From Aircraft Carriers to Mobile Maritime Airfield Complexes

Prof. Vladimir Polenin, Doctor of Military Science
Nikolay Khrymov, Cand. Sc. (Engineering)

Currently, the U.S. Navy Nimitz heavy aircraft carriers are modified versions of the Forrestal (CV-59) type aircraft carriers developed in the second half of the twentieth century. Even the building of a new series of heavy aircraft carriers of Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) type does not implement the principal qualitative changes into the previously developed concept. Thus, the development of aircraft carriers now goes by extensive way, which is expressed mainly in the increased displacement that has already reached its possible limit.
As follows from the above review, the attempts to build aircraft carriers in Russia have been reduced to copying the solutions developed by the United States. It is known that the attempts to catch up with the leading side by symmetrical copying of their solutions put the catching up party in the disadvantageous position.
In this regard, we should look for a fundamentally new asymmetric approach that would allow avoiding this. Is it possible, in accordance with the main task of aircraft carriers in the “moving the air defense (AD), antisubmarine defense (ASD) and anti-airborne defense (AAD) a few hundred miles away from the national shores”, to solve the problems of building heavy aircraft carriers in another non-traditional way?
As a result, there is:
1) a political will to implement the aircraft carrier idea;
2) no alternative to the idea of ??the need for “moving the AD, ASD and AAD a few hundred miles away from the national shores”;
3) a difficulty of building heavy aircraft carriers, including due to the lack of docks of appropriate size and take-off catapults to equip the aircraft carrier;
4) an idea of ??solving the problem of building heavy aircraft carriers in another non-traditional way.

New Idea: International Version
Meanwhile, there are ideas that can become a quantum leap in case of their implementation.
The article called “Battle Island” makes the following observations: “Experience in the construction of super-large ships and deep-water drilling platforms has convinced the designers of offshore facilities that it is possible to build a floating naval base by combining individual self-propelled modules... The JMOB (Joint Mobile Offshore Base) is a complex of self-propelled modular platforms, each about the size of 300?150 m, with a height of about 35 m (Fig. 1)”.
These platforms could cross the ocean at speeds of 15 knots (28 km/h). The whole structure can be assembled at any point of the globe in just one month. Each of the platforms (module) will probably be a semi-submersible vessel. During the journey to a destination they will sail. But upon reaching the destination, they will take the ballast to provide greater stability towards wave disturbance.
Five modules arranged in a row will enable any modern aircraft (in particular, C-17) to take off and land even during a category 6 storm, with the wind of 25 knots (46 km/h) and wave height of 5 m.
The structure will carry a payload inside. The five-modular platform will be able to accommodate 3.5 thousand vehicles, 5 thousand freight containers and 150 aircrafts. Each element of the structure should be designed for 40 years.
This idea was founded upon the monograph, which provides a rationale for the above JMOB characteristics. The summary states that JMOB is the largest floating structure ever built, a revolutionary improvement in the current sea-based facilities, the elimination of most of the identified deficiencies.
The technology of offshore marine structures, the mobile oil platforms, lies at the heart of the JMOB architecture. “This is an island of sovereign territory of the United States within each region that can maneuver in a winning position in the international waters, to ensure deterrence and maintain stability, the instrument of all elements of national power”.
These publications show the appearance of a new and innovative idea, which is unusual in the non-traditional big mass-dimensional characteristics of the floating sea base, the mobile maritime airfield.

Importance of the New Idea for Russia
Yes, our interests are also directed to the World ocean – the main arena of infrastructure and the global economy of the future. But that's about it. Let's ask a simple and obvious question: what is the nature of the seas, water areas that wash the shores of Russia, in which our Navy performs operations, and what are the connections of these waters to the World ocean?
The answer is obvious: the Black, Baltic, Okhotsk and Caspian seas are strictly hinterland ones. Their dimensions are mainly fit into the circles of radius of 500 km. Therefore, to ensure aviation support of AD, ASD and AAD etc. of the waters and naval forces in inland seas, the coast, which is potentially a huge and comprehensive aircraft carrier with a landing deck stretching for thousands of kilometers, is quite sufficient.
Moreover, the Baltic and Caspian seas are excluded due to the difficulties or inability to reach them from the outside. In the Black Sea, due to favorable geopolitical changes, Russia has acquired the Crimean Peninsula that is better than any aircraft carrier.
Our interest primarily demands to push the lines of defense in the north (the Barents Sea and Norwegian Sea) and in the east (Bering Sea).
For air support of the AD, ASD and AAD etc. of the waters and naval forces in the adjacent seas such as the Barents, Norwegian and Bering seas, we require a combination of the coast in the above quality and advanced mobile airfield complexes, providing moving the defense lines farther from the sea shore.
Being deployed, for example, in the geometric centers of the adjacent seas, with access to the ocean theater, mobile maritime airfield complexes will provide solution to the issue of “moving the AD, ASD and AAD a few hundred miles away from the national shores”.
Mobile maritime airfield complexes will perform as:
– decks providing installation of any aircraft, electronic and missile equipment for any purposes and of any range;
– decks, ensuring aviation presence on a permanent basis, without carrier maneuver.

Under condition of logistics support and performing the duty on a rotational basis, they will be able to continuously operate as the forward defense line of AD, ASD and AAD for decades.
The economic evaluation of the cost of building a platform shows that in case of application of cheaper and more workable construction material – reinforced concrete, its value, despite the significant displacement, is commensurate with the cost of building the classic nuclear aircraft carrier. This is also achieved by eliminating the need to build huge shipbuilding docks, equipped with expensive heavy-duty crane equipment.
Furthermore, the platform does not require specialized devices providing aircraft takeoff and landing, in particular, the take-off catapults. Still, the platform provides basing and application of existing and advanced “land-based” aircrafts
Simplicity, conclusiveness of prospects and the accessibility of the concept of mobile maritime airfield complex allow hoping that it will not remain without attention.
In the longer term, it is possible to assess the feasibility of power projection in remote ocean areas to ensure the economic and political interests of the Russian Federation. The ability to increase the size of mobile airfield complexes can be considered as the prototype of the advanced bases and base areas.

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