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Marine eyes more, more deadly, aircraft carriers

File photo -Jan. 20, 2019, the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) transits the Straits of Hormuz, while deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.
(U. S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph Miller/Released)

Threats of long-range guided missiles, surface ship fire-power, a submarine-launched torpedo attacks, and the incoming air attacks all the inform of the Marine powerful push to further weaponize its fleet of aircraft carriers – in the assessment of the plan for expanding the number of carriers for up to 12 persons.

The service set carrier-development and weapons modernisation on the fast-track, with an indication of the confidence in the carrier platforms to combat the chances of survival in the coming decades, as it shifts the focus to blue-water warfare against technologically advanced opponents.

The Navy approach is determined by two interrelated processes; the service is running “sea-based developmental test” of the carrier on the basis of offensive and defensive weapons — while also hoping to the speed of the acquisition of Ford-class carriers by means of two-ship buys and long-term fleet goals. In short, the Navy wants more weapons on the carriers, and maybe you just want more carriers faster. The hope, on the basis of formal Marine studies in 2016, the growth of the vehicle fleet to 12 aircraft carriers, which goes beyond the current size of 11.

“The requirement remains 12 CVNs by 2016 the Force Structure Assessment (FSA), and is still supported by the FORD-class new-building plan. An FSA will be completed in 2019 to a reassessment of that claim,” the Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Chambers told the Warrior Maven.

The new FSA called through the Rooms, it seems possible, could wind up reducing the Marine and the strength of the structure of the requirements for the carriers.

Regardless of whether the acquisition effort will ultimately support the goal of 12 carriers, the development of the plan will involve the testing and refining of the carrier weapons systems in order to ensure that the platforms are the best prepared for massive open-water-battle against enemies with sophisticated surface, air and undersea attack weapons.

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In March 2019 Congressional Research Service report, called “Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class aircraft carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress,” praising what is called the Marine a “good performance” with sea-based weapons testing. The testing of weapons, Identified as the review of the Ship self-defense System, involved the launch of “simulated” interceptor weapons, such as the Rolling Air Frame Missile and the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, the CRS report sites.

The reach 12, however, is not without challenges. The current plans to retire as many as three existing Nimitz-class carriers in the coming year, a new Ford-class ships can not be added quickly enough – unless there is a way to go faster. While the Navy 2020 budget request, not to add on about $1 billion more for Ford-class carriers compared to the previous year, coming in around $2.6 billion – realistic hitting 12 carriers seems difficult. In fact, it turns out the pace of the Nimitz-class carrier retirements increases, to the middle of the plans to retire the USS Truman earlier than planned. The Marine plan, released with the budget proposes to retire and carriers in 2024, 2025 and 2027. This pace puts the fleet to 10 carriers in 2030. These plans raise the question as to whether the Navy for the longer-term intention is, in fact, to work with 12 carriers. Is this still the goal? Perhaps.

The Congressional Research Service report on the carriers to assess the challenge this way:

“The purchase of the carriers on 3-year-old centers—that is, the purchase of a carrier to the three years—would lead to a 12-carrier force on a sustainable basis, by approximately 2030, unless the life of one or more existing carriers were significantly expanded,” the report says.

The expansion of this pace something more than a 4-year cycles would prevent the Navy from hitting the 12-carrier force until as far out as 2063, the report said.

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By this calculation, much more activity is needed to access the service its purpose on the short term, which means that in the coming decade. Chambers has to add that the Navy fleet expansion is on the fast track, as per the services’ 30-year Shipbuilding Plan.

“Battle force inventory reaches 301 in 2020 and 355 in 2034,” Chambers said. But the pace of the expansion includes adding many Littoral Combat Ships, Attack Submarines, and Destroyers, among other things.

Also, while hitting 12 within 10 years can be difficult, it does not seem entirely impossible. Some of the existing Nimitz-class carriers can be extended, as indicated by the CRS report, additional Congressional funding and the industrial basis adjustments can materialize and a collective will to better respond to global combatant commander requirements to strengthen in the light of the major global threats.

Why would the Navy’s 12 carriers? Marine leaders it is the case, but it may be that the mission requirements will be the missions to be fulfilled, with less carriers.

A first and most important reason for more carriers, it would seem appropriate, is willingness. If the conflict soon to come in various global hotspots, or in unexpected areas, forward-mounted Carrier Air Wing attack makes power projection much faster and more effective. It brings a benefit of the strike proximity, in the case that the country-launch bases are not immediately within striking range. Also as a mobile attack platforms, carriers can maneuver into positions of strategic advantage, new intelligence information to change the equation. In addition, by bringing massive attack possibilities in the fields of tactical relevance, carriers can provide a kind of “back-up” protection against attacks on the forward operating assets such as drones and reconnaissance planes. Should an opponent be aware of AMERICAN carriers in striking range, they would be less inclined to risk confrontation by an attack on US assets, such as US bases or aircraft. In fact, carriers are deterrents.

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In the second place, apart from the expected need for war preparedness, carriers are essential for maintaining a safe and open global waterways. Many of the Navy mission, as formulated by senior leaders through the years, go-forward positioning of combat power in order to ensure a safe passage for free trade, friendly travel and international business. AMERICAN airlines may, in this context, the execution of the combating terrorism missions, and the prevention of piracy. Given all these variables, many senior Navy leaders have, for quite some time now, is of the opinion that the current global mission demands exceed the amount of the available carrier capacity.

Perhaps with all this in mind, the Navy, and is now the reform of the carrier-acquisition strategy. In place of the stove-pipes or the separation of the purchases for the next two carriers, the Navy awarded a contract to Huntington Ingalls Industries to build the future of the USS Enterprise (CVN 80) and the as-of-yet unnamed fourth Ford-class carrier – CVN 81. It seems intuitive that a 2-carrier block buy could expedite a more aggressive carrier acquisition strategy, should that be put. At least, it seems to make hitting more carriers faster, more possible.

At the same time, the primary goal – according to the Navy of the developers is to save as much as $4 billion dollars with the block buy.

All of this is aligned with the Navy, the current pressure to make the carriers more control of the state. This strategy seems to be a number of possible dimensions. While the carriers typically operate in the Carrier Strike Groups surrounded by cruisers, destroyers and other warships able to provide protection to a rapidly changing threat environment is expected to lead to the need for more distributed or split operations, private carriers themselves to work with a more integrated offensive and defensive weapons systems.

As part of the 2-carrier block buy, the Navy is also streamlining the war-the technological developments with respect to how a carrier hosts the F-35C, Mk 38 gun system and MQ-25 Stingray drones, a Navy statement writes.

These changes to the carriers themselves, who by the Marine statements such as “lethality” improving measures, including the planned expansion of the torpedo defense systems, interceptor missiles and the introduction of the very influential platforms such as the F-35C and MQ-25 Stingray.

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In short, carriers should have a greater attack and defense technology. For this reason, the service is not only looking to accelerate the arrival of the F-35C and drone tanker, but also bring new weapons like lasers, machine guns, electronic warfare and new interceptor-defense systems.

All of this is going to be a much discussed phenomenon characteristic of Marine carriers for quite some time, namely that greater range anti-ship missiles, drone attacks, EW and laser threats from potential opponents to change the equation with regards to where carriers may be required to work. Many now cite new weapons, such as the Chinese DF-21 or DF-26 anti-ship missile is reportedly able to travel up to 900 km, as missiles will change the way that carriers need to operate.

In 2011, Naval War College Review essay, written when this Chinese anti-ship missiles were earlier along in their development, it seems interesting to anticipate this problem. The essay, entitled “The Future of aircraft carriers” by Robert Rubel, describes the DF-21D as “equipped with a maneuver return head which is an anti-ship viewfinder built in. The purpose of this missile is thought that it’s not so much the sinking of the carrier as to achieve a “mission kill,” the cause of fire and damage to the air wing and the top side of the structures.”

However, the essay also introduces the reasons why the much-hyped Chinese weapons themselves may be vulnerable or at least counteracted by a wide range of carrier weapons and countermeasures. Writing for the maturation of a number of current and new ship-defense technologies, Rubel makes the point that the DF-21D could be vulnerable to “jamming” by means of electronic warfare or other means, such as “decoys.”

Also, perhaps of greatest importance, the Naval War College Review paper seems to be ahead of the curve in that it indicates how well-targeted defensive laser systems can be used to thwart, counteract or even destroy approaching anti-ship missiles. The author seems to have foreseen future developments with lasers that at the time of the essay in 2011, it may be purely conceptual stages or very early development. Laser weapons have now matured significantly, to the point where a number are already deployed on naval vessels. Also, the Navy is now making rapid progress to prepare and test laser weapons for destroyer, carriers, and other ships.

Finally, forward-mounted controls, such as drones, unmanned ships about antenna nodes are used as an over-the-horizon communications relay nodes, may be the carriers to learn from incoming anti-ship missiles at farther distances.

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Carrier defense and attack weapons, the taking of additional interest due to the fact that with the rise of the new Chinese and Russian fighters such as the Su-27, the plane can no longer assume air supremacy.

“New generations of fighters, especially the Su-27, its derivatives, and even the newer designs of Russia and China, have eroded the technical advantages traditionally by American aircraft,” Naval War College Review writes.

The increase of the effectiveness of carrier-launched unmanned aerial refueler, such as the Navy, the MQ-25 Stingray, introduces an unprecedented tactical advantage specifically state the address of the carrier’s “range” problem. A possibility to refuel during a flight massively extends a carrier’s attempt to project power, while at a safer stand-off distances. If the combat radius of an F-18, F-35, on a single tank of fuel, reaches 300 to 400 miles or so, the plane will have to run on a certain distance from the carrier. However, if an attack platform can double that range, it can of course travel much further, making many more “dwell time” when it comes to attacks and provide the ability to strike targets further inland or from larger distances.

“The unmanned aircraft are equipped with double or triple the range and endurance of manned aircraft. Moreover, without the need to a human, their form may be considerably more stealthy, and their operations, it is not necessary to take into account the crew of the rest factors, at least in the extent that they have in manned aircraft,” Rubel writes.

In fact, unmanned aerial systems and drone refuelers, such as the MQ-25 would be carriers to the success of a project of power, while outside of the hit-range of the Chinese anti-ship missiles.

The F-35C, of course, brings with it a new set of attacking options for the Carrier Air Wing, and not to mention an unprecedented measure of aerial Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (ISR). Drawing on new sensor and targeting technology, the aerial attack range will be significantly changed, and the stealth-technology to enable the air to fall to work in higher threat environments, such as areas with advanced air-defense. The arrival of the F-35C is, by all estimations, expected to change the paradigm for carrier-air attack.

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Perhaps with this in mind, the Navy of 2020 budget request asks for nearly double the amount of F-35Cs from 9 to 16.

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