s best efforts, the fleet does not plan to abandon the aircraft carrier program or even reduce it.
Carriers and carrier-based aircraft are the basis of American military power since the Second World War. Over the past decades, the Pentagon maintains the required state of the carrier fleet and uses it to solve various problems in different parts of the world.
However, the article notes, the ability to perform the task at any point on the globe is associated with huge costs. Carriers are the most complex and expensive ships in the entire fleet. For the possibility of projection of force across the planet have to lay out substantial sums: about 12 billion dollars for each aircraft carrier.
The report of G. Hendrix points out some weaknesses of the current aircraft carrier program, which lead to a decrease in cost-effectiveness. For example, the author of the report considers the existing development strategy for carrier-based aviation to be erroneous. In his opinion, the last two decades were not worth the creation of a light strike aircraft. The fact is that during this time, the likely enemies have new long-range anti-ship weapons. Inability to strike at targets at a great distance from the aircraft carrier, as well as the existence of the latest anti-systems call into question the possibility of effective implementation of the objectives and the ship's survival.
Thus, the author of the report concludes, the aircraft carriers and their air groups in the current state are confirmation that over the past 25 years the command has ignored the most important historical lessons.
Hendrix recalls that because of the loss of seven aircraft carriers during the Second World War, the US military decided to develop carrier-based aircraft in order to increase its range. This made it possible to successfully solve all the main tasks without putting the ships at risk. In particular, when striking ground targets, the aircraft carrier and escort ships could remain at a safe distance from the coast. At the same time, aircraft with a sufficient range of flight successfully destroyed the target and returned to their ship.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States naval forces remained the most powerful player in the oceans. The loss of a strong competitor, among other things, affected the development strategy of carrier-based aviation. Against the background of foreign policy events and changes in the international situation, it was decided to rely on a light strike aircraft with a relatively small combat radius.
Perspective multi-purpose lightweight strike aircraft currently being developed have some advantages over specialized machines of the past. They are cheaper to operate, and preparation for the flight takes less time. Thus, new light aircraft can be launched from an aircraft carrier earlier than their predecessors. All this, in particular, was one of the reasons for the change in the development strategy of carrier-based aviation.
G. Hendrix recognizes that the US Navy, including the carrier strike groups, maintain the status of the most powerful fleet of the planet. Nevertheless, in the future, a noticeable change in the situation, connected with the development of other states, is possible. For example, China is developing its carrier fleet, as well as developing anti-ship long-range missiles. All of this can seriously affect the position of the US Navy.
The expert notes that the new Chinese anti-ship missiles are able to take advantage of some features of the current American strategy. Due to the relatively long range of this weapons US aircraft carriers will be forced to keep at a certain distance from the coast so as not to become a target for rocket engineers. At the same time, the Chinese side will be able to literally squeeze American AUGs into remote areas of the sea, due to which the combat radius of their aircraft will not be enough to solve the tasks and attack objects on the coast.
Such a feature of plans of foreign countries may adversely affect the implementation of the current strategy of the United States. As a result, the American military will have to sadly observe the changing situation on the sea, seeing the decline of the former power of its naval forces.
It is noted that not only Chinese specialists are engaged in promising anti-ship missiles. Similar projects are being developed by Russia, North Korea and Iran. As a result of the successful completion of these projects, countries will receive a new tool for waging war at sea, which will lead to the emergence of a situation similar to the one that was observed during the Cold War.
Despite the expert’s negative forecasts, representatives of the naval forces are not prone to pessimism. Z. Cohen quotes the spokesman for the Navy, Commander William Marx. He said that aircraft carriers are still the only naval force capable of performing the full range of combat tasks related to the protection of national interests. The command of the Navy considers it necessary to preserve the carrier fleet, because it has unique mobility and flexibility, allowing to solve all existing problems.
To protect aircraft carriers from the threat of anti-ship missiles likely opponent, Navy destroyers and a cruiser with the newest equipment and weapons. Electronic equipment and weapons of these ships can protect against various threats, including ballistic missiles. In addition, the equipment provides a constant connection between different ships and allows them to work together. According to Marx, modern American ships can detect and track a dangerous object, and then destroy it hundreds of miles away.
However, G. Hendricks does not agree with the fact that recent upgrades are capable of providing full protection for aircraft-carrier strike groups. In order to preserve the required combat capability in the face of the emergence of new threats, it is necessary to revise the development strategy of the carrier fleet, primarily the plans for the purchase of aircraft and technical requirements for it. It is required to build a balanced carrier-based aviation system in which there will be a sufficient number of aircraft with a relatively large combat radius.
To perform percussion tasks at a large distance from the carrier ship should use all the latest technology. When you create a promising aircraft, you should apply the developments on unmanned topics, stealth technology, the so-called. directed energy weapons, hypersonic technology, etc. All this will create a promising carrier-based aircraft with high potential, ensuring the implementation of all major tasks.
CNN journalist notes that not only G. J. Hendrix points to the insufficient range of existing deck aircraft. Not so long ago, the organization Center for American Sea Power at the Hudson Institute published its report on the development of the aircraft carrier fleet. The authors of this report also believe that the new carrier-based aircraft of the American fleet should have a greater range and a larger combat radius. Enhancing these characteristics will allow them to successfully perform combat work at a considerable distance from the aircraft carrier, which, in turn, will reduce the risks for the ship group.
In addition, experts at the Hudson Institute came to the conclusion that the US aircraft carrier program needs additional investments. Given the development of foreign anti-ship systems, a corresponding development of ships is required, for which additional funding is needed.
CNN cites another expert opinion. An employee of The Heritage Foundation, Dakota Wood, who previously served in the US Marine Corps, agrees with some of the theses from the report of G. Hendrix. So, he believes that the Pentagon is obliged to respond to the growing threat from the anti-missile systems of other states and to improve its ships accordingly.
On the other hand, D. Wood does not agree with the allegations that aircraft carriers are no longer viable. In his opinion, such assessments are premature, primarily due to the fact that, at present, anti-ship missiles with high characteristics that pose a danger to aircraft carriers are available only to a few states of the world. Thus, the expert believes, in this form, aircraft carriers can survive for at least a few more years.
Readers who are familiar with some interesting processes in the military and political leadership of the United States are unlikely to be surprised at the new report from G. Hendrix and the Center for New American Security. This expert regularly criticizes the US carrier fleet, citing certain evidence in favor of his opinion. As we see, thanks to foreign work in the field of anti-ship armament, the expert has a new argument. In addition, in his favor, he treats and current projects to upgrade carrier-based aircraft.
In his previous works, Hendricks referred to the exceptional high cost of building and operating aircraft carriers, as well as the questionable combat effectiveness of ships and deck aircraft. For example, in one of the past reports, the expert analyzed the cost and effectiveness of the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier under construction (CVN-78). The cost of this ship reached 14 billion dollars, whereas the previous USS George W. Bush (CVN-77) of the Nimitz type cost almost half as much. At the same time, due to the new catapults, the Ford will be able to provide 180 sorties a day, while the Bush can only perform 120 launches. Thus, Hendrix summed up, with a double increase in cost, the increase in combat effectiveness reaches only 50%.
Now the “arsenal” of reasons for criticism has been replenished with several new themes, to some extent connected with the renewal of the carrier-based fleet. The basis of the aviation group of the future USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier and subsequent ships of this project should be the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II multi-role fighter. According to open data, the combat radius of these aircraft (without refueling and outboard tanks) exceeds 1100 km, and the maximum payload weight is more than 9 tons. According to these parameters, the newest Lightning-2 surpasses the existing F / A-18E / F Super Hornet aircraft However, in this case Hendrix is not satisfied either.
The expert’s main claim concerns the range and combat radius, and the main concerns in this context are related to the achievements of the Chinese defense industry. The report mentions a promising anti-ship missile DF-21, the range of which allegedly is 1000 nautical miles. Thus, the radius of flight of the modern and prospective US-based carrier aircraft turns out to be noticeably smaller than the range of the latest Chinese missiles. As a result, a carrier strike group, providing strikes at coastal targets, may be hit by enemy missiles.
Nevertheless, it must be admitted that this time G.J. Hendrix touched on important topics that should be taken into account when determining the development strategy of an aircraft carrier fleet. The development of various areas of weapons and military equipment leads to the emergence of new threats that can significantly change the balance of forces at sea. Thus, information about the DF-21 rocket alone is sufficient cause for concern and appropriate action.
It is possible that in the future, the US aircraft carrier program will be corrected in accordance with the new conditions and threats. However, while information on this is missing. If the report of the Center for New American Security organization leads to any changes, information about them will appear later.
Article "Report: US aircraft carriers could not be effective":
The latest report from the Center for New American Security, dedicated to aviation groups of American aircraft: