Thursday, October 22, 2015

The US Navy’s Sitting Ducks

The Bloomberg article reads like an admission of vulnerability concerning the massive aircraft carriers in general, then considering the Russian cruise missile volley from the Caspian, this also reads like an acknowledgement that those cruise missiles were the reason the Roosevelt beat a hasty retreat from the Persian Gulf immediately afterwards.

Flashback! Breaking! 4 Russian Warships Launch Strikes against ISIS from Caspian Sea


“With Iran testing ballistic missiles, the Russian military bombing in Syria, war grinding on in Yemen and Islamic State as deadly as ever, it may seem like a very dangerous time for the U.S. to find itself without an aircraft carrier near the Persian Gulf. Actually, it’s very unlikely to be a problem, and it's a good occasion to reconsider the Navy’s plans to build a new fleet of superexpensive “supercarriers."

The Theodore Roosevelt carrier turned for home last week, (left Persian Gulf immediately following Russian Cruise Missile firing) and the Harry S. Truman won’t arrive until late this winter, a rotation planned by the Pentagon long ago. This is unusual, as the Navy usually has one or two carrier groups in the Gulf region.

A carrier strike group can have more than 7,000 crew members, and in addition to the flattop and its 60-plus aircraft, it usually consists of at least three large warships (missile cruisers, destroyers and frigates), a fast-attack submarine and a host of smaller support craft. It costs about $6.5 million every day to keep the armada afloat. This is on top of the $4.5 billion each current Nimitz-class carrier cost to build, which now seems like a bargain compared to the next-generation Ford class, the first of which is coming in at nearly $13 billion. (The Navy plans to buy up to 10 of them.)

So what do we get for all the billions? The goal is a hyper-capable, multipurpose combat platform that can react to virtually any expected crisis. The reality, increasingly appears quite different: a lumbering white elephant that’s easy prey for a Chinese rocket or a terrorist in a motorboat.

A Navy war game in 2002 that simulated a swarm attack by speedboats of the type Iran has in the Gulf had devastating results: 16 major warships would be destroyed, including one aircraft carrier. Anti-ship weaponry has only grown more potent since then.
These massive ships were never intended to take on jihadists and other asymmetric threats. But it’s no longer clear that they would be useful in a war against a major power such as Russia or a middling one such as Iran. The Pentagon has spent billions outfitting aircraft carriers with air defenses that are unproven, and the relatively short range of their planes –- an F/A-18 Hornet has to turn around at roughly 500 miles -- leaves them vulnerable to land-based missiles that can travel twice that far.

Carriers increasingly seem like sitting ducks. And, if one was ever sunk, with 5,000 Americans on board, the blow to the military and nation would be almost unthinkable. 

A perception of power is as important as real power. The loss of just one aircraft carrier would indeed be a huge blow to the US military's dominance. Real and perceived.

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