Home / Robert Farley / It’s a Carrier!

It’s a Carrier!


I display some frustration:

As an educator, I can attest to some frustration in relating to students that the United States operates ten aircraft carriers, plus another nine ships that we would refer to as aircraft carriers if they served in any other navy.  And while I appreciate the desire of analysts to differently categorize the capabilities of Wasp and Nimitz-class carriers, I wish that people had a firmer grasp on the abject silliness of claiming that a 45,000 ton flat-decked aircraft-carrying warship is not, in fact, an aircraft carrier. Think of the children.

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  • Warren Terra

    It’s been a while since I’ve been to Bremerton, but we used to keep a few retired carriers there, mothballed, and a similar number elsewhere. I don’t know how well maintained they are, but I think the idea was that it’s theoretically possible to recommission them. Even at fifty years old, by sheer carrying capacity they’d instantly return to being some of the most important naval ships in the world.

    • Stan Gable

      They’re still there.

      The shipyard also contains a portion of the United States Navy reserve fleet, a large collection of inactive U.S. Navy vessels, including four aircraft carriers: the USS Independence (CV-62), the USS Constellation (CV-64), the USS Ranger (CV-61) and the USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63). The ships are mothballed, meaning that they are stored in case they are needed by the Navy in the future.

      They are fairly visible from one of the highways going by – it kind of took me off guard when I saw them.

    • Anonymous

      According to wikipedia:

      Constellation is currently in Reserve Category X, meaning it receives no maintenance or preservation, and only security against fire, flooding, and pilferage is provided. Reserve Category X applies to ships that have been stricken and are awaiting disposal by scrap, sale to foreign countries, as a designated target in a live fire exercise, memorial, or donation, as applicable

  • Wow, has globalsecurity.org updated its appearance since 2000? Though about it? Because it’s 2014 and that is one step up from a well-done GeoCities page.

  • Murc

    Well, nomenclature change has to start somewhere, Robert, and it might as well with you. I’d just start referring to all carriers as carriers, and then daring anyone who argues with you to prove you wrong.

    • stevesliva

      Just wait until the smaller flattops start deploying drones. Oh, the terminology will be fraught! They’ll be battledronekillercarriers.

  • James E. Powell

    When I looked at the list with illustrations on the linked page, my first thought was, Italy and Spain each have two carriers? Why?

    • Murc

      Pride, mostly.

      I’m not even being facetious. Literally pride is the reason. Same reason Brazil is trying to get into the game.

      • Ian

        If they’re going to build ships they’ll never need, why not Dreadnought battleships? They’re much prettier.

        • Murc

          Countries can at least pretend carriers have some utility for them. You can pretend that they’re cost-effective at S&R, for example.

          Battleships are widely seen as obsolete pieces of technology. It’s hard to justify building one. Although I must admit, I am routinely very curious as to just how enormously badass a floating artillery platform you could make with modern materials and engineering know-how. Nobody has tried to build a battleship in a serious way in seventy years, so I’m curious how that’d shake out.

          • ajay

            Murc: interesting question. The Kirovs might be the closest one can get to a modern-day battleship. Or do you mean that it ought to have guns as the main armament?

            • Murc

              I would submit, sir, that if your ship doesn’t have great huge world-shattering cannons on it, you can’t properly call it a battleship. :)

              • lillois

                Looking around I found this great discussion of the theoretical outcome of an Iowa class battleship/Kirov battlecruiser battle:


                The commentators seem to give the edge to the Kirov, if only because its missiles are supersonic and the Iowa’s not, but there’s a tangible yearning to come up with scenarios by which the Kirov finally gets in range of the 16″ guns.

                Reminding me, in a way, of political junkies positing scenarios in which presidential nominations come down to contested national conventions. Battleship battles and smoke-filled rooms, all of an era.

            • Snarki, child of Loki

              Rail guns.

              Not as in “guns on railroad tracks”, but in “hypervelocity slug throwers”.

              That would be a major redesign, and I doubt that they’d look anything like a “classic” Dreadnought.

              • I think the Navy actually has a working rail-gun at this time.

                Directed energy weapons are also very close to being deployed, if they aren’t already.

                • Snarki, child of Loki

                  Yeah, I heard that too.

                  One problem with directed energy weapons is that they’re line-of-sight…and even the old Dreadnoughts had “over the horizon” range.

                  Still, the hang-time between “concept” and “modern implementation” for directed energy weapons would set some sort of a record: Archimedes at the Battle of Syracuse (true?) to 21st century, maybe.

                • njorl

                  Just get that rock flying at 5 miles/sec and it achieves orbit at sea level. That’s only about 2.5 times faster than current rail guns can achieve. Air resistance would be a problem though. Plus, if you miss, you shoot yourself in the back.*

                  *Assumes you live in physics student land where the Earth is a perfect sphere and there is no air resistance.

          • njorl

            The best gun is a missile.
            The best armor is the ocean.
            The best battleship is a submarine.

          • mike in dc

            I’m curious about the upper bounds of a post-modern BB design–Composite armor, maybe even reactive armor, active defense systems; an upsized Advanced Gun System? Electromagnetic Railguns? Extended range big guns? ; Long range cruise missiles, extended range SAMs with AEGIS, top-notch AAA(127mm and 30mm Phalanx, perhaps); higher speeds, stealth design/materials; brobdignagian cost overruns?

            In theory, we could probably make something damn near invulnerable, capable of shooting down 30 attack jets/ASMs at a time, chugging along at 40+ knots, with a reduced radar signature, firing shells out to 30-50 miles, and even carrying its own squadron of UCAVs. All for the low, low price of 20-50 billion USD per unit.

            • cleter

              So S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carriers, then.

            • Col Bat Guano

              All for the low, low price of 20-50 billion USD per unit.

              And instead we’ll probably end up spending it on health care. /snark

    • Actually, Spain already has given up its elder carrier while Italy is going to.

      • Derelict

        So, if Spain is reduced to one primary carrier, does this mean the planes in Spain stay mainly on the main?

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          *rimshot* he’s here all week folks! Try the veal

        • NBarnes

          +1 would groan again

  • Jason

    The one time I was aboard an amphib (SEAFAIR), I thought the well-deck was the coolest part. Sounds like now they’re really just helicarriers/vstol platforms.

    • elm

      I think the plan is that at least some future America-class amphibs will have the well-deck as the navy does need to retain the assualt capabilities that a well-deck allows even after all the Wasps are out of service.

      Plus, my understanding is that hovercraft landing ships can operate without the well-deck, so the amphib’s do still have an amphibious capability.

  • para

    The Kirovs were sometimes characterised as modern day battlecruisers, certainly not battleships, as they emphasize speed and weaponry over (ballistic) protection. Even that comparison is vague. They are multi mission missile cruisers.
    Spain and Italy operated sea control carriers as part of NATO doctrine to combat Soviet subs in the Atlantic and the Med, pride had little to nothint to do with it, both countries traditionally emphasize maritime defense over ground troops. Their successor designs have a fairly strong emphasis on multi mission utility, the Spanish Juan Carlos is essentially an amphibious assault vessel, the Italian Cavour doubles as a traditional STOVL carrier and a troop transport with capacity for anything up to MBTs. The F-35B shouls give both designs a rather capable air-wing too, if it ever becomes affordable.

    If you want to see, what operating a carrier out of pride really means, I would point to Thailand.

  • elm

    Isn’t the navy itself giving away the game here by giving the last two amphib classes names of aircraft carriers?

    • JRoth

      My thought as well. It’s still distracting to me to see a non-CVN called “America”.

  • N__B


    • Snarki, child of Loki

      Too swishy.

      “Pocket Carriers”

      • Rob in CT

        That works.

      • Barry Freed

        Or Pokécar for short, “Gotta Catch ‘Em All”

        • Snarki, child of Loki

          That would be the Japanese models, with perky cat-like radar antennae sticking up on top.

          And painted in wild fluorescent colors. Sort of like camouflage, except a instead of “hard to see”, “hard to look at”.

    • rea

      O Amphibious Assault Ship, Amphibious Assault Ship! wherefore art thou an Amphibious Assault Ship?
      Deny thy class and refuse thy name;
      Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn our love,
      And we’ll no longer have Carriers.

      ‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
      Thou art thyself, though not a Amphibious Assault Ship.
      What’s Amphibious Assault Ship? it is nor airplane, nor helicopter,
      Nor missile, nor bomb, nor any other part
      Belonging to a weapons system. O, be some other name!
      What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
      By any other name would smell as sweet;
      So an Amphibious Assault Ship would, were it not Amphibious Assault Ship call’d,
      Retain that dear perfection which it owes
      Without that title. Amphibious Assault Ship, doff thy name,
      And for that name which is no part of thee
      Take all our defense budget.

      • MPAVictoria


  • T.E. Shaw

    I feel like there should be some sort of cutoff based on sortie rate. Nimitz carriers are supposed to be around 140 and Fords are supposedly capable of 160. What can an LHA do?

    But it seems like the real question should be whether we have enough carriers capable of offensive power projection in contested waters, even in the face of first or second-rate powers. Wasps and Americas aren’t really up to that task by themselves (third-rate powers are another matter, and I don’t mean to entirely dismiss the value of LHAs against them). But the relevant benchmark shouldn’t be the “light carriers” of other nations, but the undersea and land-based sea denial capabilities of first and second-rate powers. Those threats have always been the biggest threat to carriers seeking to project powers. In that regard, I’d be far more concerned about China’s Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles than any 40,000 ton barge with a ski jump. One Virginia-class SSN would be enough to send the latter to the bottom of the sea.

    Of course, you could have an entirely separate debate about the value of being able to project power into the South China Sea. But historically, that’s what the US has used its carriers to do.

    • I thought projecting power meant beating up small countries and taking their lunch money.

    • Alan Tomlinson

      “But it seems like the real question should be whether we have enough carriers capable of offensive power projection in contested waters, even in the face of first or second-rate powers.”

      Aircraft carriers are targets against first-rate powers. Several fuel-cell or diesel-electric powered submarine would be very bad news for a carrier group. Particularly since they are quieter than nuclear submarines.

      The idea of a cutoff based on sortie rate seems to me to be developing a metric in order to justify an ideology.


      Alan Tomlinson

      • James E. Powell

        The idea of a cutoff based on sortie rate seems to me to be developing a metric in order to justify an ideology.

        Isn’t that how it’s always done?

      • T.E. Shaw

        Aircraft carriers are targets against first-rate powers. Several fuel-cell or diesel-electric powered submarine would be very bad news for a carrier group. Particularly since they are quieter than nuclear submarines.

        A point I fully acknowledged in my reference to undersea sea denial capabilities and submarines. That said, the US Navy has the best ASW capability in the world, and Virginia-SSNs are as quiet as anything in the oceans and fully capable of stalking diesel subs. ASBMs are the newer threat and we have had far less time to develop countermeasures.

        • John F

          ASBMs are the newer threat and we have had far less time to develop countermeasures.

          Rail Guns

      • T.E. Shaw

        There’s also nothing inherently ideological about using sortie rate. The particular number may be arbitrary, but it’s entirely reasonable to use the classification scheme and then argue that the platform is too vulnerable. In fact, sortie rate might be a helpful metric if you want to address the survivability issue. Perhaps the additional cost of replacing large carriers with light carriers that have an equivalent sortie rate would be worth the increased survivability of distributed airpower platforms.

  • Halloween Jack

    My question is, how relevant is the whole concept of an amphibious assault these days anyway? Seems that transport planes tend to fill the need to transport troops fairly rapidly over long distances; if you didn’t have a friendly air field near the theater of operations, sure, maybe, but do you really need nine (or eleven, with the new ships) that can do that sort of thing?

    • T.E. Shaw

      Troops need equipment, and planes struggle to ferry equipment for anything more than a light infantry brigade. An amphibious assault force can seize a port with a battalion or two and provide a receiving point for prepositioned transport ships that can deliver enough equipment for several heavy brigades.

    • Thlayli

      I think the idea is to station them in various places, so we could put Marines ashore just about anywhere on short notice.

  • para

    Amphibious assault and air transport are two rather different things, that comparison seems a bit strange…air assault vs amphibious assault would be more like it. Strategic air transport has its purpose, but its a terrible way to move significant amounts of equipment, compare what a C-17 can carry to what a sealift vessel can move.

  • para

    Re: Spanish carrier: The carrier air wing may operate from the Juan Carlos or from land bases…it depends on the mission requirement, same as with the USMC, which operates its VSTOL wings from land quite a lot, especially for CAS.

  • para

    “Several fuel-cell or diesel-electric powered submarine would be very bad news for a carrier group. Particularly since they are quieter than nuclear submarines.”
    Its not quite as simple as that. For one all fuel cell submarines (so far exactly two German models) are diesel-electric submarines. Fuel cells have very low power output, they are good for station keeping and not much else. SSK generally have trouble with the hunter killer-concept, as they have limited endurance and low cruise speed. Basically they have to park themselves in a good position and wait, til the target moves their way. Great in the littorals, problematic in blue water-areas. Nobody is foolish enough anymore to move a CSG deep into the South China Sea…the days of the Taiwan Strait show of force are over.

    • T.E. Shaw

      True. Going forward the question seems to be whether we can even operate CV groups in the Philippines Sea against a hostile Chinese force.

  • Jackdaw

    Time to bring back the ol’ CVL classification, I’d say.

  • para

    Hence the newfound momentum to do something about effective strike range of CSGs. F/A-18s just dont cut it. This was the point behind UCAS-N originally (and perhaps now again, after some back and forth).

    • If you want strike range, may I offer the Lockheed CL 1201 as an option? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_CL-1201
      The air wing is only 20 tactical fighters but when the carrier itself can be directly overhead, the range is effectively unlimited.

      • Ian


        A flying aircraft carrier, able to stay airborne at mach 0.8 for 40 days due to its onboard 2MW nuclear reactor. Craziest of all, 182 vertical lift jets for VSTOL. That’s right, somebody at Lockheed got paid to design a helicarrier.

  • JRoth

    “Air Force Foe Advocates New 9-Ship Fleet of Assault Carriers”

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