Bluestripe #2 — November 6, 2007

In recent months there has been a plethora of articles in professional and semi-professional magazines alleging a simmering controversy over the continued viability of the large deck aircraft carrier. Nothing could be further from the truth. The only simmering comes from those with a parochial and vested interest in their own limited weapons systems, those who lack any sort of evidence upon which to voice their opinions or certain writers interested only in getting ink on the pages of those same publications. It’s in the interest of all members of the ANA and, indeed, of all citizens, to know the real facts.

First, the professionals in the business, those who will have to fight wars or operate to deter wars are the Nation’s combatant commanders’ the four-stars in charge of regions around the world. Each and every one of them is on record as needing more large deck aircraft carriers and their embarked aircraft than are now in the inventory.

Second, the Defense Department and Navy staffs are in total agreement that eleven is the absolute minimum number of American large deck aircraft carriers needed to meet current warfare and deterrent obligations, to meet anticipated threats and to fulfill treaty obligations. There are no simmering controversies in the halls of the Pentagon.

Third, study after study over the course of almost 60 years has shown that only a large deck aircraft carrier has the capability, the staying power and the flexibility to meet the Nation’s requirements for air at sea and from the sea.

Fourth, and by far most important, has been the demonstrated potency, capability and flexibility of large deck aircraft carriers in combat from Korea to Iraq and Afghanistan and all wars and crises in between. Beyond combat performance, large deck carriers have been equally effective performance in deterrence operations and humanitarian missions, all efforts which would have been much more difficult if not impossible had not a large deck aircraft carrier been involved.

American leadership at the highest political levels, including leaders from both major parties, to the highest military and naval leadership through planners at every level fully appreciate and realize the need for the capabilities of the large deck aircraft carrier today and on into the foreseeable future. Lamentably, those who attack that realization fail to understand the lessons of history and can see the future only in accordance with their own individual imperatives.

Most of those who attack the need for large deck aircraft carriers advocate smaller ships, often along with short takeoff and vertical landing aircraft (STOVL). Others see unoccupied air vehicles (UAV) as replacements. Still others believe the age of missiles has made the large deck carrier obsolete. Finally, some will cite cost as a reason for doing away with an essential mission system. All of these arguments fade in the sunshine of fact.

In the largest sense it makes little difference whether the aircraft carried by a large deck carrier are conventional takeoff and land (CTOL), STOVL or UAV or even helicopters or tiltwing. The large deck aircraft carrier is large because it provides space for operating more aircraft, better economies of scale, better endurance, better survivability and better seakeeping.

By operating more aircraft more can be placed over a target or a widely dispersed range of targets in a given time period and more targets can be hit simultaneously or nearly-so. Likewise, a larger air-sea domain can be patrolled and controlled with the greater number of aircraft available.

Due to its size a large deck aircraft carrier can consolidate and better provide maintenance and supply of a large number of aircraft. Not only can the large deck carrier carry more supplies and spares tan a smaller ship but it can also ensure having the requisite types and numbers of technical specialists without having to depend upon so frequent shore or logistics chain support.

Beyond its own aircraft, a big ship can be equipped with more extensive defense systems, both electronic and otherwise and can better sustain and repair combat damage.

The better endurance of a large deck aircraft carrier includes not only more fuel for higher transit speeds and longer range but more fuel for aircraft and more ordnance and stores for longer times on station.

A big ship withstands the furies of the sea and can continue to operate aircraft far better than can a small ship. A Nimitz class carrier can operate aircraft in the heaviest of seas, seas wherein a smaller ship would be fighting to hang on.

When it comes to the type of aircraft to be carried on large deck carrier, it really matters not. Some advocates of smaller carriers get this fact confused. STOVL aircraft have been and can be operated from large deck aircraft carriers; however, the problem to date is that the existing STOVL aircraft cannot compare in range or load carrying capability with the CTOL aircraft customarily used. That may change with the advent of the F-35, but even that won’t change the advantages of space for operating more aircraft, better economies of scale, better survivability, better endurance and the better seakeeping of the large deck carrier.

Likewise, UAVs will soon be operating from large deck aircraft carriers and one day in the distant future may even replace some of the aircraft now in a typical carrier air wing; but, once again, that won’t change the advantages of space for operating more aircraft, better economies of scale, better survivability, better endurance and better seakeeping.

Finally, comes the question of cost. Yes, the large deck aircraft carrier is an expensive weapons system. The Navy and its shipbuilders are most certainly dedicated to containing costs of carriers wherever possible; however, very often the figures thrown about by the naysayers and the press are faulty. In the case of the building USS Gerald Ford, too often are the development costs for the entire class of ships attributed to that one ship instead of being amortized across the class, thus ballooning the figures to startling dimension. In addition, each of these ships will be operating for from 40 to 50 years and seldom is the initial cost amortized over that lifetime. That’s an important consideration, by the way. The costs displayed in the press are what’s in the budget for the building period. They are not spread out over the total life of the ship. Few people consider what investments in defense are represented by these few large deck aircraft carriers. Consider the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. Commissioned at the end or WWII with WWII technology and aircraft, she retired only at the end of the Vietnam War with near-21st Century technology and aircraft. A similar life can be predicted for our existing large deck carriers and those yet to be built.

This message is long, but it’s long because the topic is important. It’s imperative that ANA members understand this message and then spread it in your communities. Those who write and argue against the large deck carrier are wrong, but they are persistent and insistent. The only way to keep them from gaining the ear of the public and, hence, the national decision makers is to purvey knowledge to counter their agenda. Please have at it, and let us know if you need more info.

Robert F. Dunn


President, ANA

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