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A couple of aircraft carrier related links for your afternoon…

  • Via Danger Room, Martin Sieff has a new series at UPI on the vulnerability of carriers to submarine attack. Galrahn has a very useful critique here, pointing out in particular that the ASW component of the typical carrier battle group has shrunk in the past fifteen years. I’d add that several of Sieff’s historical assertions are plainly wrong; there were only 24 Essex class carriers, not “over 40”, and only 17 were commissioned prior to the end of the war. Also, interwar naval theorists and tacticians thought a lot about the threat that aircraft and submarines could pose to capital ships. Like Sieff, I wonder about the vulnerability of the modern supercarrier to attack, a subject which was discussed in this thread. No one has ever tried to sink a 90000 ton warship with a conventional torpedo before; I suspect that it would be rather a difficult task, even if a Chinese submarine got the drop on a US carrier.
  • An LGM correspondent forwards this, in which a Russian admiral again declares that the Russian Navy is planning to build five or six new carriers, and divide them between the Northern and the Pacific fleets. The target date? 2050, which is still probably a bit optimistic, given Russia’s history with carrier aviation.
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  • Also, interwar naval theorists and tacticians thought a lot about the threat that aircraft and submarines could pose to capital ships.
    I guess Sieff has never heard of Billy Mitchell or the Ostfriesland.

  • jim

    You don’t have to sink her with a torpedo. You just have to render her incapable of supporting aircraft take-off and landing. Wouldn’t inducing some degree of list be sufficient?

  • Grandjester

    Modern torps don’t smack into the side of the ship like the old days, they explode beneath the keel to create a catastrophic pressure wave that buckles the hull (break the back in the vernacular).

  • calipygian

    I’d like to add that I can’t think of a single instance in the short history of submarine or carrier warfare where a carrier battle group has been prevented from operating because of the submarine threat. That isn’t to say that the submarine hasn’t done some damage to carriers during WWII, just that carriers continued to operate, even in areas where heavy submarine opposition was expected. The Japanese expected submarines at Midway as did the Americans, it was a submarine that polished off the Yorktown. Japanese submarines almost played a decisive role at Guadalcanal and American carriers operated there despite the threat posed by Japanese submarines. By 1944, American submarines were operating almost with impunity and the Japanese sortied the Shinano despite that threat. (Yes, they did lose it to a submarine).
    Closer to modern times, the Soviet submarine threat didn’t discourage us from formulating a plan to deploy at least three carrier battle groups to the Norwegian Sea/Barants to strike the Kola during wartime to kill Soviet SSBNs at the dock.
    While the Argentines had two very quiet and capable Type 209s to oppose the British at the Falklands, the Brits still sent much of their fleet including their CVLs.
    And the Yugoslavs having a couple of diesel submarines and competence in using them didn’t matter a whit to us in the Adriatic.
    Submarines are a threat, but historically, not enough of a threat to keep CVBGs from at least trying to operate.
    I suspect that the Chinese cant build/buy enough submarines to keep us from operating where and when we want.

  • Fred

    The Japanese failed to use their submarines in a strategic manner – against commerce. The author is saying the Chinese ‘obviously’ will do the same thing and try to sink carrier battle groups. Why the hell would they do that? How many super tankers or LNG transports do you need to sink to cripple the American economy? (Not to mention just stopping the export of everything made in China?). This is a nice article if your career, and post retirement job, is dependent on Newport News Shipbuilding getting another submarine deal. Almost as realistic as building a new strategic bomber fleet because ‘al quada’ or its successor in terror can shoot one down.

  • Rob

    Fred,
    Actually, I find it extremely unlikely that the Chinese will attempt an anti-commerce campaign. Such a campaign is designed for a long war, and the Chinese want to fight a short one; attack Taiwan, hold off the Americans, and present the conquest as an accomplished fact to the rest of the world. If they start sinking oil tankers, everyone gets pissed off.
    Also, Chinese submarines almost never go out on extended patrols.

  • wengler

    How much strategic thinking has gone behind using attack submarines as destroyers of capital ships? Most of the late Cold War submarine action revolved around using subs as missile platforms or using other subs as killers of the enemy’s missile platform subs.
    While the capability to destroy capital ships exist, I really doubt much thought to it as opposed to anti-submarine warfare exists in US strategic thinking at least. And from a US perspective the torpedo threat comes from smaller surface vessels and of course underwater mines.
    Russia might build another carrier in the next 40 years- maybe.

  • ntr Fausto Carmona

    No one has ever tried to sink a 90000 ton warship with a conventional torpedo before; I suspect that it would be rather a difficult task, even if a Chinese submarine got the drop on a US carrier.
    The Pentagon likely has some sort of idea by now, having used the America as a test target.

  • ntr Fausto Carmona

    On a related note, I missed where CVN-78 , the lead of the CVN-21s, was named the Gerald R. Ford. We absolutely need to get a Democrat in the White House now before we get CVN-79, the Richard Cheney or Richard M. Nixon.

  • calipygian

    The ships named for Democrats have been some pretty crappy Democrats. The Rhode Island was the Henry M Jackson, the orignal neo-con. And of course, there is the odious Chuckie V.

  • rea

    We absolutely need to get a Democrat in the White House now before we get CVN-79, the Richard Cheney or Richard M. Nixon.
    We already have a Ronald Reagan and a George Herbert Walker Bush. Poor Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, has to make do with a submarine.
    Ships sought not to be named after comtemporary politicians–ideally, if they’re going to be named after people, name them after dead heros.
    Theodore Roosevelt or Dwight D. Eisenhower or George Washington or Abraham Lincoln are good names, apart from the latter’s unfortunate association with Madame Butterfly.

  • rea

    And despite all the talk about the iranians, the most likely candidate for a sub vs. CVBG confrontation is Iran, in the Persian Gulf.

  • rea

    all the talk about the iranians
    I meant Chinese, of course.

  • Wilson

    The Chinese have gotten the drop on a carrier group with a submarine popping up within easy torpedo range within the last year or so. I’m not sure which carrier it was, however I’m pretty damn sure it was pure luck or American strategic calculation to allow such a threat to surface within striking distance. The Chinese are not known for their skills on the open seas and most of their navy is littoral based and Taiwan is about as far as they need to go. I seriously doubt they would ever attempt anything other than attack by naval aviation bombers to sustain any hope of success.

  • Poor Jimmy Carter, on the other hand, has to make do with a submarine.
    The fact that he was a submariner might have something to do with it…

  • calipygian

    Poor Jimmy Carter…
    Not only that, but traditionally, the United States named battleships, the queen of the seas, after states. Now, attack and ballistic missile submarines are. The three boats of the Seawolf class are the Jimmy Carter, the Seawolf and the Connecticut. Now, the Virginia class attack boats are being built and they will be named after states – just like battleships of old.
    Carter got a submarine. Bush and Reagan got targets.

  • “I can’t think of a single instance in the short history of submarine or carrier warfare where a carrier battle group has been prevented from operating because of the submarine threat.”
    That is probably because the bulk of that history was WWII, and carriers, or more specifically aircraft, were the primary hunters of submarines in WWII.
    Carriers were the solution in the Battle of the Atlantic.
    It is an interesting observation though.
    Thanks for the link.

  • coozledad

    Wilson: Never count the Chinese out. Maybe in the short term, but over the long haul, they’ve come up with some pretty ingenious ways to work with the sea. I know I’m off topic, but I’m still awed by the whole idea of the junk sail, as well as low draft oceangoing vessels forty to fifty feet wide and 400 feet long in the age of Columbus.
    Sorry… Luddite, you know.

  • greg in ak

    Cool. Tuesday Aircraft Carrier blogging. what a concept.

  • How much strategic thinking has gone behind using attack submarines as destroyers of capital ships?
    Quite a bit; the USSR built a whole class of submarines (the Oscars) specifically for the job, a big fast sub with a huge battery of SS-N-24(?) cruise missiles.
    ObUK; Glory Ark and Courageous…

  • ajay

    I’d like to add that I can’t think of a single instance in the short history of submarine or carrier warfare where a carrier battle group has been prevented from operating because of the submarine threat.
    You mention the Falklands – that’s surely the obvious example? After Belgrano was sunk by the submarine Conqueror, the Argentinian carrier Vientecinco de Mayo and its task force, previously stationed to the north of the islands, returned to port and stayed there for the rest of the war in order to avoid submarine attack.
    (The
    25 de Mayo was formerly the RN carrier Venerable. What a terrible name.)

  • ajay

    Sorry.

  • calipygian

    ajay – good point. I don’t really know enough about Argentine naval operations to say if they attempted to operate in the Falklands area or just stayed in port as a “fleet in being”.
    I can say this though – the Argentines DID attempt to operate in the British declared exclusion zone, not taking the zone seriously, despite knowing British submarines were operating in the area.

  • ajay

    Basically, at the start of the war the Argentinian surface fleet was organised into three task groups: Belgrano plus two destroyers to the south of the islands, a group of missile frigates to the west, and 25 de Mayo plus two destroyers to the north.
    UK submarines were sent to find the fleet. The Belgrano group was found and attacked by Conqueror; Splendid and Spartan searched for 25 de Mayo but were unable to find it before it returned to port.
    It’s true that the Argentinians entered the exclusion zone – but at that point they had no sure knowledge that British submarines were already in position. As soon as the Belgrano was sunk, the rest of the surface fleet retreated and played no further part in the conflict.

  • Nothing much to add, but cool thread. I tend to agree that the new Russian proposal for carriers is wildly over optimistic.

  • ajay

    It is interesting to speculate how well a full-on surface attack against the Task Force around the start of May would have done. One carrier with a 24-strong air group of Skyhawks, one cruiser, six destroyers and three frigates (the destroyers and frigates both carrying Exocet) plus four SSK and ninety-odd land-based strike aircraft (some also with Exocet), against two Harrier carriers, five destroyers, eight frigates, and various SSN, in the open sea?
    Don’t forget that the Argentinians have two advantages: first, they just have to neutralise one of the carriers to make the landings impossible; second, the Task Force has a large number of non-combatant ships to protect as well, whereas the Argentinian fleet is all-combatant.
    An interesting one to wargame.

  • calipygian

    ajay – now that you gave some background as to the Argentinian deployment, it seems obvious to me that they made the same mistake the Japanese made during the Midway/Aleutians campaign – division of forces. Given the performance of the Argentine Air Force during the war, I dont think anyone can say that they were at a serious disadvantage vis-a-vis pilot quality and some of them were downright heroic. Their big disadvantage was probably reconnaisance – actually pinpointing where the British were at any given time.

  • ajay

    Well, that certainly stopped them hitting the Task Force, but their main issue in hitting the amph group – whose location they knew – was bomb fuzing. Most of the bombs they dropped didn’t detonate (fortunately).
    Good point about division of forces – one large battle group centred around Belgrano and 25 de Mayo and stationed to the NE of the islands would have had much better anti-submarine protection – at least nine escorts rather than two – and while it might not have been able to locate and close with the British carrier task force, it would still have been able to operate as a fleet-in-being threat, which would have seriously restricted the British ability to bring followup forces such as the Bristol cruiser/destroyer/frigate group and other troop and supply ships into the South Atlantic. Extend the runway at Stanley and station more AAF fast jets there, to give them more reach out into the South Atlantic, and you can station the Battle Group about 200-300 nm to the NE, using its own Skyhawks and shore-based Canberras and 707s as reconnaissance.
    That, I think, would have been a very tricky nut to crack. At the very least it would require extended operations with SSN, Harpoon-equipped Nimrod MR2 strikes and surface battle units before the way was cleared for the amph group to proceed. And by then it might well be winter…

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