Why $14 billion aircraft carriers are a bad idea

Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain, is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the director of its Defense Strategies and Assessments Program. This is a summary of the case he made in the National Review against aircraft carriers.

If the US Navy wants to address its budget crisis, its falling ship count, its atrophying strategic position, and the problem of its now-marginal combat effectiveness — and reassert its traditional dominance of the seas — it should embrace technological innovation and increase its efficiency. In short: It needs to stop building aircraft carriers.

* $14 billion apiece
* 5000 people to operate
* If a carrier and its crew were lost that would be double the US casualties in the Afghanistan war

The lessons of World War II, in which several large fleet carriers were lost or badly damaged, convinced Navy leaders to pursue a goal of a 100,000-ton carrier that could support a 100,000-pound aircraft capable of carrying larger bomb payloads, including nuclear weapons, 2,000 miles or more to hit strategic targets, making the platform larger, more expensive, and manned with more of the Navy’s most valuable assets, its people. Today’s new class of carrier, the Ford, which will be placed into commission next year, displaces 100,000 tons of water, and has a crew of 4,800 and a price of $14 billion. The great cost of the Cold War–era “super-carriers” has resulted in a reduction of the carrier force, from over 30 fleet carriers in World War II to just ten carriers today. While the carrier of today is more capable, each of the ten can be in only one place at a time, limiting the Navy’s range of effectiveness.

* nearly 80 percent of a FA-18 Hornet’s 9,000-flight-hour lifetime is spent maintaining the flight qualifications of its pilots
* with all costs factored in the average cost per bomb from an aircraft carrier is nearly $8 million. Which is 4 times a Tomakawk missile

The point of the entire World War II Pacific campaign was not to gain sea control and attrite Japanese naval forces, but rather to bring U.S. forces within range of the Japanese capital in order to project power and bring the war to an end.

* The goal was to bring long range heavy bombers into range of the enemy

The Navy should instead invest in upgrading the aircraft in the carrier’s air wing with unmanned combat strike vehicles to increase their range, or abandon the carrier as the centerpiece of naval warfare and buy numerous additional guided-missile submarines, which can operate with impunity within the A2AD bubble and can each carry 150 long-range precision-strike cruise missiles. Instead the Navy has chosen the strategically untenable position of resigning itself to longer wars.

The US Navy’s shipbuilding budget has remained nearly constant, at $16 billion per year when adjusted for inflation, but when the Navy elects to purchase more-expensive ships within a stable budget, it is electing to buy fewer ships.

Instead of a $14 billion carrier a choice of
1. seven missile-laden destroyers

2. seven nuclear submarines

3. 28 frigates
4. 100 joint high-speed vessel
5. 30 air independent diesel submarines
or combinations

SOURCE National Review