Will three aircraft carriers be retired early?

The USS Enterprise’s decommissioning is already scheduled. The other carriers in the fleet were expected to be in service for at least another decade or so.

But a recent issue of Time Magazine says a lot of money could be saved by critically examining the Department of Defense’s budget. How to Save a Trillion Dollars advocates reducing the number of Aircraft carriers in the Navy’s fleet from 11 to 8.

On a damp, gray morning in late February, Navy admirals, U.S. Congress members and top officials of the nation’s biggest shipyard gathered in Norfolk, Va., to watch a computerized torch carve bevels into a slab of steel as thick as your fist.

The occasion: the ceremonial cutting of the first piece of a $15 billion aircraft carrier slated to weigh anchor in 2020. That ship — still unnamed — will follow the just-as-costly Gerald R. Ford, now 20% built and due to set sail in 2015.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, China is putting the final touches on a new class of DF-21 missiles expressly designed to sink the Ford and its sister ship as well as their 5,000-person crews. China’s missiles, which will likely cost about $10 million each, could keep the Navy’s carriers so far away from Taiwan that the short-range aircraft they bear would be useless in any conflict over the tiny island’s fate.

Aircraft carriers, born in the years before World War II, are increasingly obsolete platforms of war. They feature expensive manned aircraft in an age when budgets are being squeezed and less expensive drones are taking over. …

Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned last year of “the growing antiship capabilities of adversaries” before asking what in Navy circles had long been the unaskable question. “Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?”

Last month the U.S. Naval Institute blog had a post about moving to smaller aircraft carriers: Must Every Carrier be a Supercarrier?

… But what really jumps out from Col Desens’ comments is the possibility that a smaller aircraft carrier with such a weapon as the F-35B could have efficacy as an alternative to the traditional supercarrier that has been the sole contestant in the US Navy’s aircraft carrier building arena since the commissioning of the Forrestals in the late 1950s. …

If the number of CVNs [nuclear aircraft carriers -JK] in commission shrinks to 9 or even 8 in the coming decade, which is a distinct possibility, we are left with a shortage of assets to cover a world-wide commitment.  When the question is asked again, as it will be, “Where are the carriers?”, there are two answers that we should take great pains to avoid.

USS Enterprise is already scheduled to be retired, and I assume that the USS Gerald R. Ford will be completed. To reduce the fleet to 8 carriers would require sending 3 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers to an early retirement.

If the Navy was told to remove three more carriers from their fleet, I’d guess they’d start with the ones that have not yet undergone a Refueling and Complex Overhaul (cost: $2.4billion or so). This maintenance is performed about 25 years into the carrier’s life. The Theodore Roosevelt started its RCOH procedure in 2009, and the Abraham Lincoln is next in line.

What would could be done with three “surplus” nuclear carriers? The last of the oil-powered carriers were put into the reserve fleet, where ships are held for potential reactivation. The Independence, Constellation, and Ranger are tied to the docs at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard:

Nuclear-powered ships can’t be treated this way, as the reactors require constant maintenance. The highly enriched uranium fuel is also rather problematic.

The professional navy people I’ve communicated with don’t like the idea of dedicating the USS Enterprise to disaster response. They give several reasons: it’s too old, it’s the only ship of its class, it’s a prototype that requires any number of unique parts ($$$), it was last refueled in 1990 and is now running low on atoms, etc.

If three Nimitz-class carriers were to be retired early, perhaps the politicians can order the Navy to tell them what would be involved in repurposing one or more of these ships.

 

 

Story & videos of the USS Ronald Reagan in Japan

This is a Japanese television report about the USS Ronald Reagan’s role in disaster response:

A news story about the Ronald Reagan’s disaster relief efforts in Japan:

ON BOARD THE USS RONALD REAGAN — When U.S. Navy helicopters swept down on the school in a ruined Japanese village, survivors first looked hesitantly from the windows. Then they rushed out, helping unload food, water and clothes. They clasped hands with the Americans. Some embraced them.

“They are like gods descending from the sky,” said a tearful Junko Fujiwara, 37, a secretary at the elementary-school-turned-shelter in the northern coastal town of Kesennuma. “It’s cold and dark here, so we need everything: food, water, electricity, gasoline, candles.”

Much of what the Americans have handed out are goods taken from their own ships: extra food and blankets, and even the sailors’ own clothes.

There were stuffed toys for children, too.

To alleviate food shortages in the shelters, the Ronald Reagan sent 77,000 frozen hot dogs to a Japanese warship, which boiled them and gave them out.

U.S. brings relief, goodwill to Japan (Seattle Times)

I wonder how much more could be “handed out” if the Ronald Reagan was supplied for a disaster instead of war.

Repurposing the USS Nassau

This evening I somehow found myself at Stratfor.com. The free report I received in exchange for my email address said that the Tarawa-class amphibious assault ship USS Nassau is scheduled to be decommissioned on March 31st.

image from lha4.com
USS Nassau

This warship has already responded to many disasters. As of this writing, the USS Nassau’s official navy page says the crew is preparing for decommissioning by removing the diapers and baby food:

NORFOLK, Va. (Feb. 3, 2010) – It’s a little known fact that U.S. Navy vessels, such as USS Nassau, carry not only supplies and food for Sailors and embarked Marines, but also for babies in times of need and humanitarian relief.

As Logistics Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Daniel Shelton carried boxes of diapers, baby food, and other infant supplies out of the Evac Storeroom and into Nassau’s Hangar Bay, he explained that merely providing diapers and food like in Haiti can bridge gaps between cultures.

“Language isn’t important when you do this kind of work,” said Shelton.  “If you possess the human emotion of empathy, you can communicate with anyone from anywhere in the world.”

Although a large amount of baby supplies were given to infants and families in Haiti last year, Shelton and other Nassau Sailors still kept the storeroom stocked in case another tragedy occurred while deployed.

“Participating in humanitarian relief shows the world that we are more than just a military force,” said Shelton.  “We have feelings too.  Going there and simply handing out diapers along with other supplies made the Haitian people greatly appreciative.  They may never know what it took to get it to them, but they’re so grateful of that gesture and will remember that somebody cared enough to get down there to get it to them.”

In about an hour, Shelton and other Nassau Supply Department Sailors filled three giant boxes to the brim with all of their baby food, formula and diapers so that other ships can use them.

Ships with large deck areas really are invaluable when responding to a disaster. The USS Tortuga is currently being used to transport 93 Japan Defense Force vehicles to the tsunami site.

Enterprise is currently in the Mediterranean with its strike group, and it’ll be over 2 years until the Navy is planning to not have it in their fleet.

The USS Nassau is getting transferred to the Military Sealift Command in two weeks. Strictly speaking, amphibious assault ships such as the Nassau might be more appropriate for “dedicated disaster response” than the USS Enterprise. The planet needs 3 such ships. We ought to get started with this one.

 

image from lha4.com
USS Nassau at Twilight

Some technical data:

[USS Nassau has] 1,400 compartments, nine elevators and two horizontal conveyors. She also has two boilers — the largest ever manufactured for the United States Navy. They can generate a total of 400 tons of steam per hour and develop 140,000 horsepower or 104 megawatts (MW). Nassau’s electrical power subsystem creates 14 MW to provide electrical power for the ship. She has air conditioning equipment rated at a total of 1500 tons (5.3 MW) and can ballast 12,000 tons of seawater for trimming the ship to receive and discharge landing craft from the well deck.

USS Nassau (LHA-4): Technical Data (wikipedia)

 

Media report on US Navy activities in Japan

Here’s a Wired story on what the Navy’s doing in Japan:

… The contamination may be spreading. But so is the Navy’s assistance role in the relief effort. The 7th Fleet said it expects the U.S.S. Tortuga to arrive on Tuesday at the eastern coast of Hokkaido, carrying two heavy-lift MH-53 helicopters. It’ll pick up Japanese troops and vehicles and send them on to Aomori, in northern Honshu. Four more ships are expected to arrive starting on Wednesday: the Blue Ridge, the Essex, the Harpers Ferry and the Germantown.

Retired Capt. Jan van Tol, who commanded the Essex during the 2005 tsunami relief missions in Indonesia, explained that heavy-lift helicopters are needed “given the likely damage to coastal transportation infrastructure and the rugged Japanese terrain.” He told Politico, “Essex is on her way up from Malaysia (means a week away…), and other big decks will no doubt be assigned. They’re the real assets for this given their heavy helo lift capacity, though the carriers will no doubt get the headlines with their SH-60s. Remember that operating the heavy helos is not merely a matter of the deck space (of which the CVNs obviously have a lot more), but also of the aircraft maintenance capability needed to keep the helos operating (and I expect they’ll be worked very heavily).”

Despite Contamination, Navy Copters Keep Aiding Japan (emphasis added)

Pictures of Tsunami relief efforts on the USS Ronald Reagan

The USS Ronald Reagan is currently off the eastern shore of Japan, assisting in disaster relief. I’ve just noticed that some photos have been posted on the USS Ronald Reagan‘s facebook page:

Some pictures from the photo album titled Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Relief:

“Capt. Jim Morgan … coordinates search and rescue (SAR) efforts with Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Capt. Iwasaki.

Japanese helicopter (note the red ‘dot’) landing on the Ronald Reagan.

U.S. Navy to Assist with Japanese Earthquake Response

Just read this morning that one aircraft carrier is already in Japan, and a second is en-route.

 

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2011 – The United States is prepared to help Japan deal with the aftermath of the massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck today “in any way we possibly can,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in Bahrain.

“I’ve been kept informed all day long about the tsunami in Japan, the earthquake and tsunami,” said Gates, who is on a trip through the Middle East and Europe. “As best we can tell, all of our people are OK, [and] our ships and military facilities are all in pretty good shape.”

The secretary said that although Japan is a very sophisticated country, “this is a huge disaster and we will do … anything we are asked to do to help out.”

“Japan is, of course, one of our strongest and closest allies and this morning I spoke with Prime Minister [Naoto] Kan,” Obama said during a news conference here. “On behalf of the American people, I conveyed our deepest condolences especially to the victims and their families, and I offered our Japanese friends whatever assistance is needed.”

Obama received a briefing this morning in the Oval Office on the earthquake in Japan and the tsunami warnings across the Pacific from several senior U.S. government officials.

“We currently have an aircraft carrier in Japan and another is on its way,” he said at the news conference. “We also have a ship en route to the Marianas Islands to assist as needed.”


On his Twitter feed this morning, Noriyuki Shikata, deputy cabinet secretary for public relations and director of global communications at the Japanese prime minister’s office, said the Japanese government requested U.S. forces in Japan to support efforts to rescue people and to provide oil and medical aid via the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, adding his thanks to the U.S. government.

http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=63136

 

Navy Units Prepare to Support Tsunami-Damaged Areas

From U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (NNS) — U.S. Pacific Fleet ships in the Western Pacific were converging on Japan to be in the best position to help those in areas damaged by the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

They include the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), which departed Southern California waters on March 5 for a regularly scheduled deployment to the Western Pacific and U.S. Central Command area of responsibility. Reagan is the flagship of the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, which includes USS Chancellorsville (CG 62) and USS Preble (DDG 88). All three ships were headed to Honshu’s east coast. It is too early to say what they will be tasked with once they arrive.

http://www.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=59040