Has the sun set on the carrier task force?

There are basically two types of naval operations. Sea Control, or Power Projection.

Sea Control is just that, controlling the Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs, or basically the shipping lanes) and denying the enemy the ability to interdict them. The prime example is the US and RN convoy operations in the North Atlantic fending off the U-Boat attempts to sever the logistical lifeline.

Power Projection is sailing your fleet to the enemy’s shores to impose your will upon him. Examples of this from World War II abound, with the Fast Carrier Task Forces appearing at will to pound Japanese installations throughout the Central Pacific, and eventually even the Home Islands. The Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor is another example of a fleet being used for power projection.

Not surprisingly, while some ship types serve admirably in both roles, the differences in missions has tended to produce very different types.  A fleet with a large number of small missile armed combatants would likely be considered a Sea Control fleet, attempting to deny an enemy the ability to close its shores.

And of course, the modern exemplar of the Power Projection fleet is the US Navy Carrier Strike Group centered upon a massive nuclear powered aircraft carrier.

While our Navy has, since 1940, always had a strong Sea Control element, it has mostly been constituted as a Power Projection force. After all, if you can project enough power to defeat your enemy in his home port, that also pretty much guarantees control of the sea lanes.

And so it comes to pass, that Thomas Ricks pens a piece for the Washington Post calling for the Navy to shed its carriers.  As usual, Ricks is FW, NiD.

Bryan McGrath, professional naval type (as opposed to Ricks, professional windbag) does an admirable job of rebutting Ricks claims of the carrier’s supposed vulnerabilities.

To be sure, there are arguments against McGrath’s piece. The carrier is certainly not invulnerable. James R. Foot over at The Diplomat makes this point.

Holmes piece notes that finding the carrier is the fulcrum upon which the issue is weighed. But he misses a key point in the chain from detection to kill. Yes, China and any number of other nations have radars that can detect a carrier at distances far beyond the strike range of a carrier.

That overlooks one thing. The waters in question are among some of the most heavily transited in the world.  It’s one thing to find a blip on a radar screen. But the kill chain is comprised of more steps than “detect” and “kill.” It is detect, localize, classify, attack, kill, and assess.  Ricks and Holmes argument ignores the classify step. While a carrier may well be an enormous radar target, it is hardly alone in this. Virtually every large cargo ship or tanker has a similarly large radar return

And it isn’t as though the US Navy doesn’t have ample experience in avoiding being found. Little known outside naval circles, NORPAC 82 managed to scare the crap out of the Soviet Union. Basically, the US Navy snuck two complete carrier battlegroups up into the Northern Pacific undetected, roamed around at will while the Soviets desperately searched for them, simulated strikes against the Soviet bases, and when the carriers finally deigned to be found, simulated shooting the heck out of the Soviet bombers sent to “sink” the carriers.

For every vulnerability that a modern carrier has, the alternatives suffer even more. Our options beside the Carrier Strike Group are essentially to abandon aviation in maritime areas (though how that is supposed to negate Chinese aviation, I don’t know) or shift to land based airpower. But land bases are even more vulnerable to counterattack than any carrier. After all, the Chinese already know where every available airfield is.

Carriers have tremendous mobility. They give a commander the ability to strike at a place and time of his choosing.

Much as the cavalry, the carrier can move fast, strike hard, and withdraw, to strike again elsewhere. Indeed, this mobility and ability to keep the enemy reacting to our actions is part and parcel with our agility, our ability to seize the initiative and hold it. It is a far more likely method of getting inside any enemy OODA loop than land based airpower.

So the sun has not set on the fast task force centered around the nuclear aircraft carrier. That’s not to say Naval Aviation hasn’t made poor choices, or that the Carrier Strike Group is invulnerable. The CSG can’t park off an enemy coast indefinitely to impose its will. But as part of a well conceived campaign, it gives the US far more ability to project power than any alternative that excludes the aircraft carrier.

Weekend Reading Assignment- 2013 Report To Congress on China

I’m juuuuuust starting to draft a series on the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. In the meantime, here’s a copy of the annual report to Congress on the PLA.

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Updates from the Submarine Services

We don’t tend to write much about the submarine service. It’s mostly outside our wheelhouse. Also, the generally well run procurement of the Virginia class ships means there isn’t a lot of headline news to write about.

Here’s a presentation on the  state of the ongoing major programs in the sub fleet.

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The Battle of Leyte Gulf

We’ve been busier (and lazier) than usual, so we didn’t have a real chance to write up a battle this year. We’ve always wanted to write about this one, but the sheer scope of the Battle of Leyte Gulf makes such an effort quite daunting.

The largest, and in many ways, most complex, sea battle of all time. Virtually every weapon of naval warfare engaged- PT Boats, Amphibious assaults, destroyers, cruisers, battleships, subs, carriers big and small, land based and carrier based planes, gun, rocket, bomb, torpedo. The whole shooting match, over a vast area and with a nearly incomprehensible number of ships and planes and men. Some of the most decisive engagements in the history of war, and some of the more spectacular errors of war at sea. And stories of valor, courage, that shall echo throughout history.


H/T: CDR Salamander. I knew as sure as the sun rising in the East that this would be the topic of today’s Fullbore Friday.

Hornet Ball

Each year, each of the communities in Naval Aviation, hold a ball. One such community is  the West Coast F/A-18C/D Hornet and F/A-18E/F SuperHornet squadrons. The annual balls are  fun social occasions allowing the aircrew to dress up in their best uniforms and show off their ladies (or gentlemen, in this new age) in their finest. Speeches are made, and presentations on the state of the community by leadership and contractors given. And it is awards season, both for the best squadrons, and for individual achievement within the community.

In the last dozen or so years, one highlight of the community balls has become the videos various squadrons and even individuals put together for presentation. Here’s one.



For about 45 years, the US Navy’s Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron One Two Nine (VAQ-129) has been the “schoolhouse” training aircrews and maintainers for the Navy and Marine Corps fleet of EA-6B Prowler aircraft.

But the Navy is transitioning to the EF-18G Growler. The Marines have decided to not buy the Growler, and instead continue to use the Prowler until about 2019, when they anticipate the Electronic Attack mission will be performed by F-35B Lightning II aircraft.

VAQ-129 has ceased production of new Prowler aircrew, but the Marines still need a pipeline for crews. Indeed, the Navy still needs some as well, as transition to the Growler will take a few more years. Rather than having –129 continue the mission, the Marines have opted to convert one of their four Prowler squadrons from an operation squadron to a training squadron.

VMAQT-1 was established with the personnel and equipment from the former VMAQ-1.

Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 1 became Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Training Squadron 1 during a redesignation ceremony aboard Cherry Point Friday.

As the Navy transitions from the EA-6B Prowler to the EA-18G Growler, the Marine Corps is assuming the responsibilities of training its Prowler aircrews. Prior to this, EA-6B aviators received their initial and follow-on training at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.

“The conversion of the squadron will allow more integration of training with the fleet,” said Capt. Calvin R. Smallwood, the assistant operations officer of VMAQT-1. “Because training was conducted way out at Whidbey Island, there was a bit of disconnect between initial training, advanced tactical training and the fleet.”

That was four months ago. Now, the squadron has begun its first aircrew class.

Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Training Squadron 1 began training its first class of seven replacement pilots Oct. 7. The squadron was redesignated from VMAQ-1 to VMAQT-1 during a June 14 ceremony here.
“This class represents a lot of hard work,” said Lt. Col. Josh Gordon, the commanding officer of the training squadron. “The students being here represent our hard work. Having them onboard makes the transition of becoming a fleet replacement squadron seem real.”

The Marines have been heavily involved in airborne electronic warfare almost from the beginning of the concept. Indeed, some of the first dedicated electronic warfare aircraft, from the AD-4Q, the EF-10A, and the EA-6A, were Marine Corps initiatives.

Foreign Aid to Egypt to Shut Down- Should the USN Seize the Corvettes?

News is coming across the wires that US foreign aid to Egypt will be suspended, not because of the Shutdown, but in reaction to the removal of the Islamist Morsi government. Mind you, I find it insane that we’d protest the overthrow of a government completely at odds with our interests, but that’s a story for another time.

But here’s the thing. Over the last 15 years or so, the US has been working with Egypt to design and build (on our dime, and here in the US) a class of four large Fast Attack Craft– or small Corvettes, however you wish to slice that distinction. Known as the Ambassador class, they’re nice looking, modern little ships,  Some open source stuff I’ve seen says the first has been delivered.

Galrahn on his twitter feed suggested the US should seize them and turn them over to the USN.

And there’s ample precedent for this. The four modified Spruance class destroyers built for the Shah of Iran were seized and entered service with the US Navy as the Kidd class, and provided yeoman service for 20 years.

While the Ambassadors weren’t designed for US Navy use, most of their systems share a fair amount of built-in interoperability. Further, they’d be pretty handy forward deployed in restricted waters, say, in the Persian Gulf, especially where they could routinely call on carrier or land based air support.

Appreciation: Cmdr. Edward Peary Stafford, USN (Ret.): 1918-2013 | USNI News

The author of the classic book, The Big E: The Story of the USS Enterprise, “embarked on his final voyage,” his wife wrote the U.S. Naval Institute recently, on Sept. 24 at his home in Melbourne, Florida. He was 95.

Ed Stafford wrote for Naval History and the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, as well as regular contributions for National Geographic. He is best known, however, for naval books, including Subchaser, Little Ship, Big War: The Saga of DE-343, and The Far and the Deep. Ed wrote not only with flair, but authority, too.

via Appreciation: Cmdr. Edward Peary Stafford, USN (Ret.): 1918-2013 | USNI News.

I’ll admit I’d just assumed CDR Stafford had passed on long ago. I have all three books, and annually at least try to read them, in order from smallest to largest. I’d highly recommend them to all, not just aficionados of the Navy. They’re all very interesting and well written books about not just ships, but people.

And be sure to click through to the USNI News link. Stafford himself was a very interesting fellow.