Trump’s 12 Carrier Navy: Money Well Spent?

Trump has come out and endorsed a 12 carrier Navy. For those wondering a 12 Carrier navy is considered the comfortable minimum number of carriers we need to function carrier battle groups around the world; considering work ups, deployments and maintenance.

Sea, land and space missile technology is not unique to “major” powers any longer.

While I am glad to hear that Trump wishes to expand the Navy, I’m not so sure I’m down for the carriers. Without getting too deep into the hypotheticals, the fear is the aircraft carrier battle group in a major war against an adversary with parity is too easily knocked out.

Chinese image of fighting the US Navy. Believable or not, it’s important to acknowledge your adversaries goals.

Some carriers are needed. They provide all kinds of options since we are the world’s only superpower. But technologically it’s too easy to kill a carrier with anti-ship cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and nuclear / conventional torpedoes. And soon we will be facing the reality of swarm drone & missile attacks.

If a major war were to break out in the Pacific, we would win or lose that war primarily with submarines.

14 US Navy ships. 3 carriers. How much money is spent building, buying, operating, maintaining, staffing these groups over their life cycle? Now imagine losing 3 of them in the first hours of a war. Is there a Plan B? Or is the thinking it’ll never happen?

As for surface forces, the thinking is to disperse large carrier battle groups into smaller individual assets that are not easily knocked out in one fell swoop. And each of those individual assets would be chock-full of vertical launch systems for swarms of missiles. For those you paying attention, that is the theory of the LCS.

The point of a Carrier Battle Group is the carrier. 4000 Airman, Sailors and Marines. How many conventional ballistic missile hits can this platform absorb before being rendered combat ineffective? Note..I’m not even talking nuclear…yet.

Now let’s talk about the LCS. That program is in trouble. The question is whether the LCS ships are even remotely combat survivable? What needs to be seriously considered is the possibility of canceling the LCS program, and then using the latest Coast Guard frigate as the VLS platform of the future. 90 or 100 guided missile frigates chocked full of Aegis defense radar’s and SM-2 / SM-3 and tomahawk cruise missiles is a nightmare for any adversary.

Actual PLA ballistic missile target in Gobi Desert. You think they poured that much concrete by chance? Reality check: See the big conventional hole? Even if the carrier wasn’t sunk, that ship likely not conducting flight ops any longer.

That in conjunction with our guided missile submarines is a winner.
So what about the F-35? About a year ago I had an off the record conversation with a flag officer involved with that program. I understand what they’re trying to do now. It’s really interesting. I’ll save that for another post.

Chinese missile ranges. As the commander, factor in how many missiles can you shoot down before eating one vs having to stay out of missile range entirely. Then calculate how far your plans have to fly to even be in striking range of the adversary. Can they even reach their targets?

I will leave you with a question that is commonly asked by American civilians in terms of fighter-jet-fan-boi braggadocio, but never from the context of our adversaries’ fears: if you are in Russia or China tonight, would you be asking yourself why the Americans stopped making the F-22? And what are they up to?

Lots to discuss.

 
Marky
John1911.com
“Shooting Guns & Having Fun”

Marky Mark

Marky Mark

Writer at John1911.com
Writer for john1911.com. Co-Host of the John1911 Podcast. Video content provider for John1911-TV.

Areas of focus: Defense and National Security, Modern Light Weapons, Analysis of the Geo-political / Military Relationship in the Context of Strategic Goals.
Marky Mark

Latest posts by Marky Mark (see all)

  • Conner

    Personally having no experience on this subject other than watching “The Gunny” on a Navy carrier talking with the awesome weapons folks,and the fact that I’ve slept in a Red Roof Inn, from what I’ve seen, read and heard about it sounds to me as if these types of attacks have not only been taken into consideration but plans to defend against these types of attacks are being improved every day. I do agree with your theory but just for conversation sake isn’t the same true of every mobile (or stationary) weapons system? I would think that knowing each and every attack jet fighter is a force multiplier, along with the carriers ability the see, identify and defend against incoming missiles, enemy fighter jets or ships from great distances our enemies might be thinking long and hard about, ‘do we really want to fuck with these guys’? Regarding multiple drone attacks wouldn’t we have the intel to take out the launching bases within minutes or better yet strike first first before launch? When you include the carrier battle group that protects them in a sort of bubble including and with the subs as you’ve mentioned here along with our satellite technology that pre warns us of imminent attack, if it ever gets to the point of the Chinese image shown here I would say this battle was over and lost but hopefully not the war. As I’m drinking my coffee I’m thinking your point is well taken. Maybe we should be working on (and we may well be) a system to take out any enemies nukes before they get off the ground or leave an enemy sub. Take away their side of the Mutual Destruction factor. God bless and protect our military troops.

    • Too many points in your comment to address them all. So I would just add a few interesting things you might want mull over in your mind.

      Any system that is a mobile be at a ship or a TEL is harder to find than a fixed silo.

      If you and I were Chinese military officers having this conversation and you were to ask me about the number one capability that the Americans possess that I would worry about?

      My answer would be the ability of the Americans to launch or initiate a decapitation strike before hostilities even really get off the ground.

      Things like long-range stealthy cruise missiles, conventionally orange, by themselves now have the ability to disable some nuclear hardeded targets.

      Those same missiles can be fired from farther and farther and farther away.

      Consider this nightmare: there are no American ships in the Pacific ocean. There are no American ballistic missiles being launched are flying. But now the Americans possess cruise missiles that are tipped with low yield nuclear warheads that can literally fly from the mainland United States to targets in China.

      Before we even have a chance to respond or react, the Americans have removed our first strike and possibly second-strike nuclear capability. Possibly damaged or destroyed all of our DF 21 Anti-ship missiles.

      And we’re having a hard time even figure out what the Hells going on because a bunch of our command-and-control notes have also gone down.

      The USA makes people nervous.

      Marky

      • Randy Shadoe

        This reminds me of the Japanese at Midway. One of the best commentaries on the subject I have seen. There may be defensive “wonder weapons” in R&D, but they need to work 100% of the time, the offensive systems not. Hypersonic kinetic kill reentry vehicles aren’t’ cheap, but they are orders of magnitude cheaper. “The USA makes people nervous.” – Good!

        • Some weapons are offensive or defensive basely sole on the sequence of events. Off the top of my head, China has about 20 ICBM ground based missiles. Recently they upgraded them with MIRV warheads.

          Countries like the US and China have a published no first use nuclear policy. So consider this as if I am a PLA Missile officer. “If US made conventionally armed tomahawk cruise missiles started taking out my ICBM launchers, do I use the ICBM’s or lose them?”

          Does no first use still hold?

          That’s a political and military question commanders on both sides want to know the answers to before missiles start flying.

          Marky

          • Randy Shadoe

            I have clarified some of my wording. I find your reply quite cogent. The, “use the ICBM’s or lose them?” question is faced by any nuclear armed state that has no confidence of being able to launch a retaliatory second strike. A conventional first strike eliminating nuclear capability would have to be faced with the threat of a launch on warning or there is no credible deterrence.

          • Now factor in such things as “stealth” cruise missiles capable of decapitation strikes and how that factors into commanders decision cycle. BTW…a few EU countries sell such a missile.

            What most US readers don’t understand is a critical takeaway from the very first Gulf War. The US showed lots of video and bragged about tomahawk missiles flying through windows.

            That kind of accuracy set in motion a series of threat assessments by our adversaries that is still shaking out. For example:

            Typically US / USSR planned on using nuclear weapons to kill enemy ground based silos. There is always a balance between the size of the nuke which ads weight, to the potential range of the missile (more weight means shorter strike range) and the CEP. Circular Error Probable. Basically how accurate is the missile and how close does it need to hit the hardened target to kill it?

            Counties like Russia, China, Iran and DPRK are fully aware the US could wage a “nuclear war” without actually using nuclear weapons. That is very destabilizing in the grand scheme of things.

            Now chew on this….cruise missiles are artificially limited in range by treaty. Ground launch missiles ranges are also limited by treaty. The US and Russia are soon going to be able to launch cruise missiles from their home lands on the each other.

            So…think about trans-contential cruise missiles. Hyper-accurate. That can decapitate individual targets, leaders or command and control notes. Nuclear or conventional.

            And if cruise missiles can have much longer legs, what about torpedoes? Nuclear armed?

            Consider a slower moving nuclear torpedo traveling a couple thousand of kilometers and parking itself next to the San Diego Naval Yard or Camp Pendleton? Where’s your launch detection on that?

            Bottom line. The INF treaty and START are coming apart at the seams. For good or ill.

            Marky

          • Randy Shadoe

            In the end it appears it will all be about perception, confidence, fear of retaliation, and deterrence, and of course the shit happens factor – accidental war.

          • “Demonstrating before the enemy” is a tried-and-true did tactic.

            However, if said enemy takes you up on your invitation and things don’t go your way, I’m curious how history “perceives” that?

            Marky

          • Randy Shadoe

            If there is “history” afterward.

          • Eh. The human race is much like mold and bacteria. We really can’t be killed off.

            Lots of people around the plant would survive a major nuclear war and the stories would be told.

            Even if individual actors didnt make it.

            Marky

          • Randy Shadoe

            Indeed, stories around the camp fires.

          • No worries, Randy. I guarantee that you and I will be looking up at the Statue of Liberty wondering how the apes learned how to ride horses.

            😉

            Marky

          • Randy Shadoe

            LOL. Still, I am glad I don’t live on the West Coast anymore.

  • Jeffrey Scott Boyer

    Great post. Though the Navy hasn’t lost a carrier since WW2 they have come close a few times. Reassement of the the accidents on the Enterprise and the Forrestal might be in order. I do believe that they teach these incidents to future damage controlmen in advanced school. But if a confrontation with china goes nuclear then you probably will see a withdrawal of the CBG and insertion of cruise missle equipped submarines into the battle space. The CBGs are too valuable to lose but a wolfpack of subs rotating in and out in a tactical nuclear battlefield provides the highest promise of survivability. After the cruise missles have done their job against the stationary launch sites and guided missle destroyers you can bring the the CBG back in to attack the stationary airfields. Since china only has a few carriers they will probably won’t use them. The next threat will be land based bombers and missle sites on the mainland. Do we really want to shoot missles at the mainland or conduct tactical airsrikes?

    • We will be shooting missles.

      The “first” fight in the Pacific is in space. China wants to blind us. And we don’t want them to be able to see our ships.

      But also consider a couple of things. Ballistic missiles doesn’t automatically mean nuclear weapons. Conventional weapons can be used.

      Also from a political standpoint using a nuclear weapon against a military target in the middle of the ocean is not as horrific as using a nuclear weapon on land with all of the civilian casualties and fall out.

      And then when you overlay that onto the third rail of US military strategy politics. If a war breaks out between the United States and China, if we lost a carrier battle group would the war stop?

      If not one, but then two? To carrier battle groups are either destroy completely a renter, but an effective. Does the political leadership of the United States continue the war?

      This strategy is very similar to what the VC did to us in Vietnam. And it actually was the strategy the Empire of Japan had planned on doing against us into 46 and 47. Japanese military wanted to bleed us white, and basically bring the war to a politcal draw.

      But then Hiroshima and Nagasaki happened.

      Marky

  • Gordon Jones

    very good point, Marky. Aside from the relative vulnerability of CBGs vs. submarines, consider the cost of each vessel – how many subs can we buy for the cost of one carrier? the answer is bout 3 SSBNs or 5-6 attack subs with cruise missile tubes. Also, subs don’t run in packs, they are almost always lone wolfs – hard to find and harder to destroy. A CBG, easily located by satellite, is a target-rich environment.

    • Spot on. Carrier battle groups amortized out over their lifetime with the cost of equipment, maintenance, pilots ,upgrades, salaries is horrendously more expensive than the same number of Subs.

      Marky

  • Mikial

    I did 4 years in the Navy nuclear submarine (SUBLANT) fleet back in the Poseidon era before cross-decking to the Army. We war-gamed and did maneuvers with every type of ship in the fleet from torpedo retrievers to carriers. Every type of vessel is vulnerable; carriers, destroyers, submarines. But fleet carriers project power like no other ship. Yes, they need protection by other types of ships like frigates and fast attack subs, just as a tank needs infantry to protect it in a dense combat environment.

    I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you, Marky, I’m just saying that there are a lot of factors in play. However, having said that, I do agree with you regarding the LCS. The entire concept of high speed, lightly armed warships is not viable in today’s seaborne combat environment. I don’t think they can protect themselves , and even if they can they will be so busy trying to survive they will not be able to project combat power onto the enemy unless they are sent out in swarms like the WWII PT boats were. Your thoughts on using CG frigates make a lot of sense.

    • The idea of switching to the guided missile frigate concept is not my own. I pulled it out of the Navy war college.

      Interesting data point, take a look at the SSGN missile boats. The nuclear guided cruise missile submarines that we converted from boomers under a START treaty.

      The amount of cruise missiles those 4 boats, I think it’s 4, Is astounding. The Navy has started to realize that a nuclear powered submarine with hundreds and hundreds of cruise missiles a board it’s quite a powerful punch.

      Marky

      Post script I could be dead ass wrong on the number four. This is off the top of my head.

  • BigMike57

    “It’s really interesting. I’ll save that for another post.”
    Bro! You can’t just leave us hanging like that.

    • The biggest complaints I get about the live videos I do is all the explaining. People want me to break stuff up into editable bites.

      But I appreciate you listening. I am very flattered.

      😉

      Marky

  • Paul Ellis

    Good food for thought….I think I know what the topic of discussion is gonna be with my buddy that is in the Navy Reserves….he was offered a position with the LCS program early on…basically getting in on the ground floor….he turned it down…I never understood why….other than he likes the small boats he’s involved in…

    • I would be interested in a follow up on this later.

      Marky