Aircraft Carriers: A Brief Survey

Aircraft carriers are the monarchs of the sea, and arguably the third best strategic weapon  in the US arsenal, after nukes and little groups of paratroopers. Since the Russians, Chinese and Indians already have nukes and paratroops/Gurkhas, they have begun exploring the exciting world of Naval Aviation. And learning a lot!

Russia:

Recently the only Russian aircraft carrier (the Kuznetsov) completed its longest and busiest cruise yet, spending 117 days at sea and carrying out 420 aircraft takeoffs using its Su-33s and MiG-29Ks jets. Some of those flights were for combat missions in Syria. That level of activity comes out to 3.6 fixed wing aircraft operations per day. While doing that two jets were lost. Russia considered this a training cruise that cost less than $200 million.

India:

In early 2017 the Indian Navy issued a request for foreign suppliers to bid on a $15 billion contract to supply 57 jet fighter-bombers capable of operating from an aircraft carrier. This comes after a late 2016 announcement by the navy that India’s locally designed and built LCA (Light Combat Aircraft or “Tejas”) jet fighter was unsuitable for use on Indian aircraft carriers.

Communist China:

 The country’s sole carrier, the refurbished Soviet-era Kuznetsov-class ship, now renamed the Liaoning, was declared “combat ready” in November by Senior Capt. Li Dongyou, the political commissar onboard the ship as it departed for a training cruise that included a stopover at the purpose-built pier at the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) base near Sanya on Hainan island on the edge of the South China Sea.

The ship sailed with a battle group comprising of several PLAN destroyers, frigates and corvettes, while the Liaoning itself carried more than a dozen Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark carrier-borne fighters and several Harbin Z-9 and Changhe Z-18 helicopters onboard, including at least two Z-18J airborne early warning (AEW) helicopters.

And, back in America, a potential pretender to the throne. Though I am of extremely lubberly persuasion, I favor the tactics that smaller carriers dispersed into multiple battle groups that overstretches an enemy’s ability to address.

 

About DaveO

Retired soldier, micro-farmer, raconteur and pet owner from the great state of Oklahoma. Wandered in as a frequent commenter and have been enjoying blogging ever since.
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5 Responses to Aircraft Carriers: A Brief Survey

  1. keydet1976 says:

    I have said for years that big carriers make big targets. I am reminded one should not put all your eggs in one basket.

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  2. burkemblog says:

    One hopes that the eventual answer to this perpetual large-vs-small deck carrier conundrum is the widespread replacement of attack aircraft with drones. Think about the first thing that gets off a carrier deck–the combat air patrol, which is designed to defend the carrier, not carry out an offensive mission. Second, the limiting factor of aircraft is the pilot. Take that out of the equation and you get much longer range and less concern with defense (and pilot recovery). Anti-air missiles fired from carriers can protect against enemy air, and the drones can deliver ordnance all day long–even if many are lost, they would be relatively easy to replace. No pilot training pipeline, either.

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  3. rustybill says:

    I doubt that there will be any new “light” carriers in the fleet anytime soon. There are several factors that mitigate against them:

    Cost: A large part of the cost of an aircraft carrier is in fixed systems, that are the same whether they are installed in a supercarrier or a light carrier – radar, communications, catapults, aircraft/munitions elevators, defensive systems, maintenance shops, and so forth.

    Range: Light carriers are unlikely to be nuclear powered, and thus will be limited in operating radius by the amount of fuel that they can carry (more on this below).

    Capability: Having fewer aircraft means having fewer options. A CVL will likely not have the recon, air refueling, airborne early warning and vertical lift capability that a supercarrier has, due to the lower number of aircraft aboard and the reduction in variety of aircraft. Each recon or electronics bird or helicopter means one less fighter or fighter-bomber available for strike missions. It will also carry less stores and fuel for the aircraft that it has, due to it’s smaller size and the requirement for ship’s fuel bunkerage.

    Support: CVLs will require more support in the form of additional fuel/stores/ordnance supply ships, as well as additional escort vessels for both the carrier and the added supply fleet.

    Politics. Congress is likely only going to authorize X number of carrier-type ships. Each light carrier built means one less supercarrier. And they’ll probably scrimp on funding for the escorts and supply ships, not to mention all the personnel needed to operate all those hulls.

    I could, of course, be wrong. I’ve only studied naval aviation for about thirty years (it’s a long-time hobby).

    The Carrier Project
    http://home.grandecom.net/~cvproj/carrier.htm
    (Sadly neglected for some time; I’ve been busy the last few years with more urgent matters)

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