Thursday, 4 April 2013

Capital Ships and Wasting Assets

You know that the British government is spending a lot of money on aircraft carriers? There's been a bit of fuss about them not actually carrying any planes for the first few years of their service lives, which seems a tad wasteful. Well, here's another interesting fact that isn't being so well-publicised. Aircraft carriers are useless against any real opposition. Let the War Nerd explain:
The truth is that they have very feeble defenses against any attack with anything more modern than cannon. I've argued before no carrier group would survive a saturation attack by huge numbers of low-value attackers, whether they’re Persians in Cessnas and cigar boats or mass-produced Chinese cruise missiles. But at least you could look at the missile tubes and Phalanx gatlings and pretend that you were safe. But there is no defense, none at all, against something as obvious as a ballistic missile.
So it doesn't matter one god damn whether the people in the operations room of a targeted carrier could track the Dong Feng 21 as it lobbed itself at them. They might do a real hall-of-fame job of tracking it as it goes up and comes down. But so what? Let me repeat the key sentence here: “Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack.

Interesting. You might ask, quite reasonably, why the most powerful nation the world has ever seen spends such a lot of money on carriers, given that they are, apparently, useless in 'proper' naval warfare. The War Nerd (aka Gary Brecher) has that one nailed. It's because the US elite love their Top Gun jets, even though the planes they fly them off are just floating targets. Rich boys must have their toys:
The most obvious example is European heavy cavalry trotting into longbow fire again and again. Crecy demonstrated that knightly charges were suicide against the longbow in 1346. But the French aristocracy had so much invested in prancing around on their damn steeds that it took another demonstration, at Agincourt in 1415 to even start to get them thinking about it. I’m no math wiz but I think that 1415 minus 1346…yup, that’s 69 years between catastrophes. Lessons learned? None. 
These dodos always have one thing in common: whether it’s knights charging with lances on very expensive horses or top gun brats like McCain zooming onto carrier decks in history’s most expensive aircraft, you’ll always find that the worst, most over-funded services are always the ones where the rich kids go to show their stuff. Seriously: why are there aircraft carriers? For asses like John McCain to crash on. Why do they keep getting funded long after they've been shown up? The same reason knights were galloping around pretending that the longbow hadn't turned half their friends into pincushions: because it was a way of life for the richest and dumbest people in the country and they weren't about to let it go.
One think of the British cavalry generals of 1914 and the geniuses who, at the start of both world wars, decided that convoys - a concept of proven effectiveness since the year dot - simply weren't needed. We have a very long tradition of chinless wonders in fancy uniforms making stupid decisions.

Obviously there are quite a few rich, dumb pilots in the Royal Navy (and RAF). I mean, seriously, our armed forces are as meritocratic as the rest of the British society, aren't they? And that means, pretty much class-based, with posh boys getting most of the plum jobs. But I suspect the main reason we are spending a fortune on flashy carriers we'd never dare send into a real war zone is simply this: that instead of having a coherent defence policy of our own, we try to copy the Americans. We can't afford to copy them well, so the Royal Navy of the future is going to be what the US Navy of today would look like if it lost a battle with China. And if that's upholding a great naval tradition, I'm a Dutch East Indianman.

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