Defense Tech has an intriguing story about the next generation of aircraft carriers. One of the bigger innovations in the upcoming Ford-class of carriers: They're designed to carry drones, with a new, electricity-intensive launch system replacing the steam catapults that sent carrier-borne fighters into the sky during the jet age. Designing carriers in this way reaffirms that unmanned drones are a crucial part of naval aviation in coming years.
The fundamental unit at the heart of the U.S. Navy is the aircraft carrier. It is a nuclear-powered runway, command center, hangar with at least 64 jets, and living quarters for everyone it takes to keep the whole operation running. Aircraft carriers are also built to last half a century, which means not only should they carry the technology of the year they're built, but they should be designed with enough foresight to accommodate the next 50 years of innovation. The last aircraft to be retired, the U.S.S. Enterprise, was a baby boomer: built in 1961, it retired in 2012 after a 51-year career. The oldest currently operating carrier in the fleet is the U.S.S Nimitz, which has been commissioned since 1975, placing it squarely inside Generation X--and it still has a few years of service left.
Long life spans mean that aircraft carriers have to be designed with the future in mind. Ford-class ships are the next generation of aircraft carrier, and they are very much designed for longevity:
Rear Admiral Thomas J. Moore, head the U.S. Navy's Program Executive Office for Carriers, further specifies that Ford carriers will be "built with three-times the electrical generating capacity than the Nimitz" class that preceded them. Why? Freaking lasers! The Navy already plans to outfit the U.S.S. Ponce with a new directed energy weapon next year. A more-electrified design plan could accommodate future lasers as they are developed. Current laser weapons fire somewhere between ten and 100 kilowatts, and future laser weapons mounted on ships could have a power level measured in megawatts, which would take extraordinary amounts of electricity to make work.
Skepticism persists about a naval strategy so reliant on putting all eggs in one giant, sinkable basket, but the drone-and laser carrier of the future serves to mitigate that risk a lot. Electric-powered lasers cost-effectively protect the carrier from swarm tactics, where many small boats or drones attempt to overwhelm the defenses of a ship and exhaust its ammunition supply. A directed energy weapon counters this by having ammunition so long as it has electricity, and by blasting holes in ships or attacking drones nearly instantly.
Unmanned aircraft can also protect aircraft carriers against a different kind of threat, thanks to their increased range, which makes it easier for them to intercept long-range missiles. Another way drones could protect the aircraft carrier is through greater, longer, more persistent surveillance, all from a far perimeter around the carrier fleet.
If all goes according to plan with the Ford-class carrier, sometime in the next 50 years we'll enter an era of naval warfare where drones and lasers go from super-futuristic to completely routine.
Oh goody, 1 EMP bomb and the entire carrier is entirely worthless.
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1) That's not entirely true, and except for the addition of lasers, that's not really any worse than current ships. Plus, we have absolutely no idea how effective the shielding is on what is ultimately a massive, top secret piece of metal.
2) In case you hadn't noticed, these ships don't exactly putter around alone. This EMP would have to be delivered by some vehicle amid multiple ships worth of live fire, lasers and dual-band radar. And even if it were successfully hit, not only would the other boats still be plenty capable (unless this were a very, very large and truly unprecedented sort of bomb) but a significant portion of the boat would doubtless have mechanical redundancy.
That being said, you do make a valid point that EMPs are a far more serious and dire consideration for the future of warfare than in other eras thus far. Funny how the sci-fi future of flying robots and EMP bombs we've dreamed about for decades was apparently, perhaps inevitably, not far off.
While EMP is a major threat in general, currently the only way to get a big enough EMP to take down an entire Carrier Strike Group would be to launch a nuclear weapon and detonate it at high altitude, which at that point I think that the EMP part would be the least of the ship's problems. In comparison to the civilian power grid, Navy ships are much better protected from energy surges because of intricate shielding and backup devices. The US Military has been looking at the EMP problem since the cold war and designing systems to mitigate the damage.
I believe it was around 638 Billion dollars spent for the annual military US budget. The USA has persisted for a long time for the largest military budget for and extreme amount of years. Perhaps if we just stop warring for a while we could fix our home budget problems!
In our own country is often said and proven scientifically education reduces violence in society. We could just spend our monies into being a smarter society and helping others in the world towards shared information and education too, there by reducing the desire for war and fixing problems in thep process.
Give a man a fish for a day or teach the man how to catch a fish....
"TEACH, LEARN and SHARE INFORMATION!"
The above 638 billion does not include the addtional cost of going to war, which I believe the last 2 or 3 wars each cost in the trillions.
The EM cats have noting to do with the drones. The Navy is indeed exploring drones on carriers -- but the EM cats are not a critical part.
The main reason is efficiency. They take up less space and should require less maintenance. Might even have better performance.