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Monday, December 8, 2008

A Suggestion to Ignore: Get Rid of Aircraft Carriers

This Forbes column was pointed out to me a few days ago by Tom Blumer of BizzyBlog. Here is the crux of the author's position:
Over the next few decades the Pentagon is planning to spend more than $50 billion on its Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carriers. The first of these 100,000-ton ships is due for completion in 2015, with others following as vessels in the existing 12-carrier fleet are retired. Since aircraft carriers are near helpless without a protective ring of about ten destroyers, frigates and cruisers, the military wants to invest in newer versions of these, too, at a cost of an additional $50 billion.

This plan constitutes a huge waste of taxpayer money and exemplifies the Defense Department's fixation on preserving legacy systems designed for a kind of war that the U.S. is likely never to fight again.
His math is rather convoluted. He takes the cost of the carriers and then adds the potential cost of all the new ships that would comprise the carrier battle group to achieve his 100 billion price tag. Problem with that is if we pretended for a moment that he is right that we don't need aircraft carriers that wouldn't automatically mean the other ships that make up a battle group would have no other functions. Reality is the escort ships, mostly cruisers and destroyers fulfill several other war fighting competencies. Some mistakenly assume that ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) became obsolete with the break up of the Soviet Union. Wrong. While the Soviets were the primary threat we were concerned with, they were not the only nation with submarines. Additionally, events of the past year should serve as a reminder that Russia is not convinced that the Soviet Union is a thing of the past. More important that ASW is the fact that our modern AEGIS cruisers and destroyers are a key component of our nations missile defense system. Recent successful testing of these systems should put to rest the oft-told lie that SDS or Star Wars is a pipe dream with no chance of success.

More important than the price being arbitrary is the false premise of his overall argument. He may be a bright guy, but he is fooling himself if he thinks he knows what military challenges we may face over the next 50 some years which is the estimated life of a nuclear aircraft carrier.

He also mistakenly assumes there is no deterrent affect of carrier based on the fact that some countries have taken aggressive action despite the presence of carriers. There is no way of determining how many times belligerent nations decided not to take action because of the potential of U.S. military might. It is frequently said that the first question a president is likely to ask when apprised of an international incident is where is the nearest carrier. Well, I can assure you that that is also the first thought of nations considering rattling their sabers.

The carrier gives our operational commanders greater flexibility than we have with our landlocked Air Force assets. We need permission of the host country to take action with planes taking-off from or flying over other countries. Because of various diplomatic considerations that permission is often not quickly given. Jets that launch from our carriers (which is considered U.S. soil) don't need permission of anyone but the CinC giving orders.

Our modern nuclear powered carriers have the added advantage of only needing to refuel every 20 to 25 years. The last few years have clearly demonstrated that we can not take an endless supply of oil for granted.

Lastly, and most importantly, what makes his suggestion past foolish and moves it into the category of dangerous is he frames it as a suggestion for the incoming president-elect. The last thing President-elect Obama, who is perceived as weak on defense, needs to do is affirm that opinion by immediately scuttling a key part of our nations future defense. History has taught us that a sign of weakness invites testing of our strength and resolve. It can be reasonably argued that tepid responses to prior terror attacks emboldened AQ to plan 9/11. Not a very good idea to go back to the September 10th mindset.

I'll grant Mr. Arquilla that our military budget has a great deal of excess and needs much better stewardship, but his approach is the wrong way to go and sends a message we shouldn't send.

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1 Comments:

Blogger BizzyBlog said...

Nice job, Bill.

I am still a bit concerned about the "sitting duck" contention, esp re China, but that is one theater in the whole world (I suppose).

He also wrote:
When the carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson was supporting field operations in Iraq between January and June of 2005...

Didn't he mean 2003? That's a pretty big bust in his prose, or Forbes's editing.

December 8, 2008 at 5:01 PM

 

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