USS Enterprise is the "First and Best" atomic titanium during the Cold War. Photo: US Navy
Of course, this article should start with the fact that many copies have been broken in the disputes on the topic of aircraft carriers - this is an extremely acute issue that has excited inquisitive minds since the beginning of the Cold War, or, perhaps, the end of World War II - since then, many military analysts, naval commanders, and just amateurs questioned the very fact of the need for carriers of carrier-based aircraft. Such reflections arose both from banal ignorance and from the inexorable technical progress of weapons (in particular, missile weapons) - a number of these factors over and over again brought the existence of such large and vulnerable, in the opinion of many, ships under a natural question.
In our time, theories that aircraft carriers have become a relic of the past, like battleships, are heard more and more often - they are especially heated by controversies in the US Congress, which, of course, are the world leader in the construction and practical use of such warships, and are leading this tradition since the Second World War (it is worth noting that overseas policy They have been conducting such discussions for more than a decade - and, unfortunately, many people extremely misunderstand the ordinary "political showdown" of American officials and the military).
These disputes, however, do not diminish reality in any way - and the reality is that aircraft-carrying ships are making a new round of their development before our eyes and are by no means going to leave their rightful place; By no means, with the development of helicopters, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, and unmanned aircraft, the world has received a real "aircraft carrier boom" - light support ships and serious attack ships are being built absolutely everywhere, from China and the United States to Turkey and Italy. Skeptics rush to ridicule this phenomenon - it is widely believed that it is nothing more than "symbols of state prestige." Such opinions sometimes sound convincing and even reasoned - however, as in most cases of criticism of a particular type of weapon, the most important thing is overlooked ...
Remember this word, because now it will occupy all our attention - perhaps the concept is the first thing that we need to know and understand in this or that type of weapon.
Not a single weapon is created spontaneously, without tasks and well-thought-out tactics of use - of course, there are examples of the opposite, and there are many of them, but we are talking about proven and working technologies. Returning to the topic of aircraft-carrying ships, there are two main concepts that were born and developed in this area of weapons:
1) The British concept - an aircraft-carrying ship is considered a classic naval combat unit, the only difference of which is aircraft armament. A classic concept that was developed, for example, in the USSR.
2) American concept - aircraft carrier is considered as a mobile air base; aviation in it prevails in importance over the ship as a combat unit - hence, for example, the tradition is born according to which the captains of aircraft carriers are naval pilots, and not naval officers.
Currently, the American concept of using aircraft carriers prevails in the professional environment - it has proven its practicality, and its effectiveness is beyond doubt. In turn, the British concept is widespread among amateurs - it is for this reason that "paramilitary observers" so often question the need for the construction, and indeed the very existence of any aircraft-carrying ships.
USS Abraham Lincoln as part of an aircraft carrier strike group at the RIMPAC exercises - such photographs often mislead the layman about the actual construction of a combat order of the American AUG. Photo: US Navy
It should be noted in this a very funny logical incident - it never occurs to anyone to assert that aviation is meaningless in the conditions of modern war, that it has outlived its usefulness and its development has reached a dead end; by no means, even amateurs understand that aviation in any of its forms is the main and actual weapon in the realities of today's battlefield. With all this, it is completely commonplace to think that it is not needed in the fleet - and it is precisely to this unreasonable conclusion that the opponents of the entire aircraft carrier lead. Without an aircraft carrier, naval formations have no planes, helicopters and UAVs - therefore, the Navy is deprived of the most formidable weapon of our time. Without aviation, it is impossible to build a working target designation system; the fleet becomes "short-sighted" and weak even in carrying out patrol missions, not to mention search, strike, amphibious, anti-submarine and a great variety of others. Even the most high-tech and high-speed missile will be absolutely useless without the coordinates of the enemy - and it is precisely AWACS planes and helicopters that can provide the most reliable detection and target designation, guaranteed to send missile salvos to the “final destination”.
In the Soviet Union, the theme of aircraft-carrying ships was banned for a long time - in fact, this is how one could briefly describe the politicized perception of carrier-based aircraft by the highest military circles of the USSR. Many myths generated in those years ("an aircraft carrier is a weapon of aggression" or "an aircraft carrier is an unarmed trough") continue to exist today, despite the fact that the course of modern history has successfully refuted them. This point of view can be justified by various factors - technical, economic, psychological, - but now one thing can be said for sure - it was fundamentally wrong.
The Commander-in-Chief of the USSR Navy, Sergei Georgievich Gorshkov, also realized this - despite the ideological clichés prevailing in the highest echelons of power, he was able to implement the construction of a whole series of aircraft-carrying ships of several types.
Yes, it is now customary to criticize Project 1143 for "low efficiency" and "lack of expediency" (there are, however, opposite opinions about the ships of this project, which present it as a kind of Soviet absolute weapon) - to some extent, such statements are true, because the main weapon of the Soviet aircraft carriers - aviation - was represented by a very mediocre attack aircraft Yak-38. But in no case should we forget that the Krechets carried Ka-25 and Ka-27 helicopters on their decks: this significantly expanded the capabilities of Soviet cruising strike groups, allowing them both to conduct anti-submarine warfare and to provide target designation for their powerful missile weapons.
The Red Banner heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser "Kiev" is one of the brightest symbols of the Soviet military machine. Photo: Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
Yes, when we talk about carrier-based aircraft, helicopters should never be overlooked - they are an incredibly useful and multifunctional tool in the arsenal of any fleet, which can provide a wide range of tasks: from patrol and search to logistics and strike. To reduce the concept of "carrier-based aircraft" to supersonic fighters alone is extremely incorrect and fundamentally wrong. A helicopter carrier can be the perfect core of any battle group, providing, albeit in a concise format, many of the functions of its older counterparts. The USSR understood this perfectly well, having created a number of excellent deck-based vehicles.
Currently, in the fleets of many countries of the world, one can observe the "evolution" of aircraft carrying forces, associated with both the development of UAVs and the emergence of the American stealthy carrier-based fighter F-35B, which has the ability to vertical takeoff and landing - this machine led to the revival of the class of light aircraft carriers. the construction price and technological level of which are quite acceptable for the European and Asian allies of the United States. Of course, this class of ships is extremely blurred within its borders - it includes both low-displacement aircraft carriers and universal amphibious assault ships and even "Izumo-class" helicopter-carrying destroyers of the Japanese Navy. In any case, the presence of the F-35B on the decks significantly expands the strike capabilities of such ships - and the combination with helicopters makes it possible to create a full-fledged multifunctional core for a combat group capable of autonomously performing tasks in the far sea zone.
The following ships can be distinguished as prominent representatives of this class:
1) Universal landing ship-aircraft carrier "Juan Carlos I" (Spain)
2) Universal landing ship "USS America" (USA)
3) Light aircraft carrier "Cavour" (Italy)
4) Helicopter destroyer "Izumo" (Japan)
5) Universal landing ship-aircraft carrier "TCG Anadolu" (Turkey)
Undoubtedly, such a concept makes it possible to significantly expand the arsenal and strengthen the power of the navy; It is also true that ships of this type are inferior in their capabilities to larger carriers of carrier-based aircraft, but this in no way diminishes their value - a small air group does not mean that such a ship is ineffective.
Separately, it would be worth considering the Turkish UDC "Anadolu" - technically this ship is a copy of the Spanish "Juan Carlos I", and its air group was designed for the basing of carrier-based fighters F-35B. However, the consequences of their own policies intervened in the initial plans of the Turkish leadership - the United States refused to supply its fifth generation aircraft, and the first Turkish aircraft carrier, in essence, was left without weapons.
In this regard, Turkey took the risk of taking an extremely interesting and unusual path, which has been exciting the minds of many military analysts for the second decade, and to create an air group based on unmanned aircraft. The Turkish aircraft manufacturer Baykar Makina has already launched work on the creation of vertical take-off and landing UAVs - from this it can be concluded that Ankara wants to get its hands on a heavy attack drone - perhaps a deck analogue of Bayraktar AKINCI (however, perhaps in in the end, we will see the end result of these works and a jet drone). If the project is successfully implemented, Turkey will become a "trendsetter" in the field of "budget" aircraft-carrying ships - so far no one has dared to implement such a bold concept, which, of course, will have far-reaching consequences: unmanned carrier-based attack aircraft will radically change the current the combat value of light aircraft carriers (at least, it can be noted that even on ships of existing projects it will be possible to place a significant number of such aircraft, and this will be cheaper than VTOL aircraft).
TCG Anadolu and its sister ship TCG Trakya may become the world's first UAV carriers. Photo: Turkish Ministry of National Defense
The evolution of naval and land missile weapons by no means removes naval air platforms from the scene - on the contrary, it makes them even more relevant as a universal means of both defense and attack - such ships become means of strategic projection of military power on the sea lanes of a potential enemy; the reduction in the cost and simplification of designs, concepts and approaches to the construction of aircraft carrier forces perfectly underline their necessity and usefulness in the composition of the naval forces - from weapons of exceptionally rich and developed countries carriers of carrier-based aircraft become available replenishment of arsenals and developing countries (for example, India and Turkey) ... The imaginary vulnerability of such large surface ships is interpreted fundamentally incorrectly - it is impossible to consider an element of the system (which an aircraft carrier strike group is) outside the framework of the system itself - this is as absurd as, for example, to demand that a divisional logistics battalion be able to organize effective air defense ... Like any tactical unit, the naval group works in conjunction, which, in turn, ensures the fulfillment of all the necessary combat missions - and it is absolutely pointless to demand the fulfillment of this condition from its separately taken element.
Summing up, we can safely say: no, the aircraft-carrying ships are not only not outdated - by no means, they are expecting an extremely rapid development in a new format and quality; carriers of carrier-based aircraft will only become obsolete on the day when the very concept of aviation will become obsolete and a thing of the past - as long as the means of air warfare are relevant in any of their incarnations, aircraft carriers will also exist.