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  • Immediately after the end of the First World War, the navies of the world were taking inventory

  • and preparing for a future conflict.

  • Ships, unlike most other weapon systems, have very long procurement schedules and take years

  • to design, build, test, and finally be operational and ready for combat, therefore the first

  • few years after World War I would decide what the navies of the future would look like.

  • For most, business continued as usual with the battleship and its mighty deck guns being

  • the centerpiece of naval power.

  • The battleship- or dreadnought- had ruled the seas for decades after all, and before

  • it during the age of sail frigates loaded with multiple decks of cannons had been top

  • dog at sea.

  • In 1920 though American General Billy Mitchell had a different view of things.

  • Mitchell had paid careful attention to the evolving role of the airplane during the first

  • world war, initially being nothing more than a reconnaissance asset and then a fighter

  • aircraft loaded with machine guns.

  • By the end of the war the first bombers were being fielded, and it was these aircraft that

  • caught Mitchell's attention.

  • Compared to traditional artillery, early bombers were seen as having little use.

  • Artillery could fire relatively quickly, an expert gun crew could fire off almost two

  • dozen shells in a minute, a considerable amount of firepower.

  • In comparison bombers of the time could only carry a few dozen pounds worth of bombs- but

  • what they lacked in sheer firepower they more than made up for in range and precision.

  • Aircraft could travel a hundred or more miles and the pilot could ensure great accuracy

  • in their delivery, as opposed to the blind, probing strikes so often used with artillery.

  • The ability to deliver bombs at ranges far greater than any cannon, and with more accuracy,

  • gave General Mitchell an idea- and one that he brought up with senior Navy leadership.

  • Using a captured German battleship, Mitchell tried to convince US leadership that the future

  • of naval combat was not the big gun battleship, but the aircraft carrier and its armament

  • of fighter and bomber aircraft.

  • In 1921 Mitchell proved the validity of his theory by sinking the German battleship Ostfriesland

  • via aircraft in a widely publicized demonstration.

  • The onlookers were shocked, as to date no one had thought a battleship could be sunk

  • by such flimsy weapons as aircraft.

  • And yet, the US Navy brushed Mitchell aside, saying his demonstration proved nothing.

  • Amongst the observers though were two Japanese officials, who unlike the American admirals,

  • saw a great deal of potential in Mitchell's demonstration.

  • The rest, as they say, is history.

  • Today the modern aircraft carrier finds itself in a similar moment in history a hundred years

  • later as the battleship did during Mitchell's time.

  • For eight decades the aircraft carrier has been the backbone of any serious Navy, with

  • its ability to strike from hundreds of miles away with high precision weapons.

  • The US's supercarriers alone each hold enough firepower to rival the air forces of entire

  • nations, and together make up the second most powerful air force in the world.

  • Yet the time of the aircraft carrier's supremacy is quickly coming to an end, and many fear

  • that the US's continued investment in big supercarriers, like those of the new Ford

  • Class, are going to place it in a strategically perilous situation in the next major conflict.

  • Already aircraft carriers make up almost half of the US Navy's budget, and while they bring

  • incredible capabilities to any conflict, they are increasingly vulnerable to weapons being

  • developed, or already deployed, by powers such as Russia and China.

  • Hypersonic and wave-skimming missiles can be fired from hundreds of miles away or from

  • hard-to-detect submarines, and in enough numbers to overwhelm a carrier battlegroup's defenses.

  • Ballistic missiles, such as those deployed by China, can threaten aircraft carriers from

  • a thousand or more miles away, and can be launched from mobile and thus difficult to

  • detect and destroy platforms from deep within enemy territory.

  • The economic cost of aircraft carriers and the increasing capabilities of anti-ship weapons

  • is also leaning heavily in favor of non-carrier forces, with China for instance being able

  • to buy over a thousand anti-ship missiles for the price of a single US Ford Class carrier.

  • So if the future looks set to dethrone the aircraft carrier as the premier naval combatant,

  • then what does a futuristic aircraft carrier actually look like?

  • America is firmly committed to its acquisition of Ford Class Carriers, and plans to have

  • at least 11 super carriers operational through as late as 2070.

  • Many, including former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, have all criticized the vulnerability

  • of supercarriers to current and future weapons, but the Ford Class carrier is built with the

  • future in mind.

  • Unlike its predecessors, the Nimitz class of carriers, the Fords are built from the

  • ground up with the capability to modularly install future technological upgrades.

  • Its current systems for instance only consume half of the energy each Ford carrier can produce,

  • meaning in the future each ship will be able to install futuristic technologies as they

  • become available.

  • Chief amongst projected technologies that the Ford and other futuristic carriers will

  • be equipped with is rail guns and directed energy weapons.

  • Currently carrier battle groups rely on intercepting missiles to fend off an anti-ship missile

  • attack or incoming ballistic missiles dropping down from space.

  • While a formidable defensive system, it is limited in how many targets it can engage

  • by the physical amount of missiles available, how fast it can engage each target, and how

  • much time it has to respond to incoming targets.

  • Currently fleet missile defense relies primarily on enforcing a bubble of safety around the

  • carrier through the use of the combat air patrol and anti-submarine warfare assets.

  • The combat air patrol, or CAP, engages incoming aircraft at long range, and anti-submarine

  • drones and helicopters, as well as accompanying attack subs, keep enemy subs at a safe distance.

  • However today's anti-ship missiles have ever-increasing ranges and accuracy, and ballistic missiles

  • can be fired from thousands of miles away, placing both systems well out of the range

  • of the CAP or ASW measures.

  • Once detected, incoming missiles moving at hypersonic speeds may give the defenders as

  • little as thirty seconds warning time before impact.

  • Today's AEGIS cruisers can respond with a volley of two interceptor missiles every seven

  • seconds or so, giving a cruiser four chances to destroy an incoming missile before impact.

  • When faced with a small number of anti-ship or ballistic missiles, the odds are good that

  • they can be defeated, but a future opponent will not be deploying these weapons in small

  • numbers.

  • Instead they will fire in very large volleys meant to overwhelm fleet missile defenses-

  • and this is where directed energy weapons and rail guns come into play.

  • Rail guns promise the ability to track and deliver rapid fire salvos of kinetic interceptors

  • against incoming missiles, far exceeding the firing rate of an AEGIS cruiser's vertical

  • launch cells.

  • Directed energy weapons such as laser beams and particle beams fire at the speed of light,

  • and can burn out missile warheads at long ranges, then shift to a second target in a

  • fraction of a second.

  • Both systems will help keep future carriers safe from missile attack, though they will

  • likely not be coming online in numbers for at least a decade.

  • Another future upgrade for aircraft carriers will be an armor upgrade designed to defeat,

  • or at least minimize the damage from, missile strikes.

  • Current anti-ship missiles used shaped charge warheads to penetrate thick ship armor, and

  • as they impact they produce a jet of ionized gas that cuts through steel like a hot knife

  • through butter.

  • While still highly classified and in testing stages, dynamic or electrically charged armor

  • promises to help mitigate the damage of missile strikes.

  • To protect a ship the armor is fitted with two thin shells of material separated by an

  • insulator.

  • The outer shell holds a huge electric charge, something that will not be a problem for Ford

  • class supercarriers, and the inner shell acts as a ground.

  • When a missile strikes the armor and creates a superheated jet of conductive metal, it

  • penetrates both shells and creates a bridge between them.

  • This causes the outer shell's electrical energy to discharge through the jet and disrupt it,

  • limiting the amount of damage it can do.

  • While still in early testing over at the defense Science and Technology Laboratory in England,

  • the technology holds great promise and one day it is hoped it can be deployed on armored

  • vehicles and even to protect from traditional kinetic weapons- perhaps making science fiction

  • shield technology something of a reality.

  • Despite these technologies though many still argue that the future of the aircraft carrier

  • is not to go bigger and badder, but rather, to go smaller.

  • Much smaller.

  • The loss of a single supercarrier will be a $15 billion economic hit for the US, and

  • mean almost as many casualties as in the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict combined.

  • Supercarriers bring a lot of firepower to the table, but they are also big, slow, and

  • very vulnerable to ever-more advanced anti-ship capabilities.

  • So why not then, some defense insiders argue, go smaller rather than bigger?

  • Some argue that the future of the aircraft carrier will be a fleet of much smaller carriers

  • with a capacity of 20-30 aircraft, as opposed the 80+ which America's super carriers can

  • field today.

  • Larger numbers of smaller carriers will mean that the loss of a single carrier will not

  • represent as significant a hit to the naval capabilities of the American navy, and ensure

  • that US air power can remain in effect over contested shores.

  • Today even if a carrier is not destroyed it can receive what is termed a 'mission kill',

  • meaning that the carrier is no longer capable of launching and recovering its aircraft and

  • cannot continue fighting.

  • A single volley of missiles may not knock out a super carrier, but it could very well

  • render it useless for the remainder of the war, and along with it a significant amount

  • of perfectly functional air power.

  • Dispersing that air power over a fleet of smaller carriers however ensures that the

  • majority of aircraft can continue with their mission if a single carrier is rendered a

  • mission kill, and that carrier's own air wing can be reassigned and spread out across the

  • rest of the fleet to continue the fight.

  • In all likelihood though even these developments in carrier protocol and technology simply

  • won't be enough to keep the carrier as a part of future naval operations.

  • Advancements in missile technology are rendering carriers far too vulnerable to risk near enemy

  • shores, but those same advancements are also making the carrier obsolete much in the same

  • way that they themselves made battleships obsolete a hundred years ago.

  • Future missiles will have much increased ranges and even greater accuracy, making the need

  • for actual aircraft to deliver them obsolete.

  • Instead of carriers, a future navy may consist of a fleet of robotic arsenal ships loaded

  • to bear with dozens of varieties of missiles, allowing them to carry out the same missions

  • an aircraft carrier currently undertakes at a fraction of the risk, and a fraction of

  • the cost.

  • What do you think the future of aircraft carriers will be like?

  • Let us know in the comments!

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Immediately after the end of the First World War, the navies of the world were taking inventory

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Aircraft Carrier of the Future?

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    葉品銳   に公開 2019 年 08 月 23 日
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