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. Doodles

    I love these comments where people blame Obama. For one thing, this plane, and the 11-carrier-Navy, were in the defense plan long before he took office. For another thing, CONGRESS allocates money, the President can only contribute requests in the form of bills. What you are seeing is defense contractors gathering at the trough (as usual) while Congress gets kickbacks in the form of campaign contributions (as usual). Very little about it is partisan.

    January 16, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Proof? Proof of kickbacks? The law requires 11 carriers, but the current president is putting the Navy into a difficult position because he has "ordered" (as commander in chief) the Navy to cut $488 Billion from their budget. So if you were in the Navy (which you are not) and needed to cut a lot of money, dropping a carrier would be a quick and easy way to do it, regardless of the law. The budget that Obama introduced to the Congress for approval was deep in military funding, so deep that the Congress had to "beef it up". BTW, this happened during Clinton's time as well. I would like to see your evidence of defense contractors getting kickbacks.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      Kevin... billions of dollars flow through lobbyists directly and indirectly (superpacs) to the campaign offices of your congressmen. Do some research on how lobbyist work and how many there are and how much money flows from corp america, unions, foriegn companies, energy companies, etc., and you will be blown away. We live in a time where congress is bought. So yes, expect any contractor who is involved in this to be pressing their interests.

      January 16, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Rick, corporations throw money into both parties in an effort to influence their hand. Doodles is making the accusation that defense contractors are getting kickbacks, which are illegal. I would like to see evidence of Ratheon or Rockwell (just as an example) giving money to their Congressmen and getting a kickback for it. Sometimes we think and feel in our hearts something is going on, but that doesn't make it true. I would like to see his proof. The law demands 11 carriers; it costs quite a bit of money to maintain 11 carriers; the president should not be ordering the Navy to reduce spending in such an amount that they are forced to break the law by cutting out a carrier.

      January 16, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Grandpa RD

    Hook in rear too short? Cut down the struts for the rear landing gear. Problem solved.

    January 16, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Albert Von Sachsen

      If you cut the landing struts, you risk impacting the plane`s belly on the deck. Very messy. Struts are conceived taking into consideration weight, speed, etc.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Geez, just make the hook longer like on the F4.

      Since some of the models have a variable exhaust nozzle, the plane is capable of STOL (short take off and landing) so what exactly the problem? Maybe they just bought the wrong version???

      January 16, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Ok, I'm sure you know more about this than the entire aeronautics department of Lockheed Martin.

      January 16, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Aircraft was initially designed to go to the Air Force without a tailhook. Now that the Navy has bought into it, they will make the necessary adjustments, just like they have always done. Give it a couple of months and I think you will see a change that makes this a perfectly adapted aircraft for the Navy. Probably a longer tailhook; MD did with the F4.

      January 16, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Albert Von Sachsen

    Just tell me why the hook is important on a version (navy) capable of vertical take off and landing?

    January 16, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      The Navy version isn't capable of vertical takeoff and landing. The USMC version is.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • David M

      Maybe because during flight ops on a carrier, VTOL is too slow. When launching aircraft you want it to be a rather speedy process. Vertical take off would slow it all down. However, on ships such as helo carriers (LHA's and such) VTOL is the means for launching and revovering fixed wing aircraft.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  4. CTYankee

    Excuse me? "Transport personal vehicles of sailors"? Is this a Photoshop ruse, or really real? What were the "sailors" charge for the ride? Gosh, all us snowbirds would love to have our cars carried up and down the East Coast by an aircraft carrier. Just think of the protection!

    January 16, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Richp, Easton, Pa

      Go visit your recruiter then 🙂 I had cars and Motor cycles's moved a couple of times during change of station, depends on scheduling, they do furniture too.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • David M

      You snowbirds aren't doing anything to protect the country. Those sailors are. Besides, the govt has to pay them when relocating. It's a heck of a lot cheaper to move their cars via a carrier than to pay milage for all of them.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • JimDawg

      If you were being facetious, please excuse my taking your questions seriously.

      Of course, when the ship moves, the 5000 or so men and women must go with it. This means that they can't drive their own vehicles to their new home port. (If changing duty stations – e.g., a new ship in a different port, of course, they can, and usually do.) Therefore, when the Navy relocates them to a new home port, they pay to ship their belongings, much as do private enterprises when relocating employees. The biggest expense is normally the vehicle shipment if they cannot drive it. This is a good way to cut down on this, since the aircraft normally fly out to the carrier en route anyway, and a move up the coast requires no aircraft. The shore based aircraft can and do protect the carrier in litoral waters.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • lotuss4

      It's a real picture. no Photoshop. I used to be on a ship that moved up to Washington from San Diego. It's cheaper to put the cars on the flight deck and in the hangar bay and transport the cars up than for the navy to pay a moving company or even fly sailors back down and pay for the gas back up. It was also optional and not all the sailors cars could fit so they also paid for private transport of the remaining vehicles.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • bailey's dad

      A lot of us snowbirds grew up during the draft. We already paid for our citizenship. Next?

      January 16, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Carrier is currently out of service, going in for maintenance. It is a huge cost savings for the military to move stuff from one port to another when they can using their means. No point floating the RR empty is there? Cool it with the Sailor's charge. The government has to pay for PCS moves, usually to a contractor which is considerably more expensive. I think the last time I had a car shipped is cost $2800. The carrier did it for nothing. The picture alone shows about 221 cars...that would be $618,800 to ship that many cars using that rate.

      By the way, this was really a poorly conceived article...mostly just rambling about nothing.

      January 16, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. JC

    First of all, I wouldn't trust a military report on the F-35 if my life depended on it. There have been several studies done on expense, all of which called into question the validity of the entire program. In fact, for what has been spent on the aircraft and related programs, a new aircraft carrier could have been built, equipped, and operated. The aircraft was never properly designed in the first place. Why? The designers had stealth in mind with every single aspect of the plane, from the shape of surfaces to the internal munitions bays. Therein is the problem: the damned plane can't carry much of anything in its internal bays. Then came the announcement that they would use hard points on the outside; which completely defeats the stealthiness of the aircraft, since external ordinance is not stealthy. Now what no one has said anything about is that in an attempt to make the external ordinance more stealthy, yet more money has been poured into weapons programs which will require yet more time to realize results. The aircraft was designed to be VTOL, and it does work, but one of the reasons the Navy didn't buy into that program was because VTOL capability limits the payload weight. And now it comes out that the airplane will have to be redesigned to allow the proper application of a tailhook to allow the larger payloads (which still can't match that of the current aircraft) in any event? This is what happens when the relationship between procurement and industry (always too close), becomes incestuous. The problem with going to a single platform is that you end up trying to make apples fit into a space where oranges are needed.

    January 16, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Richp, Easton, Pa

      I think the only real 'joint' aircraft that really worked was he old F4 Phantom and that frame was designed from day one to be carrier ready.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • tom herdman

      Let's seee...VTOL with less bombs and return, or take-off with full load and not land. Decisions, decisions.

      January 16, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. daeh ttub

    FUBAR, SNAFU. Requirement #1 for a CARRIER plane – MAKE SURE IT CAN LAND ON AN AIRCRAFT CARRIER. This is why the Defense Department needs to be reformed. They only figure this out after billions are spent and the plane is built??? Gross negligence. Some landlocked "surplus" Admirals better lose their stars over this. Eisenhower's "Military Industial Complex" warning has never rung more true...

    January 16, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Probably true, but this wasn't initially planned to be a carrier aircraft. It was going to be the replacement for the F16 like the F22 replaced the F15. However, during the trials, it became evident that the plane could take on many roles and with the variations offered (STOL for the Navy and VTOL for the Marines) it evolved into what it is today. And, it is still evolving and will continue to evolve just like the F16 and F15 have done for the past 30 years. If you take a moment to look at the Navy, I think you will find that there aren't any "landlocked" "surplus" admirals in service. Only need to look in the mirror and read your name to find the landlocked surplus military wannabees in this country.

      January 16, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Tom Baughn

    If you will check the developmental history of many other aircraft you will find some of the same myths that detractors used to spread half-truths. This would require less modification than the first series of modified jets will have. More importantly, it does not need to land vertically, it is a STOVL and can and will normally land vertically, like the Harriers and Osprey.

    Most importantly, the critics can not debate the importance of this aircraft on a factual basis, so they have to make-up stuff and stretch the truth. They are counting on people swallowing what ever they dish out!

    January 16, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • CommonSensed

      How many successful carrier landings has the C-variant made?

      January 16, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  8. James Burrill - AT1 (USN Retired)

    Albert – The amount of fuel that must be reserved at the end of a mission to land this way would significantly reduce the "legs" of the aircraft. That is, it would have to trade off the distance it could fly and return, the type of ordnance it could carry, and the survivability of the airframe at the end of the mission. By that I mean that a plan with significant damage could likely "crash-land" on the carrier deck, where it might not be able to do a controlled VTOL landing. I say this based on my 21 years experiance in Naval Aviation, including Aircrew duties and carrier duties. ( VA-52, CV-63, VQ4, VQ3, VR22, NAMTD 1079

    January 16, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      Then you should know that it would be able to refuel in the air when needed. Unless it was damaged and then it wouldn't matter now would it? Can we say "rig the barricade"?

      January 17, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. EVN

    In order of stupidness:

    The F-35 hook being too short to be used for carrier landings is a real hoot. Don't they have someone checking these things before billions are committed to develop weopons that now apparently do not integrate with existing military platforms that also cost billions? What a bunch of clowns all around.

    Cutting down on a carrier seems reasonable enough, but what gets me is that congress passed a law in the first place that mandated 11 carriers. Since when does a decision like that get made by the political hacks in the first place and whose pork barrel project was it?

    And finally, something that actually makes sense – transporting vehicles on a carrier deck as it is repositioned further up the coast instead of spending money on using other ships or other ways of transport. The idea makes sense.

    Wait – on that last one, are we sure this is actually happening in our military and not some other countries navy? The lunacy behind the F-35 tail hook problem and mandated carrier numbers - that is definitely U.S. military (and government) - but something that makes sense and saves money is just so out of character that it almost just can't be.

    January 16, 2012 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • SeeThruIt2

      Congress sets the size of the force to provide long term planning. A President with only 4 years and looking to get re-elected might make shortterm choices to cut a carrier. But, Congress debates it for quite a long time to decide that 11 might be a better choice because it takes a decade to fund, design, build and recruit & train the manpower to use it.

      January 16, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. James Burrill - AT1 (USN Retired)

    @ CTYankee – awww for pete's sake! When the Navy orders you to PCS they pay your moving expenses, like most of the larger companies do. In this case instead of paying some 2,000 sailors to drive their cars up, or buy tickets, they use the EMPTY flight deck space to move them. Saves the taxpayer loads of money, and quite honestly, some common sense and smart thinkign to come to this arrangement. Likely some Navy Chiefs put their heads together in the goat locker and then asked the Skipper. But that was probably done int he 1950s as I remember doing this on the USS Kittyhawk in the early 70s.

    January 16, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      AT1, first of all thanks for your service! And as I was just about to post to the person that said 5000 men and women being moved, you correctly stated the number because it's just ships company not the entire air wing. Second, I did the shakedown cruise on the Kitty Hawk in the early 90's. Man I couldn't imagine doing a real cruise on that one.

      Signed, AT2

      January 17, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Alexander Hernandez

    For this reason, we need to do away with the two party system. No parties, popular vote for President, President will still have a VP and cabinet to conduct business of the nation and six (6) year terms for all. Cut back on the senate and congress to 150 total, they are nothing more then (White Collar Wellfare). This needs to be done also a state level, Example Iowa has 99 county governments why? Also City and County Governments, one City government in metro areas no County governemnts at all anywhere. This would stop (KICK BACKS AND MONIES GIVEN AT THE TROUGH FOR EVERYONE.)

    January 16, 2012 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Hofnar

    OK – A few points. This is a BS article. Is there one comment by US Navy officials in charge of the program? NO! Didn't bother to check with them did they? Why – because this is a stupid story that is NOT real. Maybe for UK carriers – who cares – they use Harriers which is VTOL so shouldn;t be a problem because the marine version is VTOL.

    Don't believe everything you read.

    News Flash republicans – you are going to have to cut the military. The reality is, we don't need 10 carrier battle groups to control the seas. We can't afford it. In case you have noticed, more Americans are being killed by our crumbling infrastructure than by foreign nations. get a clue.

    Yeah it is Obama's fault – they guy who killed Osama, Quaddafi and countless Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders with a stepped up drone attack program. he is really soft on defense. And also he is a Muslim, a communist, wasn't born in the US and hates America. i guess Republicans really are this stupid. They just beleive all the garbage FAUX news feeds them. Hysterical

    January 16, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • JC

      Actually, the British harrier is VSTOL. It needs a ramp for the same reason that the US Navy chose the linear model of the F-35.

      January 16, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  13. nick

    its not the contractors getting kickbacks, he SAID the congress is getting money form Defense CORPORATTONS!

    January 16, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Denis McDonough

    I say we keep the carriers and get rid of Congress, and stop giving them full pay for the rest of their lives. That should pay for the carrier fleet they are trying to get rid of..................Denis McDonough, a proud Combat Wounded Vietnam Veteran

    January 16, 2012 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ceg

    How do you design and produce a Navy Jet plane with no hookup gear??? They must be smoking something! Can somebody say Congressional hearings?? Fry them!

    January 16, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brian

      "Hookup gear"? really!! You shouldn't post about something you have no idea about. "Hookup gear"? LOL!!

      January 17, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
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