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US Navy's Carrier Gap (merged)

CougarKing

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A US Navy With Only 8 Carriers?

The Drastic Consequences of Hagel's Fleet Options


WASHINGTON — At first, the statement is shocking. “Reduce the number of carrier strike groups from 11 to 8 or 9, draw down the Marine Corps from 182,000 to between 150,000 and 175,000.

But those words July 31 from US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel brought into the open some of the behind-the-scenes discussions that have been going on at the Pentagon for months. Senior Defense Department officials continue to stress no decisions have been made out of the Strategic Choices and Management Review (SCMR), but the everything-is-on-the-table nature of the discussions is becoming clearer.

Or is it? Beyond top-line statements, hardly any real details were released, leaving those outside the inner circles to speculate on the immediate and far-reaching effects of sequestration. One reason, many observers feel, is that talking about a specific potential cut could turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even acknowledging that an eight-carrier fleet is on the table, some fear, could turn that once-unthinkable idea into a reality.

And it’s not just about cutting carriers — it’s air wings with seven or so squadrons of aircraft, it’s a cruiser and three or four destroyers, and it’s the crews. Substantial savings would be found from reducing nearly 10,000 personnel billets with the elimination of each strike group.

Reducing the air wings would ease carrier acquisition, maintenance and recapitalization. The fleet of legacy F/A-18 Hornet aircraft – mostly C models — could be swiftly retired, leaving an all-Super Hornet fleet of Es and Fs that itself could be smaller than what exists today. Retirement of older SH-60 helicopters could also be accelerated.

Dropping the carrier fleet could be done several ways. Two or three ships could simply be ordered to go — likely the oldest ships that have not undergone a refueling overhaul. The older Nimitz-class ships — Nimitz, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Carl Vinson and Theodore Roosevelt — are likely safe, having completed their reactor refueling. Abraham Lincoln, which has just begun its overhaul at Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va., is likely safe, as the three-year effort has already been largely paid for. But the George Washington, set to begin its refueling overhaul in 2015, would likely go, along with the John C. Stennis and possibly the Harry S. Truman.

Spreading out the current five-year carrier building schedule is dangerous, and could actually lead to increased costs that would cancel out any savings. Significant portions of the carrier supply base are barely sustainable under the current schedule, and some suppliers can be expected to go out of business should the building time be stretched any further. Newport News, faced with the loss of the refueling overhauls and a longer building time, would be forced to lay off several thousand workers, again increasing costs for new ships.

Carriers also have a significant disposal cost. The eight-reactor Enterprise, now in the early stages of a multiyear disposal process, will likely cost more than $1.1 billion to ultimately dispose of. Nimitz-class carriers have only two reactors and could cost less to dispose of, but the bill still will be significant and, with inflation, would likely exceed the Big E’s cost.
Even laying up the carriers in mothballs will entail major costs. Reactors, once shut down for a significant time, cannot be restarted due to changes in their metallurgy, so the ships cannot be completely shut down and maintained in reserve.

Rather, the reactors would be set to a minimum level and the ships kept at a secure facility, like an active naval base. The Navy already has a significant backlog of seven decommissioned conventional carriers to get rid of, and the nukes would likely sit for some years before actually going away.

Fate of the Warships

The Navy’s 22 remaining Aegis cruisers are on the back-half of their projected 30-35 year careers, and the service already is trying to decommission seven.

The first Arleigh Burke-class destroyer entered service in 1991, and the Aegis ships are still being built. Complicating the decision about which ships would be cut are expensive modernization upgrades to the older ships, most of which have already received a ballistic-missile defense (BMD) capability — a key requirement among most regional combatant commanders.

For littoral combat ships, contract options to build them run through LCS 24, and the Navy is considering how to approach the rest of the planned 52-ship force. Options include eliminating one of the two LCS variants or ending the program at 24.

Cutting the Navy Department means cutting the Marine Corps, which inevitably leads to fewer amphibious ships. While the Navy seeks a 10 or 11-ship big-deck amphibious force, nine are in service today. Peleliu, the oldest assault ship, already is to be replaced by the new America. A reduction to eight big decks would likely mean the Wasp — about to begin a sorely-needed $110 million modernization overhaul — would be decommissioned.

Construction of the eleventh and last of the highly capable LPD 17 San Antonio class of amphibious transport docks has begun at HII’s Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., and the ships are nearly as effective as the bigger assault ships, so they would likely survive.

But the older dock landing ships of the Whidbey Island class would be on the chopping block — as would be their LSD(X) replacement.

Submarines

Pentagon support for the nuclear attack submarine force seems to be stronger than ever, and the number of SSNs is not likely to diminish. But the Navy’s desire to incorporate a Virginia Payload Module (VPM) with four large weapon tubes into Block V Virginia-class ships is threatened. Each VPM would add about $350 million to the cost of each sub, but without the modifications the four SSGN guided-missile submarines will retire in the 2020s without a replacement.

Also to be decided is the fate of the Ohio-class replacement submarine, a major acquisition effort sitting squarely in the middle of future shipbuilding budgets. The first ship isn’t scheduled to be ordered until 2021, but development costs are significant.

Future modernization programs also are at significant risk under the various SCMR options. The Air Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) to be installed in an Arleigh Burke Flight III version beginning in 2016 is threatened and could be delayed, despite urgent requirements for the BMD mission.

As for infrastructure, a fleet that would drop below 250 or 230 ships would also need fewer bases or support facilities. With the shift to the Pacific, whereby 60 percent of the fleet will be Pacific-based, several facilities could close. Targets would likely include the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, and Mayport Naval Station in Florida, as well as lesser facilities.

The shipbuilding industry could shift as well. The most striking change could be a joining of the two biggest shipbuilders, HII and General Dynamics. Such a move would probably mean the closure of one or two of the five major yards operated by the two companies. The upshot would mean less competition for Navy contracts, something the service would not welcome.
 

tomahawk6

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Eight is inadequate,unless Hagel changes the strategy of 2 1/2 wars.
 
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jollyjacktar

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I can understand the desire to draw down as the costs of maintaining the assets must be crippling.  Ships are money pits to say the least.  But, how far it too far to cut?   
 

tomahawk6

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I hate to say it about our democrat brethern but when it comes to cuts its the defense budget that gets cut,not welfare or anything else that matters.
 
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jollyjacktar

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Do you think the time will come where the US cannot be everywhere at once?  Is there going to come a point where they'll have to say to someone "good luck buddy, you're on your own".
 

Edward Campbell

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jollyjacktar said:
Do you think the time will come where the US cannot be everywhere at once?  Is there going to come a point where they'll have to say to someone "good luck buddy, you're on your own".


Yes, but we had all ~ everyone in the world ~ better hope that it's not too soon because the consequences, especially for the developing world, will not be pleasant.

Despite their manifold errors and missteps, the Americans have, broadly and generally, been a force for "good" ~ better than the Brits were a century earlier and far, far better than anyone else who has ever tried.
 

KevinB

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Part of me (that would be my US taxpaying part) says good - we really don't need that many, its time for the rest of the West to step up.
  However the rational side of my brain says cuts should come from a lot of other places as well, and we cannot afford to dismantle the Arsenal of Democracy.

Driving around DC last week I see a shit ton of government construction - and can't help but think we as a nation have our prioritizes really F'd up. (Kevin note I hate DC, and I try to stay away except for business issues - I live around 45m West and that is close enough unless taking the kids to museum etc)

 

Canadian.Trucker

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KevinB said:
Part of me (that would be my US taxpaying part) says good - we really don't need that many, its time for the rest of the West to step up.
Who is going to step up though?  Everyone is cutting back on everything, and while I would love to see Canada have a carrier task force it's not in the cards anytime soon and likely never will be.

I too agree that the West as a whole needs to get it's collective butt in gear and stop being two-faced when it comes to the U.S.A. where on one hand they condemn the U.S. for intervening and then turn around and let the U.S. bear the burden for sorting out the majority of the worlds issues.
 

KevinB

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Yup...  Well Canada at least has money, something we (the US) are having a tough time understanding that we don't and we are writing check's (I use the American spelling these days) our wallet cannot cash on defense.
 

Inquisitor

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Here is what I think is an interesting background piece


After the Aircraft Carrier: 3 Alternatives to the Navy’s Vulnerable Flattops
http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/?p=105583

As a bonus it also contains a link to the "After The Carrier"pdf report that has a got a lot of favourable attention

I understand that the Dolphins refer to Carriers as targets.

As a final comment I read somewhere that if the Cold War had gone hot that the Soviets intended to go nuclear at sea at the get-go, going after the carriers.

Also read somewhere that the new class of carrier, I believe they call it the Edsel provides around 30-40% more operational capability at roughly twice the price. 

Before I duck let me put out a supporting link http://www.strategypage.com/dls/articles/Carrier-Costs-Climbing-Considerably--3-12-2012.asp

Conclusion: so maybe fewer is a good thing.
 

tomahawk6

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Carrier's are necessary for power projection.Not all are at sea at any one time.Some are undergoing maintenance.Eight might work if  all we cover is the Middle East and the Pacific.
 

a_majoor

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I can see the USN evolving to smaller carriers that fly UCAV's, and the primary weapons delivery system becomes hypersonic missiles launched from subs, cruisers and aircraft. Indeed, the role of the UCAV carrier might be to spot targets and do BDA after the strike.

Small carriers already exist in the USN arsenal: the LHD's. I can't see too many issues with going for economies of scale and building new generations of LHD's and UCAV carriers using the same hull platform, and of course smaller ships are faster to put in the water as well (Japan's new Helicopter "Destroyers" are being built at a rate of one every two years).

This won't happen overnight, of course, but then again, neither did the evolution of carriers in the first place...
 

CougarKing

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An update:

Defense News

Carrier Cut Could Be Back on Table
Jan. 26, 2014 - 10:47AM  |  By CHRISTOPHER P. CAVAS

WASHINGTON — The reality of finalizing the fiscal 2015 budget submission is driving top US defense officials and the White House to quickly make major decisions, and indications are growing that the elimination of one carrier and one carrier air wing could be among the defense request’s key features.

Pentagon officials would not confirm or deny the matter, citing the fluid nature of budget discussions. But numerous sources — in the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill, in the defense industry — agreed that the prospect is picking up steam.

“It’s quietly being socialized,” one source said, and others agreed.

Others emphasized that no decisions have been reached, and talks are being held in strict confidence.

“Stuff is in churn,” one source said.

That the US Navy and the Pentagon, faced with the need to come up with drastic budget cuts, have contemplated reducing the fleet’s vaunted carrier strength is nothing new — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned as much last summer.

“We would trade away size for high-end capability,” Hagel said July 31. “This would ... reduce the number of carrier strike groups from 11 to eight or nine.”

Hagel was discussing one scenario put forth in the Strategic Choices Management Review, an internal Pentagon effort to identify budget-cutting approaches and tactics.

The basic tradeoff, he explained, would be one of reducing capacity for “our ability to modernize weapons systems and to maintain our military’s technological edge.”

(...)
 

CougarKing

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Unfortunately, 11 members of Congress don't necessarily represent the whole body's sentiment, considering all the competing interests in the legislature.

Military.com

Congress to Hagel: Keep 11 Aircraft Carriers

Eleven members of Congress have signed a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking that he make sure the Navy retains its current fleet-size of 11 aircraft carriers.


The group of lawmakers expressed concern about a fast-changing global threat environment and strongly cautioned against reducing the number of carriers in the Navy. The letter was written out of concern that ongoing budget deliberations regarding the upcoming 2015 defense budget submission might shrink the carrier fleet to 10.

The Pentagon is expected to present their budget request on March 4. Cuts across all services are expected to make up for sequestration reductions that will reduce the military’s budget by $500 billion over the next 10 years.

The letter emphasizes the need for 11 carriers for the purpose of forward presence and an ever-widening range of global missions.

"The Secretary of the Navy was right this past fall when he noted that a smaller aircraft carrier fleet would be unable to execute the missions described in the Defense Strategic Guidance," Rep. Randy Forbes, Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, said in a statement.

The congressman went on to say that a cut to the 11-carrier fleet would limit the Navy’s ability to "deter aggression" and "respond to crises in a timely manner."

"It is unacceptable to pretend that the United States lives in anything less than an 11 carrier world given China’s growing assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific, rising instability in the Middle East and the persistent danger of global terrorism," he said.


The letter was signed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R- Calif., Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Mike McIntyre, D.-N.C.


The lawmakers make the point that the demand upon the Navy for the technologies and capabilities provided by carriers is likely to keep increasing, therefore underscoring the need to maintain a fleet of 11.

"With the United States entering an era where our sea-services are likely to be called on to provide more presence, deterrence, and engagement throughout the Indo-Pacific littoral and across the globe, we believe now is the time to reinvest in our fleet, not look for ways to reduce its size and accept greater risk," the letter states.
 

KevinB

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Personally I would scrap the carrier group.

We cannot afford it - and to keep it will be at the peril of the readiness of other items.

Quality over Quantity is needed,  we can no longer afford both.
 

CBH99

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Is this really as alarmist as it sounds, from a military capability/strategic capability perspective?

-  No real need for carrier groups in the northern Atlantic, or really the atlantic at all at this point. 
-  A lot of the current conflicts that are starting to be the focus of the Pentagon can be supported by LHD style ships.  (I read an article somewhere, that I will find later, about how the LHD type of carriers is being looked at to basically act as a fleet of mini-carriers, for those smaller conflicts.)

So if the LHD style of ship & their support elements can help support the smaller operations around, for example, Africa - then the big Nimitz & Ford class carrier groups can be used to support the larger P2P operations if ever required.

Also, lets not forget, a single carrier battle group has an IMMENSE amount of firepower & offensive capability that nobody else in the world can currently match.  And the US has 11 of them.  Going down to 8 in order to boost the capability of that 8 still leaves the US at an extreme advantage over any potential P2P adversaries.
 

KevinB

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It's a doctrine aspect for the 11.
  Based simply on a what would be needed to fight several conflicts at the same time.

 

CougarKing

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KevinB said:
Personally I would scrap the carrier group.  We cannot afford it - and to keep it will be at the peril of the readiness of other items.

Speaking of which, some analysts challenge the need for maintaining so many carrier groups.

Defense News

Analysts: US Should Cut Carriers, Buy Subs and Work With Allies
Feb. 6, 2014 - 06:26AM  |  By PAUL McCLEARY

WASHINGTON — It’s hard to find consensus on most anything in Washington DC, but four national security-focused think tanks managed to forge something of a rough outline for the future of defense spending.

During a briefing held in the Dirksen Senate Office building on Wednesday, a group of well-known budgetary and strategic thinkers from the four think tanks coalesced around a roughly similar set of options for the Pentagon over the next decade: The venerable A-10 attack plane should be retired, along with the U2 spy plane and the F-18C/D models, while the Navy should lose two to four of its current aircraft carriers.

Hosted by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Analysis, the event also featured the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Center for a New American Strategy (CNAS), and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). The effort is the organization’s yearly attempt to game out the options being weighed by the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).

While all four teams cut carriers and destroyers from the Navy’s arsenal — they only did so in order to preserve funding to add to the Navy’s submarines and also to replace the current carriers with newer models — keeping the industrial base happy—instead of giving mid-life overhauls to existing flattops.


While the number of carriers that the think tankers propose cutting varied from two to four
(AEI with the most, and CSBA and CNAS the least), all — save CNAS — called for adding to the number of submarines floated in future budgets, while drastically increasing spending on satellites, cyber, and communications technologies.

The thinking is pretty clear with regard to how strategists conceive of the threat posed by China and other potential near-peer adversaries. Carriers, while they can project power like nothing else afloat, are vulnerable to coastal stand-off weapons and cannot launch nukes from relatively close in to the shore like submarines.

CSIS also called for selling Littoral Combat Ships and other advanced platforms to allies, while relying on the UK for some SSBN on-station requirements.

The think tank’s David Berteau explained that while “the QDR process historically has been silent on allies,” the current budget realities almost mandate that the United States rely more on allies where it can.

Planners at the Pentagon “should at least open the possibility for the QDR to be more robust in that regard” he said, adding that a deeper reliance on allies means that the US will have to begin selling them some of the most advanced communications equipment currently being churned out by the American defense industry.

“We run the risk where the vision of interoperability gets harder and harder” because the gap between the US and its partners “gets wider and wider” in coming years, he said.

This newfound embrace of allies was also heard from AEI’s Tom Donnelly, who floated the idea of “a garrison and forward positioning concept not dissimilar to what we have in Kuwait today,” with other allies, particularly those who are “front line states.”


Donnelly prioritized airfields around the Persian Gulf region, “with the northern Gulf in mind,” as an area where the US should focus.

“We have to project power forward and swarm in ways that create a more robust form of deterrence,” he said, but lamented that “the [Pentagon] is having a hard time explaining to Congress the value of forward presence. We’re not going to build any big new bases overseas, but because of that we want to have the ability to use the bases of our friends and partners,” he added.

In keeping with the theme of forward presence from the sea, while also maintaining some land-based capabilities overseas, all of the participants underscored the need to continue to invest in a robust logistics tail to keep far-flung troops and their advanced equipment supplied and running.

CSBA’s Jim Thomas said that the US should focus on adopting “new divisions of labor with allies” since “it’s going to be harder for us to project our military” due to the increasing sophistication of standoff weapons that have proliferated around the globe.

In their presentation, CSBA wrote that American allies should assume “greater responsibility as ‘first responders’ for own defense and create ‘friendly’ A2/AD to defend sovereignty and provide forward sanctuaries for US forces.”

The think tank also advocates the expansion of the US combat logistics fleet as well as growing the overseas submarine infrastructure to allow US subs to be outfitted and repaired in foreign ports.

“If we’re going to have a smaller force it has to be more logistically capable,” Thomas said.
 

tomahawk6

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The proposed defense initiatives are absurd and gut our defense structure.Carriers and their battle groups project power in a way that nothing else does.They are floating air bases which enable the US to support military operations or even humanitarian relief.They are versatile platforms.The tax payer gets great value from our entire naval force.When democrats want to "tighten" budgets they target the defense budget,but never our bloated and wasted social spending.

At a time that we see PRC expansion in the Pacific,we can ill afford to cut warships of any kind.We should be expanding our surface fleet of cruisers and destroyers.I do agree with added submarine purchases.
 

CougarKing

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To find the money to keep the George Washington operational, wouldn't this just mean another project or unit has to be cut?

Military.com

DoD Drops Plan to Retire USS George Washington

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon will not retire one of its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers after the White House intervened to head off a political fight, the Wall Street Journal reported late Thursday.


The military had proposed mothballing the USS George Washington, reducing the U.S. carrier fleet to 10, to deal with across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, imposed by Congress. That irked a bipartisan group of lawmakers, who called on Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a letter last week to preserve what they see as a potent symbol of American power.


The behind-the-scenes battle illustrates how politics can complicate the task of wringing savings from the U.S. military budget, the Journal noted. Facing pressures from defense contractors and local communities, lawmakers often oppose cuts to military bases, aircraft and shipbuilding programs and weapons systems.

A 2013 strategic review by Hagel on the impact of the mandated spending cuts found the U.S. could reduce the carrier fleet to eight or nine -- still equal the number of carriers operated worldwide by seven other nations.


But it soon became clear that any proposal endorsed by the White House to retire an aircraft carrier likely would have been blocked by Congress, opening Democrats to election-
year criticism, officials familiar with the discussions told the paper.


White House officials headed off the issue by telling defense officials in recent days that they would provide extra money -- in effect raising the military's proposed budget -- to allow the Navy to extend the life of the George Washington, which was commissioned July 4, 1992.
While spending levels are set by Congress, requests such as these from the White House generally are backed by lawmakers.

That makes the cost of maintaining and operating aircraft carriers and their strike groups a tempting target for cuts. Retiring older carriers and reducing operating costs would free up money to invest in modernized weapons and ships, officials told the Journal.

During the Reagan defense buildup, the Navy grew to 15 carriers. The number fell to 14 in 1992 and stood at 12 between 1994 and 2007. In 2007, the number of ships was reduced to 11 with the decommissioning of the first USS John F. Kennedy.

Bryan Clark, a defense analyst at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told the Journal that it makes sense to reduce the fleet by one or two carriers and invest in new submarines or stealthy aircraft and bombers. But he said far more money could be saved by slowing procurement of new Ford-class carriers, which require fewer crew members and can launch planes more quickly, rather than retiring the George Washington 25 years early.


Current plans call for the Navy to build one new carrier every five years, at a cost of about $13 billion each.

Other defense analysts believe the Pentagon should allow the overall size of the fleet to shrink through the retirement of older carriers, but continue to build more modernized carriers.

"Once you break the production of carriers," said David Berteau, a defense analyst with the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies, "you will not have a carrier industrial base."
 
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