I have outlined how take-off and landing systems might work in some detail (see Part I) as they suggest a realistic squadron strength per aerial aircraft carrier of ten warplanes if F35Bs or F35Cs.
Given that HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales cost £6.4 billion, the Ministry of Defence might be able to equip itself with fourteen ML86X aircraft carriers, able to house 40% more combat planes, for the same capital cost. This looks like a good deal to me.
The aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has a standard operational air component of 36 (though it can accommodate 50) short take off (but vertical landing) F35Bs. Were this air component dispersed between five ML86X aerial aircraft carriers, the force would be less vulnerable since not all eggs would be in one basket. Such an aerial fleet would have tactical superiority in an engagement with surface fleets and would be relatively invulnerable to attack from submarines, as well as having tactical advantage against ground based aircraft tied to runways, because of the ability to fly away from strike launch points at 125 miles per hour.
The ‘Aeroscrafts’ turbofan jet engines allow the airships to takeoff and land vertically without ground crews. Indeed, they will be able to land on water. This advantage would be magnified greatly if they could be modified to take off from water too. Even without water take-off VTOL capacity, it is a further enhancement of their ability to survive and deploy in a strategically useful fashion as they could be dispersed to no runway bases. Such a capacity could be ideal for defence of, say, the Falklands, or of any ally who was lacking in runways where needed, as it would free the airships of the requirement to be concentrated at any particular place, which would enhance security given that fixed bases are plum targets for surprise attacks. Instead, a plethora of concealed caches could be dotted around the islands, or place of conflict, which would enable the carriers, when they were not airborne, to hop around between them unpredictably.
My first proposal is to spend, say, £3 million on a six month study of the cost effectiveness of making the ‘Aeroscraft’ battle capable.
Subject to that I also suggest that the government seek to buy, say, £40 million of shares in Worldwide Aeros Corp, subject to an executive role in the company being granted. That would enable the Ministry of Defence to advocate combat military applications awareness in the development process and, later, prevent over-charging were the Ministry to purchase a fleet. The shares could be disposed of once the aerial carriers started to enter service.
Only after Worldwide Aeros Corp has completed testing their prototype airship, as they plan to in 2017, would I advocate that the UK have a military prototype built, say, for 2020. The aim would be to authorize the fleet, if at all, in 2023 to commission aerial aircraft carriers into service from 2026.
If the innovation were to prove viable I would propose to increase the naval budget by £5.3 billion per year, and the air force budget by £1.3 billion per year, in order to buy and operate eight aerial aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy and two for the Royal Air Force.
The £6.6 billion per annum extra budget would cover the cost of equipping and operating the aerial carrier fleet, if the air component was the F35B, with 100 new warplanes. With a £210 million capital cost (£14 million per year amortised over fifteen years) and a £38,000 per flight hour cost, thus, say, £17 million per year operating cost – assuming 60% repair, maintain, refit and down-time, and 12.5% of operational time in the air – the F35B should have an annual cost of £31 million per warplane per year.
These 100 warplanes would cost £3.1 billion per year to operate, including provision for amortisation. The carriers would have an annual amortised over 15 years capital cost of £40 million. Owing, primarily, to the relatively low cost of carrier fuel, annual operating costs per pound of capital cost should be massively, say, 80% lower than for ten F35Bs, assuming £88,000 per flight hour cost, 60% repair, maintain, refit and down time and 100% of operational time in the air, thus giving an estimated £308 million per year operating cost per carrier for a net annual cost of £348 million or £3.5 billion for the ten vessel fleet.
To build a combined arms force appropriate to a ten carrier fleet I’d propose setting up a Royal Space Navy and a Royal Cyber Force to be charged with the aim of securing the outer and info spaces respectively. For these services I would propose a further increase in spending of £5.7 billion combined per annum.
One alternative to the F35Bs would be a jet such as a modified Scorpion cutting the capital and operating cost by, say, 80% per plane and so enabling the fleet to be increased to 16 carriers and the carried force to 160 warplanes.
Were one to equip the aerial carrier with short take off vertical landing drones these would have an operating cost about 4% that of the F35B. Thus, even allowing for research and development costs for a short take-off vertical landing drone, such a heavier-than-air arm might be even more effective.
Concomitantly there could be a £1.0 billion p.a. additional budget for stealthy unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicles with the aim of identifying targets and directing the carrier’s warplanes against them before an enemy attack could be made against the aerial carrier. Indeed, in practice it might be operationally sensible to assign, particularly in the case of Royal Navy carriers operating over oceans as opposed to narrow seas, say, 20-40% of the carrier’s air component to the scouting role.
I would suggest that a further £1.5 billion provision be made to buy free electron laser weapons from the USN who are scheduled to test full power prototypes in 2018, potentially to install them into the Zumwalt-class destroyers and Gerald Ford class carriers, assuming on board aerial carrier power supplies can be made adequate, with an additional £1.0 billion provision to try and make it so. Free electron beam weapons would maximize the aerial carrier’s ability to defend itself against over the horizon guided missile threats because their munitions effect moves much faster than an incoming missile and so permits a reactive defence, crucially, for a much lower munitions cost. Missiles can be extremely expensive.
Over-the-horizon, particularly hypersonic, missile threats guided from outer space or AWACS would be the primary danger facing the aerial aircraft carrier fleet I propose. To justify investment in aerial aircraft carriers in the face of this risk the prospective enemy’s extra terrestrial, airborne warning and surface picket unit capacity would have to be weak in the first place, as for example in a conflict with a power such as North Korea, or rapidly destroyed as in a conflict with a power such as the People’s Republic of China. This is why the combined arms doctrine is an indivisible part of my aerial carrier proposal. The space guided missile threat suggests the merit of a further line of investigation into submarine carriers which the Japanese navy commissioned in the 1940s. The £15.8 billion p.a. extra expenditure I have written about would be practical if one were to increase defence spending by 100% as I would advocate,, subject to much bigger cuts elsewhere.
[For Part I of this article, see here.]