Aircraft carriers are the monarchs of the sea, and arguably the third best strategic weapon in the US arsenal, after nukes and little groups of paratroopers. Since the Russians, Chinese and Indians already have nukes and paratroops/Gurkhas, they have begun exploring the exciting world of Naval Aviation. And learning a lot!
Recently the only Russian aircraft carrier (the Kuznetsov) completed its longest and busiest cruise yet, spending 117 days at sea and carrying out 420 aircraft takeoffs using its Su-33s and MiG-29Ks jets. Some of those flights were for combat missions in Syria. That level of activity comes out to 3.6 fixed wing aircraft operations per day. While doing that two jets were lost. Russia considered this a training cruise that cost less than $200 million.
In early 2017 the Indian Navy issued a request for foreign suppliers to bid on a $15 billion contract to supply 57 jet fighter-bombers capable of operating from an aircraft carrier. This comes after a late 2016 announcement by the navy that India’s locally designed and built LCA (Light Combat Aircraft or “Tejas”) jet fighter was unsuitable for use on Indian aircraft carriers.
The country’s sole carrier, the refurbished Soviet-era Kuznetsov-class ship, now renamed the Liaoning, was declared “combat ready” in November by Senior Capt. Li Dongyou, the political commissar onboard the ship as it departed for a training cruise that included a stopover at the purpose-built pier at the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) base near Sanya on Hainan island on the edge of the South China Sea.
The ship sailed with a battle group comprising of several PLAN destroyers, frigates and corvettes, while the Liaoning itself carried more than a dozen Shenyang J-15 Flying Shark carrier-borne fighters and several Harbin Z-9 and Changhe Z-18 helicopters onboard, including at least two Z-18J airborne early warning (AEW) helicopters.
And, back in America, a potential pretender to the throne. Though I am of extremely lubberly persuasion, I favor the tactics that smaller carriers dispersed into multiple battle groups that overstretches an enemy’s ability to address.