How a cheap Swedish submarine ‘ran rings’ around a US aircraft carrier and its sub-hunting escorts

USS Ronald Reagan
USS Ronald Reagan.

  • In 2005, the US Navy’s new aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, sank after being hit by torpedoes.
  • This didn’t happen in combat but during a war game pitting a carrier task force, and its anti-submarine escorts, against a Swedish sub.
  • That sub, HSMS Gotland, pulled off that feat despite being a relatively cheap diesel-powered boat.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In 2005, USS Ronald Reagan, a newly constructed $6.2 billion aircraft carrier, sank after being hit by multiple torpedoes.

Fortunately, this did not occur in actual combat, but was simulated as part of a war game pitting a carrier task force including numerous antisubmarine escorts against HSMS Gotland, a small Swedish diesel-powered submarine displacing 1,600 tons. Yet despite making multiple attacks runs on the Reagan, the Gotland was never detected.

This outcome was replicated time and time again over two years of war games, with opposing destroyers and nuclear attack submarines succumbing to the stealthy Swedish sub.

Naval analyst Norman Polmar said the Gotland “ran rings” around the American carrier task force. Another source claimed US antisubmarine specialists were “demoralized” by the experience.

How was the Gotland able to evade the Reagan’s elaborate antisubmarine defenses involving multiple ships and aircraft employing a multitude of sensors? And even more importantly, how was a relatively cheap submarine costing around $100 million – roughly the cost of a single F-35 stealth fighter today – able to accomplish that? After all, the US Navy decommissioned its last diesel submarine in 1990.

Swedish submarine Navy
Sweden’s HMS Gotland with the USS Ronald Reagan in the background.

Diesel submarines in the past were limited by the need to operate noisy, air-consuming engines that meant they could remain underwater for only a few days before needing to surface. Naturally, a submarine is most vulnerable, and can be most easily tracked, when surfaced, even when using a snorkel.

Submarines powered by nuclear reactors, on the other hand, do not require large air supplies to operate, and can run much more quietly for months at a time underwater – and they can swim faster while at it.

However, the 200-foot-long Swedish Gotland-class submarines, introduced in 1996, were the first to employ an Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system – in this case, the Stirling engine. A Stirling engine charges the submarine’s 75-kilowatt battery using liquid oxygen.

With the Stirling, a Gotland-class submarine can remain undersea for up to two weeks sustaining an average speed of 6 mph – or it can expend its battery power to surge up to 23 mph. A conventional diesel engine is used for operation on the surface or while employing the snorkel.

The Stirling-powered Gotland runs more quietly than even a nuclear-powered sub, which must employ noise-producing coolant pumps in their reactors.

The Gotland class does possess many other features that make it adept at evading detection.

It mounts 27 electromagnets designed to counteract its magnetic signature to Magnetic Anomaly Detectors. Its hull benefits from sonar-resistant coatings, while the tower is made of radar-absorbent materials. Machinery on the interior is coated with rubber acoustic-deadening buffers to minimize detectability by sonar.

The Gotland is also exceedingly maneuverable thanks to the combined six maneuvering surfaces on its X-shaped rudder and sail, allowing it to operate close to the sea floor and pull off tight turns.

Swedish navy submarine HMS Gotland in San Diego
HMS Gotland in San Diego Harbor during Fleet Week San Diego, October 1, 2005.

Because the stealthy boat proved the ultimate challenge to US antisubmarine ships in international exercises, the US Navy leased the Gotland and its crew for two entire years to conduct antisubmarine exercises. The results convinced the US Navy its undersea sensors simply were not up to dealing with the stealthy AIP boats.

However, the Gotland was merely the first of many AIP-powered submarine designs – some with twice the underwater endurance. And Sweden is by no means the only country to be fielding them.

China has two diesel submarine types using Stirling engines. Fifteen of the earlier Type 039A Yuan class have been built in four different variants, with more than 20 more planned or already under construction.

Beijing also has a single Type 032 Qing-class vessel that can remain underwater for 30 days. It believed to be the largest operational diesel submarine in the world, and boasts seven Vertical Launch System cells capable of firing off cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.

Russia debuted with the experimental Lada-class Sankt Peterburg, which uses hydrogen fuel cells for power. It is an evolution of its widely produced Kilo-class submarine. However, sea trials found that the cells provided only half of the expected output, and the type was not approved for production.

However, in 2013 the Russian Navy announced it would produce two heavily redesigned Ladas, the Kronstadt and Velikiye Luki, expected by the end of the decade.

Other producers of AIP diesel submarines include Spain, France, Japan and Germany. These countries have in turn sold them to navies across the world, including to India, Israel, Pakistan and South Korea.

Submarines using AIP systems have evolved into larger, more heavily armed and more expensive types, including the German Dolphin-class and the French Scorpene-class submarines.

Indian Navy Scorpene-class submarine Karanj
The Indian Navy’s third Scorpene-class submarine, Karanj, at its launch in Mumbai, January 31, 2018.

The US Navy has no intention to field diesel submarines again, however, preferring to stick to nuclear submarines that cost multiple billions of dollars. It’s tempting to see that as the Pentagon choosing once again a more expensive weapon system over a vastly more cost-efficient alternative. It’s not quite that simple, however.

Diesel submarines are ideal for patrolling close to friendly shores. But US subs off Asia and Europe need to travel thousands of miles just to get there, and then remain deployed for months at a time. A diesel submarine may be able to traverse that distance – but it would then require frequent refueling at sea to complete a long deployment.

Remember the Gotland? It was shipped back to Sweden on a mobile dry dock rather than making the journey on its own power.

Though the new AIP-equipped diesel subs may be able to go weeks without surfacing, that’s still not as good as going months without having to do so. And furthermore, a diesel submarine – with or without AIP – can’t sustain high underwater speeds for very long, unlike a nuclear submarine.

A diesel sub will be most effective when ambushing a hostile fleet whose position has already been “cued” by friendly intelligence assets. However, the slow, sustainable underwater speed of AIP-powered diesel submarines make them less than ideal for stalking prey over vast expanses of water.

These limitations don’t pose a problem to diesel subs operating relatively close to friendly bases, defending littoral waters. But while diesel submarines may be great while operating close to home – the US Navy usually doesn’t.

Navy submarine
US Navy fast-attack submarine USS Asheville and US 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge in the Philippine Sea.

Still, the fact that one could build or acquire three or four diesel submarines costing $500 to $800 million each for the price of a single nuclear submarine gives them undeniable appeal.

Proponents argue that the United States could forward deploy diesel subs to bases in allied nations, without facing the political constraints posed by nuclear submarines. Furthermore, advanced diesel submarines might serve as a good counter to an adversary’s stealthy sub fleet.

However, the US Navy is more interested in pursuing the development of unmanned drone submarines. Meanwhile, China is working on long-enduring AIP systems using lithium-ion batteries, and France is developing a new large AIP-equipped diesel submarine version of its Barracuda-class nuclear attack submarine.

The advent of cheap, stealthy and long-enduring diesel submarines is yet another factor placing carriers and other expensive surface warships at greater risk when operating close to defended coastlines.

Diesel submarines benefitting from AIP will serve as a deadly and cost-effective means of defending littoral waters, though whether they will can carve out a role for themselves in blue-water naval forces operating far from home is less clear.

Sébastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including the The National Interest, NBC News, Forbes.com and War is Boring. He holds a master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China. You can follow his articles on Twitter.

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The US Marine Corps’ first F-35C squadron is now fully ready to fight from the Navy’s aircraft carriers

Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 fly F-35Cs
Marines with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 fly F-35Cs.

  • The first Marine Corps F-35C squadron has achieved full operational capability.
  • This status means the squadron is fully prepared and equipped for deployment and combat.
  • The F-35C is specifically built for aircraft carrier operations.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The first US Marine Corps F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter squadron has achieved full operational capability, meaning it is now fully prepared to wage war from Navy aircraft carriers, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing said in a statement last week.

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, nicknamed the “Black Knights,” is the first Marine Corps F-35C squadron to reach this status.

The Marines have traditionally flown the F-35B, a short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant that can fight from airstrips or amphibious assault ships. Although the F-35B has not yet achieved full operational capability, this jet has been active.

The F-35B deployed for the very first time in March 2018 aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, and later that year, a Marine Corps F-35B became the first to fly into combat when it took off from the USS Essex to carry out strikes against the Taliban.

Marines with the service's first F-35C squadron conducting flight training
Marines with the service’s first F-35C squadron conducting training.

The C variant of the fifth-generation stealth fighter, however, is designed to operate aboard US Navy carriers. The jet can carry more fuel and is built for catapult launches and fly-in arrestments.

Based out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California, the “Black Knights” received the Marine Corps’ first F-35Cs on January 21, 2020.

In December, the squadron successfully met the minimum requirements to deploy aboard carriers and support combat operations, a status known as initial operational capability. At that point, the fighter squadron was technically considered officially ready for combat.

That initial operational capability enabled “VMFA-314 to deploy the F-35C onto aircraft carriers where they will be able to support combat operations anywhere in the world,” the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing said at the time.

“They are now full up round and bring the incredible 5th generation capability to 3rd MAW,” 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general Maj. Gen. Christopher Mahoney said in a statement, adding that “they will deploy as part of a Carrier Strike Group next year.”

A Marine Corps F-35C assigned to VMFA-314
A Marine Corps F-35C assigned to VMFA-314.

VMFA-314 operations officer Maj. Derek Heinz said “many hours were spent maintaining aircraft, launching and recovering aircraft in Miramar, at other military facilities, and aboard the ship to conduct the training required to meet these goals.”

“The Marines of VMFA-314 have gained confidence in fighting this aircraft and feel confident we can do so in combat if called upon,” Heinz added.

In the meantime, the squadron is continuing to make necessary preparations for future deployments through tailored ship’s training availability, which includes communication, medical, flight, and shipboard drills.

The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing is the Corp’s largest aircraft wing, and, as the recent statement on VMFA-314’s full operational capability milestone explained, it “remains combat-ready, deployable on short notice, and lethal when called into action.”

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The US Navy practiced blasting an aircraft carrier for the first time in 34 years. Here’s what it’s testing.

Navy aircraft carrier Gerald Ford during shock trials
US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford during shock trials in the Atlantic Ocean, June 18, 2021.

  • The Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, went through shock trials on June 18.
  • Shock trials are meant to test how a warship’s systems handle the stresses of combat.
  • It’s the first time a US carrier has undergone these tests since the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 1987.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

This month, the US Navy released images and footage of its newest carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, going through shock trials 100 miles off the Florida coast.

The tests, done with the crew aboard, involved detonating a 40,000-pound explosive off of Ford’s starboard side. The explosion was so strong that it registered 3.9 on the Richter scale – roughly equivalent to a small earthquake.

It was the first of three such trials for the Ford – the next two will feature detonations closer to the ship – and was the first time a US carrier has undergone these tests since the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 1987.

While the US Navy is debating the usefulness of shock trials, the fact that they are being done on the Ford indicates that the Navy is serious about maximizing the ship’s survivability against 21st-century threats.

Old tests for new threats

Navy aircraft carrier Gerald Ford during shock trials
Ford during shock trials on June 18, 2021.

Shock trials are meant to test how well a ship’s systems and components hold up during combat and are not uncommon.

USS Jackson and USS Milwaukee, both littoral combat ships, underwent shock trials in 2016.

The amphibious transport dock USS Mesa Verde and the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, both of which carry aircraft, went through shock trials in 2008 and 1990, respectively. USS Arkansas, a nuclear-powered guided-missile cruiser, did them in 1982.

What is unusual is the fact that the Navy conducted the shock trials on the first Gerald R. Ford-class carrier in service. The Navy typically conducts shock trials on later vessels of a given class.

Navy amphibious ship Mesa Verde explosion during shock trials
A 10,000-pound charge rocks USS Mesa Verde off the Florida coast, August 16, 2008.

The decision to subject Ford to the trials may be motivated by the Navy’s desire to ensure that the carrier is combat-ready the moment it begins its first deployment, which is expected to be in 2022.

US Navy officials have acknowledged the increasing prevalence of modern anti-ship weaponry, particularly China’s DF-21D “carrier killer” and DF-26 “Guam killer” missiles.

A recent Congressional Research Service report on the Ford-class cited China as an adversary “with highly capable anti-ship missiles” that raised questions about “the prospective survivability” of carriers in a conflict.

The same report also noted that live tests had shown that Ford “has limited self-defense capability” against anti-ship cruise missiles.

New systems and capabilities

Navy aircraft carrier Gerald Ford during shock trials
Ford during shock trials, June 18, 2021.

The Ford also has a number of new systems and capabilities that aren’t on its Nimitz-class predecessors and haven’t faced combat conditions.

A new weapons elevator system, designed with modern munitions in mind, is meant to reduce how long it takes to arm aircraft.

The new Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System uses linear induction motors instead of steam to power the carrier’s catapults, ensuring faster, smoother, and more efficient takeoffs for fixed-wing aircraft.

Ford’s new arresting system, known as Advanced Arresting Gear, also uses electromagnetic technology. In addition to decreasing the stress on landing aircraft, the new arresting gear allows larger unmanned aerial vehicles like the MQ-25 Stingray to land on the Ford.

Navy cruiser Arkansas shock trials explosion
US Navy guided-missile cruiser USS Arkansas during a shock test, March 17, 1982.

Ford also has a new Dual Band Radar system. While Nimitz-class carriers have multiple rotating radars, Ford has one stationary multi-purpose radar that is more sensitive to aerial threats and easier to operate and maintain.

The Navy says that the new systems together allow the Ford’s air wing to conduct 33% more sorties and reduce the number of crew needed to run the ship to about 4,500, down from the roughly 5,000 needed aboard Nimitz-class carriers.

Ford’s two A1B nuclear reactors, which are of totally new design, generate almost three times more power than the A4W reactors used on Nimitz-class carriers, increasing Ford’s electrical power capacity and generation substantially.

That power capacity allows Ford to reliably power all of its new high-tech systems and leaves the door open for possible upgrades to add systems like direct-energy weapons.

Carriers of the future

US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford undergoing full-ship shock trials
Ford during shock trials on June 18, 2021

While the capabilities of the new systems are impressive, Ford has faced a number of setbacks, and a lot of work remains ahead.

Ongoing delays on the weapon elevators meant that not all of them were ready when the shock trials started, which means they won’t be fully tested during the trials.

Moreover, the Navy accepted the new carrier without it being able to handle the F-35C, which was supposed to be the backbone of the Ford’s air wing.

The jet still can’t fly from the Ford, but Navy officials say they hope to have at least six air wings with F-35s by 2025.

Navy aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy
The aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy is launched into the James River on February 28, 2020.

Despite the setbacks, the Navy hopes that Ford, which was commissioned in 2017, will start its maiden deployment in 2022.

Once the shock trials are finished, the Ford is expected to enter a month-long maintenance period, the carrier’s sixth so far, which will fix any damage from the trials and install the final upgrades.

A second Ford-class carrier, the John F. Kennedy, is currently being fitted out, while a third, the Enterprise, is in the early stages of construction. Those carriers are scheduled to be delivered to the Navy in 2024 and 2028, respectively.

The fourth Ford-class carrier was ordered in 2019 and is scheduled for delivery in 2032. It will be named after Pearl Harbor hero Doris Miller, the first Black recipient of the Navy Cross.

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The US Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier has left the Pacific to cover the Afghanistan pullout

US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76)
US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) sailed through the Indian Ocean this week into the 5th Fleet area of operations to cover the withdrawal of troops and equipment from Afghanistan

  • The US Navy’s only forward-deployed carrier is no longer in the Pacific.
  • USS Ronald Reagan is moving into the Middle East to support the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.
  • Some questioned whether the move shows the US isn’t focused enough on countering China.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Japan-based US Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan has left the Pacific and is now moving into position in the Middle East to cover the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

The aircraft carrier, which is home-ported in Yokosuka, Japan in the 7th Fleet area of operations, has entered the 5th Fleet for the first time since 2012.

This is the first time that a Japan-based carrier has been sent to the Middle East since the USS Kitty Hawk deployed to the region in 2003 to support the invasion of Iraq, according to USNI News.

The carrier is accompanied by the cruiser USS Shiloh and destroyer USS Halsey and will “provide airpower to protect US and coalition forces as they conduct drawdown operations from Afghanistan,” the Navy said Friday.

The US military is currently in the process of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, where it has been fighting for nearly two decades, in accordance with an agreement with the Taliban negotiated during the last administration and upheld by the Biden administration.

US Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, said this week that the military has completed more than 50% of the retrograde process, which involves pulling out personnel and equipment and turning over bases and other facilities to the Afghan military.

The Pentagon’s plans to relocate the Ronald Reagan to support the withdrawal were first reported in late May by the Wall Street Journal, which argued in a later editorial that the move “highlights the US Navy’s dearth of ships to meet its military missions,” an important topic as the Biden administration thinks about what the future fleet should look like.

Questions have also been raised about whether or not the decision to relocate the Ronald Reagan sends the wrong message, one that contradicts US assertions that the strategically-significant Indo-Pacific region and China are top priorities, but the Pentagon has said this is not the case.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters in early June that the US military wants to make sure that it has “the ability to keep this a safe and orderly withdrawal.”

“And there are ample, I would say, military capabilities in the Indo-Pacific region aside from the Ronald Reagan to meet our security commitments to our allies,” he added.

The US military still has a carrier in the Pacific, specifically the USS Carl Vinson, which has been conducting carrier air wing qualifications in the vicinity of Hawaii.

The commander of US Third Fleet said recently that the Vinson, as well as the other ships in the strike group, were “positioned to respond if called.”

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How the US Air Force sank the Navy’s plans for a new ‘supercarrier’ after World War II

Artist rendering of Navy aircraft carrier USS United States
An artist’s conception of US Navy aircraft carrier USS United States in October 1948.

  • USS United States was to be the lead ship of a new class of supercarriers after World War II.
  • It faced a number of design issues but was ultimately undone by pushback from the Air Force.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In the history of the United States Navy, there has only been one vessel to enter service with the name USS United States, and it was actually one of the original six frigates that served as the core of the Navy in the first half of the 19th century. Three other vessels were to bear the name, including a Lexington-class battlecruiser.

However, there was also the USS United States (CVA-58), which was meant to be the lead ship of a new class of supercarriers developed after the Second World War.

Its design was seen as ambitious and even cutting edge but was likely entirely impractical and as a result just five days after her keel was laid down, the program was canceled.

A true flat top

Model of Navy aircraft carrier USS United States
A preliminary design model of Navy aircraft carrier USS United States during seakeeping tests in 1947.

In July 1948, President Harry S. Truman approved the construction of five new “supercarriers,” for which funds had been provided in the Naval Appropriations Act of 1949.

The carrier was a radical departure from the World War II-era flattops and in some ways evoked the “streamline moderne” of the Art Deco architecture and design movement that became common with post-war automobiles and aircraft.

The proposed 65,000-ton carrier (83,000 tons fully loaded) would feature a flush-deck that was designed to launch and recover large aircraft of 100,000 pounds, which in turn could carrier the nuclear weapons of the era that weighed as much as 5 tons.

The vessel was to be 1,000 feet long, without an island, and equipped with four aircraft elevators and four catapults. The flush deck was meant to provide more space for large bombers – although those would have to be secured to the flight deck as it would have been impossible to move them up or down in an elevator to the hangar.

However a small hanger was provided for the fighter escort – and as the design evolved, more space was given for the fighters. It was planned that the vessel’s air wing would be made up of about a dozen bombers as well as nearly 50 fighters.

Whereas the primary mission was to carry long-range bomber aircraft, the United States-class was also intended to provide tactical air support for the air and amphibious forces, as well as to conduct sea-control operations.

Massive size and costs

Navy aircraft carrier USS United States under construction
Workmen lay the 15-ton keel plate and initial shell plate of USS United States in a dry dock in Newport News, Virginia, April 18, 1949. The carrier was cancelled on April 23.

Designed as a conventional carrier, it would require eight Foster-Wheeler boilers and four Westinghouse turbines, which could produce 280,000 hp while four screws could allow the massive vessel to reach speeds in excess of 33 knots.

Construction costs were estimated to be around $190 million ($2.05 billion in 2020 dollars), while the cost of the task force to accompany the massive warship would have driven the total price tag to more than $1.265 billion.

The design was also not without some issues.

The lack of an island meant the ship lacked a position for radar, but also other command-and-control capabilities. A small tower-like platform could help direct movement on the flight deck, but radar, navigation, war planning, and other operations would have been relegated to a specially outfitted command ship cruiser.

Instead of being the flagship of a strike group, the United States and the other carriers would have been floating airfields or arsenal ships.

Issues such as smoke from the power plants and how it would be diverted away from the flight deck had to be resolved. And again the Navy’s bombers would have to remain on the flight deck during an entire voyage.

Navy aircraft carrier USS United States under construction
The keel plate of USS United States in a construction dry dock in Newport News, Virginia, on April 18, 1949.

It wasn’t an enemy adversary that eventually “sank” the project, but rather the United States Air Force, which had viewed the carrier as an embodiment of the Navy’s nuclear aspirations.

The Joint Chief of Staff seemed to agree that the carrier’s main function would only serve to duplicate the role of the Air Force. Just days after the keel of the lead vessel had been laid down, the program was canceled.

Secretary of the Navy John Sullivan immediately resigned, while the subsequent “Revolt of the Admirals” resulted in Adm. Louis Denfeld being relieved of his position as Chief of Naval Operations.

It didn’t mark the end for the supercarrier, and instead, just five years later the Navy moved forward with the more conventionally figured USS Forrestal-class.

As nuclear weapons shrank in size it was also determined that a massive warship designed to accommodate carriers wasn’t required. In the 1950s, nuclear weapons were sent to sea on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt – a carrier far smaller than the planned USS United States.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including “A Gallery of Military Headdress,” which is available on Amazon.com.

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The Russian military has been practicing taking out an enemy carrier strike group in the Pacific

The Russian navy Varyag missile cruiser ensuring air defence in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Russian navy Varyag missile cruiser.

  • Russia recently conducted a major military exercise in the Pacific.
  • Its defense ministry said this week that their forces practiced destroying an enemy carrier group.
  • Russian naval and air assets conducted a simulated conventional missile strike on the mock enemy.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Russian military has been training to destroy a carrier strike group in the Pacific, the Russian Ministry of Defense said this week, shedding light on recent drills.

Roughly two dozen Russian combat ships, submarines and support vessels, together with as many aviation assets, recently conducted a major exercise in which Russian forces conducted a simulated attack on an enemy carrier strike group.

Russian forces divided into two teams about 300 miles apart, with one playing the role of the enemy. The defense ministry did not identify any specific adversary.

The opposing military force, consisting of the cruiser Varyag, destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov, and two smaller corvettes, carried out a simulated conventional missile strike on the mock enemy. The attack also involved air assets.

Russia said its forces “worked out the tasks of detecting, countering and delivering missile strikes against an aircraft carrier strike group of a mock enemy.”

Russia said that the exercise took place around 2,500 miles southeast of the Kuril islands. Media reports on the exercises put the drills within several hundred miles of Hawaii, though US Indo-Pacific Command told The Drive that some Russian ships came a lot closer, in some cases within 20 to 30 nautical miles.

The Russian Ministry of Defense statement on the exercise does not say when it occurred, but, as Military.com noticed, a Russian state media article announced on June 13 that a force of the same size and involving the same ships started training in the Pacific.

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105), front, and Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transit the Pacific Ocean
Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105), front, and Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transit the Pacific Ocean

On June 17, just a few days after the Russian drills in the Pacific began, the US Navy announced that Carrier Strike Group One led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was active in the Hawaiian Islands Operating Area.

US defense officials recently told CBS News that while the Vinson’s activities were planned, they were moved closer to Hawaii in response to the Russian exercises. The US also scrambled fighter jets in response to Russian bombers during this time, according to ABC News.

Insider contacted Third Fleet for comment on the Vinson’s activities but has not yet received a response.

Vice Adm. Steve Koehler, the commander of US Third Fleet, said in a statement last week that “operating in Hawaii provides unique opportunities for Vinson to train jointly while positioned to respond if called.”

The admiral added that “they train to a variety of missions, from long range strikes to anti-submarine warfare, and can move anywhere on the globe on short notice.”

US carrier strike groups, which consist of not just a carrier and its air wing but also other surface combatants, bring tremendous firepower to a fight and have been critical components of America’s power projection capabilities for decades, at times making them a focus for US rivals.

The recent Russian military exercises follow an episode in late January in which a large force of Chinese military aircraft, including fighters and bombers, conducted a simulated missile attack on an American carrier strike group in the South China Sea.

Though the Chinese aircraft remained more than 250 nautical miles from the carrier group and “at no time” posed a threat to it, INDOPACOM characterized China’s actions as “the latest in a string of aggressive and destabilizing actions.”

The command said China’s “actions reflect a continued [People’s Liberation Army] attempt to use its military as a tool to intimidate or coerce those operating in international waters and airspace.”

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Explosion triggered near new US Navy aircraft carrier during shock trials registered as 3.9 magnitude earthquake

US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford undergoing shock trials in the Atlantic Ocean
The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) completes the first scheduled explosive event of Full Ship Shock Trials while underway in the Atlantic Ocean, June 18, 2021

  • The US Navy triggered a big explosion near its new aircraft carrier Friday during shock trials.
  • The explosion registered as a 3.9 magnitude earthquake, USNI News reported.
  • Shock trials test the hardness of the ship to determine if it can withstand harsh battle conditions.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Navy triggered an explosion near its new aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, off the US East Coast on Friday during shock trials, and the big blast registered as a 3.9 magnitude earthquake, USNI News reported, citing US Geological Survey data.

The US government agency recorded the activity as an “experimental explosion” about 100 miles off the coast of Florida, where a Navy spokesperson confirmed to Insider the Ford is undergoing shock trials.

Shock trials test a ship’s ability to withstand brutal battle conditions, specifically the detonation of ordnance nearby. By setting off controlled explosions near Navy ships, the Navy can identify critical shock-related vulnerabilities.

The Navy released video footage of the explosive shock trials from different angles.

The following Navy video, which appears to have been taken from aboard the Ford, shows the intensity of the nearby explosion.

USS Gerald R. Ford, a first-in-class vessel and the Navy’s most advanced aircraft carrier, was “designed using advanced computer modeling methods, testing, and analysis to ensure the ship is hardened to withstand battle conditions, and these shock trials provide data used in validating the shock hardness of the ship,” the service said.

Commenting on the results of the first explosive event, posts on the Ford’s official social media pages said that “the leadership and the crew demonstrated Navy readiness fighting through the shock, proving our warship can ‘take a hit’ and continue our mission on the cutting edge of naval aviation.”

US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford undergoing full-ship shock trials
The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) completed the first scheduled explosive event of Full Ship Shock Trials while underway in the Atlantic Ocean on June 18, 2021.

The Navy explained in a Facebook post on the testing that it “conducts shock trials of new ship designs using live explosives to confirm that our warships can continue to meet demanding mission requirements under harsh conditions they might encounter in battle.”

Shock trials were born from observations during World War II, a 2007 Navy-sponsored study said.

During the war, the Navy discovered that while “near miss” explosions did not severely damage the hull or superstructure of ships, the shock from the blast would knock out key system and cripple the vessels.

In response, the study explained, the Navy created a “rigorous shock hardening test procedure” known as shock trials.

US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford undergoing full-ship shock trials
The aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) completes the first scheduled explosive event of Full Ship Shock Trials while underway in the Atlantic Ocean, June 18, 2021

The latest shock trials involving the Ford are the first aircraft carrier trials since those involving the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in 1987.

The Navy said that the trials are being conducted in a way that “complies with environmental mitigation requirements, respecting known migration patterns of marine life in the test area.”

The service also stated that it “also has employed extensive protocols throughout [full-ship shock trials] to ensure the safety of military and civilian personnel participating in the testing evolution.”

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How ‘baby flattops’ helped the US Navy win World War II

Navy sailor on aircraft carrier flight deck
A US Navy flight deck officer gives a thumbs-up as flight crews work on Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers aboard an unidentified training escort carrier in the 1940s.

  • Before the US entered World War II, the Navy knew its fleet carriers wouldn’t be enough to fight Germany and Japan.
  • The solution was the escort carrier, smaller and slower than larger fleet carriers but capable of protecting convoys and amphibious landings.
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While smaller and slower than the “fleet” aircraft carriers employed by the United States Navy during World War II, the escort carrier – also known as “jeep carrier” or “baby flattop” – still proved highly vital to the war effort.

At just half the length and a third the displacement of the larger fleet carriers, the escort carriers were built on commercial ship hulls, making them cheaper and easier to build.

However, the carriers were too slow to keep up with the main force that consisted of fleet carriers, cruisers, or even battleships. And yet, the small escorts served well in protecting convoys while they could provide air support during an amphibious landing.

The escort carriers also served as transports and were able to ferry aircraft to all of the military services.

More carriers needed

Navy aircraft carrier with planes
A Sangamon-class escort carrier transports aircraft for the invasion of North Africa, November 1942.

The origins of this new class of warship date back just prior to America’s entry into World War II.

In a December 1940 letter to the Chief of Naval Operations, Rear Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey, Jr., the US Fleet’s commander of the Aircraft, Battle Force, expressed concern the US Navy’s six carriers would be inadequate against both Germany and Japan.

Halsey warned that more ships would be needed, and the result was the small CVE, the Navy’s eventual designation for the Escort Aircraft Carrier.

It was a compromise in design, built using a modified merchant ship hull that was lightly armed and armored, was slow, and had limited carrying capacity – only 24 to 36 planes could be carried compared to the nearly 90 of a fleet carrier.

A lot of small carriers

Navy escort carrier USS Casablanca
Navy escort carrier USS Casablanca, February 4, 1944.

While overshadowed by the larger warships, of the 151 aircraft carriers built during the Second World War, 122 were actually escort carriers.

Fifty of those were of the Casablanca-class, and it ended up being the most numerous class of aircraft carriers ever built. They were also built quickly, and all 50 were laid down, launched and commissioned within the space of less than two years by the Kaiser Shipbuilding Company’s Vancouver Yard on the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington.

The 156-meter long Casablanca escorts displaced only 7,800-tons – or nearly 11,000 tons fully loaded with 910 crew, 28 aircraft, ammunition and nearly 120,000 gallons of aviation fuel.

Five Casablanca-class escort carriers were assigned to Atlantic patrols, where escort carriers proved one of several innovations that ultimately defeated the Kriegsmarine’s U-Boats. Initially deployed to protect convoys and ferry land-based aircraft, they eventually led five out of 11 roving “Hunter-Killer groups” that helped chased down U-Boats, sinking 53 by the end of the war.

Of the 13 US aircraft carriers of all types lost during World War II, seven were escort carriers, six of which were of the Kaiser-built Casablanca-class.

Navy escort aircraft carrier USS Card
Navy Bogue-class escort carrier USS Card, December 10, 1943.

An additional 45 Bogue­-class CVEs were built for service with the US Navy as well as the British Royal Navy through the Lend-Lease program.

All of the ships that served with the US Navy and half of the ships for the Royal Navy were built by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation, while a few of the early Royal Navy ships were produced by Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, Mississippi, and Western Pipe and Steel Company of San Francisco, California.

Following the war, 10 of the baby flattops were kept in service for helicopter and air transport operations.

The final class of CVEs to be built was the Commencement Bay-class, which was based on the T3 Tanker Hull but actually constructed as small carriers from the keel up. Thirty-five were ordered, and just 19 were produced while most of those saw little to no operational service.

However, after the war the potential for use a helicopter and auxiliary transports was seen and a few of the Commencement Bay-class escort carriers were called back into service during the Korean War.

A few CVEs from the various classes were also pressed back into service during the first years of Vietnam War, where these warships were redesignated AKV (air transport auxiliary).

Navy escort carrier carrying flying boats fighter planes and biplane
Navy escort carrier USS Thetis Bay transporting 8 PBY Catalina flying boats, 18 F6F Hellcat fighters, and a J2F amphibious biplane, July 8, 1944.

One of the final – but not the last – Casablanca-class escort carriers to be built was the USS Thetis Bay, which began as CVE-90.

She was converted in the mid-1950s to become the Navy’s first assault helicopter carrier, and her designation was changed to CVHA-1, while a few years later she underwent another refit, which extensively modified the warship including having the aft flight deck cut way.

Her designation was changed again to LPH-6, an amphibious assault ship, in May 1959. She remained in service for another five years and was the final CVE to be scrapped.

Despite the important role that these baby flattops played in World War II, sadly not a single one of the 122 Allied CVEs survives today.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

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Photos of China’s new aircraft carrier are leaking out, and they appear to show a modern flattop in the making

liaoning aircraft carrier
China commissioned its first carrier, the Liaoning, in 2012. Since then, it has added another, and a third is on the way. Experts say it could be a “huge step” for China.

  • Over the past week, a number of photos of China’s third aircraft carrier have leaked out online.
  • The photos appear to show a ship that is very different from the first two Chinese carriers.
  • “It is not a US carrier,” one expert said, “but it’s still a huge step for China.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

China’s third aircraft carrier, which is expected to be the country’s first modern flattop, is starting to take shape at the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai, new images that have steadily been leaking out online appear to show.

Prior to 2012, China did not have any aircraft carriers, but over the years, it has managed to develop a modest carrier capability.

China's first aircraft carrier Liaoning
Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning.

China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy has two aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong.

China built the first from the refitted hull of an old Soviet vessel. The second, which was China’s first indigenously produced aircraft carrier, was a larger, slightly improved copy of the Liaoning.

But the latest images of China’s third carrier, gathered from Chinese social media and posted on Twitter by Chinese military expert Andreas Rupprecht, hint at what has long been expected of this new ship – that it is likely going to be a step forward for the country’s aircraft-carrier program.

There are still a number of unknowns, but as more and more photos come out, they are painting a clearer picture of how the construction of this new ship, a still unnamed ship designated as the Type 003, is progressing.

There have even been some up-close shots of the new aircraft carrier.

And, some online observers have already started trying to work out exactly what the carrier will look like based on the images of the ongoing construction, though experts suggest it might be still be too early to tell.

Matthew Funaiole, a senior fellow and China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, looked at satellite imagery of the construction efforts at Jiangnan this week.

“They still have not put the island in place. They are still working on the flight deck. There’s still quite a lot of work to be done,” he explained to Insider. That being said, some things about the ship are starting to become clearer.

The new vessel is noticeably larger than the first two carriers, giving China the ability to field a bigger and more diverse air wing, a necessary step as China works to build a modern navy able to project power farther from its shores.

Considering the development of China’s third aircraft carrier, as well as China’s interests, he said that there is reason to suspect it will have some kind of catapult system for launching carrier aircraft, but that has not yet been confirmed.

“They’re still working on the front of the vessel,” Funaiole said. “It is very likely that the ship is going to have some type of catapult system. We are still trying to figure out what that’s going to look like, but it’s hard to imagine it not having a catapult system.”

“It wouldn’t really make sense, as far as what China is aiming to do with its carrier program, to have another ski-ramp style carrier,” he said.

His assessment is consistent with Department of Defense observations.

Construction of the Type 003 aircraft carrier began in 2018. The next year, the Department of Defense released an assessment of the project, writing that the ship “will likely be larger” than the Liaoning and Shandong “and fitted with a catapult launch system.”

“This design will enable it to support additional fighter aircraft, fixed-wing early-warning aircraft, and more rapid flight operations,” the department report said.

Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier
Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier.

The first two Chinese aircraft carriers both use ski-jump-assisted short-takeoff-but-arrested-recovery (STOBAR) launch systems to sortie aircraft. This design can be seen on other aircraft carriers like Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth.

Ski jumps are significantly less effective than the steam or electromagnetic catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) launch systems that US carriers use because they lower the maximum take-off weight for carrier-based aircraft.

The design presents certain problems for the Chinese Shenyang J-15, China’s primary carrier-based fighter.

The aircraft, which is based on an incomplete prototype of the Russian Sukhoi Su-33 carrier-based air-superiority fighter that China acquired from Ukraine and then reverse engineered, is one of the heaviest carrier fighters out there.

Shenyang J-15 'Flying Shark' fighter jets aboard China's first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning
J-15 “Flying Shark” fighter jets aboard China’s Liaoning aircraft carrier.

The J-15 is a capable multirole fighter, and it can carry a decent amount of weapons and fuel.

The big problem is that the design of China’s current aircraft carriers means it can take off with only a small fraction of the weapons and fuel it was designed to carry, significantly reducing its range and overall combat capability.

Fighter jets and helicopters are seen on board China's aircraft carrier Liaoning
Fighter jets and helicopters are aboard Liaoning.

Timothy Heath, a senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, previously told Insider that “with a ski-slope configuration, weight becomes your enemy, and the J-15, as a heavy airplane, starts to be the victim of its own design.”

A modern carrier equipped with “catapults would allow the J-15’s advantages to come into play,” he said. Reporting, as well as some leaked imagery, suggests that China is already developing a CATOBAR variant of the J-15.

There are also indications that China may already be looking beyond the J-15 for its carrier fighter. It has been speculated that the FC-31, a Chinese stealth fighter that is still in development, might be the next carrier fighter.

This week, photos showing an FC-31 mockup on the “flight deck” of a concrete carrier in Wuhan surfaced online. The undated photos appear to offer some support to theories about next step’s for Chinese naval aviation.

“They’re in a place now where they’re understanding how to build aircraft carriers, but figuring out the naval aviation side of it is still an area where China still has some unknowns,” Funaiole said, explaining that “it’s likely they’re going to explore all available options to figure out what’s going to work best.”

He said China appears to be making great strides advancing its carrier program. “It is not a US carrier as things are today,” he said of China’s third aircraft carrier, “but it’s still a huge step for China. It’s impressive what they have been able to do in a short amount of time.”

The new aircraft carrier, though it might be a while before the final design is clear, looks to be a “pretty significant upgrade from where they are at right now,” Funaiole said. “But this is where you get into the question of what does this actually mean in practice.”

“The biggest struggle for China isn’t going to be the technology,” he said. “It’s going to be the personnel. And that’s not a knock on the Chinese. They’re just new to it.”

China aircraft carrier
China’s first domestically developed aircraft carrier departs Dalian, May 13, 2018.

China has the world’s largest navy, according to the Pentagon, and it is building new ships faster than any other country. But China is still learning what it means to have a great power navy.

While it will inevitably take China time to develop the carrier operations knowledge and experience to go along with its expanding fleet of flattops, the country’s newest carrier suggests the country is making clear progress as it strives to build a world-class combat force by the middle of this century.

The Pentagon said last year, in its most recent assessment of China’s military power, that the third Chinese carrier will likely be operational by 2024, with additional aircraft carriers to follow later.

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The Navy’s new, powerful aircraft carrier is heading to ‘shock trials’

Navy aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford
US Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford in the Atlantic Ocean, June 4, 2020

  • The US Navy’s brand-new aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford will be return to port this summer.
  • But before the supercarrier ties up in Newport News, it will go through full-ship shock trials,
  • Those tests involve setting off explosives next to the ship to see if vibrations cause problems.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US Navy‘s brand new aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) will be returning to Newport News this summer.

Much like how an automobile needs to go in for routine maintenance, so too will the Navy’s largest and most expensive warship.

Coming soon: USS Gerald R. Ford shock trials

The supercarrier will tie up at Newport News Shipbuilding’s pier 2 after it conducts its full ship shock trials, which is a standard test that involves setting off high explosives next to the ship to determine if vibration would cause problems.

While anything that was shaken loose or damaged will be addressed, the return to port is actually part of Ford’s first “planned incremental availability” (PIA).

This maintenance period is meant to install the latest updates to equipment and to take care of maintenance work that’s harder to do while the ship is deployed at sea.

Navy USS Jackson shock trials
US Navy littoral combat ship USS Jackson during shock trials in the Atlantic, June 10, 2016.

The updates and upgrades are expected to be completed quickly, in part because the ship has only been undergoing at-sea tests and trials that are meant to certify the carrier’s systems as well as sailor skills.

However, just as “brand new” computers or smartphones often need to undergo software updates on a regular basis, so too will Ford’s various systems.

According to Hampton Roads-based Daily Press, about 60% of the work slated for the PIA involves updating and modernizing equipment. That includes plugging in updated circuit boards and installing new communications networks and software.

PIA updates will occur every few years to keep the carrier up to date with the fast-changing electronic devices, software, weapons system controls and communication networks.

Routine maintenance

Shock Trials
US Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt during shock trials.

During Ford’s time at Newport News, the ship will undergo maintenance. This could be extensive as the carrier is the first of her class, and part of the focus will be making notes on the wear and tear she’s already experienced. Teams will evaluate the components to see how the ship held up compared to what the designers expected.

These efforts will help refine the long-term maintenance plan for a carrier that is expected to remain in service for half a century. Twenty percent of the total work that the carrier will undergo will involve that maintenance.

About 8% of the scheduled work time will also be to address any fixes needed following the shock trials, which are the first such trial of a carrier to be conducted since 1987.

The remainder of the time will be spent addressing and fixing any of the other systems of the ship. This will certainly include dealing with four inoperable weapons elevators.

Navy aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford
A E-2C Hawkeye approaches USS Gerald R. Ford, August 4, 2020.

The lower-stage elevators, which are used to move ordnance, have been a problem since construction began on CVN-78 in 2009. Four of the eleven elevators will be dealt with during the PIA, and the non-working elevators will not be certified at least until later this year.

It isn’t unusual for a warship to enter trials without essential working components including the elevators, but the kinks will need to be worked out and resolved before Gerald R. Ford makes her first deployment.

A concern is that since the elevators are located throughout the ship, each could potentially react differently to the shock trials. That could result in further delays for additional repairs and adjustments, which impact the future carriers of the class.

When Ford returns to Newport News it will be moored adjacent to one of those future carriers, the still-under-construction USS John F. Kennedy, the second in the class, UPI reported.

Ford most recently completed the Combat Systems Ship’s Qualification Trials (CSSQT), a combat preparation phase involving simulated and actual live threats to assess the extent to which a large Ford-class carrier could defend itself in a great power ocean war scenario.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including “A Gallery of Military Headdress,” which is available on Amazon.com.

Read the original article on Business Insider