Why aircraft carriers may be good for parking cars but not landing new jets
Sailors' cars fill the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan during transit up the U.S. West Coast.
January 16th, 2012
11:33 AM ET

Why aircraft carriers may be good for parking cars but not landing new jets

As this third week in January starts, we're learning three things about the U.S. military aircraft carrier program:

– The Pentagon may be looking at reducing the number of carriers in the U.S. fleet from 11 to 10 to save money.

– The military's new F-35C Joint Strike Fighter may not be suitable for carrier use.

– Aircraft carriers make fine automobile transports.

On the first point, The Washington Times reports, citing unnamed sources, that the U.S. Navy may be trying to cut one of its 11 carriers to save money.

Congress has mandated by law that the Navy maintain 11 carriers. But the Pentagon is also under orders from the Obama administration to cut $488 billion from its budget within the next 10 years, Rowan Scarborough reports in the Times.

Cutting a carrier, along with the other forces that make up and support a carrier battle group, could save the Navy billions of dollars, according to the Times report.

An F-35C test aircraft launches from a test catapult in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

As for the F-35C, reports have begun circulating that the aircraft the military says is "the most affordable, lethal, supportable and survivable aircraft ever to be used by so many warfighters across the globe" won't be able to land on aircraft carriers, apparently because its tailhook is too short and is situated too close to its landing gear for the plane to properly grab the arresting cables that enable planes to land on aircraft carriers.

The report was first seen last week on the website aviationintel.com and was backed up by a report in London's Sunday Times that has been picked up by press across Britain.

Aviationintel.com reported that the design flaw is not fixable because there's just not enough space on the belly of the F-35C to move the tailhook back.

British naval sources said the flaws could place the entire JSF program in jeopardy, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph. Britain was expected to buy about 50 of the planes, the Telegraph reported.

Jim Murphy, the shadow defense secretary, said, "An island nation like ours should be able to operate aeroplanes from an aircraft carrier. The government must come clean on the full impact of the defense review. It's essential we know how long we will be without carrier strike capability," according to the Telegraph report.

Just last week, the U.S. Marine Corps reported it welcomed its first F-35B into its fleet. The first Marine jets will be used for training at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, the Corps said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the website Jalopnik reports that aircraft carriers also make great automobile carriers and save the Navy money in the process.

Photos from the USS Ronald Reagan show its flight deck loaded with the personal vehicles of sailors as the carrier travels along the West Coast to Naval Base Kitsap in Bremerton, Washington, where the carrier will undergo maintenance.

And the saving money part?

"First, the only other way to get vehicles owned by Navy sailors to their final destinations is to put them in another ship. Second, if they didn't send soldiers' vehicles they'd have to pay for transportation at the final destination. Both of which would absolutely cost more money," Jalopnik points out.

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Filed under: Marines • Military • Pentagon • U.S. Navy • United Kingdom
soundoff (455 Responses)
  1. wassamatteru11

    Time to consider cutting somewhere else obama is wasting money, and leave the military alone.As for the fighter – well welcome to international design with too many cooks in the kitchen!!!!

    January 16, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Norse1990

      Interesting that you want to make no cuts to the military. Are you implying that their is no waste in the military? That there is no room for productivity improvements within the military in order to drive down costs? That the U.S. military is the only federal organization that is perfectly managed and has absolutely no waste? I'm not peace-nic but I see no harm in the military budget being trimmed back to rate of inflation as proposed.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Garret

      I've been in the military 15 years both USAF and US Army, and there is so much waste in the military it makes you want to throw up. The military can easily trim money. First for the tens of thousand troops that have not deployed in the last decade, you have proven yourself obsolete, please leave and no you cannot have a free benefits for dodging war.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • nope

      I believe our nimirz class carrier cost approximately 4billion each?, with a minimum of 11 carriers, we already have more carriers then any nation on the globe. We are also pending to field a new class carrier in the coming years. The most carriers any non U.S. country ever had was 2 and at half the size of our Nimitz class carriers. I believe only the UK is currently planning to field 2 carriers in 2020 and share them with an agreement they made with France. Still, these new carriers are patrol boats compared to our carrier fleet. Russia, China, India each have one... again at about a half the size of our own. Our carriers carry roughly 90 aircraft while the rest of the world are happy to carry about 30...

      January 16, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tacair HQ

    To my knowledge, this story actually first broke a week ago on the popular F16 (dot) net's aviation blog by contributing blogger eric palmer. He was apparently citing DoD's 'quick-look' report released last November.

    January 16, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Das Hornet

    Sounds to me like more F-18E's, F's, and G's. Viva la super hornet.

    January 16, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ed D

      Wooo hoo, roger that, Super Bugs forever!!!

      January 16, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      The Hornet was a mistake from the begining. The F-14 Tomcat was a much better jet. It was just not in a powerful Senitors State and got canned. The whole consept of one jet fits all was a really bad ideal from the start. 2 different missions for 2 different services.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Not to start a "war" here but the F-14 could fly circles around the Hornet. Hell, it was designed to catch ICBM's. It could track several at once and actually fire at 6 at the same time. And this was before the Data Link systems were ever developed. It was a huge mistake to can the TomCat. Yes it was getting old but how much would it have cost to update it instead of designing some pipe dream of a one for all missions aircraft?

      January 17, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • GT

      Have a look at the maintenance hours required to keep a Tomcat in the air and you will see where the problems are. If the Navy had unlimited budgets then they could maybe have considered keeping the Tom but the design, although truly beautiful, was behind the times. besides the Tom never really recovered from having the wrong engines in the beginning. It was not until the D Model that she really started to show her stuff. Similar story to the F-111 in that the early history shaded what a truly great aircraft it became, so much so that the USAF rued getting rid of the F-111 too soon, given the problems and limitations of the B-1 and B-2 programs. Sometimes you can do better with less, or at least smaller, aircraft.

      January 18, 2012 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
  4. Aaron

    Transporting the crew's vehicles was a great Idea. Nice to see that some commander had the foresight and balls to do this. The crew, and all their property, are the responsibility of the Navy therefore the Navy was just transporting their own property.
    Now lets wait for all the ignorant haters to chime in.

    January 16, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • AdmiralJ

      The Navy has been doing this since the 70's. Maybe even longer, nothing new there. But the tail hook issue is a "big" deal.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ck

    military leaders can only do what they are told, so some of you need to shut your trap

    January 16, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. derek

    Im waiitng for the picture of the Navy "Cat " launching a Ford 150 ....

    January 16, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. JEN

    How can this be? All the money we have spent and the tail hook won't work... incredible.

    January 16, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doodles

      Computers don't make mistakes – "garbage in, garbage out" – some programmer/designer should have their head handed to them.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Bob

    Glad to see our Tax money is being put to good use!!!!!!!

    January 16, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bill

    Don't make a new plane.
    Redesign the hook.

    January 16, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • banasy©

      Stop it! That would be too easy, convenient, and...logical!

      January 16, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bill Tonkin

    The tail hook is not a bfd. The fact that we are trying to build one-size fits all is a bfd regardless model type.

    January 16, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Right, but this bfd is fubar.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Phil

    It may well be that the F-35C tailhook is messed up, but the idea that it's not fixable seems very unlikely. It might be annoying to fix, or the fix might slightly compromise stealth, but if it's actually unfixable I will eat my hat.

    Cutting from 11 carrier groups to 10 is probably a good idea. In fact, I'd suggest that six fleet carriers and twenty-odd LHA-sized drone/helo carriers would be a better breakout. Fleet carriers are too expensive, and vulnerable to land-based ballistic missiles, anyway.

    January 16, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Phil you have know idea what you're talking about. The statement that the carrier is vulnerable to a land based ballistic missile is hilarious! A carrier is the most well defended ship in the fleet. If, and its a big if, a missile could get through all the defenses and get close to the ship, have you ever seen the Sea-Whiz system work? I'm not going to say it can't happen but it's highly doubtful.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Frank

    If only there was a way to design an elongated tailhook. Oh well, I guess this is just one of those insurmountable problems that no U.S. engineers are capable of solving.

    January 16, 2012 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Gran44

    Was not the F35C always intended to be the "carrier variant" of the F35 since the program started (in the 1990's?)? If its design was not sufficiently vetted by both the manufacturers and the military to allow it to have a proper tailhook for carrier operations, then those responsible should re-do the entire design and prototype building to date at their own expense, or spend the remainder of their lives in prison. Enough incompetence, politics and corner-cutting already.

    January 16, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • damniel

      Lol. you apparently don't know how DoD contractors work. Projects are bid as cost plus. That basically means that they are guaranteed that amount of funding for the project. However, if the project goes over budget, the contractor can go back to the government and say, hey either give me more money or I'm shutting the project down.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  14. damniel

    The author failed to mention that this reduction from 11 to 10 would be temporary, retiring the outdated USS Enterprise a couple of years early instead of spending excess money on a ship that's already destined for retirement in 2014. The USS Gerald Ford will be along shortly to take its place. No need for panic.

    January 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      LOL, that's a good point.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • GT

      temporary ..... except for the fact that they are now looking at retiring the George Washington early, as early as the next couple of years BEFORE Ford commissions! She is due for refueling and refit and at half a billion dollars or so to do so they are seeing value in dropping GW at about half her predicted service life. Things are a lot tougher in the military budget balancing area than many of you seem to appreciate.

      January 18, 2012 at 1:02 am | Report abuse |
  15. dreamer96

    Maybe the Navy should just change the definition of what a carrier is....using UAV, or smaller drone fighters you don't need a huge flat top anymore...just a hole to capture the returning drones, the tail hook cable grabber or think of a small landing pad that moves in under the plane, and gabs it,...exact the opposite of the rail launch system.. , and a hole to rail launch them out of....

    or go back to that old plan of making a air blimp carrier...that's not nearly as crazy as it sounds....a blimp at 40,000 feet that could land on water, or fly away....using the same idea of holes to launch and retrieve the smaller drone fighter...

    January 16, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
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