Now, all this said, to spite what most news outlets are babbling about, the carriers are very much still relevant and important and will remain so for at least a few decades. They just need to be balanced with developing future systems and demanding that we always have 11 carriers doesn't really provide the flexibility to handle emerging threats.
I think a general point is, the military needs oversight, and we are a democratic country. For now, it might seem reasonable to you that Congress might not make the best decisions about military readiness, but removing the ability from Congress to decide that they should have the ability to investigate and shrink military budgets is un-democratic. I can easily imagine a world where we remove line-item oversight from Congress, and in 50 years, military spend is like it was multiple times in the history of other empires: not up to date, bloated, profitable to those in bureaucratic control, and an unpleasant surprise when we need it most.
I think you're totally right, the carriers are still important, particularly if we're not in a hot war. Carriers are second-to-none for establishing land/air/sea superiority. But if the military believes that, it should make that case to Congress, and Congress should do what they do with a recognition that they are beholden to the American public for their decisions.
I think it bears mentioning that at the moment the pendulum is somewhat on the side of congressional over-spending. There has been the ongoing issue of congress forcing the pentagon to buy more Abrams tanks to spite their strategic irrelevance (we have more than enough to satisfy our needs) because they want to keep the manufacturing lines running.
Now we're in a society of permanent volunteer military readiness, and we have to deal with endemic problems. The corruption and solutions both look different, and solutions have to have sustainability in mind.
I think you might be right, that Congress right now does spur on overspending rather than underspending. It's just about impossible to close a base anywhere, from what I hear. Still, in the long run, I do think it's better that Congress keep control of this and have continual oversight. I think it might be better suited to the Senate, and I think it's better suited to committees, but there does need to be a accountability there that is entirely outside of the military.
I gander that there's a reason that we're the only country with more than one aircraft carrier.
And a smaller carrier would allow the Navy to field more of them at the same cost, which would mean being able to "show the flag" in more places simultaneously without having to run a few ships ragged trying to cover them all at once.
I'm not so sure when the more modest carrier is only seems capable of fielding VTOL aircraft:
> The America-class amphibious assault ships...are designed to put ashore a Marine Expeditionary Unit using helicopters and MV-22B Osprey V/STOL transport aircraft, supported by AV-8B Harrier II or F-35 Lightning II V/STOL aircraft and various attack helicopters.
I don't have the expertise to fully evaluate the arguments, but it's worth a read before you fully swallow the "carriers are pointless because of anti-ship missiles" line.
In a case of a war with say China the US isn't going to park it's carrier fleet in the littoral waters and yell come at me bro the risks to the carrier are well known and understood and there are plenty of things the US can do to mitigate against those and very much effectively so.
The US has a very long history of naval warfare and the longest effective history in carrier operations a US carrier in the south china sea is still likely the most safe airwing you can have in the area since the US bases in the area are a much easier target for potential Chinese strikes.
I don't think people understand how hard it is to find a carrier battle group in the middle of the seas even within it's combat effective range not to mention guide and hit a moving target with very capable air defenses.
This holds true especially for the so called carrier killer "hypersonic" weapons which while might be able to pass through the missile defense shield of the strike group and the carrier itself have very poor terminal maneuvering and while a carrier is slow hitting a target evading your at 30 without very excellent terminal guidance isn't likely.
As a practical matter, perhaps carriers are just not going to be as important in the future? Drones can be launched from a much wider variety of places / ship decks.
The future of war may be a giant swarm of small ships and drones rather than one large flagship ringed by layers of destroyers etc to protect it.
It could be if there isn't a meaningful conventional deterrent.
Thought experiment--if the US only had strategic nuclear weapons, what would they do if China attempted to, for example, blockade Taiwan or the Philippines? It would be insane and homicidal to immediately escalate to nuking Beijing. What if the US had conventional forces, but not ones strong enough to hold off Chinese forces? They might take the risk that we wouldn't attempt a first strike.
Conversely, if it happened today, it would be proportional and reasonable to deploy conventional naval forces to escort merchant ships across the blockade. Maybe one of the Chinese ships would fire on one of the American ships, or one of the merchant ships under American protection, and maybe there might be a naval skirmish. But it wouldn't immediately escalate into a nuclear exchange. There would be an "incident", the Chinese would realize that they would have to escalate to a nuclear first strike because their naval capacity is hopelessly outclassed by ours, and thus they would probably stand down. Furthermore, China already knows this is exactly what would happen in this situation and that's one of many reasons they don't try anything.
Despite an infamous 1995 quote from a Chinese general that "in the end, you care more about Los Angeles than you do about Taipei", Chinese posturing in the Taiwan Straits in 1996 led to a large US naval deployment to the seas around Taiwan, at which point China stood down. A full-on war could still escalate to a nuclear exchange, but that is all the more deterrent against starting even a conventional war with US forces. (For similar reasons, note how Russia's bullying tends to be targeted towards countries that haven't joined NATO.)
Or, they might plan a secret saturation anti-ship missile strike that would take out a big chunk of the US fleet, calculating that we wouldn't escalate to full war or nuclear over Taiwan.
Despite an infamous 1995 quote from a Chinese general that "in the end, you care more about Los Angeles than you do about Taipei", Chinese posturing in the Taiwan Straits in 1996 led to a large US naval deployment to the seas around Taiwan, at which point China stood down.
Basically it comes down to this: At what point is maintaining the Taiwan "cork in the bottle" no longer worth the cost for the US to maintain global dominance of the oceans? Keep your eye out for a naval arms race between the US and China.
This is similar to the strategy behind Pearl Harbor. Which isn't to say that it's the exact same, or that the Chinese wouldn't attempt it--likewise, we should expect and prepare for such a threat.
> Keep your eye out for a naval arms race between the US and China.
I think the anti-ship missile threat in particular is something the Navy is planning for, judging by the strong investment in directed-energy weapons.
All of the ways it's unlike Pearl Harbor favor the Chinese over what the Japanese had to work with in WWII. For one thing, they already control China. For another thing, they wouldn't have to reach all the way to Hawaii. They could mount pressure requiring a US response, then take out our carrier groups relatively close to their shores.
Things that make you go "hmmmm." Even directed energy weapons have a saturation point. Such weapons are also dependent on detection and targeting, which can also be jammed and saturated. Submarines would already mitigate a lot of that threat. The US has a strong submarine force with considerable experience in such "cold war" activities. They have a strong track record of winning a war of stealth and signals intelligence far from their home shores.
While true, I was referring more to the idea that immediately destroying a significant amount of American naval power would cause the United States to immediately fold. In that respect, China's possession of nuclear weapons is the most relevant difference.
On the other hand, China would get one shot at 2, maybe 3 carrier groups. If their attack fails, it would be a massive strategic backfire. If their attack succeeds, they gain only the immediate operational advantage of not having to worry about US carrier groups. They would also gain the strategic advantage of tying the hands of the US in terms of deploying ballistic missile defenses against a potential Chinese nuclear strike. But, as you point out, we could adapt and deploy submarines to blockade China while exerting diplomatic and economic pressure.
In other words, even if China manages to prove themselves invulnerable to the projected power of American carriers, they would still not gain a sustainable advantage and would remain in a protracted state of hostilities. The best case outcome of a Chinese first strike against American carriers would still be pretty awful for them.
> Even directed energy weapons have a saturation point. Such weapons are also dependent on detection and targeting, which can also be jammed and saturated.
It's hard to say at this point. If you're discussing the claim that cruise missiles are cheaper than carriers, a fair response is that megawatts are cheaper than cruise missiles. Maybe it won't work out, but it's worth a try and that's the stage we're at.
If the Chinese are going to take the risks and roll the dice on a first strike, then they're going to be playing for some pretty enticing stakes, like Taiwan. That's the point of such a move. It would come at the end of a series of escalations. For such a move to pay off, they'd have to be confident that they could control the seas around Taiwan long enough to mount a successful invasion. Prior to that, there would need to be a buildup of China's submarine forces. Perhaps they would have built a SOSUS style listening array, along with a surface fleet buildup which would only hit a level that the US Navy brass would still scoff at. If I were China, I would consider building a great many attack subs with ultra quiet but cheap surface independent propulsion and anti-ship capability. Many of these might come in the form of even quieter, smaller, and somewhat expendable autonomous drone subs. To make such a plan work, they will also have to solve the logistical problem of landing an enormous number of troops and their supplies. That last factor will likely be detected by US intelligence long beforehand, but might be camouflaged to throw off the time estimate.
If I were the Chinese top brass, I would be conducting a highly secretive program of drone sub building. As an alternative or an adjunct, perhaps do a huge air force buildup with very potent anti-submarine capability. The idea would be to neutralize the US Surface advantage with saturation missile strike, then make it very dangerous and miserable for the US submarines, but achieve those advantages while still having the US Navy brass scoff at your capabilities.
If you're discussing the claim that cruise missiles are cheaper than carriers, a fair response is that megawatts are cheaper than cruise missiles. Maybe it won't work out, but it's worth a try and that's the stage we're at.
The question is not if cruise missiles are cheaper than megawatts. The question is not even if cruise missiles are cheaper than the high-tech ship that deploys those megawatts. (Which is a less favorable question for the US.) The question is if the price of those cruise missiles and Chinese lives is worth getting Taiwan. Given that Taiwan is a stepping stone for China's ascendance to the level of global superpower, I suspect the price they're willing to pay is rather high.
This is why the South China Sea is so important—it provides a potential outlet to the open sea while keeping open the possibility of gradual, peaceful reintegration with Taiwan.
The only caveat—and it’s a big one—is that China is in a demographic situation where it wouldn’t hurt them to lose even ten million men due to the heavy gender imbalance of the military-age generation created by the one-child policy.
As for DEWs, cruise missiles and saturation attacks work because you can launch so many cruise missiles that no system can track all of them in enough detail to acquire a firing solution and launch SAMs. DEWs simplify this a lot. The firing solution is just line-of-sight to a contact, you can fire the DEW as quickly as you can generate power rather than having a set amount of ammunition you need to conserve, and if it’s a choice between firing at an unconfirmed target and losing the ship and you can fire the laser, you fire the laser. The question is simply generating enough power to fire the DEW at the necessary rate to handle a saturation attack. Hypersonic cruise missiles make this harder, but at the cost of the cruise missiles themselves being more expensive. It’s not obvious where the balance is going to end up.
But it is a "part of China" that they've already effectively lost. Gaining it at the cost of Shanghai doesn't seem like a very good bargain.
The important thing to realize is that in a war scenario sortie rates are important. Drones are great because they can take off from North Dakota, fly 20 hours half way around the world, drop some stuff then spend 20 hours flying back. Compare that to a carrier sortie where you take off, fly for two hours, drop something, and fly two hours back. That frees 36 hours on that airframe to get reloaded and go drop more stuff.
Sortie rates and the ability to use full military power for just a little longer. Just the extra time it took to fly over the English Channel was a significant advantage for RAF pilots over German pilots in the Battle of Britain.
The dynamics between the US and China are obviously much different but I don’t think we can 100% rule out a non nuclear confrontation.
They're effectively not usable.
The announced (by PRC) invasion of Taiwan.
Their real purpose (aside from being a big make-work project) is to project force during peace time and during wars with adversaries that can't afford large numbers of the latest and greatest missiles.
Does the pentagon calculate that there's some flex as a result?
So forgive me if I doubt that allied readiness is in any way a priority for the F-35 program.
The UK's force projection capability was utterly crippled by the role they accepted in NATO, and hebway they structured their military around that, long before the F-35 was ever considered.
On that one hand, the loss of life would be ridiculous but would we need to immediately start building a new one to be 'compliant'
Recall that the US succeeded in WW1 and WW2 by out-producing their opponents. They simply built more guns and tanks and munitions than everyone else. US munitions were lower quality than what was produced in Europe, but they were cheaper and available in large numbers. That's what mattered.
However, that's a strategy that won't work against China. The Chinese are the undisputed kings of building things fast and cheap. They would out-produce the US easily AND they have a much larger population to conscript into their armies.
US military chiefs must know that a land-war against China has almost no chance of success. China is too big and their army too numerous.
So if the war were to go badly (which it almost certainly would) they would be likely to consider the nuclear option... and once we go there, there's no going back. China would retaliate; Russia would likely get involved; article 5 would be invoked.... game over.
The Middle-East's oil and the factories in China are all on the same land-mass. They don't need sea transport, that's just more convenient/cheaper for China at present.
There is a pipeline that leads from Myanmar to China, but it is supplied by tankers docking in Myanmar. I assume the US Navy would put a stop to that pretty quickly.
After pipelines the next best way to move oil over land is by train. Huge trains of tanker cars are extremely visible to surveillance. Since they have to follow the train tracks and are slow moving, they make perfect targets as well, and you only need one missile to get through.
We're more likely to see a nuclear conflict involving China if the Chinese leaders feel that resource needs make it necessary to seize Russian territory.
You don't want Russia or China losing, but you want both of them to have losses because it would improve your economic position.
With the advent of anti-ship cruise missiles, carriers have lost the decisive edge that they had during WW2. It seems like few nations are willing to bear the development and maintenance costs of modern carriers. Yet the US continues to build carriers as if they were at war! Furthermore, there is a huge uproar (along with legal challenges!) whenever anyone dares to suggest even slowing down the rate of carrier deployment. Why is the US so set on a policy that every other developed nation has eschewed? It makes no sense to me.
I think your underestimating what aircraft carriers are actually used for. The Navy has been dropping bombs off aircraft carriers since WW2. I doubt we will ever see another world war in our lifetime. They may sell it to Congress one way and use it another way.
The first time the US has to deal with Anti-Ship cruise-missiles might be a bad day for them.
they are a fantastic way to project power without having land bases, obviously. We have used them quite a lot for this purpose in the 60 years since cruise missiles were developed - including in the wars we are currently fighting.
also they are major sources of money for industry in important congressional districts, and have symbolic power that politicians and leaders crave.
no one else does it because they are expensive, difficult to develop, and no one else has the need to support global operations like we do (though China is getting there, and the UK fondly remembers when it used to).
That may or may not be true. It has yet to be proven one way or the other.
Yes, in theory anti-ship cruise missiles can take out a carrier. A carrier in the middle of a battle group with all defenses running? Maybe... or maybe not.
Then, as others have pointed out, there are plenty of countries that don't have anti-ship cruise missiles, nor the data chain to target them properly. Against those countries, carriers still have a decisive edge.
Also, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers require a lot of specialized shipyard and drydock infrastructure that doesn't really pay off if you're only going to build one or two of them. That's why the Charles de Gaulle has been so expensive and why the Royal Navy didn't go nuclear with the QE class. So it only really makes sense, in an alliance, for one country to shoulder the particular burden of operating all the supercarriers. And of all the countries that aren't allied with us, Russia isn't going to waste time building supercarriers because they can't reach the open ocean in wartime anyway and China seems to be in the early stages of trying to do so themselves.
Taiwan, the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea are all key to the US's current global strategic game of keeping China bottled up behind the South China Sea. China's game plan consists of getting past this.
China seems to be in the early stages of trying to do so themselves.
It would make sense that they would try and leverage the advantage of having their landmass nearby, to give "artillery support" with hypersonic anti-ship missiles to their naval forces facing the US forces in the South China Sea. If I were the US, I would be looking into shifting emphasis to submarine warfare in the South China Sea, including submarines emphasizing ship to ship missiles. I would also be re-implementing SOSUS style listening arrays in the area.
China's game plan started with building a navy for the first time in half a millennium. Their geopolitical interests are complex, but I'm pretty sure the immediate focus of their naval power has been and will be securing resources in the South China Sea and reclaiming Taiwan. They're not bottled up, it's just where their interests lie.
But we could still stage resources there. Just having a place to land gives benefits in terms of sortie rate. Also, in the event of a lead-up to conflict, these can be built in a hurry.
Japan and South Korea are both north of the South China Sea.
All the same, they are a part of the general US geopolitical strategy of keeping China bottled up behind the South China Sea. Are you trying to "debunk" what I'm saying by using unnecessary specificity? The US does have bases in those countries.
I'm pretty sure the immediate focus of their naval power has been and will be securing resources in the South China Sea and reclaiming Taiwan.
Sure. And if/when they claim Taiwan, China will have access to the oceans which can't be easily restricted, even by a world-dominating navy. They will be able to move hypersonic missile bases, naval bases, and airstrips there. The door will be open to them to start competing with the US as the global naval hegemon.
Which other countries have made the security commitments that the US has? Not only being a part of NATO, but commitments to Israel, Egypt, Japan, Korea, Australia, NZ, and so on. At a minimum the US needs an active carrier in both the Atlantic and Pacific, and usually two in the Pacific. To do that you need at another minimum twice that number to rotate ships out. Then for carriers you need more for life cycle and overhauls.
Plus its always quite disingenuous to compare the US to say a country like France. The size, population, economy, etc are in completely different categories.
They may not have the decisive edge they had 60+ years ago, but they still represent something. Having more carriers is indicative of the United States' willingness to be the biggest military superpower on the planet. It helps to secure economic power/influence. It helps to push their agenda.
Also, certain groups in the US (including the current president) would argue that the only reason other developed nations haven't engaged in this type of military building is because the US has done it and they've relied on that proxy strength.
Basically the British mortgaged their global empire to the US for bailing them out during WWI and WWII.