Sunday, August 28, 2016

Feasibility of Aircraft Carriers in the Philippine Navy

These ships spanned with great range, carrying aircraft that can eliminate threats across the battlefield. One can think that having such ship in the fleet is indeed an advantage. But all of that comes at the cost.


INTRODUCTION
Thai Carrier HTMS Chakri Naruebet. Via Wikimedia Commons.
Aircraft Carriers are revolutionary in the battlefields of the 20th century, especially in World War 2. Japanese Imperial Navy and the U.S. Navy do have aircraft carriers that is capable to destroy things as citing that they are deemed targets as per mission. One of the perfect example is the Pearl Harbor in 1941. Modern carriers are more sophisticated than those of the WWII considering the asymmetrical aspect of the modern-day battle. However, it all comes at the cost. For the Philippines, as a maritime nation, is it feasible for us to have one?

ANALYSIS
With Edrick Masangkay of the Defense-RP. (link here)

For someone who have thought it was a "great" idea for the Philippines to have an aircraft carrier, consider this matter:

The cost of a single aircraft carrier is in the range anywhere to $500 million to over $1 billion USD, depending on how large the aircraft carrier is.

And that is just for starters.

You have to consider that you have to acquire an aircraft that is carrier-capable. Not all aircraft can operate on an aircraft carrier. Carrier aircraft need much more power because it has to take off from a short flight deck (even with the help of catapults), and must be more durable to handle such short take offs and landings.

And so with a large ship and an air group, not only are the costs of acquiring an aircraft carrier high, the operating costs of such a ship are very high too.

Plus, aircraft carriers do not operate alone. They operate as part of a carrier battle group, and require escort vessels, such as frigates, to protect them from surface, air, and submarine threats.

Otherwise, your expensive multi-million dollar toy could easily be put on the bottom of the ocean with a couple of torpedoes launched from a submarine, or a couple of anti-ship missiles launched from either an enemy ship or aircraft.

You also have to consider that an aircraft carrier doesn't really fit into the AFPs defense doctrines. At best, the AFP is geared toward territorial defense and internal security. An aircraft carrier is a power projection weapon, intended to bring the fight to an enemy thousands of miles away. If the AFP is only defending Philippine territory, inclusive of the EEZ, it doesn't need power projection capabilities, since at best, the AFP operates to the maximum extent of the EEZ, which is 200 nautical miles from shore. It can better utilize air assets more cost effectively by operating from shore based airfields, which are less expensive and cannot be sunk.

An example of what happens when you buy an aircraft carrier, but cannot afford to maintain or keep it equipped is Thailand's aircraft carrier, the Chakri Naruebet. It's a small aircraft carrier, bought from a Spanish shipyard for around $330 million USD. Unfortunately, Thailand ran into economic trouble. Plus, the aircraft it was operating, the AV-8S Matador went out of production. As a result, there were no more spare parts available to maintain the existing aircraft, and so the aircraft were decommissioned. And there isn't really another suitable aircraft to operate from such a small carrier. Plus the operating costs on the ship are very high.

As a result, the ship only leaves port maybe once per month, and serves either on humanitarian missions, or as a yacht for the Thai royal family. [Link here]

It was also pointed out in the other thread that the Philippine Navy has manning issues.  In order to man and crew a single aircraft carrier, you would have to decommission every single PN ship currently in service in order to crew a single aircraft carrier.  And those crew aren't necessarily trained to operate such a vessel.

In the Philippine Navy, a single Gregorio del Pilar class frigate has a crew of about 85.  The supply department of a Nimitz class aircraft carrier is around 500.
HMS Illustrious. Via Wikimedia Commons.
If one also considers the HMS Illustrious which is getting scrapped after many years of service and wants it to be part of the Philippine Navy, think again. The following things can be a problem:

One would also have to consider that the HMS Illustrious has already been gutted by the Royal Navy of all usable equipment, and is being towed off as an empty hulk.  The cost of refurbishing the ship back into fighting condition would run into the billions as you would have to restore the propulsion systems back into working order, as well as do necessary repair work to the hull since it has been decommissioned and unmaintained for a number of years.  Also the sensors and weapons would have to be put back on the ship. 

Plus a new air group would have to be put together.  Illustrious was designed to handle the AV-8 Harrier, which is no longer in production, and will soon be phased out.  Since it is no longer in production, spare parts are no longer being manufactured.  And the ship, considering its size, might not be able to handle the new F-35Bs.

The other thing to consider is that pilots need to be specially trained for carrier operations.  It's a lot harder to land on a carrier, because you are putting a plane on a runway that moves.  Even worse at night.

Again, it needs to be emphasized, when calculating the costs of acquiring an aircraft carrier......you're not just paying for the carrier.  You also need to pay for the escort vessels......or else your pretty little aircraft carrier becomes a nice fat target for an enemy submarine.

You have to pay for the air group.  Because what's the sense of having a carrier without aircraft (again, ask Thailand).

And it's not just buying all of those.  You have to operate and maintain them.......which is very expensive.

As it is, the DND is struggling to acquire frigates and MRFs.  What more acquiring a carrier.

Illustrious was also not a full-fledged aircraft carrier, in the American sense.  It was much smaller.  It was designed handle VSTOL aircraft and helicopters.  And so instead of catapults, the Invincible class carriers (Illustrious was one of them) had "ski jumps" in the forward part of their flight decks, which assisted in take-offs.

IN CONCLUSION

An aircraft carrier is not ideal in the Philippine Navy considering its expensive to operate, the number of crews it needs to operate, a number of fighter jets and helicopters that needs to have designated in the carrier, and the nature of the jets that needs to be a naval variant of it. Not also to mention that it is an offensive vessel which is in contrary to the doctrines of the AFP which is defending the nation and its integrity. Overall, an aircraft carrier in present tense is a big no-no for the navy today. A fleet of Frigates, corvettes, fast armored crafts and amphibious vessels are more important to a navy like the Philippine Navy. Well, one must be thankful to have those Tarlac-class LPDs and Del-Pilar class Frigates. Those are the worth a baby step for a real navy modernization and its sail plan in 2020.

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