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Alternatives to CVF

Purpletrouble

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CVF was always going to replace the LPH role. I was briefed on that as far back as 2003? when I first worked with the program. The only vague notion was LHDs as replacements for the Albions.

The idea was for a flexible ship able to do anything albeit largely dominated by the strike case. Hermes in 82 was often mentioned and there was a big picture of this in one of the offices. Note how Ark Royal operated in 2003.

It seems to have been the media and enthusiast world that really went down the simplistic “strike carrier” route, not helped by the politicians (civil and uniformed!), and excerbated by the brief CATOBAR excursion led by the ill informed Fox et al, rapidly restored. The RN had a more nuanced view and much of it did (and does) resent the (over) concentration of resource on them. The lack of afloat support and even airframes was described as “(evidence) this bloody project was completely ill conceived and unfunded” by a submariner I know.

If you go back to early CVF videos you’ll see Chinooks, Apaches on humanitarian and peace keeping missions. Hence why interoperability was there from the outset.

The problem has throughout been that SDR98 was, finances wise, fiction. What was proposed as a force structure and the replacement kit require could not be acquired for the stated costs. Hence the endless cuts to get programs within cost (T45) or cut entirely.

All of this has been done with political and financial considerations driving the decisions, and hence the structure, which appeared balanced is now very distorted. The RN which was expected to be a globally deployed force able to concentrate when needed, is now very increasingly built around just one pillar.

As an alternative - the Italian/Spanish ships seem just as suited to the expected UK deployable fast jet force and are better designed for multi-role ops. Yes “air is free, steel is cheap” but the difference between their and CVF costs would have say funded additional surface ships.

I think the loss of littoral capability, which these ships are far better suited to, is far more damaging than the gain of a large airfield from which relatively little can be done that host nation facilities cant provide, and having been part of maritime ops- host nation access is vital anyway, including for air bridge of people and kit plus sustainment logistics.
 

Archibald

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As an alternative - the Italian/Spanish ships seem just as suited to the expected UK deployable fast jet force and are better designed for multi-role ops.
Brilliantly said, very interesting post. Let me add my little opinion, for what's it worth.

I'm more and more convinced that the aircraft carrier is presently re-inventing itself from very large ambious ships (30 000 to 50 000 tons).
With the help of
- the last AV-8B Harrier II (F-18 radar & AMRAAMs into that airframe - Spanish and Italian navies, and USMC, say "thank you")
- the F-35B, which adds stealth and supersonic to the above
- the V-22 Osprey, which does the same for "transport" but also ASW, COD, assault, and many other roles.

I mean, present situation of CATOBAR carriers is NOT encouraging for wannabee candidates
- Nimitz and Ford are formidable, but insanely expensive
- Charles de Gaulle is a loner and a notable exception to the rule (although France will carry on, no matter what)
- China has just entered the game, but just like the USN, has colossal means for colossal ships
- Russia is hesitating (incidentally, they never build a CATOBAR !)

Everyone else is out.

Hence the Spanish, Italians, USMC, followed by Japan and South Korea - and observed by many others - are trying a "third way".
They started from Zumwalt SCS (Garibaldi, Asturias - some others), what I call "small Harrier carriers".
Yet they won't replace them with similar ships, larger.
The Spanish navy has retired Asturias five years ago, Garibaldi won't last forever either, and guess what replaced them ?
- Juan Carlos
- Cavour
Ultra-large amphibious ships with Harriers, F-35B, and eventually Ospreys, on the deck.

Then USMC is gently asked by the USN to help solving the lack of supercarriers by turning some of the larger amphibious into "escort carriers" by packing them with F-35B.

Interesting times. Maybe France should consider growing Mistrals to the size of Italian or USMC amphibious (40 000 tons average), and then put EMALs on them to launch Rafale M... and tadaaaam, two aircraft carriers at far lower cost... than CdG, Q.E, or nuclear 75 000 tons monsters...
 
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1Big Rich

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Then USMC is gently asked by the USN to help solving the lack of supercarriers by turning some of the larger amphibious into "escort carriers" by packing them with F-35B.
Excellent point. Many are labeling the big-deck amphibious ships as CVL if outfitted with mostly fixed wing,, but you're right in that CVE is a better description,

Regards,
 

Trident

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As an alternative - the Italian/Spanish ships seem just as suited to the expected UK deployable fast jet force and are better designed for multi-role ops. Yes “air is free, steel is cheap” but the difference between their and CVF costs would have say funded additional surface ships.
This is something which has always baffled me about CVF. Sortie rate is stated as the chief reason why the ships absolutely had to be as large as they are, but that (along with stealth) implies operations against a peer adversary which can supply a sufficiently large target set. This scenario is hard to reconcile with lack of fixed wing AEW and the poor payload/range of the F-35B (the other models are in fact excellent in this regard) however. And even if we give the sortie rate argument the benefit of the doubt, does one CVF really generate more sorties than two Cavours?

It seems that four Cavours (or three plus more escorts and supply ships, as you suggest) operating something less gold-plated like P.1216 would have served the stated aims of CVF far better than two 65k ton monstrosities with exquisite F-35s. Offers the added flexibility of being able to operate in more places at the same time when the high sortie rate is not needed, too. Alternatively, if you're going to insist on high-intensity warfare capability, do it right and put up EMALS/AAG, E-2D and Rafale M or F-35C.
 
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Purpletrouble

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As an alternative - the Italian/Spanish ships seem just as suited to the expected UK deployable fast jet force and are better designed for multi-role ops. Yes “air is free, steel is cheap” but the difference between their and CVF costs would have say funded additional surface ships.
This is something which has always baffled me about CVF. Sortie rate is stated as the chief reason why the ships absolutely had to be as large as they are, but that (along with stealth) implies operations against a peer adversary which can supply a sufficiently large target set. This scenario is hard to reconcile with lack of fixed wing AEW and the poor payload/range of the F-35B (the other models are in fact excellent in this regard) however. And even if we give the sortie rate argument the benefit of the doubt, does one CVF really generate more sorties than two Cavour?

It seems that four Cavours (or three plus more escorts and supply ships, as you suggest) operating something less-gold plated like P.1216 would have served the stated aims of CVF far better than two 65k ton monstrosities with exquisite F-35s. Offers the added flexibility of being able to operate in more places at the same time when the high sortie rate is not needed, too. Alternatively, if you're going to insist on high-intensity warfare capability, do it right and put up EMALS/AAG, E-2D and Rafale M or F-35C.
The size is predicated on the airwing size and SGR yes, and is of course the size required for CATOBAR. It makes STOVL takeoff/recovery (rolling with additional bringback) better but smaller could still have achieved the reqmt.

Its pure size really - I think they looked at airframe numbers from 1991, the Balkans and it is for that 36-48 jets plus attachments. in some ways a real desire to refight the Falklands better (no other conflict requiring carriers...)

Since then UK fast jet deployments have been more like <12 partly by cost partly by pure smart weapons.


It was commented to me both ships magazine storage could take something like 2/3rds of all UK air weapons. (My reply, why? didn’t get an answer!)

I absolutely believe it is a superb STOVL platform and yes it’ll kick the arse out of SGR for the 30k ships. But is that reason to go to 65+ ?

Disagree on F35B range- it exceeds the requirement and I really would not put much store by paper comparisons vs how fast jets are used.

P1216 looks awesome concept but sorry, F35B was and is the only next gen STOVL.

I think 2 smaller ships with the savings on surface combatants would have been a better bet.Better still not have built Albion/Bulwark (or done it 10 years earlier avoiding a gap with predecessors) to give the opportunity to combine into multi role ships would have been better. 2 LHD/A with 6-12 F35B capacity and the rest helos would be fine for the UK. CVF with dozens is a solution looking for a problem.

I know they’ve ditched more optimised LPH mods to PoW, that seems to suggest they can’t run both at the same time, so strike comes first for the available hull.

The multi-role intent seems to have disappeared over time, I think there is a strong element of hubris, and perhaps a misplaced sense of trying to have a driving rationale for them and the RN. Certainly everything seems subverted now for CEPP - which was not the line or atmosphere 10-20 years ago.
The multi-role intent seems to have disappeared over time, I think there is a strong element of hubris, and perhaps a misplaced sense of trying to have a driving rationale for them and the RN. Certainly everything seems subverted now for CEPP - which was not the line or atmosphere 10-20 years ago.

I am afraid to me the current ships are both white elephants and cuckoos. The RN will continue to pay a heavy price (and this is what CVA cancellation saved).
 
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