Sunday, February 26, 2012

On the cost of aircraft carriers, perceived threats, democracy, etc.

Phil Arena, never losing a chance to take a dig at Reiter and Stam (two scholars with whom he disagrees), mentions Jay Ulfelder's post on threat inflation and comments: "Clearly, Jay hasn't read Reiter and Stam on how democracy promotes a healthy marketplace of ideas."

Yes, the incentives of the press in a less-than-healthy marketplace of ideas can lead to distortion and exaggeration of threats, but I'm inclined to think that bureaucratic and economic interests, also mentioned by J. Ulfelder, play a larger role. Example: I learned from a recent Walter Pincus article in WaPo (here) that the U.S. navy has two aircraft carriers under construction (one about half finished) at a cost of roughly $12 billion [sic] apiece. The U.S. already has 11 aircraft carriers, in my view probably more than it needs, and to justify adding two more someone, somewhere -- and not only the press -- is going to have to do some pretty serious threat inflation. Maybe Phil could consider taking an occasional break from criticizing Reiter and Stam's enthusiasm about democracy and focus on the particular forces that drive bad, suboptimal policy in the particular democracy known as the United States. There are, after all, varieties of democracy, just as there varieties of capitalism. The problem isn't so much democracy per se as the particular form it is taking in the U.S. today.

Addendum: See here and here (and the comments attached to those posts).


Phil Arena said...

Point taken, LFC.

LFC said...

Sorry, I'm having trouble giving a good link to the Pincus article, which I read in hard copy. Anyway, it's in the Feb.16 WaPo, p.A17, under the headline "Funding the defense needs of tomorrow, today."

hank_F_M said...


Some data for your consideration. In simplifying in the Pincus article lost a lot clarity.

Where are the Carriers

Of the 11 carriers

6 deployed.
2 surge ready
1 post deployment
4 maintenance. (among other things it takes 2 years to replace the nuclear fuel on carrier)

With minor fluctuations this is a relatively constant.

The carriers have a 50 year life cycle, thus the navy launches a new one about every about 5 years, to keep up fleet of 11+-. So yes there are always 2 in construction. In the next ten years 2 will be launched and 2 retired. .

The key point - for every two carriers deployed/surge ready we need 3 carriers.

I could see reducing to four deployed/surge ready, especially if we could get the fleet out of the Middle East, but that has a lot of impacts that would need to be considered. That would be launching a new carrier every 7 or 8 years, maybe cutting the carrier constuction budget 25-33%.

Since we border on two oceans, and carriers won't fit though the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal may not be available, 2 deployed/surge ready seems very inadequate.

Hank’s Eclectic Meanderings

LFC said...

Thank you.
I've had a bit of a weird day and I can't respond substantively right now. But I will absorb your comment tomorrow and hopefully respond more substantively then.

LFC said...

Sorry for the delayed response.

(1) The chart you link to shows 4 deployed and 2 "surge ready" (whatever that means exactly -- I assume it means ready for deployment) for a total of 6 deployed/surge ready; in other words, your "6 deployed" is a typo.

(2) "For every 2 deployed/surge ready we need 3 carriers."

(3) My position is that when you combine a non-inflated threat assessment w a more appropriately modest view of the US role in the world (and of the US mil's role in particular) you get, among other things,a prescription for fewer carriers. I am not an expert on the details of these matters, as you know, and therefore I won't presume to say precisely how many is the right number.

Btw Pincus is one of the best and most experienced defense-budget and Pentagon correspondents in the country, so if his article was oversimplified I shudder to think what the general run of MSM coverage of these issues is like.

hank_F_M said...


if his article was oversimplified I shudder to think what the general run of MSM coverage of these issues is like.

You should it is bad left right and center.

You take your car into the shop every so often? These are far more complicated machines. When it goes in to the shop (dry dcok) it stays there for year or more. That is why there are four listed in maintenance.

LFC said...

I understand the point about maintenance; I thought perhaps you were getting at something else in that sentence I queried.

(My car (such as it is) needs to be taken into the shop v. soon, as it happens.)

hank_F_M said...

I know, I had my car in maintenace last week, maybe Salvation Army can find a few hundred dollars of spare parts. Hope you have better luck.

The other useful thing for that web web page is when someone says the US is going to attack Iran or some place go there and see where the carriers are. Two or three in in the gulf area is normal and the claims are probally hot air. If it is six somthing is up. The last time there were six in that area was 2003.