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. zzzzzzz

    arent f35 vertical takeoff?

    January 16, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • bitz

      there is a version made for vertical take off, but they also have an AF version and the carrier version.

      January 16, 2012 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • rmsbl4

      It is the LANDING part that is the problem.

      January 17, 2012 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Uncle George

      bitz: What about the "barricade" version?

      January 17, 2012 at 1:58 am | Report abuse |
    • lulz

      why dont they just think of a way out of this problem...
      here ill try, telescopic tail hook... either the engineers on this project are dimwits or there is something i am missing.

      January 17, 2012 at 3:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Tman

      We probably outsourced the engineering to a third world country where their engineers make 1/6th the salary of an American engineer.

      January 17, 2012 at 3:49 am | Report abuse |
    • blind

      there are 3 differents F35, only one of them can do vertical landing or take off and is the marines version.

      January 17, 2012 at 4:01 am | Report abuse |
    • David Hoffman

      lulz, a telescopic tailhook would add severe complexity to an arresting gear system that is designed to be as reliable as possible. The F-35 was originally designed to replace the USMC AV- 8 Harrier which used vertical landing. The USAF and USN versions were derived from that design. Be careful about reports in the general media about military equipment problems. There is a bias toward presenting any problem of any magnitude as a reason to abandon the program. It is sensationalism to get the advertising dollars that come with more viewers. If the entire story were presented in a neutral dispassionate manner it would read like a operating manual for a dishwasher. How many ad dollars is that going to generate?
      The fly by wire nature of the F-35 may allow the flight controls to be adjusted in carrier landing mode to provide a little more clearance during landing. This in turn might allow a slight re-positioning of the tailhook mechanism's mounting location, if needed, which might solve the problem, if it really exists.

      January 17, 2012 at 4:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Randy

      @Tman – you are probably 100% correct – first thing that came into my mind, too.

      January 17, 2012 at 9:22 am | Report abuse |
  2. Jim

    Why don't we use the Aircraft Carrier and other nuclear ships generators to produce electricity instead of fossil fuels. This is called ship to shore power. The generators are still good. We place the in US ports to provide electricity. This would provide a proven source of electricity.

    January 16, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • douglas

      That's slightly silly in that land-based nuclear power plants would be much more efficient (guessing).

      January 17, 2012 at 12:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Cheese Wonton

      With the exception of the upcoming USS Gerald Ford, the reactors in a nuclear carrier generate steam to run turbines that are geared to the propeller shafts. The shafts are mechanically driven off the turbines, they don't generate electricity first.
      A century ago, the USN powered capital ships with electric motors. The steam turbines drove big DC generators and these made the DC current to power DC motors on each shaft. The city of Tacoma was powered for a time by the old USS Lexington (sunk at Coral Sea). The Navy abandoned turbo electric drive because the electrical generators and motors of the day were very inefficient and didn't produce the power density the Navy needed for the speeds and unrefuled ranges anticipated in a big Pacific War.
      Today, the Navy has been experimenting with room temperature superconducting electric motors and advanced AC power generation, and these will be efficient enough to power future warships. In the mean time, all the turbines on a big nuclear carrier can do is turn the shafts. Electrical power production is secondary.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Erick

      Portable power.. i like it.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      @Cheese...umm...the steam produced by the steam generators from a CVN's reactor plants is not just used to drive steam driven turbines for the ship's engines...it's also used to drive steam driven turbines for the ship's main generators. The ship also has diesel engine powered generators for backup. So, yes...if one wanted to, you could use a CVN's reactors solely for electrical power...which is actually what happens when a CVN pulls into a foreign port that doesn't have appropriate pier electrical services for the ship.

      January 17, 2012 at 8:02 am | Report abuse |
  3. FredS

    Instead of moving the tail hook, why not just make it long enough to work in it's present position?

    January 17, 2012 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Cheese Wonton

      That will affect the aircraf's low observable characteristics. The tail hook is in a stealthy fairing with doors that must open to deploy the tail hook. On other non stealthy carrier aircraft the tail hook is just hanging off the underside of the fuselage.

      January 17, 2012 at 1:17 am | Report abuse |
  4. yahmez the mad

    Shouldn't this have been discovered earlier? Like during the prototype phase?

    January 17, 2012 at 1:27 am | Report abuse |
  5. Robert App

    FUBAR anyone!! That spells F35.

    January 17, 2012 at 1:30 am | Report abuse |
  6. Robert App

    They have spent over $100 billion to find out the tail hook won't work and can't be fixed. WOW thats a huge FUBAR!!

    January 17, 2012 at 1:42 am | Report abuse |
  7. albe a horse

    Do the employees pay for their car to ride on the aircraft? Then ok go for it, if there's a no cost to the sailor whom may want the car at the other location .Will the non car using sailors get a credit ? Benefit it may be ,somehow seems unfair for some to benefit ,others not. Will the benefit be a taxable benefit ,hmmm.

    January 17, 2012 at 3:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Jay

      Why would you expect the Navy to charge the crew assigned to the carrier to transport their cars from the carrier's homeport to the maintenance port?

      January 17, 2012 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      The military pays to transport one vehicle. So this more than likely saves money

      January 17, 2012 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Near Border

      How about leasing cars or is that too logical for the military.

      January 17, 2012 at 9:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Lostraven

      Near Border

      How about leasing cars or is that too logical for the military.

      Obviously your clueless about the cost of leasing a car. While in the service, I typically owned late model used casr that were purchased from other service members, for much less then it cost to purchase the same vehicle from a dealer. One such car traveled via carrier four times during the seven years that, I owned it (The car had 125,000 miles on it when, I sold it to another service member for $500, Strange as it may sound the car had almost as many sea miles as it did road miles ) It never cost me a cent to ship my car on the same ship that, I served on. Neither the car nor the four times that it traveled at sea, cost the Navy a dime either. Do the math my friend. Also, why would the military want to pay to lease cars for the personal use of service members?

      January 17, 2012 at 10:32 am | Report abuse |
  8. Gerald Hall

    I took a look at the original website where this report came from. In that site, they showed an analysis of a variety of existing aircraft that currently or previously operated from aircraft carriers. One of those aircraft was very similar in terms of the metrics used to claim that the F-35C could not operate safely from an aircraft carrier. That jet was the TA-4J. For those people with short memories, that is the two seat trainer version of the A-4 Skyhawk.....Literally thousands of Skyhawks managed to operate quite safely from US and allied aircraft carriers for more than forty years..and without the sophisticated flight controls of the F-35C. So I tend to take this new report claiming that the F-35C will not be able to operate from an aircraft carrier with more than a few grains of salt.

    January 17, 2012 at 4:07 am | Report abuse |
  9. Otto

    Me smells Boeing shills afoot...

    January 17, 2012 at 6:44 am | Report abuse |
  10. Jt_flyer

    What a rediculas story. Redesign the tail hook. This aircraft is priceless. We need to cut our MILLITARY defense spending. But NOT this aircraft. We do what we do on the battle field because of our aircraft and the aur superiority they give us. Make it work.

    January 17, 2012 at 6:45 am | Report abuse |
  11. TRH

    The F-35 JSF and the F-22 Raptor have no mission in today's environment except to keep jobs in the defense sector and allow the military to have their new toys. Trillions of dollars that could be cut from the defense budget.

    January 17, 2012 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Sean

      @ TRH
      Um.. no.

      Air superiority is still the number ONE aspect of combat. It is the first thing achieved in every modern conflict. Both Chinese and Russian 5th gen fighters are being devolved. If and when they are, do you REALY think they won’t sell them like they do the rest of their military hard ware? Basically you have no idea what you are talking about.

      January 18, 2012 at 9:46 am | Report abuse |
  12. John Smith

    Would the person that owns the big yellow truck please return from your jet, you left the door open........

    January 17, 2012 at 7:52 am | Report abuse |
  13. Stargazer

    What a terrible waste of money. USA can sell the excess aircraft carrier to China and make a bundle of money. China is gonna build aircraft carriers even if the US don't sell to them, so may as well sell to them and make money.

    January 17, 2012 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
  14. Zimmermann

    Just send the jets to Germany and the Germans will rectify for you. For a few euros payment .

    January 17, 2012 at 8:28 am | Report abuse |
  15. Admiral Ackbar

    The F-35 was never designed for carrier deployment, thats a given. The new F-38, however, will be the next fixed wing aircraft to deploy on a carrier.

    January 17, 2012 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
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