Retro Procurement: Carrier On Wayward Son

Back in the early 90s, Brazil was looking to get a carrier. And supposedly, they were offered one of the Forrestals but turned it down in favor of the smaller, cheaper Foch. Well, we’ll take that deal, Uncle Sam. So, let’s go buy a Forrestal or two and wholeheartedly embrace naval aviation, power projection, and all those good things. This will let us develop some serious force projection capability, and provide lessons for future posts procurement projects.

The carriers themselves are early fleet carrier designs, but are still quite useful. There’s not any upgrades we’d want to apply; the biggest issue is one of placement of the portside elevator, which isn’t easily fixable. The issue was corrected on the later Kitty Hawk class, and if Uncle Sam is willing to sell us some of those instead, we’d oblige. Otherwise, the Forrestals will do. They have Sea Sparrows and Phalanxes and that is all the close-in defense that they need.

Carriers are useless without an air wing, so what would we put in our new flattops? The Forrestals are big enough to carry just about anything we might want that is carrier-capable, unlike the earlier Midways. We’ll start our air wing off in the Danger Zone: two fighter squadrons of Grumman Tomcats, each with twelve of the big planes. The latest model is the F-14D, with glass cockpit, APG-71 radar, and most importantly, GE F110-400 engines instead of the awful TF30s.

Next, we’ll take two light attack squadrons, each with 12 A-7E Corsair IIs. This offsets the cost of the Tomcats mentioned earlier, especially since the US Navy had mostly replaced their A-7s with Hornets by this point. While we could also use Hornets here, the greater range of the Corsair IIs makes them our preferred choice. Our attack aircraft load continues with a “Medium Attack” squadron of 10 A-6E Intruders, plus four KA-6D Intruder tankers. The Intruder is a great attack aircraft, capable of hauling a large bombload over a good distance. Having a tanker variant is also useful for long-range strikes so as to be less dependent on land-based tankers. While I could relax the desired tankers, the US Navy’s retirement of the A-6 Intruder fleet in the 90s means that I’d go for both at the ‘used aircraft’ discount. Intruders would be also useful operating from land bases.

For antisubmarine operations, we’ll add a squadron of 10 S-3B Vikings and another of six SH-60Fs. Pretty typical.

AEW&C is super important, since that gives us radar higher up and allows us to separate the radar signature from the carrier location. For that, the only real option is the E-2C Hawkeye. We’ll take a half dozen of those. We’ll also want some electronic warfare support, so we’ll add four EA-6B Prowlers for electronic attack.

And that about covers our air wing, give or take a couple C-2 Greyhounds for resupply. But those as often as not are at a shore base.

11 thoughts on “Retro Procurement: Carrier On Wayward Son

  1. Chris Bradshaw

    Whatever happened to ” As a continental power, Borgundy doesn’t really care much about aircraft carriers…”?

    I love the USN supercarriers as much as anyone, but just like helicopters on a surface combatant or the Russian nuclear battlecruiser, if you’ve got one of something, that means you’ve got none when you need it and it matters. Just look at what happened to the Kuznetsov when its drydock sank (WTF Russia?) or how the CDG couldn’t do anything against ISIS for pretty much all of 2018 due to a refit.

    1. parvusimperator Post author

      I had a come-to-Nimitz moment. And wanted to write about carrier air wings. 😛

      As for how many, the right answer is “some”. More is better, but even one is a nice prestige thing, like Charles de Gaulle. And yes, it assumes one can pay for the upkeep, and it means that refits are a bother. That’s life.

      Correctly gauging the correct number of carriers and their affordability is really, really beyond the scope of this article though. It would also depend on how many America is willing to sell; as far as I know Brazil was only ever interested in one.

  2. Chris Bradshaw

    The terrifying thing is that if you want to be able to engage in high-end naval warfare in a contested A2AD zone, you need at the very minimum a 4 carrier battle group with sufficient escorts. And since no individual European country can afford that many without gutting the entitlement state to spend 6% GDP on defense, you would need… gasp… some sort of integrated EU fleet. The horror.

    1. parvusimperator Post author

      Why is four the minimum?

      Agreed on needing a multicarrier task force, agreed on the horrors of the “integrated” EU-fleet, and agreed on the entitlements killing everything. At least for actual countries that I don’t make up, haha.

      I probably need to spend some more time working up what exactly would be needed to make a carrier task force a useful thing in unpleasant seas. Back to Mr. Friedman, probably. And my copy of Captain Hughes’ book.

    2. parvusimperator Post author

      I should also point out that if you wanted to have a four-carrier task force (say), you’d almost certainly need a few extras, since nothing has a 100% availability rate.

    3. C

      What if you step out of the box and little bit and pair one super carrier with something like a an aviation cruiser (obviously there is no Western equivalent but use your imagination). Your aviation cruiser becomes a sort of auxiliary airfield with either a rotating air wing or a task specific one depending on the mission. During intensive carrier operations the cruiser manages AE&W and airborne refueling and is an “always open” emergency landing site. At other times it can range out Soviet style and create defensive bastion space to protect the super carrier against A2AD weapons. If you buy three ships then make it two aviation cruisers and one super carrier.

      I think this makes a better “minimum” carrier force, you can scale your response from a 24 aircraft strike package, or surge a super carrier air wing.

      If you need 4 super carriers for a near peer conflict then I say you need a different solution to your problem. The US pulls off this feat with money and almost 80 years of practical experience. Which is exactly why the Russians don’t.

  3. Chris Bradshaw

    Right, striving towards 7-8 carriers in order to have 4 available at any given moment is a goal to work towards. I picked 4 because our old friend Marc Mitscher said: “The ideal composition of a fast-carrier task force is four carriers, six to eight support vessels and not less than 18 destroyers, preferably 24. More than four carriers in a task group cannot be advantageously used due to the amount of air room required. Less than four carriers requires an uneconomical use of support ships and screening vessels.”

    While the planes and ships and radars are a bit different now, I don’t think the general principle is flawed. No one understood fast carrier battle groups quite like Marc, and his wisdom is still applicable today.

    1. Fishbreath

      Well, kind of. In the pages of Friedman, Marc Mitscher is primarily notable for coming up with the wrong answer on just about every question of substance relating to postwar carrier designs. (Parvusimperator may remember me saying something to the effect of, “How can someone so good at using them be so bad at designing them?”)

      Without taking anything away from his skill and accomplishments, that nevertheless gives me pause about taking his advice on modern carriers without question.

  4. Chris Bradshaw

    Crap, now everything I know about carriers is in question. What kind of bad ideas was he proposing for the next generation of CVs? Straight decks? Portside elevators? Lots of sponson 5-inch guns?

    1. Fishbreath

      On looking through our chat archives, I find my memory has failed me—Mitscher was wrong before the war. As late as 1940, he was calling for 8″ guns on carriers and armor against same. Quoth parvusimperator on his later views, “Learning has occurred.”

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