Thursday, April 8, 2010

A: Yes, they are. So what?

Glenn Reynolds posts the question, "ARE AIRCRAFT CARRIERS obsolete?", which links to this article at Andrew Breitbart's Big Government site by pseudonymous author "Uncommon Knowledge" which includes a YouTube video of John Arquilla and Victor Davis Hansen discussing the topic.

If you want to watch a point being stretched all out of context, follow the links above.

What surprises me is that neither man seems willing to acknowledge the practical irrelevance inherent to the contention. The modern concept of such a vessel is easily 80 years old now, and for all of the improvements and modifications made over those decades ship construction has been vastly outpaced by anti-ship weapon construction. All of which ignores the fundamental fallacy of the argument.

Obsolescence does not equate to lack of capability.

I routinely carry a firearm that was designed over a century ago that fires a caliber of equal obsolescence. That said, I sincerely doubt either of the two gentlemen in the video would willingly stand before the muzzle of my 1911 .45acp Colt Commander (nor would I happily see them - or anyone else - do so, either). The point being that simple age isn't a reasonable measure of something's continued usefulness.

One aspect I think underacknowledged in all this; people say "aircraft carrier" and think really big boat when the reality is better stated as "really adaptive system" instead. All US carriers have both direct- as well as indirect-fire weapons in addition to the air wing, of course. In addition, no carrier ever operates alone no matter what you think you see (or more critically, don't see). The reason the US Navy has made carriers so successful is because the US has the fleet necessary to make a Carrier Battle Group dominate. No other country can make this claim so substantively.

Which leads to my other point; the comprehensive nature of US naval fleets is what permits reliable performance from our individual sea-going assets. Navies are not sea-going Armies. Navies are broken down into two main categories, fleets and auxiliaries. Auxiliaries exist to augment fleet requirements on an (usually anticipated unless from battle loses) as-required basis. A fleet is assigned to a region and is responsible for appropriate response to whatever arises within that area from the fleet assets on hand. Tsunami, earthquake, invasion (however land-locked the target country), a US Navy fleet has the assets to take on the mission. Implicit to the linked-to discussion was the premise, can the US reduce the size of it's navy? My answer is that any reduction in the size of individual vessels or aircraft must not result in a reduction in US naval fleet capabilities. With that caveat satisfied, the limits become technology dependant.

Technology advances, of course, and carriers may well be approaching the end of their dominance in their present iteration. A transition to a different hull form structure and air wing component requirement(s) seems almost certain within another decade or so. As well, new direct and indirect-fire weapons all impact how such vessels will continue to adapt to mission requirements (as will the crew members themselves like-as-not).

And as a measure of technology they will always be at least somewhat obsolete. Feel free to stand in their path too. Once, anyway.


Brigid said...

I still keep a Garand by the bed. Complete with bayonette. Some things never get obsolete. At last in the dark hours of the night.

Will Brown said...

Hi Gorgeous, and welcome to yet another rendition of the perennial Form vs Function contextual mash-up. :)

In Form, a carrier is but a single ship, having it's own quirks, but much like any other in concept. It's true claim to uniqueness derives from it's Function however, linchpin to an adaptive formation, itself but a part of an overall complex.

The arguement presented ignores much of this and rather blythely equates obsolete to old implying no longer functional enough. While newer frequently is "better", context is the beginning and end of such judgements, and on this occasion at least VDH disappoints.

So, the hot issue of the discussion now becomes; with sheath or bareback? :)

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