Liaoning, Carriers of Asia

As promised a while a go, I said I would be taking a closer look at the carriers of Asia and what People’s Liberation Army Navy’s Liaoning means politically. I will start by over-viewing these carriers, explaining future carriers of Asia, and then assessing if China’s carrier is really a threat. But before I get into this, I should obviously note that a lot of these carriers are helicopter carriers and are not really comparable . But just bear with me, I have a point I want to make! ūüôā Another thing to note is that this analysis does not include any mention of the¬†influences of the US Navy’s¬†Pacific presence.

Indian Navy – INS Vikramaditya (R33) fleet carrier

Kicking off this Indian’s only carrier in service. Formerly a Soviet Kiev-class “aircraft-carrying cruiser” under the name Baku then Admiral Gorshkov in post-Soviet Russian service, this carrier is in fact the most powerful (behind Liaoning‘s full potential) on the list. Roughly 41,190 tonnes (versus Liaoning‘s 55,000 tonnes) displacement, she comes relatively close is size too. The 283.5-metre Vikramaditya supports up to 36 aircraft (26 multi-role MiG-29K fighters + 10 helicopters for airborne early warning and control and anti-submarine warfare), whilst housing 110 offices and 1,500 sailors. Before her commissioning into the Indian Navy in 2013, she had be extensively modified to operate as a STOBAR carrier (as opposed to the STOVL configuration at launch). Basically, the ‘cruiser’ components were removed to allow the entire top deck to be a flight deck and a ski-jump ramp was installed for aircraft.

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Official Indian Navy Photo

Japanse Maritime Self-Defence Force – ŇĆsumi-class landing platform dock carrier

The first Japanese carriers on the list barely meets the definition of a carrier, and is in fact the least capable here! This three ship class of 12,700-tonne landing platform dock (LPD) carriers can hale 8 helicopters on each of their flight decks, as well as two Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) military hovercraft and 10 main battle tanks each. Their size (at 178 metres) and tonnage are more in line with a World War II escort carrier than a modern fleet carrier such as Liaoning. The class was developed as a political work around to the idea of Japan owning an aircraft carrier.

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Official US Navy Photo (cropped)

Japanse Maritime Self-Defence Force – HyŇęga-class defence light carrier

This carrier is far more capable than ŇĆsumi, being more of a light carrier than an escort carrier. Like ŇĆsumi, HyŇęga was developed to not tread on certain political terms. Hence the official designation of ‘helicopter destroyer’. This is due to Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, in which the state formally renounced the sovereign right of belligerency. Their armed forces must be defensive in nature, and aircraft carriers are generally seen as offensive tools. I coined the term “defence light carrier” or ‘DCVL’ for Japanese ships such as these two 197-metre, 17,240-tonne helicopter carriers. They are slated for 18 aircraft maximum of a mixed airwing of helicopters.

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Photo by Wivern, licensed Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Japanse Maritime Self-Defence Force – Izumo-class defence light carrier

Larger cousin to HyŇęga, Izumo is a 248-metre, 24,490-tonne carrier that is approaching the size of true fleet carriers. Izumo has the potential to support up to 28 aircraft, a marked increase from the smaller DCVLs. She will also have two class members, one is commissioned and the other is due for commissioning this month. Izumo is indeed the largest warship in Japan’s fleet since World War II.

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Photo by Dragoner JP, licensed Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Republic of Korea Navy – Dokdo-class landing platform helicopter carrier

Another amphibious carrier, Dokdo is similar to ŇĆsumi in capability, carrying ten helicopters, two LCAC hovercraft and seven assault amphibious vehicles (AAV). 200 vehicles can be carried in total. She is said to be able to operate the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II aircraft in the near future, potentially making Dokdo the most modern offensive carrier in this list. Her size at 199 metres and 17,100 tonnes will limit their potency. Still, Dokdo is represents a step in South Korea’s goal of obtaining a blue-water naval force. Originally three ships were planned for construction, but only two (including Dokdo¬†herself)¬†will make it into service.

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Official Republic of Korea Armed Forces Photo

Royal Thai Navy – HTMS Chakri Naruebet light carrier

Essentially a scaled-down Pr√≠ncipe de Asturias design from the Spanish Navy, HTMS Chakri Naruebet¬†is the second ship to spawn from the US Navy’s Sea Control Ship concept. At 183 metres and 10,420 tonnes, she is a small offensive carrier than now lacks any offensive aircraft due to the retirement of Thailand’s AV-8S Matador aircraft. Her original airwing was nine Matadors, six SH-60 Seahawk helicopters and up to four MH-60S Knighthawk helicopters.¬† The ship is said to serve as an oversized royal yacht in recent years.

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Official US Navy Photo

So, we have met carriers on the block that are not Chinese. All eleven of them. But as you can see, INS Vikramaditya is the only viable carrier than can compare to the likes of Liaoning. However, the point I want to make is that more than a few of these carriers can be made to do more.

First focusing on Japan, they have seven of the eleven carriers mentioned here. Three of the smaller ŇĆsumi LPDs cannot really compete with the capability provided by actual fleet carriers no matter what, but the four larger DCVLs could possibly support STOVL aircraft (think F-35B Lightning II). The reason why they haven‚Äôt got them already is the same reason why the carriers themselves are not technically labelled as carriers by Japan. But desperate times call for desperate measures, so if the event of a hypothetical war between China and Japan, STOVL aircraft could be a defensive fall-back option. Bad to the LPDs, their flight decks are likely too-short to support even STOVL aircraft, but their current helicopter-supporting capabilities can be utilised in other fields.

This leads us to South Korea and it’s two LPHs. Like Japan’s LPDs, the two Dokdos can also be used in present condition for non-strike operations. Remember, a carrier does not operate by itself, requiring a supporting fleet to escort the carrier to and from the theatre of combat.

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Falklands War Commemorative Carrier Coin

So I just started collecting coins now it seems.

Today I received my second coin from World Challenge Coins, a neat company that sells a lot of British military coins (among other coins). The first one I ordered back in September 2016 was a commemorative Avro Vulcan bomber silver coin. This one is for the Falklands War carrier fleet, namely light carriers HMS¬†Hermes¬†(R12), Centaur-class,¬†and HMS¬†Invincible (R05),¬†Invincible-class. I decided to order this coin¬†as my personal¬†tribute to both of these fine carriers¬†that served the Royal Navy well under trying time of war and increasing budget cuts. I also fancied completing a 16-coin 35-year-anniversary collection dedicated to the Falklands War that came with it (a fancy cardboard ‘ammo box’ for holding them came with the coin).

The coin itself is silver. There was an option to upgrade to gold, but I did not have enough money to spare for it at the time. This coin cost ¬£4.99 + ¬£2.50 delivery. The coin has a fair bit of weight to it, even when it is out of the included protective casing. The photos I took of it¬†in relatively-poor lighting do not do the coin’s quality justice, as it is a fine piece of pressed metal.

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Both sides of the silver coin

I guess at this point I should do the usual disclaimers, like saying that I by no means support the deaths that occurred during the conflict. Because I don’t, and all I wanted is something to remember these amazing, misunderstood machines that I love so much by!

HMS Ocean sales rumour

Apologies for my absence as of late, I have been busy with coursework among other things. Anyway, rumours are now floating around about a possible sale of HMS¬†Ocean¬†(L12) to Brazil as a possible replacement for their now-demobilising¬†NAe¬†S√£o Paulo¬†(A12). I believe it to be a very bad decision for both the UK and Brazilian governments. Here’s why.

Note:¬†this will assume¬†that Brazil wants¬†Ocean¬†in a strike-carrier role. Also before we get into this, I’ll give a brief¬†overview¬†of the ship. HMS¬†Ocean¬†(pennant L12) is a 21,500-tonne Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) carrier commissioned back in 1998. The ship is a¬†dedicated helicopter-carrying platform for supporting amphibious assaults and serves as an afloat Royal Marine training and staging base.

Firstly, the impact to the UK. As supporters of the sale quickly point out, we do indeed have two¬†Queen Elizabeth-class supercarriers coming soon, with one (HMS¬†Prince of Wales¬†R09)¬†being ‘enhanced’ with amphibious-supporting capabilities. But that is far from a specialised replacement. Those supercarriers are and will always be fleet carrier-first. LPH-second is not good enough. Especially given the whole purpose¬†Ocean¬†was commissioned was that using a non-LPH ship in the LPH role was problematic. RFA¬†Argus¬†(A135), which now serves as an aviation training and casualty receiving ship, was pressed into the LPH role in the early-90s due to the decommissioning of our dedicated ‘commando carriers’. She proved the¬†unsuitability of ships of a certain type being made to serve as another type. This ‘solution’ to the absence to¬†Ocean¬†from I fleet I feel has the potential to be a repeat of that crucial mistake that led to¬†Ocean¬†being developed in the first place! There is also a question of a two-year gap between the scheduled decommissioning of¬†Ocean¬†in 2018 and the commissioning of¬†Prince of¬†Wales¬†in 2020…

Next, we need to consider the impact of purchase for Brazil itself. Firstly, if¬†Ocean¬†is to serve as a strike carrier now, there would be a pressing need for a very large and very costly conversion to make the ship suitable for operating¬†STOVL jet aircraft. This includes adding a ‘ski-ramp’ to support take-offs given¬†Ocean‘s¬†relatively-small flight deck, re-plating the flight deck with a new material and/or coating to better deflect the immense heat that would it would be subjected too (even modern helicopters such as the MV-22 Osprey put a lot of pressure of a flight deck), and finally a lot of internal reconfiguration would have to be done for supporting large amounts of aircraft munitions, jet fuel and aircraft workshops as opposed to its current internal commitments to training facilities and troop barracks.¬†More things¬†Brazil¬†must consider with¬†Ocean¬†is that it was built to commercial (not military) standards. Which potentially means poor damage resistance, and I know for a fact the carrier is quite slow at 18 knots maximum speed. These characteristics are understandable for a ship that was primarily designed be anchored off some shore, providing helicopter support to Marines (with¬†secondary roles as a limited anti-submarine platform and¬†aforementioned an¬†afloat training and staging base). In conclusion,¬†Ocean¬†as a strike/light carrier would have a small airwing and her speed would effectively ‘handicap’ its own escorting fleet, making long-range travels horribly slow.

That’s my two cents¬†and brief¬†rationale towards this argument. My concluding position that it is¬†not feasible and quite ill-advised that Brazil would even consider¬†Ocean¬†as an alternative to a proper replacement to¬†S√£o Paulo.

 

Two carriers in a week

That’s right. Last week, two big events impacted the carrier world. The Indian Navy’s INS¬†Viraat¬†(R22) light carrier was formally decommissioned and the US Navy’s USS¬†Independence¬†(CV-62) supercarrier began its journey to the breaker’s yard.

So the first event. On 6th March 2017, the Indian Navy decommissioned INS¬†Viraat, former Royal Navy¬†Colossus-class light carrier HMS¬†Hermes (R11). Age and her cost of maintenance prompted the Indian Defence Ministry to retire¬†Viraat¬†three years early – her expected end of service life was 2020. Future INS¬†Vikrant will replace her role in the fleet. It is unclear at this time if she will be preserved. A previous attempt at making her a museum a few years ago apparently fell through. Period to her decommissioning,¬†Viraat was the oldest operational aircraft carrier. Personally, I will remember the ship chiefly as¬†Hermes, since she was famous for being one of those Cold War-era ‘commando carriers’¬†(basically a Landing Platform Helicopter or LPH) and serving in the Falklands War.

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INS Viraat –¬†US Navy photo (cropped)

Now the second event. USS¬†Independence¬†(CV-62),¬†Forrestal-class, was decommissioned almost 20 years ago (30th September 1998) and now it is time for her tow to Texas for scrapping. She began this journey on the 11th March 2017, which is 25,750 kilometres from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to a breaker’s yard in Brownsville. Being a¬†Forrestal-class member, she was among the World’s first supercarriers in service. From 1959 until decommissioning. She served with distinction in Vietnam and the rest of the Cold War. After the decommissioning, she remained mothballed for five and a half years before finally being struck on 8th March 2004. During this time,¬†Independence was said to have been heavily stripped to support active supercarriers. The state of the ship by the end of this¬†meant she was not in good enough condition to be preserved.

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USS Independence РUS Navy photo (cropped)

As always, I hate to see carriers go. I hope that INS Viraat can be preserved, since she could be the last World War II-era British carrier left that can be preserved. As for USS Independence, I understand she is not in safe condition for preservation as a museum/memorial. It does suck that no Forrestal-class supercarrier can be preserved now, but they were all pushed hard during their years of service. I am grateful that they did exist and left their mark on history!

See you around Viraat and Independence, noble Warriors of the Sea!

Goodbye S√£o Paulo

I did not expect to write two of these sorts of posts in a month. But it seems I must wave goodbye to another aircraft carrier. NAe São Paulo (A12) of the Brazilian Navy (Marinha do Brasil). I first heard the news at around 4AM this morning. I saw someone post a news article about it on a Facebook group I am a part of. Although the impact of São Paulo is not approaching that of USS Enterprise (CVN-65), the other carrier retired early this month, but she is still a Warrior of the Seas and thus I will once again say my goodbyes.

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Photo by Rob Schleiffert (cropped)

S√£o Paulo has had the distinction of serving in two navies. She was built and first commissioned as the French aircraft carrier Foch (R99). (Pronounced “fosh”, not “fock” or “fuck”.) She was the second Clemenceau-class fleet carrier. First commissioned in 1963, she was a CATOBAR-type carrier (basically means catapult-assisted take-offs for aircraft) and was named after French general, Marshal and military theorist Ferdinand Foch. Her size, displacement and capability is similar to that of a World War II-era¬†Essex-class fleet carrier of the US Navy. She was decommissioned from French service in 2000 and transferred and commissioned into Brazilian service the same day.

In her years of service as S√£o Paulo, the ship has suffered fires, serviceability issues and has never managed to operate more than three months at a time without the need for repairs and maintenance. Despite the attempts to refit and upgrade her, a recent study has shown that it would take around 10 years to upgrade the ship. By that time, its airwing of A-4 Skyhawk fighters will reach the end of their service periods themselves. Officially due to high costs, the Brazilian Navy will demobilise and decommission S√£o Paulo. Apparently, the Navy plans to domestically construct two 50,000-tonne carriers to replace and supplement¬†S√£o Paulo‘s role in the future.

Admittedly, I am not completely informed about the history of Foch/S√£o Paulo – both ship’s service lives have had much less media coverage here in the UK compared to our Royal Navy carriers or US Navy carriers. But it is always sad for me to see an aircraft carrier go.¬†In the years that I have been alive, it has seemed like S√£o Paulo has never managed to stay in the sea long enough to be an ocean warrior. But every aircraft carrier has a place in my heart, and S√£o Paulo is no exception. She‚Äôs in dire need of repair, and thus I‚Äôd rather see her put to rest than rust away doing nothing. Or worse, being a moving hazard at sea.

I salute you, old Warrior of the Seas. Let history never forget you.

Farewell Enterprise, Magnificent Warrior of the Seas

Today is a big day for carriers. An emotional one at that.

‚ÄúA bittersweet day‚ÄĚ, as described by Admiral James F. Caldwell, Jr of the United States Navy. Today, USS Enterprise (CVN-65) is to be decommissioned. She was the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the fastest supercarrier, the longest naval ship ever and the longest serving US Navy aircraft carrier.

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Enterprise in all her glory – Official US Navy photo

As per the orders of the US Chief of Naval Operations, Enterprise is decommissioned as of 1602 hours (UK time), 3rd February 2017. I watched most of the 1 hour and six-minute livestream of her decommissioning ceremony on the Huntington Ingalls Industries Facebook page. I must say, it was more emotional than I thought. The speeches of Rear Admiral Brain K. Antonio and aforementioned Admiral Caldwell. Man, they were good! They gave a lot of insight to their stories of Enterprise and what made her live up to the nickname ‚ÄúBig E‚ÄĚ.

Because Enterprise had quite the legacy to live up to. The original Big E, Yorktown-class USS Enterprise (CV-6), earned 20 battle stars, making her the most decorated US ship of World War II and indeed of all time. At one point in the War, CV-6 was the only US fleet carrier functional in the Pacific. It was Enterprise versus Japan. her, along with the then-upcoming onslaught of Essex-class fleet carriers, Independence-class light carriers, 100+ escort carriers and the carriers in the British Pacific Fleet, won that fight. CV-6 returned to the States as a war hero. Sadly, she was never preserved.

Upon the launch of her career, CVN-65 managed to once again capture the public’s love and affection. Setting records straight out of dry dock; she was in fact the largest ship in World upon launch. As per the words of those Admirals I mentioned; she struck fear in the eyes of America’ enemies whilst being a major strategic and humanitarian tool for the Navy. With her truly astonishing EIGHT nuclear reactors, she was the most powerful power-generating object on the planet at launch. She was faster than most of her escorts. In one instance, she beat destroyer leader USS Leahy (DLG-16) in a race! And that was a smaller fleet unit designed to be fast! Come 1964, she became the core of World’s first all-nuclear task force, aptly named Task Force One. In Operation Sea Orbit, from 31st July to 3rd October 1964, three ships conducted an unrefuelled cruise of the world in 65 days. They totalled 30,565 miles without refuelling! Those three ships were the Big E, along with the first nuclear-powered surface warship USS Long Beach (CGN-9) and USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25). They made history that year, demonstrating the logistical and strategical power of nuclear-powered ships.

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Task Force One. Note Big E’s crew forming an “E = mc2” on her deck – Official US Navy photo

That is probably one of the most iconic photos in naval history. After this, she went on to deployments to Vietnam, Korea, suffered a fire in 1969, and eventually fought in the Iraq War.

She had quite a run. But obviously, all good things must come to an end, and I write this blog post today with a heavy heart. I never saw the ship in person, and I have only been alive for a relatively-small portion of her service life. But the impact she made and the technological marvel she is digs deep in me. I admire this beautiful and magnificent carrier. But what happens next? Now she is decommissioned, she will be stricken from the Naval Vessel Registry and prepared for a tow from Newport News Shipbuilding, around South America, to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for the removal of her radioactive systems and eventual scrapping. In the livestream I mentioned, a plaque of a Big ‚ÄúE‚ÄĚ in remembrance of Enterprise was showed off. It was made from the steel from CVN-65.

That plaque will be placed aboard the next Enterprise, and as much steel as possible will be reused for the construction of this new carrier. Third carrier of the Gerald R. Ford-class supercarriers.

USS Enterprise CVN-80.

‚ÄúLet’s make sure history never forgets the name Enterprise.‚ÄĚ

From waterfalls to rain

It seems my wanting for another good weekend was fulfilled!

Again with my parents, I spent this Saturday in Brecon. This time, we actually found the place we wanted to see last week. Waterfall County. The place was beautiful. Mostly a network of forest paths going up and down various sized hills, the trails eventually lead to four different waterfalls in the area (hence the name ‚ÄúFour Falls Trail‚ÄĚ). The signs rate the walk to be 2 hours and a half long, although my parents and I spend an hour and a half on a trail to one waterfall at a modest pace. We did not know our way around, so this time difference can be attributed for detours and stuff. Which wasn‚Äôt a problem, since it was all good and fun! I got some good photos of the one waterfall we saw, and even a rainbow!

Sunday was a little different. I did not go out anywhere fancy, but I did go out for a walk in the rain. I love the rain, although the wetness did make it impossible to operate my phone to select what music I wanted to hear! So, I decided to walk and simply listen to the sound of the rain drops. I eventually got to this bridge, and it was bliss. You could smell the water, and feel it running through my hair. I spend about ten minutes or so there. It represented a simple pleasure.

So like last week, I will leave y’all with some photos!

Waterfall County:

The bridge:

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The bridge. Looks not-so-glorious, but the feeling at that time!