Tag Archives: aircraft carrier

The "USS Enterprise fired upon enemy fighters" story: why attacking a U.S. aircraft carrier with four (or more) combat planes would be a suicide.

On Jun. 8, the news of a presumed attack on USS Enterprise spread on Twitter.

It all had started few days earlier, with someone who had heard from a “credible source” (reportedly a wife of a sailor on deployment or something like that) the news that the “Big E” had been attacked by four enemy planes.

As soon as I was asked by some friends if I had more details about the attack on the Mediterranean Sea, I answered that the news was at least weird because the aircraft carrier was not in the Mediterranean Sea but in the 5th Fleet Area of Operations (meaning somewhere between Suez and the Horn of Africa).

And, above all, wherever it actually is, attacking a U.S. flattop on deployment is a suicidal act of war that would imply an immediate retaliation.

Anyway, later the US Navy officially denied the attack on Twitter:

@USNavy From U.S. Fifth Fleet–USS #Enterprise completed a routine, nonthreatening, transit of the Strait of #Hormuz

As already explained on this blog several times, being one of the most powerful tools in the hands of Washington, aircraft carriers among the most ambitious targets of any anti-American country.

That’s why they are also some of the most heavily defended assets of the U.S. arsenal.

First of all, they carry a Carrier Air Wing consisting of about 60 aircraft. For example, when I visited the USS Nimitz involved in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2009, the CVW-11 was made by  20 F/A-18Cs, 12 F/A-18Es, 12 F/A-18Fs, 4 E/A-6Bs, 4 E-2Cs, 4 SH-60Fs and 3 HH-60Fs, a “mix” that, with minor differences, can be found on any other supercarrier.

Therefore, an embarked air wing is worth a small autonomous air force capable to perform a wide variety of missions.

There are also some E-2C Hawkeyes, aircraft that can perform Air Space Management and Tanker Coordination tasks, to manage and deconflict planes (as done for traffic flying in the Afghan airspace during OEF tasks) and provide the “picture” to the ship’s CDC (Combat Direction Center) that can be literally interconnected to any other AEW (Airborne Early Warning) platform to improve the situational awareness.

The CDC is responsible for the tactical management of all the missions launched by the carrier, by means of fighter and mission controllers whose radar screens can be fed with the tracks discovered at long distance by the Hawkeyes, one of those is always flying and ready to guide interceptors (both on alert and flying) to the identification of intruders that they can detect from several hundred miles away.

Moreover, a nuclear aircraft carrier on deployment does not travel alone as it is “only” the flagship of a Carrier Strike Group that usually includes two AEGIS destroyers,  a Ticonderoga class missile cruiser, a Perry-class frigate and, although they are not officially attached to the CSG, a nuclear submarine and various supporting vessel, whose task is, among the others, to defend the flattops from enemy aerial or maritime attack.

As you may understand, especially when it sails in troubled waters, all the aircraft carrier’s defenses (including surface to air missiles) are on heightened alert status and almost no suspect aircraft approaching the ship would go unnoticed.

This means that attacking an aircraft carrier with conventional combat planes (even if they fly at insanely low altitude) is not an option: unless you have stealth bombers with stand-off stealth missiles, it would be both uneffective and suicidal.

A bit more dangerous could be the stealthy Iranian submarines Tehran claims to be capable to hide on the sea bad and use to target aircraft carriers passing nearby as well as, the “carrier killer” ASBMs (Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles), with a range of 3,000 km and speed in excess of Mach 10 that, in the future could be used to target a U.S. aircraft flattop at sea.

You won't believe it: UK considered bringing back one aircraft carrier and the Harrier for Libya

Can you remember the famous possible, reportedly imminent, UK’s U-turn on the F-35 version that we already discussed here?

It looks like another resounding decision could have been reversed during last year’s Libya operations, when London considered bringing back to operative service the aircraft carriers and Harrier “jump jets” axed by the much criticised Strategic Defense and Spending Review.

Such admission suggests the David Cameron Cabinet has not clear ideas about the future of the UK military.

In November 2011, 72 former RAF’s Harrier jets were sold to the USMC for a mere 180 million USD.

They will not be used for spare parts: the Marines plan to equip at least two squadrons with some of the UK’s Harrier GR9 models with plenty of upgrades and lot of experience in Afghanistan…..

Harrier GR9

Image credit: Jez B/Flickr

Hand Signals: the next step to controlling UAVs on aircraft carriers

The environment you find on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier is constantly monitored. The organized chaos of launches, recoveries and taxi takes place in a totally unforgiving environment for an unmanned aircraft (and for manned planes too…).

According to an interesting article published by Navy Times, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) took a very close look at the problem of moving UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) about the deck whilst not endangering crew or interfering to the normal operations and they came up with an ingenious camera and computer that recognises the hand signals the sailors use to guide aircraft about an aircraft carrier deck.

It may be a step that finally makes UAV use on a aircraft carrier possible. “It would be really nice if we had an unmanned vehicle that can understand human gestures” said Yale Song a Ph.D candidate at MIT who developed the system.

“Gesturing is an instinctive skill we all have, so it requires little or no thought, leaving the focus itself, as it should be, not the interaction modality” said Song.

Song’s project which began in January 2009, and was funded by the Office of Naval Research, took him to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, where he learned the hand signals used by the sailors on the flight deck that he used to “train” 20 students 24 signals. The students wore a Yellow Turtleneck and a cranial to replicate the clothing used onboard carriers.

The students performed all of the signals whilst being filmed by Song’s camera/computer combination, which in turn translated their hand movements to stick figures. With this data, Song was able to develop an algorithm that is able to learn how to identify and recognize the signals from people it hadn’t met before therefore hadn’t learned their individual slight variables.

Song said “Based on that training data, we trained our model so that when new data comes in, it has our algorithm to classify the sequence of gestures.”

Song admitted that his system gets the gestures correct around 75 percent of the time, so obviously a lot of more research is needed before this system could be introduced onto an unmanned air system.

According to the Navy Times article, while Song and MIT look into recognizing hand signals, Northrop Grumman has developed a special remote control for moving the X-47B on flight decks by means of a device which attaches to the wrist, waist and one hand. The “yellow shirt” operating the device will have access to a display and  will be able to control the aircraft’s throttle, tailhook, brakes and perform several other functions associated with maneuvring an aircraft on deck.

Image credit: U.S. Naval Air Systems Command

Anyway, drone operations automation has already reached aircraft carriers, at least for testing purposes.

An automated landing system, which allowed the X-47’s controllers to take control of an F-18, fly the approach and land the plane onto the flight deck of USS Dwight D Eisenhower whilst the Hornet’s crew makes no input into the plane’s flight, has already been tested. Seen from the outside, the landing looks totally normal. The LSOs still has the power to wave off the landing should they feel that the landing is unsafe or does not meet any other criteria required for a trap landing.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

China's J-18 Snowy Owl: Myth or Reality?

Over the past year or so, rumours on the Internet have persisted that China has been building a stealthy STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) aircraft in a similar vein to the F-35 Lightning II. Pictures of said aircraft are non existant but the rumour mill still persists that it’s either real or will be at some point in the future.

It doesn’t take long looking on the chinese defense forums and websites to see the odd snippet of information, although there is a lot of miss information out there also, of which some could be started by the Chinese government to hide what they are really up to.

The common theme does seem to favour an engine set up similar to the F-35B which in itself wasn’t a new design. Take a look at the Russian Yak 141 and you will see the lift fan at the front and the swivelling jet nozzel at the rear. There is even talk that the engine will be a modified version of what is planned to go into the well documented J-20 when it reaches production. Is this definite? of course not, it doesn’t even appear to be off the drawing board yet and probably will remain so for quite a while (if not indefinately).

Above image of a Russian Yak-141: Chinese Internet

So what will the fabled J-18 Snowy Owl look like if it were to take to the skies?

Well, many analysts favour the canted twin vertical stabilisers high wing design in a similar vein to the F-35 with some sort of lift fan at the front just behind the cockpit. It’s interesting to note that the Yak141 had two lift fans one behind the other and it’s suspected that the J-18 would be the same. The big question is: would it sport one or two engines at the rear?  The rendering below seems to favour two engines both with the swivelling nozzels and a smooth low RCS (Radar Cross Section) fuselage internal weapons bays and other stealthy features.

Above render source: Tiexue.net

Assuming for a moment the aircraft is real and it’s near to flight testing how would China use it?

It has been widely reported that China’s first Aircraft Carrier has been under going sea trials. Again it has been widely reported that China has a navalised version of the J-15, itself  a copy of the Sukhoi SU-30, which is real and is flying so it is hard to see the need unless there is some sort of unknown plan to build smaller carriers in the vein of the USS Wasp to provide maritime support of amphibious forces.

The STOVL project is going to be a huge technological exercise and that is going to take time. The J-18 is likely to remain rumours and internet chatter for a long time to come, and in true Mythbusters style, this Myth is busted at least for now.

Richard Clements for TheAviationist.com

U.S. aircraft carriers face Iranian stealth subs in the Persian Gulf. And remote controlled ones too…

Although the U.S. Navy has just rescued sailors of an Iranian boat in distress for the third time in 10 days, Tehran doesn’t seem to appreciate the aid that the American warships are giving to Iranian civilian mariners in the Persian Gulf.

In an interview with the Fars News Agency, Rear Adm. Farhad Amiri said that Iran’s ordinary submarines, covered with coatings that make them stealth, since “do not allow sound to travel through them and do not reflect waves sent by sonar systems”, could by the worst threat U.S. aircraft carriers will have to face next time they cross the Strait of Hormuz.

Since they American flattops can’t track them, Iranian submarines have acquired the ability to hide at the proper depth and “when the submarine lies on the sea bed, it can easily target an aircraft carrier that is passing nearby,” Amiri said.

Being one of the most powerful tools in the hands of the U.S., aircraft carriers are one of the most ambitious targets of any anti-American country. That’s why they are also some of the most heavily defended assets which does not travel alone (as done by the Chinese trainer Varyag) but alongside a Strike Group (once known as Battle Group) including ships, supporting vessels and a nuclear submarine, whose task is, among the others, to defend the flattops from underwater attacks.

So, although I’m unable to determine whether the threat posed by the Iranian subs is real or not (actually unable to say whether the subs are really stealth because they don’t even exist…), I would still bet on the Carrier Strike Group. Especially considering the usual claims made by the regime in the last years.

According to Mehr News agency, in a couple of month Iran plans to launch new 500-ton submarine Fateh (Conqueror) submarine, whereas Iranian researchers have built a new 3-kg smart remote-control sub, with a submerged speed of 19 kts, capable to carry out surveillance missions for…one meter (I hope there was a problem with the translation otherwise this would remind me of the surveillance drone that resembled a radio-controlled scale model more than a modern drone).