Aircraft Carriers: The Limits of Nuclear Power

6/08/2011

 

Aircraft Carriers:

The Limits of Nuclear Power

 

Hans M. Kristensen

William M. Arkin

Joshua Handler

 

http://www.nukestrat.com/pubs/nep7.pdf

 

June 1994

i

Table of Contents

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 1

Summary and Main Findings …………………………………………………………………………….. 4

 

Part I:

The Nuclear Carrier Mystique……………………………………………………………………. 7

The History of Nuclear Carriers ………………………………………………………………… 7

Admiral Rickover and the Nuclear Lobby ……………………………………………………… 9

Letters of Performance…………………………………………………………………. 11

“Fish Don’t Vote” ……………………………………………………………………… 12

The End of an Era ……………………………………………………………………… 13

Studying the Justifications………………………………………………………………………. 14

The Rise and Fall of the All-Nuclear Force …………………………………………………… 15

Supply: The Deception of Independence ……………………………………………… 17

Always Available — Always Better? ………………………………………………….. 21

Part II:

Crises Response …………………………………………………………………………………. 24

Nuclear Carriers Preferred?…………………………………………………………………….. 24

Nuclear Carriers Held Hostage…………………………………………………………………. 24

Part III:

Wartime Use ……………………………………………………………………………………. 29

A:

The Nuclear Carrier Enterprise in the Vietnam War ……………………………………… 29

Initial Deployment ……………………………………………………………………… 29

Additional Aircraft Space ……………………………………………………………… 30

Increased Speed ………………………………………………………………………… 30

Time on-station…………………………………………………………………………. 31

War Performance ………………………………………………………………………. 32

B:

Nuclear Carriers in the Gulf War …………………………………………………………… 33

Response to the Iraqi Invasion…………………………………………………………. 34

Carrier Placement………………………………………………………………………. 35

Air Operations ………………………………………………………………………….. 36

Strike Operations……………………………………………………………………….. 38

Ship Operations ………………………………………………………………………… 40

Part IV:

The Penalties of Nuclear Propulsion ………………………………………………………….. 43

The Financial Burden …………………………………………………………………………… 43

The Burden of Radioactive Waste ……………………………………………………………… 45

No Waste To Go ………………………………………………………………………………… 47

Operational Constraints …………………………………………………………………………. 48

Reactors in the Line of Fire…………………………………………………………………….. 49

Endnotes ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 51

Tables . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73

ii

Abbreviations

AAW Anti-Air Warfare

AE Ammunition Ship

AEW Airborne Electronic Warfare

AO Fleet Oiler

AOE Fast Combat Support Ship

AOR Replenishment Oiler

AP Associated Press

ARG Amphibious Ready Group

ASUW Anti-Surface Warfare

ASW Anti-Submarine Warfare

CAP Combat Air Patrol

CASREP Casualty Summary Report

CG Conventionally Powered Guided Missile Cruiser

CGN Nuclear-Powered Guided Missile Cruiser

CINCUSNAVEUR U.S. Commander In Chief, Naval Forces Europe

CLF Carrier Logistic Force

CNA Center for Naval Analysis

CNO U.S. Chief of Naval Operations

COMUSNAVCENT Commander, U.S. Naval Central Command

CV Conventionally Powered Aircraft Carrier

CVBG Aircraft Carrier Battle Group

CVN Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carrier

CV-41 USS Midway, conventionally powered aircraft carrier

CV-60 USS Saratoga, conventionally powered aircraft carrier

CV-61 USS Ranger, conventionally powered aircraft carrier

CV-66 USS America, conventionally powered aircraft carrier

CV-67 USS John F. Kennedy, conventionally powered aircraft carrier

CVN-71 USS Theodore Roosevelt, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier

CVS Anti-submarine Aircraft Carrier

DCNO U.S. Deputy Chief of Naval Operations

DDG Guided Missile Destroyer

DOD Department of Defense

DOE Department of Energy

EIS Environmental Impact Statement

FY U.S. federal Fiscal Year (1 October to 30 September)

GAO General Accounting Office

HAC U.S. Congress, House Appropriations Committee

HASC U.S. Congress, House Armed Services Committee

INREP Inport Replenishment

JCAE Joint Committee on Atomic Energy

LPH Amphibious Assault Ship

iii

MARG Mediterranean Amphibious Ready Group

MLF Mobile Logistic Force

N.D. No Date

OASD Office of the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense

PACOM Pacific Command

PGBF Persian Gulf Battle Force

RSBF Red Sea Battle Force

RRF Ready Reserve Fleet

SAC U.S. Congress, Senate Appropriations Committee

SASC U.S. Congress, Senate Armed Services Committee

UNREP Underway Replenishment

(U) Unclassified

USS United States Ship

V/STOL Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing

iv

About the Authors

Hans M. Kristensen is a research associate with Greenpeace International’s disarmament

campaign. Formerly regional coordinator of the Nuclear Free Seas campaign in Scandinavia,

he is a co-author of the Neptune Papers monograph series and has published numerous reports and articles on naval issues.

William M. Arkin is an independent expert on military affairs and nuclear weapons issues. A

consultant to Greenpeace and the Federation of American Scientists and a former U.S. Army

intelligence analyst, Arkin is author of many books and monographs on national security and

nuclear weapons.

Joshua Handler is research coordinator for the Greenpeace International disarmament

campaign. He is a co-author of the Neptune Papers monograph series, and has published

numerous reports and articles on naval nuclear issues. He has an M.A. in International

Relations from the University of Chicago.

The authors are grateful to John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University

of Chicago, for valuable comments and suggestions to the report. We also acknowledge the

help of James Burrus and Giselle Foss at Greenpeace in editing and proofreading.

1

Introduction

 

The U.S. Navy is asking Congress to fund its tenth nuclear-powered aircraft carrier designated CVN-76, the ninth of the US Nimitz (CVN-68) class. With a price tag of $4.5 billion, the CVN-76 is the most expensive single weapons system in the FY 1995 defense budget.  The new carrier is scheduled to join the fleet in the year 2003, with funding for another (projected at over $6.1 billion to follow at the turn of the century. Can the United States afford to build more nuclear-powered aircraft carriers? And more importantly, is nuclear propulsion needed for aircraft carrier operations at all? The Navy claims nuclear aircraft carriers are necessary and that additional construction and support costs are justified because of significant military advantages gained from nuclear propulsion. Neither is true. Not only are nuclear carriers more expensive in every facet of their life cycles, but the promises and expectations of significant military advantages from nuclear propulsion are not evident from past and current naval operations. In fact, the Navy itself does not make use of the advantages it highlights as justifying nuclear propulsion.  The United States is cutting defense budgets, a process that requires smart planning and innovative ideas. Highly maneuverable “bluewater” naval forces are being transformed from a global scenario of facing the Soviet Union to tailoring for “stand-off” interventions in littoral waters against rogue regimes. Even if nuclear propulsion did yield the significant military advantages argued by nuclear proponents, such capabilities exceed the military needs facing U.S. naval forces in the post-Cold War era. As the Cold War came to a close, the overall pace of shipbuilding also declined. But the cocksure commitment to nuclear carriers was never re-examined. In fact, there has been a longer paramount; the desire to retain a nuclear reactor and shipbuilding infrastructure is now the primary reason for building more nuclear carriers. “Neither the carrier [CVN-76] nor the SSN [nuclear-powered attack submarine] work is being justified on the basis of force levels,” Nuclear Propulsion Director Admiral Bruce DeMars bluntly admitted before Congress in April 1992. Rather, he explained, “The issue is how to sustain essential capabilities which, if lost, cannot practically be reconstituted.”3 Building nuclear ships to keep an industry alive which has no utility in the civilian economy is incompatible with U.S. national security policy and interests. The United States would gain more from pursuing a global ban on the use of nuclear power for naval warships than struggling to sustain a too expensive and shrinking nuclear industry for scenarios and conflicts that are unlikely ever to happen. Whether it be a Russian Navy returning to blue water ambitions, or a hypothetical scenario of a hostile country suddenly surging dozens of yet to be built nuclear warships into the world’s oceans, no credible threat can justify continuing to build nuclear warships. A ban on nuclear propulsion is smart because it would save money at home, boost U.S. non-proliferation objectives abroad, and consolidate scarce resources in a healthier and more vital nonnuclear shipbuilding industry. Already, there is some congressional interest in steering away from the Navy’s all-nuclear plan. Eight congressmen wrote to Secretary of

Defense Les Aspin in February 1993 that they believed it was in the U.S. national interest to retain “a significant number of conventional carriers” in the fleet.Though committed in the FY 1995 shipbuilding budget, the enormous cost of CVN-76 has been challenged by SenatorAlfonse D’Amato (R-NY), Representative Ron

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