U.S. Navy Finds More Carrier Relevance In New Missions, Improvements


HONOLULU, Hawaii –While the U.S. Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) has been attracting most of the attention in the Asia Pacific on its first deployment, aircraft carriers represent the real muscle behind the nation’s Pacific pivot, according to the service admiral charged with overseeing the fleet there.

When it comes right down to it, Navy leaders say, nothing combines presence, power and flexibility on the sea like an aircraft carrier, and those ships will make the difference in the Asia Pacific.

“The poster ship for the rebalance is the (CVN-73 USS) George Washington Strike Group and whatever carrier follows it,” Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Harry Harris tells the Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN).

Harris says LCS is important for the Asia-Pacific strategy. “LCS is part of the rebalance,” he says. “We have sent it to the Pacific.” But, he emphasizes, it is the carrier and its accompanying strike group that best represent the U.S. in the region.

Carriers not only provide power and punch, Navy leaders say, but also enormous flexibility. For example, after the Philippines was ravaged by a typhoon, the George Washington became a launching pad for aircraft operations that supported humanitarian efforts.

“We put helicopters and V-22s on there for [the] Philippines,” Rear Adm. Michael Manazir, Navy director of air warfare, tells AWIN. “There is not another weapon system with as much independence of maneuver as there is on a nuclear-powered carrier.”

If the nation values that kind of ability to provide humanitarian assistance, as well as perform other major forward-deployed missions, he says, it needs to keep its fleet of 11 carriers.

But with sequestration and related budgetary concerns, carriers and their acquisition costs are again under the spotlight, especially with the planned cost for the next-generation CVN-78 Gerald R. Ford reaching about $12.9 billion.

“They choke on the number,” Manazir says. “They say, ‘That’s too expensive. We can’t afford this.’”

What many forget, he says, is that if the nation would even try to build new Nimitz-class carriers, those ships would have to be almost completely reworked to keep up with technology. “We’d have to redesign the ship to make it viable,” Manazir says.

And while the Ford’s cost raises eyebrows, Navy officials say the costs on succeeding carriers of that class have already started to drop and will decrease further.

“We’re only paying 15 percent more than we did with [CVN] 77 [USS George H.W. Bush],” Manazir says.

For that extra money, the Navy is getting a new class of carrier that features more efficient ways to launch and recover aircraft, more flexibility in the aircraft the ship can accommodate and a redesigned vessel that cuts life cycle costs by billions of dollars.

“The value of what we’re building is so much better,” he says.

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