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. Massive Marbles

    Oh WOW, What great thinkers and designers those aero techs are...Let's design a plane that makes aircraft carriers obsolete! That's so brilliant! You geniuses deserve a metal 'for thinking outside of the aircraft carrier'! Certainly is in line with the plan to cut back on carriers it?

    January 18, 2012 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Cody

      Well, we will have to hope these rumours aren't true. I would be shocked if they developed an airplane meant specifically for use by the Navy that couldn't land on Aircraft carriers...

      January 18, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |

      "metal".... perhaps we should give them bronze... or did you mean a Medal?

      January 18, 2012 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Absolutely Reparable

      If the problem really exists, perhaps it will be resolved with an extending, telescoping, or scissoring tailhook or some other option. To think that top engineers can't think of a way to make a tailhook extend longer is rather silly.

      January 18, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ozzi

      I'm thinking metal baton upside the head since they aren't using that part anyway.

      Thanks Defense for wasting US taxpayer dollars again!

      January 18, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Massive Marbles

    *medal, haha...NOT

    January 18, 2012 at 7:40 am | Report abuse |
  3. LDDirect

    It makes no sense at this point in world affairs to "moth ball" a US aircraft carrier. We are truly the only super power in the world and one way to show this is through our carrier battlegroups. With the Chinese having one carrier now and possibly adding additional carrier groups from a military stand point surely does not make any sense. Cut out the pork from the DoD budget and my hat goes off to the carrier that is transporting the cars on the deck; about time someone used their brain for saving some money!

    January 18, 2012 at 8:03 am | Report abuse |
    • MarkinFL

      The Chinese do not have an Aircraft carrier group. They barely have a refurbished old aircraft carrier and no deep water support capability. They're certainly trying hard but it will be quite a while before they have any REAL capability.

      January 18, 2012 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      @ MarkinFL
      Tell that to the Chinese submarine captain that popped up in the middle of one our carrier groups. Underestimating your compet.ition is a sure fire way to get owned.

      January 18, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
    • MarkinFL

      And this resembles a carrier group how?

      As I noted they are trying hard. Their current capability has been in and around their own waters. The Carrier is so they can project world wide. They are not anywhere near that capability.

      January 18, 2012 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
    • dbarak

      Well, we currently have 11 carriers in the fleet – the Enterprise (CVN-65) and the Nimitz-class carriers (CVN-68 through 77). We're currently building CVN-78 and I believe construction may have started on CVN-79. The Enterprise is due to be decomissioned this year or in 2014, I believe. But CVN-78 is far enough along in construction that I'm pretty sure it would be comissioned when finished, which would bring us back up to 11. CVN-79, I'm guessing, could possibly be cancelled without much problem, assuming it's still early in the construction phase.

      If they decomissioned the Nimitz, the oldest of the class, that would bring us back to 10, but Nimitz still has a good deal of life left (comissioned in 1975, with a planned lifespan of about 50 years). It sounds like they'd have to decomission a ship well before its time in order to reach the goal of 10.

      January 18, 2012 at 10:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Cody

      11 is a lot... do we really need that many? Cutting one will save tons, I think it's worth it. Also, the submarine is more of an example of what happens when you're not expecting a war. The carrier group was not searching for a submarine, and the Chinese are probably lucky someone didn't freak out and decide to blow it up. I don't care how good your submarine is, there is no hiding a career group so active sonar will light you up.

      January 18, 2012 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |

    It is simple to me, don't buy the things!!! Next time I'll bet a new team of engineers will take that and other thngs into consideration.

    January 18, 2012 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
  5. rastus

    move the arresting wire up dumbos

    January 18, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      The problem isn't the height of the wire. You see, if you moved the wire up, it would get hooked on the landing gear. When the gear goes over the wire it pushes it flat to the deck. Then after the tire goes over it springs up a few inches again, that's when the hook grabs. The problem now is that there isn't enough time for it to spring up because the hook is too close to the gear.

      January 18, 2012 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      This is a question for John, not Rastus...According to your explanation, there is not enough time for the arresting cable to spring back up after being run over by the landing gears.

      If this is the case, what would be so overwhelmingly difficult about designing a tailhook system that would extend from the plane at a high rate of speed, say like a telescoping arm powered by pressurized gas? Surely there must be a solution here somewhere!

      January 18, 2012 at 9:59 am | Report abuse |
  6. Badly-Bent

    How many containers can a Carrier hold?

    January 18, 2012 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Ozzi

      Is this a trick question?

      January 18, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Josh

    Wow did they get all those cars up onto the top deck of that carrier?

    January 18, 2012 at 8:32 am | Report abuse |
  8. T

    I thought the new plane has V.T.O.L. capability like the Harrier jet ?

    January 18, 2012 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      It is… one of the versions that is. The Navy version is not. A quick Google search will answer in more depth than I’m willing to.

      January 18, 2012 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Pleiva

      According to reports, the cheaper F-35 is well under the performance standards it needs to meet to neutralize the Sukhoi FA. It's slower that an F-14 Phantom F and it will be out,angered, out gunned and out ranged by the Russian. To go cheap compared,tomthe F-22 is likely to cost us big time in the end, if this is all true. Look up FA, vs. F-22, vs. F-35. You'll see what I mean. Not good Pancho! Another F/A-18 Superhornet variant, might be a better deal in the near term, but what the hell do I know!

      January 18, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Pleiva

      That was supposed to be "out ranged" before the speller changed it!

      January 18, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
  9. JWH Atlanta

    Somebody please help me to understand why the Navy has to transport cars belonging to soldiers across the globe.
    The cost must be substantial. Why can't the military be told to sell or otherwise dispose of cars before redeployment or pay for their own transport home. A car is a little more than luggage. Perhaps one of you guys who are so concerned about Government waste can explain this to me.

    January 18, 2012 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      The military is already shipping household goods for these people. Adding a few cars to the cargo isn't going to make it that much more expensive. They have to send the cargo ship either way. People in the military do actually like having their personal things when stationed overseas for years at a time. That's just part of the price of freedom.

      January 18, 2012 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Tierra

      @JWH Atlanta – Why should these families of military members be forced to give up their cars and belongings? They spend over half their time apart from their families I think they DESERVE to be able to have a simple luxery such as a car to get to and from work ... dont ya think?

      January 18, 2012 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
    • dbarak

      "Across the globe" is a bit of an exaggeration. They're shipping the cars and a lot of household goods up the coast. Reagan is going in for a year (or more, probably) of maintenance and upgrades, a long enough time that sailors need to reestablish residence in the area.

      January 18, 2012 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Chavers

      JWH Atlanta.. Are you serious? You have definately not served in the military. The aircraft carrier is already going to the base so it doesn't cost a whole lot to put the cars on the flight deck.... Otherwise the NAVY would have to pay each sailor/soldier with a POV.... miliage and housing costs for the trip. So do the math... Which do you think is more expensive? Using a crane to put the vehicles on the carrier or paying all those military guys miliage and housing cost to drive to the new base??? This comment supplied by a veteran who served in the Army and the Navy. (Pardon my spelling)

      January 18, 2012 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Gene

    This article seems to be a perfect example of not being able to believe everything you read.

    January 18, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  11. RyshusMojo

    this plane is supposed to have vertical take-off & landing capability. why is a tail hook even an issue?

    January 18, 2012 at 10:36 am | Report abuse |
  12. RetiredVet

    Josh, the cars get on the carrier with a crane and platform built for vehicles, then to get them on the flight deck the carrier has 3 elevators. To JWH Atlanta, if the ship is going up the coast temporaraly for maintenence, why have a empty hanger bay and flight deck? Putting on the crews vehicles is not a waste of money, and it is actually a perk of the job. The crew shouldn't have to sell their vehicles, when they scrafice enough just to protect our freedoms. I know all this because I am retired US Navy, and I retired off of the USS Nimitz after 3 deployments.

    January 18, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
  13. Gene

    I wasn't allowed to ship my car on deck when I was in. Of course I served in the submarine service.

    January 18, 2012 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  14. Marc

    Are we really as a country going to go the same route as past leaders? Putting all of our eggs in one basket (Pearl Harbor) or not having enough ships at the ready for conflict (the following battles in the Pacific that could have gone either way due to lack of carriers/support craft)... You're supposed to learn from history, not repeat it.

    January 18, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Justin Case

    Its cool reading a CNN forum so full of experts in design and engineering.

    I'm sure ALL of you have designed and built something at least (if not more) complicated than a modern jet fighter.

    January 18, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
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