Further to this post and “Comments”,
a lot of thinking is still going on but it’s good that people are realizing there likely will have to be major changes to the fleet to deal with the PRC’s rise–by David B. Larter (tweets here) at Defense News:
Former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly hadn’t been out of the job more than a month before the Navy canceled an ongoing study he’d launched into the future of aircraft carriers — a review he optimistically termed “Future Carrier 2030.”
Modly and his predecessor, Richard Spencer, had been excited by the prospect of fielding smaller, more risk-worthy carriers that could reduce the chance of China or Russia landing a major punch in a conflict simply by sinking or disabling a single ship, such as a Nimitz- or Ford-class aircraft carrier with thousands of sailors and tens of billions of dollars of hardware aboard.
But very soon after Modly’s spectacular departure, former acting Secretary James McPherson canceled the study until further notice. Still, as the effort to move to a smaller carrier seems frozen — as it has been for decades every time someone suggested it — the Navy is forging ahead with preparing its big-deck boats — the amphibious assault ships — for operating with the Marine Corp’s F-35B. The Corps’ F-35 fighter jet is a short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing variant [emphasis added].
The Navy recently inked a $200 million contract with BAE Systems to upgrade the amphibious assault ship Boxer to be able to operate with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the fifth landing helicopter assault ship [LHA, more here] to be so amended [emphasis added].
“The USS Boxer [dry-dock availability] will complete a combination of maintenance, modernization, and repair of the following systems: Hull structure, propulsion, electrical plant, auxiliary systems, and communications and combat systems, as well as alterations to prepare the ship for operations with the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (JSF),” according to a statement from Naval Sea Systems command.
But the idea of smaller carriers is one the Navy has been flirting with more recently. Last fall, the Navy packed 13 F-35Bs on the amphibious assault ship America. Then-Navy Secretary Spencer later said the ship could hold up to 20 [emphasis added].
“I will tell you, we are augmenting the aircraft carrier with our ideas, such as this lightning carrier,” Spencer said at the Brookings Institution think tank. “Twenty F-35 Bravos on a large-deck amphib. My cost performance there is tremendous. Does it have the same punch? No, it doesn’t, but it does have a very interesting sting to it.”
The Boxer, which is an older class of big-deck amphib, could likely pack about 15 F-35Bs if it were dedicated for the purpose, according to Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.
The idea of a lighter carrier is also one that has intrigued Defense Secretary Mark Esper. In an interview with Defense News that coincided with the fiscal 21 budget rollout, Esper raised the possibility that lighter carriers were still on the agenda [emphasis added].
“There are various ways to do carriers,” Esper said. “So we can talk numbers or we can talk the sizes of carriers, right? There’s been discussion in the past about: Do you keep building big carriers, or do you go to smaller carriers, lightning carriers? Acting Secretary Modly and I have talked about that.
“I think this gets into the future fleet designs we look at. That will be one element that we look at.”
‘What’s the objective?’
The Navy has shied away from lighter carriers for decades because, as expensive as the carriers are, they generate more sorties for less money than it would cost a comparable number of smaller carriers to generate.
But the utility of a smaller carrier that still has a mean bite was recently demonstrated when a COVID-19 outbreak on the carrier Theodore Roosevelt sidelined the flat top in Guam in the middle of its deployment. The Navy directed the America to the South China Sea to provide presence there to dissuade China from taking advantage of the Roosevelt’s misfortune…
Revolution in naval affairs coming?