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America's Newest Aircraft Carrier: A '$15 Billion Floating Graveyard'?

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If worst comes to worst, Russia's latest hypersonic missiles could make the America's newest aircraft carrier design, the Ford class, a 'floating graveyard', says journalist and military analyst Sergei Ischenko.

Later this year, the US Navy plans to accept the USS Gerald R. Ford, the most expensive and advanced warship ever put to sea, into service. Eventually, Ford-class carriers may replace all ten of the Navy's Nimitz-class carriers, starting with the USS Enterprise.

Analyzing the new vessel and its weak points, Sergei Ischenko, a military analyst and columnist for independent Russian newspaper Svobodnaya Pressa, suggests that unfortunately for the US Navy, in the event of a conflict with Russia, America's latest and greatest carrier would effectively be turned into a giant floating graveyard. And those aren't his words, but those of American analysts themselves.

"The Navy's gigantic new aircraft carrier, capable of accommodating up to 90 aircraft and aerial vehicles (including drones and the F-35 fifth generation attack aircraft), has already received a series of enthusiastic epithets about its high level of automation, and its record $15 billion cost," Ischenko recalls.

At the same time however, "a series of respected American military experts have already suggested that it may be possible that what the aircraft carrier really is a super-expensive, 'super-graveyard' for its crew of thousands. The huge ship, aspiring to become a symbol of America's power on the oceans, may become obsolete before it is even completed."

Last month, Harry J. Kazianis, a military analyst and senior contributor for the Washington-based foreign affairs magazine The National Interest, said as much in an article.

"Countries with the technological means, specifically great powers like China and Russia –nations the Pentagon considers as the main big challenge for the US military – are developing cruise missile platforms that can strike from long-range and en masse from multiple domains," Kazianis noted. "Such weapons…if accurate, using highly trained crews combined with the means to find their target on the vast open oceans –could turn America's supercarriers into multi-billion dollar graveyards for thousands of US sailors."

"And Harry Kazianis is not alone in offering such an opinion," Ischenko recalled. Also last month, in an op-ed for Politico, retired US Navy Captain Jerry Hendrix, a defense analyst for the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, suggested that the golden age for US carriers ended the moment when China and Russia began introducing long-range coastal missile systems into the ranks of their militaries.

"Hendix," Ischenko writes, "is convinced that in case of war, the capabilities of Russian and Chinese anti-ship cruise, ballistic missile and air defense forces would force US Navy carrier strike groups (CSGs) to stay hundreds or even thousands of kilometers from the enemy's coast, which would make strikes from their carrier-based aircraft against ground targets ineffective. Additionally, any CSG movement is easily observable from space, enabling the US's opponents to position their countermeasures ahead of time."

"The arithmetic here is simple: the main strike capability of the contemporary US Navy consists of its air wing, consisting of 30-40 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. The combat radius of these aircraft is about 800 km. For the Super Hornets to able to even threaten to conduct air strikes against targets on the shores of enemy territory, they would have to take off 400 nautical miles from their targets."

"However," the analyst continues, "if the US Navy CSG were to attempt to make it to say, the Russian shore, it's unlikely that it would reach its destination, because, far from its target, it would be attacked by the Tu-22M3, a supersonic long-range bomber equipped with the Kh-22 anti-ship missile, designed back in the Soviet period specifically for use against aircraft carriers."

Tupolev Tu-22M3 strategic bombers flying past the Kremlin during a rehearsal for the parade marking the 70th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War, May 2015.
© Sputnik/ Alexander Vilf
Tupolev Tu-22M3 strategic bombers flying past the Kremlin during a rehearsal for the parade marking the 70th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War, May 2015.

"Each Tu-22M3 is capable of carrying up to three such missiles. Moreover, the missiles can be fitted with a nuclear warhead." The Kh-22's latest modification, the Kh-22M/MA, has an operation range of 600 km (320 nautical miles), delivered at Mach 5, and carrying a payload of 1,000 kg of RDX. "The range of the aircraft itself is practically unlimited, since it is possible to refuel from the air," Ischenko notes.

A Raduga Kh-22 anti-ship missile under the wing of a Tupolev Tu-22M supersonic long-range strategic and maritime strike bomber.
© Wikipedia/
A Raduga Kh-22 anti-ship missile under the wing of a Tupolev Tu-22M supersonic long-range strategic and maritime strike bomber.

"And if by some miracle the US CSG were to evade the air-based missile strike, closer to our shore the ships would come up on the firing range of the K-300P Bastion-P mobile coastal defense missile system, equipped with the P-800 Oniks supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles [known in export markets as the Yakhont, with an operational range of 600 km [the export variant's range is 120-300 km, depending on altitude]."

The Bastion coastal defense missile system during a parade rehersal.
© Sputnik/ Sergey Pivovarov
The Bastion coastal defense missile system during a parade rehersal.

"Right now, the Bastion-P is deployed near Sevastopol, Anapa, the Kola Peninsula, Novaya Zemlya and the Kurile Islands. There is reason to believe that in the near future these systems will deploy for combat duty near Kaliningrad and in Kamchatka. Additionally, plans exist to deploy the first 'Bastion-S', a silo-based system with up to 36 anti-ship cruise missiles, in Crimea by 2020."

Among the Oniks's key features is its low profile flight (sea-skimming) capability, which allows it to defeat electronic countermeasures and fly under enemy fire. Moreover, Ischenko recalls that the missiles' 'swarming pattern' of attack means that even if part of them were damaged or destroyed, "the remainder are guaranteed" to find their targets.

"Then there are the Russian multipurpose nuclear submarines, which can also find themselves in the CSG's way. For example, the K-560 Severodvinsk, the lead unit of the Project 885 'Yasen', is capable of carrying up to 32 Oniks missiles."

The first multirole Yasen K-560 submarine, the Severodvinsk, by the pier of the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, Arkhangelsk Region.
© Photo: press-service of JSC "PO "Sevmas
The first multirole Yasen K-560 submarine, the Severodvinsk, by the pier of the Sevmash shipyard in Severodvinsk, Arkhangelsk Region.
"Then of course, there are the small missile ships, which recently became famous all around the world, with their Kalibr cruise missile," which feature the 3M54K and 3M54T anti-ship variants. Finally, "there are the Varszawianka (Kilo-class) submarines, equipped with the same weapon, and 3K60 'Ball' coastal defense system, featuring the Kh-35U missile," whose maximum range has recently been upped to 300 km.

The GRAU 3K60 'Ball' coastal defense system.
© Wikipedia/ Pliskin
The GRAU 3K60 'Ball' coastal defense system.

"But even all this," Ischenko suggests, "will seem like a baby's toy, if Russia will be able to start mass production of the 3M22 'Zircon' hypersonic missile. By all appearances, several such missiles have already been tested and put into service. A few days ago it was announced that the the Admiral Nakhimov heavy nuclear missile cruiser, presently undergoing modernization at the Severodvinsk port, would be equipped with such missiles by 2018."

The Admiral Nakhimov heavy nuclear missile cruiser, presently undergoing modernization.
© Sputnik/ Yuriy Kaver
The Admiral Nakhimov heavy nuclear missile cruiser, presently undergoing modernization.

"The range of the Zircon remains a secret, with some experts saying that it at least matches the Oniks. But the flight speed of the new weapon is several times faster, which dramatically reduces the time necessary to pass through any naval-based air defense systems and, consequently, effectively makes attempts to defend aircraft carriers and their support ships pointless."

"Moreover, because the Admiral Nakhimov's rearmament implies that the launchers onboard will be capable, depending on the mission, of launching the Oniks, the Zircon or the Kalibr, it's logical to assume that the weight and size characteristics of the missiles will be maximally universalized." If this is the case, the analyst notes, "it would mean that the latest Russian hypersonic cruise missile could also equip the 'Bastion' shore-based systems, thus precluding the possibility of carrier groups approaching [Russia's shore] even for a brief period."

Ultimately, Ischenko notes, "it is logical to assume that these facts are not a secret to American experts, whose writings have almost 'buried' the multi-billion dollar Gerald R Ford directly in its shipyard. What's their solution?"

Kazianis, in his piece for The National Interest, "is convinced that there is an urgent need to develop long-range unmanned drones, capable of launching from the deck of aircraft carriers. Apparently, their range should be sufficient to ensure that they can fire without entering the range of Russian coastal defense systems."

"I am afraid that if we don't give America's most expensive weapon of war the platforms it needs to strike from range, the aircraft carrier could join the battleships of yesteryear as floating museums sooner rather than later," Kazianis noted.

"However, as the author himself complains, the Pentagon, for now, has no intention to create such UAVs. Secondly, who was it that promised Kazianis that Russia would not simultaneously take up efforts to increase the flight range of its anti-ship missiles?" Ischenko bluntly concludes.

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Tags:
carrier strike group, Ford-class aircraft carriers, Admiral Nakhimov, 3M22 Zircon, 3K60 Ball, Kh-35U, Varshavianka-class submarine, Kilo-Class submarine, Yasen-class submarine, K-300 Bastion-P, P-800 Oniks, Kh-22M/MA, Tu-22M3, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, F-35, Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, Kalibr-NK, Russian Navy, US Navy, United States, Russia
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  • siberianhuskyin reply toklod.infobeez(Show commentHide comment)
    klod.infobeez,
    The cannot even get close to the Chines coast line without getting sunk.
    Carrier planes are already taken out of the picture they don't have the 1 way 1500km range. The reach of the Dong Feng 21-D
  • siberianhuskyin reply tomike.holstein(Show commentHide comment)
    mike.holstein,
    At which the Americans are very, very good. Granada was a good example.
  • jj42
    Americans are too proud to admit defeat
  • klod.infobeezin reply tojj42(Show commentHide comment)
    jj42, I would rather say "childish"
  • Randall Lee Hilburn in reply tosiberianhusky(Show commentHide comment)
    siberianhusky, The American invasion of Granada was nothing but one blunder after another by a bunch of high ranking buffoons. If numbers and resources hadn't been so totally on the side of the US, Granada would have won the conflict easily.

    Money alone gives the US their sole advantages in numbers and resources. When it comes to making the best use of them they are really totally inept. This carrier is just further proof of their incompetence and corruption. You can rest assured that bribes and payoffs were made in order to get this thing approved. That is how the system has worked for decades.
  • coolerheads
    Most people who criticize aircraft carriers don't understand how they are used in modern warfare. If they were useless, then China wouldn't be hell-bent on building their own aircraft carrier fleet. Of course aircraft carriers are vulnerable to being sunk, that's why they don't go in first. Even against Iraq back in 2003, the aircraft carriers didn't go in first because Iraq had anti-ship missiles. The tip of the spear is long-range stealth bombers and submarine-launched cruise missiles. In Iraq in 2003, submarines and long-range bombers launched tens of thousands of munitions to destroy coastal defenses and air defenses. Once that was complete, multiple aircraft carriers moved within range and started running hundreds of sorties per day to wipe out everything else more economically. The Ford class carrier will be able to launch 270 sorties per day, compared to 120 per day for the current Nimitz class carriers. It will also have a much smaller crew and be more economical to operate at sea. Yes, China or Russia could potentially sink a U.S. carrier. That's nothing new. Japan sank five U.S. carriers during WWII. Ask them how well that turned out in the end.
  • hp
    For 15 billion they could buy every homeless veteran a house and a Cadillac!
  • wconell
    Looks like everyone but Obama has been busy setting up defenses and offenses. Hard to do all of that playing golf and figuring ways to call American citizens enemies.
  • While I agree that China and Russia have excellent rocket technology and weapons platforms, these vessels aren't so vulnerable. The Phalanx CIWS systems offer protection and, based on other recent stories, I wouldn't be surprised to see the CIWS systems upgraded to laser based devices. Now, the big failure of these platforms are the aircraft, specifically the F(ailure)-35.
  • in reply toRandall Lee Hilburn (Show commentHide comment)
    Randall Lee Hilburn, Just a small note, Granada is a city in Spain, the island that was invaded by the US was Grenada. That was a political move that some have suggested gave the military a "win" after the Beirut barracks bombings. Perhaps more sinister, I have seen reasonable suggestions that it was used to destroy evidence of CIA mind control research. Either way, the excuse about rescuing students was a lie. Students at the medical school denied any abuses or danger, well, other than Rangers coming over the hills onto the campus from the airport.
  • professor.hornblow
    The battle of Midway, 1942, was the high point of carrier supremacy, since then aircraft and missile technology has taken over the mantle of power. Today's gunboat diplomacy (originally a British concept to keep its empire under control) is just an expensive paper tiger. Russia doesn't need to project power around the world, it just needs to defend itself.
  • Randall Lee Hilburn in reply to(Show commentHide comment)
    , Thanks for the correction. I agree with the rest of your comment as well. I knew that the "official" justification for the invasion was as full of holes as a piece of Swiss cheese. I never could understand why there were all of the students attending medical school there. As if the United States didn't have any decent medical schools. The idea that the invasion was because the Soviets were planning to start operating reconnaissance aircraft from there is also patently ridiculous, because they had been doing that for years. Why get all excited about it all of a sudden? Then there is the idea that there was an attempted Soviet takeover of the island when both factions of the already ruling party that were fighting for power were Pro-Soviet. The island had long been aligned with the USSR. Why did the US government allow medical students to attend university in a Soviet satellite country I have always wondered. The nature of Black Ops being what it is I don't question the possibility that the CIA was also involved on the island at the same time like you said.
  • JM79in reply toRandall Lee Hilburn (Show commentHide comment)
    Randall Lee Hilburn, The medical school was opened in the 70's as a private for-profit school to offer students a chance at a medical degree if they didn't make it into a US school. As an aside, it seems to do a decent job as a school. The curious point is the Emory University, MK Ultra connected, professor, Dr. Bourne who went down with the medical school. They have a lecture hall named after him. Alex Constantine notes this in his book "Virtual Government" He notes the "accidental" bombing of the mental health facility during the invasion and the loss of all records there. I am deeply suspicious of any US presence or operation. It seems they all always have a dark and sinister ulterior motive.
  • Randall Lee Hilburn in reply toJM79(Show commentHide comment)
    JM79, Thanks very much for the information. It does answer some of my questions. The slipshod way the invasion was planned and executed just might be explained by the fact that they were in a panic over having to destroy certain evidence before they were discovered.
  • manofsteel194275
    Don't think missiles can just blow this baby up, they have to get to it to do any damage. You can bet this baby has guns that will spew out little bullet missiles so fast and so dense that to penetrate the 'shield' would be an impossibility. A lot of talk on the Internet is about how Russia is so far ahead of America militarily, I heard this talk all my life during what we called the cold war. When the wall came down we found behind it a military far from being as advanced as we had been told by the MSM's. Funneling money into the Rothschild's coffers is a complicated thing to do sometimes, making up stories about America's military and scaring people, keeps the gold coming and the Rothschild's Jewish Mafia dancing, sometimes on top of vans. Take a little time to find the bottom line, who really owns everything in the modern world, discover the money pit and you will understand the money flow. We could pave their streets in gold and they still would hate us for having -- anything.
  • seanrkearney
    So much could have been achieved for the betterment of the US people with that money and yet its wasted to line the pockets of the military industrial complex. Utterly shameful.
  • seanrkearney
    So much could have been achieved for the betterment of the US people with that money and yet its wasted to line the pockets of the military industrial complex. Utterly shameful.
  • Grumpy
    Russia and China are not the intended targets for these killing machines, not directly. There are many places where America seeks to control the exploitation of resources and trade for the profit of its banking elite and the trickle down kickbacks for the rest. American shock and awe is a warning to smaller nations of the world who may seek trade on fair terms or human rights and self determination for their people. Against potential profits, $15B is cheap.
  • armor
    What a strange, strange, Administration/Government/Institutions/Alliances this ex great country, the Us of N.A. has.....
    I wish they could spend their last dollar on armaments, then we would have peace. But, it's a strange, strange world we live in....The money keeps pouring IN their coffers....All I know for certain, is that they will have to change course, and be helped by some other Powers....
  • ccsurfrider
    well lets see if that is true lets start a war and fine out !! The sooner we go to war the better!!
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