The Hypotheticals of Supercarrier Design: USS United States & USS Forrestal

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Zipper730

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Nov 9, 2015
B Barrett & X XBe02Drvr

I was looking at something which was written by Ward Carroll, who was an F-14 RIO and historian and, while there were a couple of errors regarding the range of the B-36, the fact that the A3D was a byproduct of the USS United States program (something which I mentioned in a reply on his thread): Provided his cost figures were accurate for the USS United States program, it would appear that either each carrier (or the overall program) was to cost $189 million dollars.


View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDeN3WbdMjc

While the design of this carrier was clearly based around the following problems
  1. They didn't want the USAF to get a nuclear monopoly and, by extension, see Naval Aviation go the way of the Dodo bird.
  2. They realized the USAAF/USAF disliked carriers since they were aviation assets they couldn't control, and they wanted to gobble up all aviation assets for their own purposes.
  3. Land based aircraft were a non-starter because it'd just be gobbled-up by the USAF; sea-based aircraft were easier to achieve the range and payload problems but would be difficult to employ with a traditional bomb bay (being that the bay would also be the bottom of a watertight surface), combined with the fact that there's nothing that would preclude the USAF from taking charge of them; Carriers are outside their control.
  4. They needed a carrier that could deliver nuclear bombs.
  5. They needed to prove a carrier could successfully defend against a high-altitude bomber.
While the last item didn't need a special carrier (with the F2H able to operate off standard carriers and all): The ability to carry a nuclear bomb a satisfactory distance with jet propulsion would be hard-pressed to achieve the job, particularly with the design goals they were after
  1. Radius of Action: 1700 nm w/ payload
  2. Payload: 12000 lb. nuclear bomb (While I'm not sure where they got 12000 lb. from since the Mk-1 thru Mk-4 were all around 9700-10700 lb., it's possible there were some proposals that were in that weight range and they wanted to cover all their bases).
  3. Normal-Rated G-Load to be around 4.67G (the TBF was rated for 4.6G)
They pretty much assumed the aircraft would weigh 100,000 lb., and would have a 100' wingspan and a desire for a flush-deck emerged (at least partially) out of this reason though the island did appear to be retractible on some versions.

CVA-58Essex.JPG


DorsalCVA58.jpg


SternElevator.jpg

Here's the retractible conning-tower(s): Something I think would have been an engineering hurtle to make effective in a marine environment.

TelescopeCVA58.jpg

The fact that it lacked any kind of radar systems mounted on the island meant a command ship had to be used (whereas carriers were normally command-ships of their own) to feed it data, and the smoke-stacks had to be mounted over the sides which could be angled up or outwards on command. It was designed to operate in task forces which consisted of 1 x Midway Class, 2 x Essex Class and the United States Class at the heart of the group.

Looking at the design it seems like they were surprisingly close to an angled-deck without even realizing it and, while I'm not sure what the USN's thoughts would have been of an angled-deck carrier at the time (1945-1949): Would the design have been workable if such a deck had been designed into the carrier? I'm not a carrier-expert but it looks like it would have been a way to fit an island that didn't need to retract and would have been able to mount radar and smokestacks.

Another question would have been the feasibility of having designed the USS Forrestal to operate a 100,000 lb. aircraft off its decks: The Forrestal despite having smaller weight-limits for aircraft was around $217 million dollars. While I know inflation existed at the time, the USS United States was around $189 million. If that's unit cost, it seems like it wouldn't have been all that hard from an engineering standpoint.
 
To understand the deck layout on the United States, you need to look at the never built 1945 New Fleet Carrier. It was designed from May 1945 through to mid-1946 to incorporate the lessons of WW2 (remember Midway was a 1940-42 design that did not enter service until 1945 so the lessons were coming from the Essex class). To improve flight deck efficiency, all the lifts were moved to the side of the ship and there were to be 4, two on each side. And with more and larger aircraft needing launched more often by catapult a third catapult was required, with the only solution being to fit it on a sponson angled to port so that it would avoid an aircraft on the port forward catapult. But this was still an axial deck carrier. It would be several more years before the angled deck invented in Britain would be developed and adopted by both navies.

Aug 1945 also saw the request for development of what became the Douglas AJ Savage able to carry a 12,000lb bomb load and operate from the Midway class (the bomb load seems to have been determined according to Admiral Sallada's later comment "Analysis of bombing results in Germany has revealed that lethal damage to many targets required 12,000lb bombs." Was he thinking about Tallboy? Friedman notes that "It is no longer clear whether the Savage was conceived from the beginning as a nuclear bomber.")

By the end of 1945 Sallada was thinking about a new 100,000lb aircraft with a 2,000 mile combat radius was proposed which would require a new carrier to operate from. Hence the United States requirement.

This big new aircraft drove the design of the carrier, whose evolution saw it change dramatically from the earliest designs to the one finally signed off for construction. This is all set out in Friedman' "US Carriers An Illustrated Design History". It was the size of the aircraft (est 116-125ft wingspan with perhaps the prospect of greater in future) that drove the flush deck design. Initially it was going to be hangarless, carrying only 24 heavy bombers on its flight deck?

In its final form it was designed around an air group of 18 bombers plus 80 x F2H-1 fighters. A heavy AA armament was also required for self protection. And it adopted a flight deck layout derived from the 1945 Fleet Carrier with 3 side lifts plus another in the stern, and 4 catapults, with one angled to both port and starboard, again to allow aircraft to clear similar aircraft on the forward catapults, thereby allowing near simultaneous launch of 4 aircraft. In the final design the after cats were intended for fighters only. But again still with an axial deck.

The United States differed from previous USN practice in that the flight deck was the upper strength deck, which meant design problems dealing with the stresses around catapults, elevators etc. Some more information here

By the way the Forrestal CVA-59 was designed as an axial deck carrier. In Jan 1953 it was proposed that the angled deck be adopted for the FY 55 carrier (CVA-61 Ranger?) but in May that year that was extended to the whole Forrestal class. By that time both Forrestal and Saratoga were under construction.

The successor to the AJ Savage became the Douglas A-3 Skywarrior. The parameters for this aircraft were laid down in Jan 1948 by the DCNO in a letter to BuAer. The highlights were:-

Bomb load - 10,000lb
To operate off the class 6A carrier I.e. United States
Emphasis on speed - Vmax 525 knots + at 40,000ft
2,000+ nautical mile radius of action (1,700 minimum)
Minimum size and weight.

Various weight options were under consideration as well as such radical proposals as no landing gear, refuelling after take off.

Over at Douglas Ed Heinemann and his team were asked to design a 130,000lb aircraft with jettisonable landing gear in Feb 1948. Instead he presented a proposal for an 80,000lb turboprop and a 70,000lb jet. Out of the subsequent competition came the A-3 which first flew on 28 Oct 1952.
 
I don't think the carriers would be mothballed in the absence of a nuclear mission. They were still far too valuable in conventional roles.
The mothballing predated any USN nuclear capability.

The improvised Lockheed P2V Neptune arrived in 1948 and I'm not clear if it really had any kind of viable nuclear weapon. Wiki talks of Little Boy but only 5 or 6 ever seem to have been available. The Mk 4 wouldn't fit its bomb bay. The nuclear bomb capable AJ Savage didn't enter squadron service until 1949.

U.S. Navy Active Ship Force Levels, 1945-1950





DATE8/14/45*6/30/466/30/476/30/486/30/496/30/50
BATTLESHIPS23104211
CARRIERS, FLEET281514131111
CARRIERS, ESCORT71108774
CRUISERS723632321813
DESTROYERS377145138134143137
FRIGATES3613524121210
SUBMARINES2328580747972
MINE WARFARE58611255545256
PATROL120411974505033
AMPHIBIOUS2547275107866079
AUXILIARY1267406306273257218
SURFACE WARSHIPS833226198180174161
TOTAL ACTIVE67681248842737690634


EVENTS
• WWII in Europe ends 8 May 1945.
• V-J Day 14 August 1945 (15 August in western Pacific).
• Pacific War formally ends 2 September 1945.
• U.S.-USSR relations deteriorate 1945-1950.
• Chinese Civil War won by communists 1949
• Korean War begins 25 June 1950.


It was the Korean War that saw its expansion again.

U.S. Navy Active Ship Force Levels, 1951-1957





DATE6/30/516/30/526/30/536/30/546/30/556/30/566/30/57
BATTLESHIPS3444332
CARRIERS, FLEET17191920212222
CARRIERS, ESCORT91010732-
CRUISERS15191918171616
DESTROYERS206243247247249250253
FRIGATES38565657647084
SUBMARINES83104108108108108113
SSG/SSBNS *1122122
COMMAND SHIPS-----11
MINE WARFARE91114121117112113104
PATROL40292322151112
AMPHIBIOUS208189226223175139134
AUXILIARY269309287288262236224
SURFACE WARSHIPS262322326326333339355
TOTAL ACTIVE9801097112211131030973967


EVENTS
• Korean War Armistice signed 1953.
• Taiwan Straits patrol begins 1955.


NOTES
* Guided Missile Submarine/Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine (nuclear powered).


 
The mothballing predated any USN nuclear capability.

The improvised Lockheed P2V Neptune arrived in 1948 and I'm not clear if it really had any kind of viable nuclear weapon. Wiki talks of Little Boy but only 5 or 6 ever seem to have been available. The Mk 4 wouldn't fit its bomb bay. The nuclear bomb capable AJ Savage didn't enter squadron service until 1949.

U.S. Navy Active Ship Force Levels, 1945-1950





DATE8/14/45*6/30/466/30/476/30/486/30/496/30/50
BATTLESHIPS23104211
CARRIERS, FLEET281514131111
CARRIERS, ESCORT71108774
CRUISERS723632321813
DESTROYERS377145138134143137
FRIGATES3613524121210
SUBMARINES2328580747972
MINE WARFARE58611255545256
PATROL120411974505033
AMPHIBIOUS2547275107866079
AUXILIARY1267406306273257218
SURFACE WARSHIPS833226198180174161
TOTAL ACTIVE67681248842737690634


EVENTS
• WWII in Europe ends 8 May 1945.
• V-J Day 14 August 1945 (15 August in western Pacific).
• Pacific War formally ends 2 September 1945.
• U.S.-USSR relations deteriorate 1945-1950.
• Chinese Civil War won by communists 1949
• Korean War begins 25 June 1950.


It was the Korean War that saw its expansion again.

U.S. Navy Active Ship Force Levels, 1951-1957





DATE6/30/516/30/526/30/536/30/546/30/556/30/566/30/57
BATTLESHIPS3444332
CARRIERS, FLEET17191920212222
CARRIERS, ESCORT91010732-
CRUISERS15191918171616
DESTROYERS206243247247249250253
FRIGATES38565657647084
SUBMARINES83104108108108108113
SSG/SSBNS *1122122
COMMAND SHIPS-----11
MINE WARFARE91114121117112113104
PATROL40292322151112
AMPHIBIOUS208189226223175139134
AUXILIARY269309287288262236224
SURFACE WARSHIPS262322326326333339355
TOTAL ACTIVE9801097112211131030973967


EVENTS
• Korean War Armistice signed 1953.
• Taiwan Straits patrol begins 1955.


NOTES
* Guided Missile Submarine/Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine (nuclear powered).



Right, I didn't say no mothballing happened. I was pointing out that carriers even without a nuclear-strike role weren't going anywhere, because they still had great value in a conventional war.

Of course there was a draw-down, due to post-war demob. But carriers weren't going anywhere even without a nuclear mission. They were still too useful for conventional missions (cf. Korea, Vietnam, and so on).
 
The problem with that thesis is that most of the influential (read: USAF fans) think-tanks in the late 1940s were propounding the belief that there would be no more conventional wars... that EVERY future conflict would see atomic/nuclear weapons used, therefore non-nuke forces were just "window-dressing".
 
I don't think the carriers would be mothballed in the absence of a nuclear mission. They were still far too valuable in conventional roles.

think-tanks in the late 1940s were propounding the belief that there would be no more conventional wars... that EVERY future conflict would see atomic/nuclear weapons used, therefore non-nuke forces were just "window-dressing".
BINGO! I remember as an elementary school kid hearing discussions on the radio after the Korean War, asserting that it was "just an anomaly" and "would never happen again", that the mere threat of a nuclear strike would keep unruly rebels and defiant aggressors in their place. This could easily be done from CONUS alone through aerial refueling, negating the need for overseas bases, "showing the flag", a blue water navy, or any ground troops other than the Marines, who would be transferred to USAF, become 100% airborne assault troops and be general ground policing assets. US Army and US Navy could then be safely abolished and USAF would be translated to United States Armed Forces, and USAF Chief of Staff would become SecDef. (Curtis Lemay)
It's odd, but my contemporaries claim to have no memory of world events at such a young age, and accuse me of "nerdism" and "revisionism". Guess that's the penalty you pay for growing up offspring of an English teacher and a historian.
 
The problem with that thesis is that most of the influential (read: USAF fans) think-tanks in the late 1940s were propounding the belief that there would be no more conventional wars... that EVERY future conflict would see atomic/nuclear weapons used, therefore non-nuke forces were just "window-dressing".

Think tanks may have thought that, but what about the procurement officers or the Congresscritters with shipyards in their districts?
 

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