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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!
Also, check out the brand new channel called “I Am.”
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Aircraft Carrier of the Future?

263 タグ追加 保存
葉品銳 2019 年 8 月 23 日 に公開
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