Tuesday, 7 December 2010

More Lies Damned Lies And Aircraft Carriers


We have discussed in another thread how some members of the British Royal Air Force have difficulty distinguishing facts from fiction whenever the phrase "aircraft carrier" is mentioned.

Here we will consider further some more oft repeated "facts" about aircraft carrier operations.


Members of the junior service claim that the United State's Navy's aircraft carriers spend little time on station in the Northern Arabian Sea because they have to keep returning to port to replenish.

They further suggest that the carrier's contribution to the air war over Afghanistan is so insignificant that if they were not there,nobody would notice.


Let us see if these claims bear any relationship with reality.

The last American aircraft carrier to be relieved on station in the Arabian Sea was the United States Ship (U.S.S.) Harry S. Truman (C.V.N.75).



U.S.S.Harry S. Truman joined U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower (C.V.N. 69) on station in the Northern Arabian Sea on the 26th of June 2010.



On the 29th of June 2010 U.S.S. Harry S. Truman flew her first combat sorties as part of Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan.

Sustained by at sea replenishment,U.S.S. Harry S. Truman continued to fly combat sorties over Afghanistan for the next 36 days until the 4th of August 2010.

On the 5th of August 2010 the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman made port at Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates.



There,her crew were able to enjoy a brief period of rest and recreation for 3 days until the 8th of August 2010.

U.S.S. Harry S. Truman was back on station in the Northern Arabian Sea flying combat sorties over Afghanistan on the 9 th of August 2010.



She continued to fly combat sorties over Afghanistan,sustained only by under way replenishment,for 31 days until the 8th of September 2010.

On the 9th of September 2010,U.S.S. Harry S. Truman again put in to port at Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates.

There her crew again enjoyed 3 days rest before departing on the 12th of September 2010.

On the 13th of September 2010,U.S.S. Harry S. Truman was back on station in the Northern Arabian Sea conducting combat operations over Afghanistan.



These combat operations continued for 36 days until the 19th of October 2010,the carrier was replenished at sea throughout this period.




U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln arrived in the Northern Arabian Sea on the 17th of October 2010 and began flying combat sorties over Afghanistan on the 18th of October 2010.


Lincoln spent 72 days at sea before putting into Bahrain for 3 days of well earned rest from the 18th to the 21st of November 2010.




The U.S.S. Harry S.Truman then moved to the Arabian Gulf.

The U.S.S. Harry S.Truman's crew spent 4 days resting when the ship put in to Khalifa Bin Salman Port at Hidd in the Kingdom of Bahrain from the 28th of October 2010 until the 1st of November 2010.



For the 25 days from the 2nd of November 2010 to the 27th of November 2010 she was again flying combat sorties over Afghanistan supported by at sea replenishment.




The U.S.S. Harry S. Truman then left the operational area in the Northern Arabian Sea,entering the Red Sea on the 28th of November.


Between U.S.S Harry S.Truman flying her first combat sortie over Afghanistan on the 29th of June 2010 and flying her last on the 27th of November 2010 is a period of 151 days.


She spent just 10 days in port over this period and 141 days at sea sustained by replenishment vessels.


There was a United States Aircraft carrier flying sorties over Afghanistan for 145 of these 151 days.


There were 2 American aircraft carriers conducting flying operations for 37 of those 151 days.


The claim that American aircraft carriers spend little time on station in the Northern Arabian Sea because they must return to port to replenish is clearly not true.


The United States Navy tends to publish the number of sorties generated by it's aircraft carriers when those ships return home.


The U.S.S. Harry S Truman has not returned home yet,she is currently in Greece.

Consequently the number of sorties she flew over Afghanistan have not been released yet.



"Since arriving in the 5th Fleet A.O.R. (Area Of Responsibility) June 29,aircraft assigned to C.V.W. 3 (Carrier Air Wing 3) completed more than 3,300 aircraft sorties and logged more than 10,200 flight hours,with more than 7,200 of those hours in support of coalition ground forces in Afghanistan."


Those figures cover a period of 88 days giving an average of  37.5 sorties and 116 hours flown per day including 82 flight hours flown in support of ground troops in Afghanistan.


During this period Britain's XIII Squadron of the Royal Air Force was operating in Afghanistan for the 90 days from the 19th of July 2010 to the 16th of October 2010.

They flew 1,850 hours during this period,an average of just under 21 hours a day and "a Tornado GR4 record for Operation Herrick".

The U.S.S. Harry S. Truman's aircraft flew 4 times as many hours of close air support in Afghanistan each day as the Royal Air Force Tornados of XIII Squadron managed.

Unfortunately figures for the total number of sorties flown by XIII Squadron in Afghanistan do not appear to have been released (weekly figures suggest about 5-6 sorties a day) but more detailed information about the squadron which preceded them is available.

Between the 14th of April 2010 and the 18th of July 2010,II (Army Co-operation) Squadron was operating in Afghanistan.

Over this period of 96 days they flew 515 sorties totalling 1680 flight hours,an average of just over 5 sorties per day and  17.5 flight hours a day (they dropped 5 Paveway IV bombs and fired a total of 4 Brimstone missiles over the 96 day period). 

These figures make an interesting comparison with the following extract from A Day In The Navy October 13th 2010


"USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) conducts a morning replenishment-at-sea with USNS Big Horn (T-AO 198) and USNS Sacagawea (T-AKE 2).

Elements assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 3 conduct 25 sorties (149.4 flight hours) in support of Operation Enduring Freedom."


Despite conducting an under way replenishment, on the 13th of October 2010 the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman flew 5 times as many combat sorties and more than 8 times as many flight hours over Afghanistan as the Royal Air Force II Squadron Tornados averaged per day and 7 times as many flight hours as XIII Squadron averaged per day.

The following figures cover November 2010,both the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and the U.S.S. Harry S.Truman were on station in the Northern Arabian Sea for most of this month:


"The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group (CSG) flew 1,571 sorties for 4,001.5 hours of flight time supporting Operations Enduring Freedom and New Dawn;the Harry S. Truman CSG completed 480 combat sorties and 2863.3 flight hours in support of Operation Enduring Freedom."


In November 2010 the two American aircraft carriers between them averaged 68 sorties per day and 229 flight hours per day in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan,approximately 11 times as many as the Royal Air Force Tornados contibuted to operations in Afghanistan.

It is interesting to note that Royal Navy aircraft carriers have often generated higher sortie rates than American carriers on combat operations.

The new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers should easily be able to match or exceed the performance of the American carriers in Afghanistan.

The claim that American aircraft carrier's 
contribution to operations in Afghanistan is
 so small that if they were not there nobody
 would notice does not stand up to scrutiny.

The United States Navy delivers a large proportion of the combat air power in Afghanistan,typically generating about 25-30% of close air support sorties in the land locked country.

In contrast the Royal Air Force generates only about 5% of the combat sorties flown in Afghanistan each day.

If they were not there,would anyone notice?

11 comments:

D. E. Reddick said...

GL / tangosix,

Very, very nice and succinct.

The RAF and those who support it (as in opposition to the RN's Air Arm) don't seem to know too much about reality. They certainly do seem to have slipped rather a great bit since WW-II. Sad, really...

Saturn 5 said...

Wasn't it the junior service that back in the 60'ies moved Australia a few hundert miles to west on the maps in order to convince public opinion that they can protect Britsh Interest East of Suez when the RN left the area?

steve said...

@ DER re Those who support the RAF

One of the things that has troubled me since SDSR débâcle has begun is "Where are the RAF supporters?" "Where are the massed ranks on the forums with their statistics and scenarios?" Nowhere! Apart from a few posts on the professional pilots forum.

I am fond of the navy but I base my belief in the need for naval aviation in logic and the record of the RAF both in general terms and the more specific one of supporting UK maritime security.

The post war record of the RAF is poor. Yes there have been RAF personnel involved in all conflicts. But when you look at FAA and AAC contributions to military aviation, for their size punch well above their weight, while the 200 man per aircraft RAF is woeful. Yes their were RAF pilots in the Falklands but they were flying FAA cabs from RN assets. It is a mistake to see the RAF making FAA numbers as evidence of the poor stature of the former service. The reason why the FAA struggled to recruit pilots is because the RAF eviscerated the FAA existence in the public's mind. As an aside I am always by how many RAF pilots confess they new very little about the service before they joined. But in the mind of the British public more interested in the minutiae of their own lives the simple connection that the Army do soldering, RN do ships, and RAF do 'planes will be hard to break.

TheRagingTory said...

Without wanting to kick the hornets nest, can a Harrier take off from a Vincie and reach Afghanistan with a useful load?

Comparing the RAF to the USN and the USNAF is a bit, apples and aadvarks.
Just those three carriers have a crew of over 17000, more than the entire UK ISAF force and 270 aircraft.
There are 10(?) such platforms on active service.

The new QE class wouldnt be able to maintain a fraction of that pace.

What 10 nuclear super carriers can do has little bearing on what two gas carriers can do.

steve said...

@ RagingTory

You have hit the nail on the head there.

To my mind CVF has always been about air defence of the fleet. Pushing strike, or should I say high end strike?, on to the platform was always a step to far.

GrandLogistics said...

Hello TheRaging Tory,

yes,a Harrier can fly from Invincible to Afghanistan with a useful war load.

American Harriers did just that during the invasion of Afghanistan.

Recently I have seen someone claim that British Harriers were at one point providing all close air support in Afghanistan while someone else claimed the United State's Navy's contribution was so minor that nobody noticed when they were not there.

The point of this post was to demonstrate that those claims have no basis in reality rather than to compare a Tornado squadron to a full carrier group.

The Queen Elizabeth class can match sortie rates that the American carriers manage over Afghanistan.

Published figures for the Queen Elizabeth class' designed sortie generating capacity amount to 1,548 sorties over 31 days which is an average of 50 sorties a day,with a peak of 108 sorties on the first day.

These are the numbers the designers will work to when allocating space for bombs,fuel,parts and so on,this is not the maximum the ship is capable of.

U.S.S. Harry S. Truman averaged 37.5 sorties per day during the first half of her recent time on station in the Arabian Sea.

U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln averaged 52 sorties a day this November.

These figures are similar to those which the very small British aircraft carriers (Ocean,Theseus,Triumph,Glory) managed during the Korean war.

British carriers generated far higher sortie rates in the Falklands and Suez conflicts - up to 4 sorties per aircraft per day.

As far as I am aware,the all time record for a British aircraft carrier is 201 sorties flown in a single day by the small "light fleet carrier" H.M.S. Ocean - at 18,000 tonnes she was smaller than the current Invincible class and far less capable than the Queen Elizabeth class.

Two Queen Elizabeth class carriers and a single carrier wing would be more than capable of delivering all the combat sorties British forces have required in every operation since Granby,at a far lower system cost than the land based alternative.

American carriers don't work to anything like their full capacity in Afghanistan,U.S.S. Nimitz once flew 975 sorties in 4 days.

It is large numbers of short sorties which are hard work for a carrier,modest numbers of long endurance sorties such as are flown over Afghanistan make things much easier for the ship's crew.


GrandLogistics.

Sven Ortmann said...

"The claim that American aircraft carrier's contribution to operations in Afghanistan is so small that if they were not there nobody would notice does not stand up to scrutiny."

I have discussed this elsewhere before. Sortie ain't the same as sortie.

A B-52 circling for hours over an area isn't the same as a F/A-18 with a 30 minute window for dropping its loads. Nor are the loads the same.

Naval aircraft require enormous land-based tanker support to reach AFG with a useful amount of fuel left. This means that the AF could simply deploy its heavy bombers to Diego Garcia and let them sortie instead of tankers.

Aircraft carrier operations happen often, but most of the time they're mere substitutes and could easily be done with.
Pacific Air War and Falklands campaign were the only times when land-based air power wasn't able to substitute for naval air power. Today, nobody would need aircraft carriers to replay the Pacific Air War because of mid-air refuelling.


"U.S.S. Harry S. Truman flew 5 times as many combat sorties and more than 8 times as many flight hours over Afghanistan as the Royal Air Force II Squadron Tornados averaged per day and 7 times as many flight hours as XIII Squadron averaged per day. "

This is WRONG. The statistic doesn't give "flight hours over Afghanistan". It gives total flight hours. Much of the naval air's flight hours are transit times. This ruins their responsiveness to larger events because only aircraft in or over AFG can react quickly.

GrandLogistics said...

Hello Sven Ortmann,

you may not have read them but somewhere on this blog are a number of articles written some years ago about air power metrics and cost effectiveness,the point of which was that air power is measured in terms of hours on station and in the case of a bombing campaign designated mean points of impact per day and of course the financial system cost.
There are also some articles which go into greater detail on the cost effectiveness or lack thereof of strategic bombers in tactical roles.
The payload advantage of a bomber is irrelevant for current operations - II(A.C.) Squadron engaged just 16 targets in 96 days of operations in Afghanistan.


Reply length exceeded to be continued....

GrandLogistics said...

Sven Ortmann said:

"Naval aircraft require enormous land-based tanker support to reach AFG with a useful amount of fuel left. This means that the AF could simply deploy its heavy bombers to Diego Garcia and let them sortie instead of tankers."

This is not correct.

In fact the opposite is true.
Carrier aircraft require far less refuelling to operate over Afghanistan than B52s from Diego Garcia.
An F18 flying from a carrier in the Arabian Sea can bomb a target in Afghanistan with no aerial refuelling at all.
Afghanistan is within it's tactical radius.

A B52 flying from Diego Garcia cannot bomb Afghanistan without being refuelled see the link on the left of this page on "Defense Science Board Task Force on B-52H Re-Engining".

Aircraft fuel consumption is subject to a wide range of variables including altitude,speed and payload which make it impractical to go into in great detail here.

However,the B52s fuel consumption averages 3,300 gallons/10.5 tonnes per hour.
Probably about 4 times that of an F18 for every hour on station.
It's refuelling demand is huge.

Every aircraft was routinely refuelled before entering Afghan airspace during the invasion of that country.

An aircraft burns more fuel on it's way to the target than on it's way back due to it's need to take off,climb and fly whilst carrying a large weight of fuel and ordnance.
A B52 carries up to 140 tonnes of fuel.
If the B52 has insufficient combat radius to reach Afghanistan we can say that far more than half of the it's fuel load is likely to have been consumed before it reaches that country.
Before entering Afghan airspace the B52 will require a massive amount of refuelling,possibly over 70 tonnes.

The F18E has a tactical radius of over 400 miles with about 8 tonnes of fuel.
It can get to Afghanistan and back without any aerial refuelling.
To top off it's tanks before entering Afghani airspace probably requires around 4 tonnes of fuel - a tiny fraction of what the B52 needs.

Whichever metric you use,tonnes of fuel per sortie,per hour over Afghanistan or per target destroyed,the B52 requires far more aerial refuelling than the carrier based F18.

Reply length exceeded to be continued....

GrandLogistics said...

Sven Ortmann said:

"Pacific Air War and Falklands campaign were the only times when land-based air power wasn't able to substitute for naval air power. Today, nobody would need aircraft carriers to replay the Pacific Air War because of mid-air refuelling."

This is also incorrect.
Air power is inversely proportional to the range at which it is required.
As range between the base and the combat area increases so time on station and sortie rate decreases while time to intercept and the number of combat and support aircraft needed to maintain a given level of air power increases.
The cost of those extra assets often far exceeds the cost of buying and operating aircraft carriers.

The United Kingdom has been involved in 7 major air wars since 1945.
British land based tactical combat aircraft took part in only 4 of those operations.
In every case they generated lower sortie rates than carrier based aircraft they were operating alongside.
In (almost*) every case the carrier aircraft were based closer to the combat area.
British Tornados were based in the Gulf during the invasion of Afghanistan but took no part in that operation probably because they would have required vast tanker support which was better used for American carrier aircraft which were based about 900 miles closer to the combat area.
American fighters did fly from bases in the gulf but generated sortie rates one quarter those of the carrier based aircraft due to the vast distances they had to fly to Afghanistan.

*During the 2003 invasion of Iraq some Harriers and Tornados were based in Kuwait,slightly closer to Iraq than the American carriers in the Gulf.
Most British aircraft were based at Al Udeid,300 miles from Iraq.
AMerican carriers in the Gulf generated twice as many sorties per aircraft per day as the British land bases in this conflict.

Carrier aircraft were the most cost effective option in every major air war the United Kingdom has been involved in since 1945.
In the Falklands carriers were the only option and in Korea (most land bases fell in to enemy hands),Afghanistan(no nearby land bases)carriers were the only practical option.
In Suez,Kosovo and the liberation of Kuwait a lack of airfield capacity forced land based aircraft to be based far from the operational area resulting in lower sortie rates,less time on station and more tanker demand.
Unfortunately due to inter service rivalry Britain has lacked appropriate aircraft carriers for many years.

These lower sortie rates and higher tanker demands dictate that land based operations are more expensive than carrier operations.

Don't forget that the new British tanker aircraft are costing 3 times as much per service year as the new British aircraft carriers.



Reply length exceeded to be continued....

GrandLogistics said...

Sven Ortmann said:

"The statistic doesn't give "flight hours over Afghanistan". It gives total flight hours. Much of the naval air's flight hours are transit times. This ruins their responsiveness to larger events because only aircraft in or over AFG can react quickly."

you are probably correct that that figure includes the transit time,however,the Royal Air Force Tornados averaged 3.25 hours per sortie while the American carrier aircraft averaged 6 hours per sortie.
Transit times from the Arabian sea and back to the carrier probably take about 1.5 hours.
If we deduct this from the hours flown by the carrier aircraft on that day they still flew 6.4 times as many hours over Afghanistan as the Royal Air Force averaged.
As the Royal Air Force only averaged 17.5 flight hour per day they could only maintain an aircraft in the air for part of the day with aircraft on (slower) ground alert for the rest of the time.
Even deducting transit times the carrier aircraft flew about 112 hours over Afghanistan that day,enough to have more than 4 aircraft airborne in 4 places all day and night if needed.
That potentially provides far shorter reaction times.
Due to this being a coalition operation with many air power providers,whoever is closest and best suited will probably be called to respond.


GrandLogistics.