January 25, 2017

McCain's Medium Carrier Luxury

Additional suggestions to light attack aircraft have been made in the January 16, 2017, "McCain" White Paper (about 10 MB, PDF) of the US Senate Armed Services Committee. This is for medium conventional aircraft carriers that could be built in addition to the nuclear propelled Ford supercarriers.


Carriers compared, though they forgot the Nimitz class! USS America (LHA-6) weighs 45,000 tons, 844 feet long, 40 jets/helicopters/Ospreys (is at lower level, second to left) See larger/clearer image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
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In order to achieve the optimal 16 carriers, argued by some, the White Paper, page 10 recommends:

"The Navy should also pursue a new “high/low mix” in its aircraft carrier fleet. Traditional nuclear-powered supercarriers remain necessary to deter and defeat near-peer competitors, but other day-to-day missions, such as power projection, sea lane control, close air support, or counterterrorism, can be achieved with a smaller, lower cost, conventionally powered aircraft carrier. Over the next five years, the Navy should begin transitioning from large deck amphibious ships into smaller aircraft carriers with the goal of delivering the first such ship in the mid-2030s."

The "large deck amphibious ships" in question most directly mean the 45,000 ton America class designated Landing Helicopter Assualt (LHA) ships which are already dedicated to air assets (no landing craft or well deck). The airwing is frequently helicopters/Ospreys carrying Marines and up to 20 F-35Bs.

Modifications would presumably mean angled decks, catapults for F-18s and F-35Cs, and arrester cables. This may make them updates of the 45,000 ton Midway class carriers built in the 1940s (when Senator McCain was in his early teens).

Problem the conversion to traditional CATOBAR carrier would render the effort in of developing the STOVL F-35Bs wasted. This might mean only a handful of F-35Bs would be used by the US thereby shifting the fixed development costs to the main remaining users - the almost complete specialised for F-35B UK Queen Elizabeth class carriers to $300 million each levels. 

Perhaps the White Paper, more usefully suggests, this time for the Ford carriers, on page 10:

-  “...the number of aircraft carriers is irrelevant if there is a shortfall of Navy strike aircraft...Over the next five years, the Navy should therefore procure 58 additional F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets and 16 additional EA-18G Growlers, while continuing to procure the F-35C as rapidly as possible, to fill out ready and effective carrier air wings that can meet joint requirements."

-  “Unmanned aerial vehicle technology will be essential to the future of the aircraft carrier and its continued ability to project power. The MQ-25 will bring the first unmanned aerial vehicle to the carrier while performing [mid-air refueling] tanking and some [ISR] intelligence missions.”

What benefits or problems do you think these suggestions may make?

Pete

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is the Charles de Gaulle muclear design if DOD/USN can overcome the NIH syndrome. Probably need to redesign the nuclear reactor component if one wants longer refueling cycle.
From a budgetary point, I can agree with the proposal. Given a Ford class CVN costs north of $12B, a cheaper smaller CVN could be a good idea. That said, the costs to grow to 16 carriers even with smaller ones will reside in the costs of staffing up the personnel, the air wings for the additional carriers.
There could be a technical issue with smaller carriers. It is related to how much payload can an F/A-18 carry and be launched from a shorter deck. Also there is the issue of bring back payload as well since one will need to decelerate that plane on a much shorter distance. That will put additional stresses on both the airframe as well as the ship's arresting gear. Operating from the CdG, F/A-18 are limited on payloads.
KQN

Josh said...

@Pete

First, the USN needs more CATOBAR decks like the internet needs cats. Current CVWs embarked on Nimitz class ships are at around 50+ fixed wing aircraft with only four fighter/attack squadrons at around 40 air frames. This compares to a deckload in the 80's which likely would include 20-24 interceptors (F-14), 20-24 attack aircraft (A-7 or F-18), ~10 bombers (A-6), a squadron of patrol planes (~8 S-3), and a squadron of dedicated tankers (4 KA-6 or several KA-3). Both now and then, you can add 4 AEW and 4 ECM a/c to that list. So back then the USN used to have around twenty additional fixed wing a/c on its decks, and used to maintain four distinct interceptor/attack/bomber/patrol types among that list (currently the four squadrons boil down to F-18C and E/F for two distinct types). So if you wanted to increase the CVBG's range and capability you could start by adding more aircraft to existing decks. I think eventually we will see drones increase these numbers, with drone a/c being stacked or hung as spares more along the lines of the way WWII USN aircraft were. USN CVs of the 30-40's generally carried 1/3 of their air wing as spares in parts, basically using a/c as a disposable resource. Drones likely will be treated this way as well, with maybe a dozen active and another dozen or two stacked or hung as attrition replacements.

Second of all I don't see why the existing LHA-6 design wouldn't be good enough as is, with the option to still employ it as a landing platform if it isn't carrying a fighter only compliment. The modifications to a CVL seem unnecessary when the US has already gone through the trouble of producing a STVOL plane for its existing landing platforms. An LHA carrying the planned ~20 F-35B would be on par with Liaoning and superior to Kuznetsov, if she ever makes it out of refit. Certainly good enough for any A2A or A2G in the third world. In fact there's really no reason LPDs couldn't also maintain a dozen or so fighters and cut their transport helo squadrons if necessary. They would have less fuel, ordnance, and hanger space compared to the LHAs but given sufficient logistical support and low operational tempo that shouldn't be a big deal. The modifications to CVL make for a more expensive ship in terms of design and production costs as well as likely limiting the utility of the ship as an amphib, all while the US has plenty of flat decks that could be temporarily pressed into aviation service.

Finally, what exactly are these ships expected to do? If the answer is bomb land targets, isn't this something that bombers from the CONUS can do (and did in fact in Libya last week, with two bombers dropping 100+ bombs)? If its engage ships, isn't this something that MQ-4Cs and P-8s can do (with bomber support if needed)? If its to engage submarines, isn't this again something for P-8s or any ship with MH-60Rs? What actual role and need is there for these vessels? I remain unconvinced.

While we're on the point of where and when CVNs are needed, it baffles me why the USN ever keeps a CV in the Gulf or the Med. Both bodies of water are ringed with friendly air bases and host a USN fleet HQ base. The Russians have a half dozen major combatants in the Black Sea Fleet and a similar number of D/E boats, all of which have to sail out in the open when they cross through the Bosporus. Iran has about three frigates and the same number of Kilos. What exactly is a CV supposed to do in these bodies of water other than rearrange its deck chairs? The focus of USN embarked aviation should be in the Western Pacific where it is actually needed. The USN has plenty of embarked aviation to support its role there without building further dedicated CVLs.


Cheers,
Josh

Josh said...

@Pete:

Its also worth noting that regardless of this initiative, the USMC has committed to the F-35B type as its sole replacement for all AV-8 and F-18 aircraft. So regardless of any CVL development the F-35B effort isn't 'wasted', unless you mean that it probably was not worth the time, effort, and air frame compromises this sub type meant for the program as a whole from the outset - in which case I would agree. But for better or worse all three versions have complete US commitment from one branch or another and a CVL wouldn't particularly alter that; USMC squadrons would be used for a STOVL CVW and USN planes used for a CATOBAR CVW.

Cheers,
Josh

Ztev Konrad said...

I would say the US navy isnt going back to steam catapults, the latest design of large deck amphibious the America class, has gas turbines, so no steam available ( Does anybody even make oil fired naval boilers/ turbines anymore?)
The deck of such a ship wouldn't have room for a long electro-magnetic catapult run like the troublesome units for USS Ford.
"The EMALS' 300-foot (91 m) LIM will accelerate a 100,000-pound (45,000 kg) aircraft to 130 kn (240 km/h; 150 mph)." An America class ship is only 257m long the deck probably only 250m. ( Wiki)
I cant see them making a newer shorter version as they have yet to solve all the problems with the CV version.

More likely is a ramp like most amphib flat decks have, which is just what the F-35B needs to increase its STOVL capability ( ie it provides rotation at the end of the deck run , which a catapult cant do). As well the VL side provides more operational flexibility when visibility gets down to zero and a large carrier cant launch and retrieve

Peter Coates said...

Hi KQN

Re Not Invented Heare (NIH) I suspect the USN would see Charles de Gaulle as a curious piece of Gaullist triumphalism. A lot of high development cost reactor for not much airwing.

I would see many downsides of a smalle-medium class carrier including:
- needing as many escorts with their replenishment ships as a supercarrier group.
- the combat air patrol capacity to protect the whole carrier group would be inferior
- maybe no ability to launch https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northrop_Grumman_E-2_Hawkeye or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grumman_C-2_Greyhound

Very true about shorter deck downsides re lower payload at launch, lower bring back payload and greater launch and arrest airframe stresses.

Also US pilots would acquire launch and arrest timing habits (they would be unaware of) which could cause grief if they shifted between long and short-medium flightdecks.

Regards

Pete

Peter Coates said...

Hi Josh

Re your 26/1/17 4:44 AM. I meant if the McCain medium carrier suggestion was accepted part of the altered polcy would be far fewer, or no, F-35Bs for the US Marines. Instead F-35Cs for the marines.

So I think we're in agreement that if no F-35Bs for the Marines then more $millions (in program development costs) per F-35B built would need to be paid. Maybe only 200 F-35Bs might be built for foreign usersd. The UK with its F-35B specialised Queen Elizabeth class carriers would therefore wear more cost per F-35Bs.

Fortunately the US didn't fully go down the one-size-fits-all aircraft solution with the F-111s (for the USAF and the USN) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Dynamics_F-111_Aardvark#Tactical_Fighter_Experimental_.28TFX.29 . The USN wisely rejected the F-111B https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Dynamics_F-111_Aardvark#F-111B .

The political power of Lockheed Martin over US Federal and State politicians seems to have triumphed in pushing through the F-35 over any universal-fittings and F-111 lessons learned.

I think when an aircraft turns out to please most users its value rises to the surface of its own accord rather than being a "too expensive to fail" political project. Hence the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_F-4_Phantom_II pleased most for decades.
I reckon the Hornets/Super Hornets are also doing well and way under-rated.

Regards

Pete

Peter Coates said...

Hi Ztev

Yes the electro-magnetic (EMALS) catapults may really be a solution tailored to large-super carriers.

India is developing a 65,000 ton INS Vishal design https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/INS_Vishal which may well rely on EMALS - partly as a political solidarity project with the US.

India has already experienced political solidarity grief buying//converting the 45,000 ton https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/INS_Vikramaditya from Russia.

I agree its a puzzle why the US STOVL carriers haven't taken up ramp-ski jumps. All other STOVL users are/have been doing it to save on fuel-use on take-off and allow for higher payloads.

Maybe Lockheed Martin has instructed US politicians and the Pentagon to buy extra F-35Bs to be used as specialised buddy tankers, ie. mid-air refuelers.

That way more F-35B (airframes and engines) will wearout more quickly - thus making acquisition of such aircraft more essential.

Cheers

Pete

MHalblaub said...

Dear Pete,

an EMALS system works in both directions. The same systems for accelerating an aircraft can be used to decelerate it also. Especially the gyros to store the energy befor takeoff can be used to store the energy during landing.

Regards,
MHalblaub

Anonymous said...

I question as to why USMC needs F-35B to do CAS. One 7.62x39 bullet and we will be spending $M to patch that hole in the coating.
If we are talking 16 carriers then we are talking dealing with China. I doubt in these days of DF-21/DF-26, a big flat top would dare to venture anywhere near them, let alone an LHA. Even unsinkable Guam will be too close for comfort. That is before J-20 are thrown into the equation to deal with tankers and AWACs, F-35C cannot even reach the beaches let alone much shorter range F-35B. Dreadnoughts were all the rage in WW1 and by WW2, just 35 years later, they were already superseded by flat tops. Will CVN meet their matches coming the next WW just as the Prince of Wales did in the last one?
KQN

Peter Coates said...

Hi MHalblaub

Thanks for the detail on the basic principle of Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS)

Unsurprisingly Russia Today (RT) https://www.rt.com/usa/352639-us-carrier-gerald-ford-reliablity-problems/ is concentrating on EMALS initial hiccups.

While https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_R._Ford-class_aircraft_carrier#Electromagnetic_Aircraft_Launch_System is more positive.

Regards

Pete

Peter Coates said...

Hi KQN [at 27/1/17 1:01 PM]

I think F-35B pilots should be advised to drop small bombs from safe high altitudes rather than flying low enough to straff enemy - which would put them in range of enemy AAA and MANPADs.

I agree carriers are too vulnerable to take on China [and Russia] in anything approaching a shooting war. Carriers are best for, and used since the Korean War, fighting second to "fifth" rate enemies. Carriers are best as mobile airfields for counter-insurgency, counter-terror, etc.

I would expect J-20s to be ready until the early 2020s (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chengdu_J-20#Service is way too optimistic). Fully operational F-35s will be delayed to early 2020s as well. Yes Russian and Chinese aircraft can already chew up Western tankers and AWACs.

The USAF, USN and Marines are manfully avoiding introduction of UCAVs and jet UAVs as they threaten pilots career progression from military aviation to AIRLINES.

Cheers

Pete

Josh said...

@Pete

Gator freighters don't use ramps because it takes up deck space and jet aircraft launches are not the main mission or deckload out. MEUs sometimes deploy without any fixed wing at all. So having a ramp dedicated to the 4-6 a/c that might be present isn't a good use of space for what is primarily a helo carrier.

Cheer,
Josh

Peter Coates said...

Hi Josh [at 28/1/17 3:14 AM]

From the essential US national imperative of boosting Lockheed Martin production numbers for the F-35B production profits wins over efficiency in USS America class ops.

Looking at indicative historical figures the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_AV-8B_Harrier_II#Specifications_.28AV-8B_Harrier_II_Plus.29 indicate

"Max. takeoff weight:

"Rolling [using a ski-jump] : "14,100 kg"

[but if the Harrier takes of vertically its takeoff weight declines markedly to "9,415 kg"

So it can be deduced that the USN's [or LM's] decision not to include ski-jumps in the USS America class means that two F-35Bs - with sharply increased wear on airframes/engines - will be required for just one F-35B sortie.

That is one F-35B buddy tanker refill will be required for the second F-35B to actually go on a mission. This assuming helicopters or Ospreys cannot act as buddy tankers?

USN and Marines 0

Lockheed Martin 2

Pete

Ztev Konrad said...

I understand that harriers almost never do vertical takeoffs, the rolling STO on the deck of the US amphibs is the usual mode. So there is a small payload loss from doing a STO without a ski jump. The main advantage in practice is the ski jump allows an even shorter take off, which is less of an advantage to the USN with its longer deck LHA.
The harrier of course has roatable nozzles which are used to give a 4-5 deg angle of attack at the runway/ flat deck edge when doing a takeoff.
The ski-jump allows the nozzles to remain aft and gives a vertical acceleration at takeoff so the main benefit is the shorter takeoff run rather than the increase in payload.
This story from UK 'Flight' back in 1976 when the ski jump was first proposed says the payload increase from the same takeoff run but with a 20deg ski jump is 2000lb. This would with the older small wing AV8A
https://www.flightglobal.com/FlightPDFArchive/1976/1976%20-%202837.PDF

Interestingly as a STO takes longer than a catpault launch you want to the have the bow pitching up rather than down at the end of the run- probably only applicable during very rough seas.

Josh said...

@Pete

The USN didn't put the ski jumps on its gators by choice; it was not an industry decision. I already noted why. As pointed out above, it isn't a major hang up given the space and sortie rate the USMC works with.

As for the F-35 debacle, the two main issues are 1). software and 2). kinematic performance.

The first comes from the unprecedented sensor integration and logic. The DAS and ESM systems in particular are ground breaking - DAS can detect a launch from the ground and mark that position as a SAM site, and also correlate EM emissions from the same site as ID in more or less real time and forward that information to other nodes. That isn't going to come cheap or easy and its open to opinion whether this level of capability is even necessary, but that is the problem holding the software back and source of most cost overruns.

The kinematics suffer because of the STOVL version. If you want to argue that the STOVL version shouldn't exist, I would simply agree. But the combination of the lift fan and especially the max length available on a LHA/LPD a/c elevator is what drove the F-35 shape in the wrong direction vis-a-vis the area rule. Physics is a bitch.


Cheers,
Josh