Future PLAN carrier operations

Discussion in 'Navy' started by AndrewS, Sep 6, 2019.

  1. AndrewS
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    AndrewS Senior Member
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    Then let's look at the facts as they are today.

    China is already the world's largest trading nation and the vast majority of that commerce is seaborne.

    Historically the largest trading nation builds the largest (global) navy to protect it's trade.

    And the Chinese economy is some 30% larger than the US in terms of actual production and consumption of goods and services, when measured using PPP exchange rates. In the long term, the market should force the (arguably undervalued?) Chinese currency to strengthen to reflect this.

    And don't forget that the average Chinese person is still 3-4x poorer than the average American, so Chinese growth rates should still be high in the future.

    So we can see both the requirement for nuclear carriers and that there are the resources available to make them.
     
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  2. Intrepid
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    Intrepid Senior Member

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    The price for new weapons consists for the most part of labor costs. And because the Chinese have to pay 3-4x less pay for arms produced in China, they get a comparable value for 30% of the price Americans have to pay.

    The US bought $ 650 billion in arms in 2018 and the Chinese $ 250 billion. The Chinese probably bought more weapons.

    The Chinese overtaking and winning the arms race even if they pay less money for it.
     
  3. Iron Man
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    Iron Man Captain
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    Don't be so certain on your alleged "requirement" for nuclear carriers. The US ruled the world's oceans with conventional carriers long before there were naval reactors, and is even now thinking of scaling back on full-size carriers due to their perceived present and future vulnerability, and thinking of ways to distribute firepower to smaller carriers and to escorts and unmanned platforms. The future of warfare and especially naval warfare may not involve nuclear carrier groups slugging it out toe to toe on the high seas. Don't be so narrow in your thinking here.
     
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  4. Bltizo
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    Bltizo Moderator
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    This thread will take some of the posts from the thread that talked about the utility of future carriers and how they might operate and continue the discussion here, because I think it is an interesting topic.
     
  5. Bltizo
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    Bltizo Moderator
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    In regards the the utility of aircraft carriers in the future, there was a study from the CSBA that looked at how the future US carrier operations and US carrier airwing might be reoriented for future high end warfare, circa 2040.

    I strongly recommend a read of it because it lays out some interesting and IMO quite reasonable ideas for future carrier ops:
    https://csbaonline.org/uploads/documents/CVW_Report_Web_1.pdf

    Key ideas of note include:
    - having carriers operate in groups of at least two
    - having strike/anti surface warfare aircraft operate between 500 nmi and as much as 1000 nmi from a carrier
    - use of long range multi mission UAVs for the purposes of strike, ISR, CAP, and ASW, including up to ranges of the aforementioned 1000 nmi, as well as unmanned electronic warfare aircraft
    - having a long range fighter aircraft
    - future carrier air wings will be required to operate 1000 nmi away from significant threats

    Some representative summary images depicting air defense operations, ASW operations, and air refuelling operations for long range UCAVs are depicted below:

    future carrier.jpg
    future carrier 2.jpg
    future carrier 3.jpg


    Of course, this above is all oriented for the USN's mission and threat profile that they may face going into the future, with the opfor of course being China.
    However of note, is that this study continues down the path of having large nuclear powered super carriers and with large air wings that combine manned fighters and a large unmanned UAV/UCAV complement.

    future carrier airwing.jpg

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    Now, the question is what kind of mission would the PLAN see its carriers having for the high end fight in the medium to long term, and what capabilities would they need to fulfill it?
     
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  6. ZeEa5KPul
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    ZeEa5KPul Junior Member
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    How optimistic of the USN to think it can operate within the Second Island Chain in 2040; but then, hasn't unfounded optimism ever been an American hallmark?

    In the context of Chinese proximate waters, one of the primary missions of a PLAN CBG wouldn't just be direct engagement of an enemy USN group, but cuing long range systems like AShBMs - with both MaRVs like the DF-21D and DF-26, and HGVs like the DF-17 - and hypersonic cruise missiles fired at standoff range from H-6s and H-20s. For carriers to act as a mobile sensor-rich platform, they must be able to launch AEW&C aircraft like the KJ-600 (which Project 003 should be able to do) and naval variants of drones like the Divine Eagle and Soaring Dragon. It would be helpful if the J-XY could have the sensors and datalinks to be able to do at least some of this work in addition to strike. In this way, the so-called "kill chain" of long range anti-ship weapons become a much more effective and robust kill network with a lot of redundancy.

    For the foreseeable future, the PLAN's primary mission will be to push the USN as far back as possible from the Chinese coast. I like to think of it somewhat like what Trump said to Jeb! during the Republican debates, "You're moving over further and further, pretty soon you're going to be off the end."
    :D
     
  7. Bltizo
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    Bltizo Moderator
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    That is close to my vision of what I think the PLA will seek to achieve as well -- but that requires the PLA to have various new weapons systems in the future and PLAN carriers will have a major role in that as well.

    Which takes us back to the topic of what kind of future PLAN CSG will they aim for? (I'm writing a longish post below that will directly put forward my conops vision).
     
  8. Bltizo
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    Bltizo Moderator
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    IMO, the PLAN's future carrier force in a high end pacific theatre war would optimally seek to have the ambition to be able to achieve air control and sea control (surface and subsurface) as well as superiority in the EW domain up to and beyond the 2nd island chain, in conjunction with the rest of the PLA (land based PLAAF, land based PLARF, etc) as part of multi domain operations.

    To achieve the above mission, I believe the PLAN's future carrier strike group should seek to have a number of capabilities:
    1. the ability to independently conduct air superiority missions and air defense missions, the ability to independently conduct surface strike missions, the ability to independently conduct EW missions, the ability to independently conduct AEW&C and ISR missions, the ability to independently conduct ASW missions.
    2. the ability to also conduct the above missions in a joint manner to support, enable and/or increase the effectiveness of other friendly services (such as PLAAF, and PLARF). In particular, focus should be placed on having carriers have aircraft that can conduct widespread dynamic and redundant ISR, to provide targeting information for land based long range AShBMs as well as land based long range bombers who will provide long range strike support against opfor carrier and surface forces to greatly supplement the PLAN's CSG's own anti surface forces (in the form of carrier based strike fighters and strike UCAVs as well as AShMs from escorting destroyers, frigates, and nuclear attack submarines).
    3. the range of the above missions should seek to have large footprints -- aka the aircraft conducting those missions should have long range so as to maximize the area of effect that they can have and thus to better reduce the risk the carrier itself faces from opfor threats, by virtue of having longer distance. This range should be no less than 500 nmi and should optimally aim to achieve 1000 nmi or above to match future potential US aircraft operating footprints.
    4. to achieve the above missions, a combination of manned aircraft and unmanned aircraft will make up the airwing, and must be sufficiently large to provide adequate range/endurance (or to have tanker aircraft that can allow an aircraft to achieve the above range.
    5. to achieve adequate sortie rate, each carrier itself should be capable of sustaining a competitively sized airwing.
    6. the future CSG should be capable of operating at distances of up to and slightly beyond the second island chain for an extended period in terms of endurance (namely, fuel and consumable stores).


    Putting the above into a concept of operations, basically I envision the PLAN fielding one to two "future CSGs," with each future CSG having two carriers to provide mutual support for one another, with the future CSG escorts to include over a dozen major surface combatants (large destroyers, destroyers and frigates) and multiple nuclear attack submarines.

    Each future CSG will be a mobile fire-maneuver-recon complex capable of conducting independent air control, sea control and EW missions at a range of over 1000 nmi by virtue of its airwing that will combine large manned and unmanned aircraft, and capable of operating at distances of up to and beyond the second island chain.

    These future PLAN CSGs will seek to maneuver and locate opfor CSGs -- however the process of seeking to locate opfor CSGs means there will inevitably be a high chance of PLAN CSG airwings and escorts having to skirmish with opfor CSGs and escorts, which requires PLAN CSGs to be capable of independently fighting an opfor CSG on "even terms" and surviving the encounter.
    However during the process of seeking to maneuver and locate and skirmish with opfor CSGs, PLAN CSG ISR aircraft will also seek to actively identify the location of the opfor CSG and provide cuing information for other PLA targeting/ISR assets in the region (whether it's space based, large land based aircraft, or OTH radars or a combination).

    This will allow a robust, multi domain accurate targeting solution against opfor CSGs across multiple domains that is more dynamic, survivable and robust than only relying one on or two domains. In particular, having a CSG's own organic airborne ISR aircraft being capable of identifying and tracking an opfor CSG should substantially reduce the amount of work that the PLA's other land based, space based and large airborne targeting/ISR systems. This will create a robust kill chain that can suffer some losses but which can still be operationally effective.

    The robust kill chain will then enable land based long range strike systems (land based long range AShBMs with HGVs, land based long range bombers equipped with HGVs) to target the opfor CSG either independently, or in a joint strike mission where the PLAN future CSG conducts a strike mission against the opfor CSG (with its own strike aircraft, strike UCAVs, and/or AShMs from escorting ships/submarines).



    In summary, I think future PLAN CSGs should have carriers capable of accommodating a number of large manned and unmanned aircraft that are capable of A2A, ASuW, ASW, ISR, AEW&C and EW, with the goal of maneuvering to locate and skirmish with opfor CSGs, so that the PLAN CSG's airwing will be able to direct multiple ISR aircraft and airborne sensors to track the opfor CSG and to network with the rest of the PLA's regional sensor kill chain (including satellites, OTH radar, large land based ISR aircraft, and so forth) to provide a robust and enduring kill chain with redundancy.
    The robust kill chain will then enable the PLA to effectively destroy the opfor CSG by a combination of long range land based strike systems (AShBM/HGVs and bombers with HGVs) and PLAN CSG's own strike systems (manned strike aircraft, strike UCAVs, AShMs from escorts).

    Essentially, the future PLAN CSG will be a mobile "fire, maneuver and recon" complex that will provide support and information for the rest of the PLA's sensor kill chain, to enable the use of "long range artillery" (AShBM/HGV and long range bombers with HGVs) to destroy the enemy in support of the PLAN CSG's own combat against the opfor CSG.



    =====

    The above is my own conops for what I think the PLAN may seek to have if they had the funds and technology to do so.

    Whether the above future CSGs can be achieved with conventional, 80k ton sized carriers or if it can be better achieved with nuclear, 100k ton sized carriers is certainly a topic of some debate but IMO it ultimately comes down to cost and technological barriers.

    Nuclear powered carriers have the benefit of being able to sustain high speeds (30+ knots) far longer than conventionally powered carriers.
    Nuclear powered carriers also provide more volume for fuel to support its airwing compared to a conventionally powered carrier which has to store fuel for both its own propulsion but also its airwing. Related to this; nuclear powered carriers also have the benefit of requiring less frequent refuellings as they do not have to refuel for their own propulsion as nuclear power will allow them to continue propelling themselves indefinitely.

    A larger carrier vs a smaller carrier for the goals stated above is also rather obvious in the sense that a larger carrier allows for accommodation of more and larger aircraft than a smaller carrier. In terms of ambition, I do not believe the PLAN would be risky enough to seek a significantly larger carrier than what the USN has proven and demonstrated to be an effective sized super carrier in their Enterprise, Nimitz and Ford class carriers -- that is to say, even though I believe that a larger carrier is superior than a smaller carrier in terms of accommodation of an airwing relevant to the mission, I don't think the PLAN would be so ambitious as to consider say some sort of 150,000 ton carrier, because that would be much larger than what I think has been demonstrated by the US to be a viable carrier size.


    IMO the primary benefits of having a smaller, conventionally powered carrier of say about 80,000 tons vs a larger, nuclear powered carrier of say about 100,000 tons can be boiled down to:
    - lower procurement cost
    - possibly lower lifetime operating cost
    - lower technological R&D cost
    - less technological R&D risk


    Now, whether the PLAN will ultimately go for 100,000 ton nuclear powered carriers or if they will stick with 80,000 ton conventionally powered carriers is something that we will have to wait and see, and will be dependent on a whole host of factors that have yet to emerge.
    But IMO if the PLAN had the money for it and if they had the requisite technology and industry able to support it, I believe they would choose to procure 100,000 ton nuclear powered carriers for their medium and long term future carrier force.
     
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  9. ZeEa5KPul
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    ZeEa5KPul Junior Member
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    @Bltizo I see the next Diplomat article...

    I want to make a point about cost to put things in perspective. Today China's PPP adjusted GDP (which is the better way to measure military spending since the overwhelming bulk of said spending is domestic) is $27.3 trillion. If we presume that the Chinese economy quadruples in the next 30 years - which is pretty conservative considering China grew 16x over the past 30 - it will have a GDP of $110 trillion and a per capita GDP of $75,000; still below the US which would have a per capita GDP of $100,000+ in 30 years. If China maintains an anemic 1.4% of GDP military spend (or 1.9% according to SIPRI), we're looking at a military budget of $1.5 - $2.1 trillion. That is a frightening number.
     
    #9 ZeEa5KPul, Sep 6, 2019
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 6, 2019
  10. Iron Man
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    You should note that none of this contradicts what I just said in any way. I hope you weren't thinking or trying to imply somehow that I was claiming that US carriers would be retired. Even if the US completely stopped building supercarriers tomorrow there would still be 11 of them, and they would still form the core of any USN strike force for the next several decades, even till the end of the 21st century. And anyone who has a basic military knowledge outside of PLA watching should already know the term "distributed lethality" as it applies to the USN, as this concept has been around for years and was one of the first ginger steps away from the carrier as the end-all-be-all of distant power projection. In the future there will be far more steps taken to reduce the USN's reliance on 100kt nuclear carriers as the threat level against them increases inexorably.

    These graphics also have absolutely nothing with whether the PLAN will or will not adopt 100kt nuclear carriers as the ultimate expression of their carrier vision.

    The PLAN has or will have the money and the requisite technology for a 100kt nuclear carrier; of this there is little doubt. OTOH, this in no way makes such a carrier inevitable or even highly likely.
     
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