Pacific Strategy VIII: Re-Thinking the CVN

(Credit: SLD)

10/21/2011 – The presence and scalable force structure for the Pacific, which we are laying out here, is intended to be suggestive and not completely comprehensive.  Every weapon system and platform will not be discussed, but the key categories of platforms and weapon systems are discussed as a means of laying out an approach whereby a comprehensive capability can be deployed which leverages best value solutions, through deploying C4ISR enabled platforms which can be connected, converged and surged as necessary in an economy of force approach.

(Credit: SLD)(Credit: SLD)

By re-thinking strategy along these lines, the CVN will remain significant but re-thought significantly.  The CVN has been deployed throughout its modern life in the Carrier Battle Group.  With the strategy outlined here, many elements of the CBG are already deployed in advance of any carrier showing up, as the surface fleet and subsurface fleet is forward deployed and operating in a distributed manner in areas of interest.  The core air assets, built around the F-35 fleet, provide the honeycomb linking assets.

The deployment of the F-35C is of particular significance for the CVN. Currently, the F-18 enabled carrier is carrying an aircraft with all the limitations of a 4th generation aircraft, in terms of survivability and range.  The Indians did not pick the F-18 in large part of its perceived and analyzed limitations.

The current limitations of the F-18 strike capability means that the current CVN trades distance for greater security.  And the F-18 is simply not a survivable aircraft in a number of threat scenarios.  And the recent exercise in Northern Edge 2011, which is a Pacific exercise, highlights the need to transition to the F-35 systems as rapidly as possible.

As Secretary Wynne has warned with regard to the inherent limitations of a carrier enabled solely by 4th generation aircraft:

Does the Air Power from a Carrier match up to the Integrated Air Defenses of a potential rival?  This too can be well modeled at Northern Edge and examined, rather than simply experienced by force of combat.  With all the exercise capability that is available; the Command Authorities can know with some certainty outcomes; as we have progressed far from the simpler times of the Lanchester Equations; though as one wag put it.  With the projected age of the fleet; it portends a future where instead of the Missouri pounding the Vietnamese Coast; it would have been the Maine; is the same true for Air Power?

From the outset, the F-35C will bring to the carrier a more survivable asset able to operate much deeper within an area of interest.  The F-35C will allow a restructuring and better use of the other assets on the carrier deck, shaping a more effective economy of force. (

The F-35C provides a convergence asset than can work in an integrated fashion with the F-35Bs off of the amphibs and the US and coalition F-35As.  The aircraft can work with the new Aegis Global Enterprise to provide significant offensive and defensive reach.

And innovation in the use of the new Gerald Ford Carrier can be generated.  Significant innovations associated with the new carrier in providing greater ops temp and surge capacity now becomes a significant addition to any US or coalition force operating in an Area of Interest.

The entire F-35 family will have the “Z-axis” and both the Pax River data point -picking up a missile launch at 800 miles, along with Northern Edge sea surface search success — the F-35C provides a significant change in the punch carried by the CVN.

It is simple a CBG can maneuver at 35+ knots, with a combined and reach back tactical punch that can hit any target it sees using all types of platforms both surface sub-surface along with launching the CAW on the deck–so combine CBG maneuver speed with a 1600 mile F-35C “bubble” or umbrella and THEN add in legacy tanking from F/A-18s and the CVN enabled strike and defense force can cover additional thousands of miles air and land to identify and kill all threats.

The CVN can operate as the Body Guard of forces being inserted or present in an Area of Interest.

The evolution of the CVN with the F-35 enabled Pacific force, allows innovation to be generated with the new Carrier or recasting the old.  Rather than retiring the oldest CVN, this ship can be sent to Norfolk and rebuilt to become a large Amphibious support element.  The deck can be used to carry additional rotor wing and F-35B assets, along with making good use of the assets being moved from Afghanistan, such as the Apaches and the Predators to support insertion of force.

And the future is then cleared for driving innovation in determing how best to use the carrier decks of the future.  Secretary Wynne has laid out a strategic vision for such a way ahead:

The concept of 4.5 Acres of sovereign airfield was from a great advertisement.  The fact as presented was the freedom of movement across the 60 percent of the globe that is water.  The concept of re-norming defense is about rethinking the original purpose of the invented and available platforms given the modern invented technologies; and applying these in favor of doing more with less.

In the case of the carrier platform; we must thank the inventor of the Doolittle raid that took the concept of ‘4.5 Acres’ and changed the dynamic of a nation.  Look no further than the Tsunami relief to find an inventive admiral who thought about the functional capabilities of the carrier and repurposed it as a floating power plant, water purification system, Helicopter pad and hospital.

This re-purposement was fraught with risk; with the Doolittle Carrier now carrying the nations hope for a better outcome; and the Tsunami relief done against a backdrop of an uncertain world and concern for ‘taking one of the nations premier systems off line for a mission beneath its optimal.

It is a good time to address repurposing for a part of the total Aircraft Carrier System, namely Aviation. From a systems perspective; one should consider all of the system.

So; return to the 1920’s when the concept of ship borne aviation was introduced and look to how to re-create this original purpose but with an eye to modern and maybe future technologies to enhance the original desired capabilities.

From a perspective of a air and sea space that was considered benign at the time; the purpose seemed simple enough, which was to bring Airborne firepower forward to wreak havoc on the ports and nearby airfields, essentially moving sovereign borders close to an enemies, via the open water.

This concept was a complex extension of the large man of war gunships that pummeled with big guns the shore batteries and ports, until driven off by counter fire or enemy fleets.  The rest of the platform design came about by mission demands for protection from enemy air, from enemy sea; and to best use the ‘Big’ Ocean for longevity of an operating mission.

The Navy began to introduce the concept of last on first off for its aviation units by allowing the aviation unit to come aboard after they had some sea time to shake off any refit problems; and allowing them to depart early so they could dedicate the remaining voyage to cataloguing repairs; and supplies.  This simple act of smart logistics can easily be extended by asking the question of why the aircraft are ever on the carrier except to prep for a mission.  This is the essence of re-norming, starting from the bare deck and asking what else is needed to achieve the mission.

The Carrier platform began to swell to the carrier battle group; and there is tremendous military evidence that in a similar vein as the Doolittle mission; protection of the Carrier Platform began to consume the entirety of the mission status for all of the surrounding ships and submarines, many of the on board aircraft and left essentially a squadron size strike capable A-6 aircraft to accomplish the original mission, of bringing havoc to the enemy.  The upgrade to the A-6 was the F-18.

Better still; the upgrade to the carrier protection air system was the F-14; which had sufficient speed and agility to be a carrier protector; as well as strike inland targets; sometimes deep with support of the Air Force Tankers scattered around the air space.

Unfortunately; the Navy pursued the ill-fated A-12. Without this replacement; and fortunately flying from protected Air and Sea Space; the F-18 performed all of the mission required; and some in the Navy seem to think that past is prologue.

But we note that the emergence of Exocet missiles, arrayed in unfriendly territory have placed the carrier far enough off shore that to stay in the Afghan conflict; a refueling with a tanker is a requirement; and that some of the F-18 carrier aircraft operationally flew from Bagram Airfield to help with Northern strikes.

This is an adaptive Navy that is placing risk in the operational plan.

Unfortunately; the Strategic Navy; by dedicating significant resources to purchase the 1970’s designed F-18 airframe; is trying its best to convince itself that the modern F-18 can carry out all assigned missions while the planning Navy sees trouble ahead for any Navy Airmen sent into an Air Space defended with Integrated Air Defenses, and puts the Carriers further out to sea.  A true conundrum; but all of the selected electronic games that young men play have already taken technology into account; and these young game players see that the senior officials are in a losing strategy.

So what to do?

First return to the original mission and try to maximize the opportunity to effect it.

Second; minimize the deck space required to protect the ship by turning to modern technology; as the Navy has with the counter missile Phalanx System; and can as well with AUVS systems to accomplish submarine hunting, and counter torpedo technologies; and for Air use high Flying Air to Air missile armed Remotely piloted vehicles; with the pilots flying remotely; or on-board.

Further; this would allow multi mission, outlying picket ships with AEGIS systems to be far removed from the Carrier, actually performing other missions yet able to fire from a distance in support of the carrier.