Procurement gap or inventory surplus?

It's both amusing and fascinating to read articles and discussions about a perceived "fighter gap" or "fighter shortage" of the U.S.Navy that might leave the navy unable to fill up all its aircraft carriers with fighters in several years.

I've seen an estimated 20 texts about the topic so far - all with the same direction: The navy needs more combat aircraft.

That's a bit strange because the navy has more than just one option for matching carrier quantity and aircraft quantity:

(1) increase aircraft quantity to a match
(2) reduce carrier quantity to a match
(3) change air wing composition
(4) increase both to a match
(5) decrease both to a match

The observed discussions about the issue were all about option (1) for reasons that would likely not work anywhere else.

Option (1) isn't the most obvious one, though. I would personally rather tend towards (5) and (2) would be a sensible choice as well.

That carrier fleet isn't really about "defense", after all. It's about power projection - about "offense", especially about "offense" against poor and small countries that cannot defend themselves effectively against such attacks.

There's almost no way how one could rationally assume that the immense costs can be justified with anything else than defence or national political median preference*.

I guess the latter is what really counts.

Sven Ortmann

*: Preferences cannot be discussed in cost/effectiveness terms. Preferences are the source information for cost effectiveness considerations; they define the relative value of things.

edit for clarification: This wasn't about carriers. I was appalled by the lack of thought and writing about other options than primitive "more, more, more!". The bizarre comments of other authors about the topic even assert that there was a "gap". "Gaps" were in teh past perceived gaps between the own and potential adversary capabilities (and quite often more fiction than reality).
This time the gap discussion is both unrelated to potential adversaries and unrelated to actual defence.

The USN's inventory and orders for Super Hornets and Growlers would suffice to keep the #1 air power status for the U.S. even if there was not a single USAF or USMC combat aircraft. That doesn't even consider the fact that most of the top 20 military and air powers of the world are allied with the U.S..
The talk about a "fighter gap" is completely detached from reality, delusional!


  1. Regardless of what these carriers are for primarily, the irony is, that overall reduction in carrier vessels will inevitably happen. The combined pressure from an inadequate shipbuilding plan (if current force levels are to be preserved), severe shortcomings on project management and execution (every new surface project currently happening is both severely delayed and over projected cost) and the ususal political strife will make sure that the carrier force is shrinking.

    Admittedly, it is shrinking very slowly (1-2 vessels over 20 years), but going down it does. And if the Ford-class is experiencing more problems in the future, the decline will accelerate.

  2. Re: clarification...

    Point taken, but I was referring to your theoretical solution no.2 and I tried to point out that this is the road to be taken regardless of preferences.

    Heck, the USN preference still is for the 313 ship-navy and thats not going to happen either - ever.

    The discussion in some circles might be slightly out of touch with reality, but reality does not care too much about that, it just happens. The idea of measuring up against potential adversaries, in terms of actual inventory comparison, is long gone from US force structure discussions anyway. The last time that happened was with US/Soviet sub building. Even there the view was problematic. Its like discussing the US health and social welfare system...the rest of the world does not really exist there...

  3. I don't think that long-term plans for minor adjustments deserve to be taken seriously.

    A plan that doesn't yield a difference before several successors in office had their opportunity to mess with it is usually a farce.

    Germany had an exit plan for (against) nuclear energy. The social democrats and greens negotiated a deal with the electricity sector that would have yielded an exit out fo nuclear power in the long run.
    It's now in the process of being discarded before much has happened. Only the oldest powerplants went offline, as they would likely have done without the deal as well.

    Many people regarded this agreement as an exit plan when in reality it was a farce (and that was visible from the beginning as it was more about guaranteeing minimum remaining online time than it was about shutting powerplants down).

    This, historical lessons and experiences tell me that at least partially unpopular long-term plans that have no significant impact early on are often a farce.

    A rational decision would certainly have reduced the USN (and therefore its costs) to at most a "1:all non-allies" standard.

    The British Empire's Royal Navy had a 1:2 standard for decades; it was was powerful as the next two naval powers combined. There's certainly no sanity in keeping the USN more powerful (and thus more expensive) than all non-allied navies COMBINED. Even such a standard would be excessive and unrelated to actual defence necessities!


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