US Navy launches landmark study for future of super aircraft carriers

While the US navy fails to come up with a satisfactory model for retaining naval supremacy over China in the long run, it launched, according to the breakingDefense.com site, a study entitled Future Carrier 2030 Task Force which aims to be decisive on the future of aircraft carriers in its inventory, as well as of the Task Force built around them. The expected results could lead the US Navy to limit the number of Ford-class super aircraft carriers currently under construction to just 4 units. This study, which as its name suggests will focus on the state of threat and defensive and offensive capabilities of aircraft carriers in 2030, will not only determine the level of vulnerability of aircraft carrier groups today, but deduce the doctrines of use as well as the format of the US Navy as the aircraft carriers themselves, in order to guide the industrial and doctrinal effort for years to come.

Like Mark Esper, the US Secretary of Defense, and the US Congress, many are today in Washington wondering about the survivability of aircraft carriers in the face of the new weapons that Russian and Chinese navies have, and will have, in the near future. Two threats are particularly pointed in this area, namely hypersonic missiles or anti-ship ballistics, like the Russian Tzirkon et the Chinese DF26, and advancements in attack submarines for both navies. But the questions do not relate only to the aircraft carrier itself, but to its airborne group, also vulnerable to new Sino-Russian multi-layered denial of access devices, as well as constraints and potential responses to these constraints. that represent all its systems vis-à-vis the current doctrine of use of aircraft carriers.

The aircraft carrier has been the symbol of Western and American supremacy over the seas for over 75 years

The problem can be summarized as follows:

  • Aircraft carriers and their escorts are today unable to protect themselves effectively against future hypersonic anti-ship missiles (such as the Russian 9M22 Tzirkon), and have only limited ability to protect against - screw anti-ship ballistic missiles (like the DF21D or the Chinese DF26)
  • The combined use of modern submarines, drones and satellites allows the adversary to locate with some ease the carrier strike group around a super-aircraft carrier, and thus to direct its missiles.
  • This threat is accentuated by the use of hypersonic missiles to change mediums from opposing attack submarines, available in large numbers and performance is constantly increasing.

In fact, it is likely that aircraft carriers, in the future, will be forced to operate at much greater distances from opposing coasts if they were to conduct traditional attack missions, as was the case for example. in Iraq from the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean during the two wars against Iraq, or against Libya and Serbia from Mediterranean waters, and of course against North Vietnam from the Gulf from Tonkin. From now on, the aircraft carriers could be brought to evolve to more than 1000, see 2000 km from the opposing coasts in order to protect themselves from a coastal or air attack using these long-range missiles. However, today, no on-board combat aircraft, nor the F / A 18 E / F Super Hornet, nor the F35C Lighting II, has a combat range greater than 1000 km, actually requiring airplanes, or supply drones to accompany them, drones which could also prove to be very vulnerable in the face of Air Defense and enemy hunting. In other words, not only could the aircraft carrier prove to be significantly more vulnerable, but the planes that it uses could prove to be unsuitable for missions in the operational context to come.

No more than the Super Hornet, the F35C does not have enough reach to meet the future needs of American on-board hunting.

Is this then the programmed end of aircraft carriers? Probably not ! And it is moreover the role of the Future Carrier 2030 Task Force to determine what the future uses of these ships will be, and how to make them a tool of naval superiority. One of these obvious uses would be to entrust aircraft carriers maritime space control missions, which, moreover, was their main mission during the Second World War. The aircraft carrier would ensure the role of a floating naval air base to prohibit or protect maritime space in an area, such as was the mission of the American task forces in the Atlantic during the Cold War. It should be noted that the Russian navies, and especially the Chinese, seem for the moment to specialize their naval air groups in these missions, which is why they use aircraft specialized in Air Defense, anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare. .

It could also appear that the format of super-aircraft carriers, like Ford and Nimitz class ships, is no longer able to meet current challenges, and that lighter aircraft carriers, but also more numerous because less expensive to build and to employ, could constitute a relevant response to the problem of super capital ship, the loss of which would generate a deep trauma for both the US Navy and the American public opinion. . It is probable that the analysis will point out the limits of the current American airborne group, in particular with regard to Air Defense, no longer having a heavy interceptor with long range of action, as could be in its time the F14 Tomcat, nor does it have anti-submarine warfare devices like the S3 Viking, which nevertheless played a decisive role in the North Atlantic against Russian submarines during the Cold War.

The F14 Tomcat was the US Navy's response to the threat of Soviet long-range bombers equipped with long-range anti-ship missiles

Finally, it is more than likely that this study will take a critical look at the escort capabilities, particularly in anti-submarine warfare, of the American carrier strike group, since the withdrawal of escorts such as the frigates OH Perry and Knox before they, and which constituted a dense anti-submarine defensive curtain around the aircraft carrier, where today, the A.Burke destroyers and the Ticonderoga cruisers are above all specialized in anti-aircraft defense and strikes towards the air. Earth. As such, it must take into account developments in defense systems, such as, for example, laser weapons, rail gun and the programs of missiles to counter hypersonic weapons or semibalistics under development.

One thing is certain, this prospective analysis will be decisive for the future of aircraft carriers in the US Navy, but also for all Western navies, including the French Navy, which has started the preliminary study for the replacement of its only nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle. It will also be able to influence the SCAF program bringing together France, Germany and Spain, in charge of designing the future combat aircraft and its global air combat system which will equip the air forces of the 3 countries, as well as the onboard air group. of the French Navy.

The Future carrier 2030 study will probably influence the European SCAF program, which must, among other things, replace the Rafale M of the air group on board the French aircraft carrier (s)

But it is clear that it shows, above all, to what extent the technologies developed by Russia and China in recent years in terms of defense systems, now condition the thinking and even the format of Western armed forces, including the American ones. , confirming, if it were necessary, that the strategic initiative has changed sides today.

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