2009/08/11

The cost of carrier aviation

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The Royal Navy is under serious criticism of mis-spending the quite significant defence budget of the UK. Accusations about the level of waste reach up to 8%, and they seem to keep a recent report on it secret.
The British military has a tradition of blaming politicians and their limited budgeting for all its woes, albeit failure of its leadership to meet the expectations has been a constant for at least a hundred years.

Much of the current debate on UK military spending focuses on procurement; especially the new aircraft carriers and their aircraft, armoured vehicles for ongoing wars, helicopters for ongoing wars, a replacement strategic nuclear-armed missile for their submarines and the last batch of the new fighter.

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I looked more closely at the aircraft carriers, their aircraft and escorts a few days ago.


They would provide the ability to attack land targets from the sea with F-35 aircraft. That's entirely redundant to USN capabilities and of almost no value in NATO defence. The only real application in collective defensive war would in my opinion be the protection of high seas convoys against today fictious air attack capabilities. That utility is redundant with offensive air war against the threat's air bases.

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Let's look at the cost, because naval aviation is typically more expensive than land-based aviation:

2 aircraft carriers Queen Elizabeth class, the program cost is apparently GBP about 4.8 billion

6 anti-air escorts Type 45 class, costs about GBP 3.4 billion

6 anti-submarine escorts (old Type 23 so far, let's take he recent Italian FREMM as placeholder*), cost equivalent about GBP 2.0 billion

2 nuclear submarine escorts, costs about GBP 2.3 billion

72 F-35B STOVL combat aircraft, cost (including half of the British R&D), costs about GBP 6.0 billion

20 Merlin helicopters* on CV/DDG/FFG (including ongoing upgrade program), costs about GBP 1.5 billion


These sums should be regarded as lower limits, as there are no spare parts, extra facilities, training, ammunition and many other costs included.

The sum is about GBP 20 billion for building two CVBGs with (at most) adequate escorts.

These expenses are necessary to project the air power of

* 72 very low observable combat aircraft (combat radius at most 500 nmi with eight SDB as offensive payload each) that can fly two or three sorties a day (many in support and defensive missions)

* several dozen cruise missiles

in international open waters.

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Prices are relative, so let's compare. For GBP 20 billion a country like the UK could afford about 200 Typhoon fighter-bombers.

That's a factor of three to one in combat aircraft , and the Typhoons could be used with a combat radius of about 850 nmi around land bases, without mid-air refueling.

Another alternative would be to buy (more) F-35s for the RAF. Let's assume that the F-35 R&D costs are the same even though the UK wouldn't have had to contribute to F-35B development. That's USD 2.5 billion (about GBP 1.5 billion) for R&D. Add about USD 105 million (about GBP 64 million) fly-away price per F-35A (nobody knows the price for sure as of today). The GBP 20 billion would be enough for almost 300 F-35A using current cost estimates (= I wouldn't expect more than 200).

The plans for naval air power look excessively expensive to me - even in comparison to other quite excessively expensive programs.

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On the other hand, there would be little left of the UK's Royal Navy if they removed those frigates, destroyers, aircraft carriers and some of their submarines. That does nevertheless not eliminate the looming question about whether the fleet is worth its budget.

Maybe ANOTHER fleet would make better use of the same budget?

They could build container sets to turn container ships into auxiliary land-attack vessels that would be armed with hundreds of cruise missiles and would be able to sneak covertly into position. That would costs less than a single aircraft carrier without its aviation component.

They could buy conventional submarines with air-independent propulsion - about three instead of one SSN.

They could once again prepare for actual naval convoys in order to keep sea lanes open in face of military opposition.


You can count me as a no-fan of the British carrier strategy. Well, at least it's not my tax money.

Sven Ortmann

*: Merlins and ASW frigates are legacy equipment and don't need to be bought any more. I considered their costs because I'm more interested in the cost of such a naval aviation strike capability in general than in the specific UK procurement.
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22 comments:

  1. Mr Ortmann,

    Although these aircraft carriers do not add significantly to the expeditionary capacity of Nato, they do have a impact on the workings of Nato itself.

    Leaving the expeditionary capacity of carriers to the US gives us the impression of the other members of Nato being dependend on the US and therefore somewhat subservant.

    The deployment of cabable aircraft carriers by several non-US members of Nato is beneficial to all non-US members of Nato.

    In the end I believe this will be beneficial to the US as well, simply because I do not see a Nato in wich the US calls all the shots to be a viable organisation.

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  2. My knowledge regarding naval strategy is fairly limited, but I suspect the real issue is the value of carriers in this century. Are they still capital ships or are they a waste of time/money just like battle ships a century ago? If nothing else history proves that leaders are perfectly willing to spend an awful lot of money on weapons that are quite irrelevant.

    It is important to recall why battle ships became irrelevant in naval warfare a century ago. It was certainly not because they were unable to fight. But in WW1 they were so large and massive that both sides (Royal Navy and the German High See Fleet) proved unwilling to use with the single big exception of the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Instead naval warfare in WW1 was mainly the battle between small and fast submarines vs. convoys. This happened again in WW2.

    Despite that both sides continued to invest a lot in building more and more powerful battle ships. Unfortunately they once again proved irrelevant in WW2, although for different reasons. I think the Germans would have spend their money more wisely if they had build more submarines instead of large battle ships like "Bismarck" and "Tirpitz". The last one hardly participated in WW2 despite a great fear-factor for the allies, who several times attempted to destroy it. "Bismarck" had a spectacular ending, but hardly made a dent against the allies despite the sinking of the "HMS Hood".

    I think reading about the destruction of the Japanese battle ship "Yamato" in 1945 made the greatest impression on me: She and her sister ship, Musashi, were the largest and heaviest battleships ever constructed, displacing 72,800 tonnes at full load, and armed with nine 46 cm main guns. Yet Yamato was sunk by American planes in April 1945 with the loss of 2,498 of the 2,700 crew members on including Vice-Admiral Seiichi Itō, the fleet commander. The Americans lost 10 - I repeat 10 - planes. 12 pilotes were killed.

    Some claim that submarines are todays capital ships and that carriers are increasingly becoming vulnerable to anti-ship missiles. Do you agree? It is certainly not because of the lack of interest for aircraft carriers: Everybody seems to want them and even the Chinese are moving forward to build one.

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  3. It's excessively difficult to determine their survivability in a high-end war. It's much easier to look at their usefulness.

    Carriers had their prime time in combat far away from land bases at times when land-based aircraft weren't able to cover the whole Atlantic (the Bismarck could have been bombed to scrap metal by 4engined bombers if it had moved out in 1943).

    The Pacific War with its extremely long distances was the greatest playing field for CVs ever, but it was also an exceptional conflict.

    I consider carriers today primarily as a tool of aggression of first rate powers against lesser powers in distant places that are irrelevant to the former one's national defence.
    There are exceptions like their use in defending some remote overseas possession (Falklands) or a distant, friendly country (Taiwan).

    This usefulness is quite small and CVs are likely cost-inefficient in almost all missions.

    Some point at the contribution of CVs to past air wars, but those air wars were always in range of land-based fighters: The CVs were used because they were available, but they weren't necessary (Iraq I and II, Kosovo, Vietnam, Korea).

    Carrier aviation wasn't necessary over Afghanistan as well. Just keep in mind the huge quantity of heavy bombers and the availability of Arab bases and British Diego Garcia. There was no Afghan AF that would have required more than the available B-1Bs (even B-52s and B-2s weren't necessary).

    CVBGs can be used to protect convoys or shipping in general on the Atlantic against air attack, but this role needs to be compared in efficiency to offensive air war against the threat itself on its bases. The only halfway credible such convoy scenario as of today would be east of Taiwan.

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  4. Sven,

    Carrier airpower was certainly very valuable in Afghanistan, where it accounted for 75% of all strike sorties. Bombers can't be everywhere at once. You need numbers to provide timely coverage.

    The low contribution of USAF tacair (11%) is indicative of the problems faced in securing local basing rights. You can't fly fighters from Diego Garcia to Afghanistan. They don't have the range or endurance.

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  5. Smitty, I already wrote it; naval aviation was used, but not necessary.

    There were about 200 B-52H, B-1B and B-2 available in 2002.

    TacAir was also able to fly over extreme distances (using Diego Garcia wasn't impossible at all), I recall a story about F-16C pilots flying from Kuwait to bomb Afghanistan.

    Land-based aviation has stunning ranges with midair refueling.

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  6. Sven,

    While USAF tacair did fly some sorties, they were in the VAST minority to carrier air.

    Through December 2001, USAF fighters flew 720 strike sorties, compared to 4,900 flown by carrier air. Bombers flew 701 strike sorties in the same period.

    So, IMHO, a better case can be made that the USAF fighter sorties were unnecessary.

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  7. The use of different tools for the same purpose (and the ratio thereof) does not prove the necessity of any one.
    The relationship is one of substitutes.

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  8. Sven,

    The point is, the USAF just couldn't generate the sortie numbers. Distant basing and AAR couldn't cut it.

    There was no substitute for carrier air (other than not flying the sorties).

    Fighter pilots are endurance-limited to 8-10 hour sorties, max.

    The straight-line distance from Diego Garcia to Kabul is 2500nm, one way. That's five plus hours out and five more back, and doesn't count diversions to AAR or overflight restrictions.

    Doesn't leave much time on station.

    Kuwait City is "only" 1100nm from Kabul, as the crow flies, but that takes you over Iran - a big "no no".

    Take a look at this Rand report on carrier airpower in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2005/RAND_MG404.pdf

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  9. I saw that study a year or two ago, and had a quick look at it again.

    This is its most important line:
    "Prepared for the United States Navy"

    It's designed to justify naval air. It takes very little critical thought to see the consequences of that intent.

    The talk is all about sorties, very little about persistence over the area and no (if I didn't miss it with my quick look) comparison of actual effect on target.
    In short: A F-18 sortie that drops two bombs and loiters over target for an hour is treated as one sortie - just like a B-1B that drops ten bombs and loiters for hours over the area.

    The used selective truth to bend the perception to suit their client.

    A study about the question whether Bs, ACs and KCs could have done the job by themselves would look very different. Such a study isn't in the interest of the USN, of course.

    I wrote studies myself and also observed others writing studies. You need to read between the lines and to combine different sources and original thought to get a good picture.
    A study is just a service to the client. And this client clearly preferred a specific study result.

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  10. "They could buy conventional submarines with air-independent propulsion - half a dozen instead of one SSN."

    If you look at actual costs and experiences, it's closer to 2-3 than 6. Still a difference, and for conventional subs you need tenders and fuel infrastructure.

    Britain's at that uncomfortable point where it needs an attack sub force with global reach, but can't build enough boats any more to have a mixed nuclear/conventional fleet. Plus, they need nuclear sub technology to stay up to date in-country, because the SSBNs that hold Britain's nuclear deterrent can't be replaced with conventional subs, or bought abroad.

    Joint development of the Astute or Barracuda class with France might have made more sense, but I don't think Britain can back out of SSNs.

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  11. I fixed the price thin. Guess I had the Virginia's price in mind, or I looked at the price for two Astutes. Anyway - three fits best in comparison to Type 214 (likely not the cheapest AIP SSK).

    The "fuel infrastructure" is mostly available for the normal warships - two tenders for a fleet of two dozen subs should be enough. There are still allied tenders if those two were unavailable.


    The SSBNs may be more a custom than a necessity. Look, you can deter Russia by cruising in the Western Med, clearly out of its reach.
    You can deter the Arabs by cruising in Arctic Waters/Northern Atlantic.

    You can deter everyone else simply by cruising in either waters.
    They don't even need subs for adequate survivability of their nuclear deterrent. The high threat times are over.

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  12. Sven,

    There aren't enough bombers and ACs to make up the difference. KCs aren't currently armed. Perhaps they could be, but they could only fly in benign environments. Add even a modest degree of resistance (in the form of fighters, or SAMs) and ACs, KCs and perhaps even non-stealthy bombers will have their activities severely curtailed.

    Gaining air superiority in Afghanistan was easy. It may not be in the next conflict. Bombers have historically proven vulnerable in the face of enemy airpower. I don't see any reason to think that's changed. Fighter aircraft are still necessary to "kick the door down" and gain air superiority.

    Sortie count is an important indicator, IMHO (though not the only one). A bomber may have much greater payload and endurance, but it can still only be in one place at a time. And there aren't that many of them.

    Numbers still matter, especially in a highly dispersed conflict like Afghanistan.

    And though bombers have great range and endurance, it's not unlimited. We saw how difficult it was for the British to mount a bomber raid during the Falklands. The distances were just too far. Even if they could've made more than one run, a bomber flying a sortie every two to three days (or worse) will not be a major contributor.

    Large carriers are extremely expensive. Aviation is expensive. Escorts are expensive. However maintaining bases around the world is also expensive, both monetarily, and politically. Usage of bases in foreign countries is at the whim of the host. The U.S. has major bases in Turkey, but the Turks denied permissions to use them during OIF. As did most regional partners.

    Carriers are an expensive but important hedge against politically-driven denial of basing rights (or just lack of regional basing to begin with).

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  13. Name one historical conflict (except the war against Japan) or one presently existing country (not friendly to the U.S.) that fits your description:
    Out of range for today's land-based fighters (with KCs) and strong enough (today) to resist 19 B-2's. Assume the use of NATO bases; that includes all those British and UK-owned islands.

    So what do you think about? Chile, Argentine, Brazil, South Africa, India?

    Only India is really strong enough to resist B-2's at least in some areas and none of these countries justifies war preparations in the eleven digit range.

    "A bomber may have much greater payload and endurance, but it can still only be in one place at a time. And there aren't that many of them."

    A single bomber circling over the centre of Afghanistan can reach all parts of AFG in about 30 minutes.
    Four patrols are enough to reduce the response time to actually reported response times (up to 15-20 minutes).

    That's only 2% of the U.S. heavy bomber fleet of 2002.

    Finally, keep in mind that the use of TacAir became feasible once the Marines landed at Kandahar.
    Take also into account that the ground forces could do with less air power as well - it requires only a bit of adaption, maybe more 120mm mortars and 155mm FHs.

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  14. comparing the cost of two complete carrier battle groups on one side with a fighter only group on the other side isn't very useful. how much does a airfield cost? how much does a strong ground based airdefence cost? whats about the ground force to protect the airfield?

    for me this sounds like comparing apples and oranges.
    maybe i do not need all of this for my airfield but how needs 3 aaw-destroyers, 3 asw frigates and a ssn in a cvbg deployed near afghanistan? one aaw- and one asw-ship will do this job as well.

    a cvbg can be deployed all over the world without asking anybody for an airbase and/or overflight rights. it's independent and can protect itself against all threads. that is a huge advantage. you don't just buy the ability to use 72 fighter, you buy a small well armed island.

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  15. I compared a CVBG with fighters for the sake of simplicity. I consider the difference in aircraft as a strong enough indicator that even with some additional costs land-based aviation offers more air power for the buck.

    "a cvbg can be deployed all over the world without asking anybody for an airbase and/or overflight rights"

    That's an often-repeated navy talking point, but simply not accurate.

    It can only be deployed on open seas; a CVBG needs Turkish permission to enter the Black Sea, for example.
    Many straits and littoral waters would be excessively dangerous for a CVBG in major warfare.

    The USN CVs wouldn't have been able to interfere in Afghanistan without overflight rights by Pakistan.

    CVBGs also depend on land-based aviation (especially KCs) - they could only generate a ridiculously small number of actual strike sorties without it (if facing a serious opponent).


    CVBGs might even fail to generate any combat sorties at all if they're facing a comparable opponent (let's say identical air wing). Ships are much more vulnerable and less easily repaired or replaced than airfields - much of the air power would be fixed in the defence.

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  16. "I consider the difference in aircraft as a strong enough indicator that even with some additional costs land-based aviation offers more air power for the buck."

    but you do not prove this. fielding modern ground based airdefence (long, med, short range and maybe bmd) and a large ground force to protect the ground against enemy troops doesn't sound cheap to me.

    same to the study. you assume that this study doesn't show the objective point of view but you can not prove that the study is wrong.

    "It can only be deployed on open seas; a CVBG needs Turkish permission to enter the Black Sea, for example. [...]The USN CVs wouldn't have been able to interfere in Afghanistan without overflight rights by Pakistan."

    yes but simple count the nations/areas which can be reached by a fighter from water without asking anybody for a permission and compare this number with the nations/areas which can be reached from a us or uk-airbase without asking for permission. you see the difference? of course there is always a good and a bad example for something.

    "CVBGs also depend on land-based aviation (especially KCs) - they could only generate a ridiculously small number of actual strike sorties without it (if facing a serious opponent)."

    and how many sorties can be generated by land based fighters starting from a airbase thousand miles away from the target without KCs? even with KCs you will need strategic bombers for this job.
    from my point of view this only shows us that a carrier airwing may need a better tanker. from the ka-3 to the ka-6 and the s-3 the fuel capacity decreased all the time (i don't know numbers for the super hornet in a tanker role)

    btw did the british taskforce need land based tankers for their harriers during the falkland war? on the other hand how many tankers were needed to get a single land based bomber to the falklands? (you know good example, bad example) ;-)

    "Ships are much more vulnerable and less easily repaired or replaced than airfields - much of the air power would be fixed in the defence."

    you have to consider that it is regardless if you can repair your runway within hours if the enemy destroyed your parked aircrafts. a airfield is a stationary target which can be attacked by many different ways (e.g. missiles of all kinds, sabotage etc.). attacking a ship (and a carrier in a cvbg is a very well protected ship) is much more complicated.

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  17. "but you do not prove this"

    Indeed; this is a blog, not a paid study.

    "you assume that this study doesn't show the objective point of view but you can not prove that the study is wrong."

    Arguments need to be weighted if both sides have some - and I weigh a USN-financed study as an unreliable argument for carrier aviation as long as the USN is its greatest proponent.

    "yes but simple count the nations/areas which can be reached by a fighter from water without asking anybody for a permission"

    That quantity is irrelevant to me.
    I count the quantity of countries that could wage war against the UK and seriously threaten it (not just imaginary interests). That quantity is close to zero, and carriers would as of today not help much against any of them.
    The Ministry of Defence needs no such offensive aircraft carrier - let them wait till the UK establishes another ministry; a Ministry of Offence.

    "btw did the british taskforce need land based tankers for their harriers during the falkland war? "

    The value of the Falklands is smaller than the cost of a single CV. That conflict cannot justify the RN structure and it's no argument at all for those powers who have CVs, but no overseas islands of relevance (as Italy).
    The Harriers were badly short on endurance in 1982 (some almost crashed out of gas), and didn't need to move far inland - a few km were enough. That doesn't describe any serious opponent well.

    "you have to consider that it is regardless if you can repair your runway within hours if the enemy destroyed your parked aircrafts. a airfield is a stationary target which can be attacked by many different ways"

    An airfield is just a hard, clean and even surface. That kind of surface is easily available in many places. Land-based air power needs no airfield. A highway is perfectly fine.
    This means that land-based aviation would not need an overwhelming defence as a CVBG does. It could dare to launch all-out offensive ops.
    A CVBG would always need defensive CAPs in face of capable enemy air power because SAM systems are little more than backups; sitting ducks waiting to be countered.
    The necessary defensive sorties should be subtracted from the air wing to understand a CVBGs true offensive air power.

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  18. "Arguments need to be weighted if both sides have some"

    so you can show us an usaf study on this topic? were are the reliable arguments?

    "That quantity is irrelevant to me.
    I count the quantity of countries that could wage war against the UK and seriously threaten it (not just imaginary interests). That quantity is close to zero,.."

    based on this assumption you can stop puting money on almost any western military forces (sea, land and air) because there is no "real" threat for them. but in this case comparing the cost of a cvbg to 200 typhoons or 300 f-35 also becomes useless because in this scenario nobody needs 200 or 300 fighters.

    "The value of the Falklands is smaller than the cost of a single CV. That conflict cannot justify the RN structure ..."

    and how big is the value to fight a war in afghanistan? wars were not fought after rating costs and profit, they are fought because of interests, politics and power. but this is not the topic here, the point is that the falkland war is a nice example that a cvbg can be used in areas in which using a strategic bomber has little or no effects on the enemy. (not to mention land based fighters)

    "An airfield is just a hard, clean and even surface. That kind of surface is easily available in many places. Land-based air power needs no airfield. A highway is perfectly fine."

    ever thought on how many sorties can be flown from a highway compared to a full sized and well equipped airfield? ever thought about the logistic trouble using many small "highway style" airfields? and btw my argument was that your airfield is useless if the enemy destroyed your parked aircrafts (or ground based support equipment). so at the end you will protect your airfield (or your highway) to safe your planes etc.

    i think your argumentation doesn't fits to the real world here because if your opponent is realy able to attack your cvbg (equal airwing, modern stand-off weapons, etc.) he is also able to attack your airfields, your highways, your ground logistic (which is a lot easier) and in this case nobody will left the airfields unprotected.

    btw i know that the rsaf e.g. practised using highways as runways from time to time but they are doing this for nearly 40 years, they are well equipped for this task and they know which highway to use. but they stil needed 48 hours and 400 men to convert a highway into a runway back in 2008. this is nothing you can start to do as soon as your airfield is destroyed, you have to prepare yourself and you have to train it. flying a lot of sorties with 36 planes from a single highway over weeks doesn't sounds like an easy task to me.

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  19. "i think your argumentation doesn't fits to the real world here because if your opponent is realy able to attack your cvbg (equal airwing, modern stand-off weapons, etc.)..."

    Yet keep in mind that equal air wing doesn't mean equal costs. The best defence is one that doesn't waste resources. You don't want one fighter if you could have two of the same kind for the same price.
    This blog is about defence, and CVs offer less defence for the buck than land-based air wings. Therefore I argue against expensive CVs.
    They may offer more offensive capability in relatively rare circumstances, but those are not about defence.

    "...but they stil needed 48 hours and 400 men to convert a highway into a runway back in 2008."

    Even IF they needed an additional airfield battalion; that would still be much cheaper than even a single frigate escort.

    By the way; attacking an airfield isn't much easier than achieving a mission kill on a CV if the airfield has some defences.
    Airfields get no super-strong defences because that would be inefficient, yet aircraft carriers get huge defences. Few are irritated by this, which shows how much we got used to carriers without really thinking about their efficiency.

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  20. Which current great naval power has no aircraft carrier or no amphibious warfare ship with aircraft carrying capability (I prefer the term commando carrier for these)?
    So the US Navy, Russian Navy, UK Navy, Chinese Navy, French Navy, Indian Navy, Spanish Navy, Brazilian Navy, Italian Navy, the Thai Navy and the carrier-training Argentinian Navy, they all understand much less about naval warfare than the German Navy that has been trained by British officers after WW2 on how to operate a surface navy and has been forbid long time by treaty to develop aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines (today often part of a full deployment of an off-shore naval force). If you count helicopter carriers as part of enhanced sea-control carriers, well, South Korea, Japan, Australia and the Netherlands are also in and countries like Algeria will soon join.

    Off course, the carrier is a tool that can be used on the offense. But have you ever asked yourself why someone buys fighter aircrafts if it were much cheaper to replace these with anti-air-missiles and long range unmanned bombing vehicles (of whatever kind)?
    The same question applies to aircraft carriers, do they with their aircrafts add a degree of surviveability to a fleet that can't be obtained via any other methods at a reasonable price? The German Navy you refer to is a littoral navy with formerly the main task to defend the exit from the Baltic Sea and later on some presence in the Mediterranean. For controlling these littoral waters, they had a fighter air wing on shore. So they did consider it necessary to have a combination of their ships supported by fighter aircrafts trained specifically for this task. Now the Germans do have a littoral navy that can cruise around the blue waters of the world, but if they ever tried to extend their sea lines of communication control task beyond the littoral and friendly coasts, they would lack the fighter aircrafts they consider important for their current military capabilities.
    So either you have a carrier and can go into blue water or you don't and stay away. Carrier in this context must not be limited to so-called aircraft carriers, but having fighter aircrafts carried on a ship greatly helps with capabilities. The carrier ship is a mobile airfield with a sophisticated infrastructure to operate aircrafts close to the enemy with many sorties and much ordnance delivered. In case Germany ever considers operating beyond their littorals they will likely add an aircraft platform to their currently leased roll-on-roll-off ships.

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  21. Sven, I think you have the wrong angle on this subject. Carriers provide a mobile airbase. on this airbase rotary wings for sea-control and fighter-bombers are based plus some additional aircrafts.
    The fighter-bombers are currently being used for bombing targets on land. That mission can most likely be conducted by other means at lower total system costs.
    You postulate than that this bombing mission is the purpose of the fighter bombers on the carriers and because of aforementioned cheaper alternatives and incapable enemies, sending the carrier group was cost inefficient. You're perfectly right, but these bombing campaigns were reality-enhanced training missions for carrier existance, not their raison d'être.
    Why are fighter bombers on a carrier, even on a sea-control carrier such as Principe d'Asturias?
    Fighters provide the best air defence, that was the major reason for the Soviet Union to enter the carrier business.
    Fighter bombers are hard to defend against, except with other fighters or an overkill of SAM that is mostly not available for all warships. These bombers have high surviveability and have always been able to conduct an organized destruction of surface or subsurface vessels with different means, according to rapidly developing circumstances.
    From this point of view the fighters are an add-on for self-defense capabilities of ships and thus survival of the group. And they can kill enemy ships.
    That's the reason why Germany had a naval fighter-bomber squadron after all, but Germany never yet aspired to blue water naval capability with the need to add a carrier to all these surface ships in a naval strike group and not the other way round, like you present it.
    OK, a carrier seems still expensive, but that money is not due to being a protected swimming airfield (available at a much lower price), but because of all the electronics that can be transported in such a large hull. The necessity of these electronic gadgets can be discussed.
    Italy shows that a medium sized modern carrier can be available at the price of a modern air defence frigate of 1 billion $.
    More than medium size for carriers has much to do with improved group offence over group defence and I agree with you that their utility at that cost might be questionable. It's not size that makes these carriers unfit, but overblown electronics while the US Navy constantly feels the urge to showcase the ability of overexpensive platforms.

    http://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2009-04/buy-fords-not-ferraris
    Is a good article on the topic. Size affects costs marginally. The problem is rather general that the brass responsible for procurement likes chips. This results in the current costs of LCS, Ford-class carriers and so on. But it's not a necessary feature of carrier aviation.

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  22. You need no mobile base for defence. Mobile bases are only useful for fighting in places not relevant to your nation's defence.

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