Defense, Aircraft Carriers, and US Policy

I think this article will piss off everyone.  Conservatives and Liberals will each find commentary that they hate.  I challenge all of them to think rationally instead of emotionally.

The article preceding this one used an example of the new Gerald R. Ford class of aircraft carriers as an example of the US budget policy.

Some, perhaps many, will say that the US needs a strong navy and a strong military and honestly, I don’t disagree.  I will disagree with the direction the military is taking in the procurement of new weapon systems.

The aircraft carrier is tool for state policy.  Ninety five percent of the time, it is a hole into which money is poured so that the US can say, “F you” to anyone on the planet and get away with it.  The other five percent of the time, even more money (and lives) are poured into it to support the policies of the masters of the US government (big oil).

Let’s be frank here.  What I’m about to say will piss a lot of people off, but don’t fall back on emotion.  I challenge you to really think, use that brain. 

All of our military power, really hasn’t done very much since the end of WWII (and we lost China to communism about that time).  Korea is still going on, with incursions and deaths all the way to today.  Vietnam, well, we ran and left them.  Cambodia, Libya, Lebanon, Grenada, Iran, Panama, Libya, Iran, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Iran, Libya… what was really accomplished in any of these places?  Almost every  one of these was to protect American Interests (read: businesses).

Now, what is an aircraft carrier battle group?  (That link is really fascinating reading… again, if you can do it without an emotional response.)  It’s a huge collection of men and metal that really has only one function…

Project Power

For much of its existence, the US was in a totally unique position.  We were, effectively, an island nation.  We were at the population and technology level of Europe and slightly ahead of much of Asia.  But we were separated by huge oceans from both those groups.  We needed a powerful navy to protect our freighters.  In the beginning, there were pirates (oh wait, still are).  There were countries engaged in unrestricted maritime warfare.

And, I think, there was probably a bit of, “Look how tough we are”.  America is a relatively young country (as compared with China and Great Britain that can trace their history for a thousand years or more).  Once the modern age rolled around, we wanted to be players in the rest of the world.

The aircraft carrier battlegroup is the modern extension of this policy.  Theoretically, nothing exists within 500 miles of the carrier that it does not allow to be there.  During the cold war, the battlegroups would maneuver to avoid detection at all costs.  No one knew where the carriers were.  No one could attack them.

But they were ready.  They could (again theoretically) destroy any target within 500 miles of the ocean (which is a lot of the world).

They were the tool of Power Projection.  If a country was doing something they didn’t like, a squadron or two of fighter-bombers could fly along the enemy’s coast.  Just a reminder that we could do almost anything we wanted, whenever we wanted to, and there wasn’t a damned thing anyone could do to stop us.

It made us cocky.  It started out resisting communism.  Then we became the “World’s Police Force”.  And nothing ever really changed.

Power Projection is for aggressive countries with agendas (note that the Chinese may be building one).

President Obama’s latest attack on Libya seems to be a trend away from the previous US policy of “We’re going to do what we want.” and more into “We’re in this together, what should we do.

If the US develops a policy (if the Republicans will let us) of solidarity with the UN and acting in concert with other nations instead of against them, we really don’t need power projection too much anymore.

Let’s look at a carrier battle group (BTW: They are now called Carrier Strike Groups… I don’t know why).

You have one Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier (nuclear powered) – purchase cost 4-7 billion dollars. Operating cost per year: 300 million or so.  Disposal cost (nuclear powered remember) 500-900 million.  (

the total ownership cost for a Nimitz-class ship is $32.1 billion in FY 04 constant year dollars, and the total ownership cost for CVN 78 is expected to be $26.8 billion. Half of the total ownership cost for an aircraft carrier is allocated to the direct and indirect costs of manpower for operations and maintenance of the ship.

The US has 11 right now with another one building (the Gerald R. Ford mentioned above).  Don’t get me wrong, the Ford is a gorgeous ship and she should be more efficient than the Nimitz class they will eventually begin to replace.  But still… $26.8 billion dollars over a 25 year lifespan?

Don’t forget that for all their power, carriers are very, very weak warships.  The planes exist (12 billion for 24 new Joint Strike Fighters BTW) to keep the notional bad guys as far away as possible.  But the carrier never travels alone.

There is always at least 1 cruiser (or DDG – guided missile destroyer) and 2-3 DDG/FFG (guided missile frigates) with her.  A modern DDG costs 1.1 billion to build and is not nuclear, so it uses a lot of fuel.  A Ticonderoga class cruiser costed about 1 billion as well.  I can’t find costs of a Perry class FFG.

Now we can add in specialist ships that may have to be with the strike group.  One to three LA Class subs, a few supply ships for really long cruises, etc, etc… you get the picture?  Oh, here’s one…

I (in my tired, somewhat addled state) count 22 ships in this picture.  Very above average for battle group in modern times, but not during the cold war.  The front 4 are submarines.  That’s the Abraham Lincoln, a Nimitz-class carrier.  There are at least two of the cruisers mentioned above (maybe 3).  I count 4 supply ships.  The rest are various classes of destroyers and frigates.

Please remember that this group of 22 warships could easily destroy the entire navy of almost any other country on the planet right now.  If you discount, Great Britain, France, Russia, and maybe Brazil and Italy, it could probably take on EVERY other warship on the planet and win.

Why the hell do we need 11 of these things right now?

The US is not the world’s police anymore, I hope.

Well, this article has gone on long enough.  I’m not even really sure of its purpose, except to inform.  If we start cutting the defense budget (and we can because we’re acting with other countries, not by ourselves), then we don’t need all of this anymore.  I freely admit that we should retain some of this ability, but not on a permanent cruise around the world.  Hold them close until needed.

We can save a lot of money and I hope that Obama and the other Democrats begin to use some of their courage to stand up for this kind of policy change.

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