Carrier Wars

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Navy photo / MCS 2nd Class Kilho Park

The USS Harry S Truman steams the Arabian Sea as sailors on the flight deck prepare for the morning flight operations cycle.

U.S. aircraft carriers are a big roll of the dice. The U.S. Navy has begun building the Ford class of carriers, which are going to end up costing $15 billion each once they’re outfitted with the warplanes that are the reason for their existence.

They promote the U.S. presence in a most awe-inspiring way. To see a carrier looming out on the horizon is to feel insignificant. Especially if you’re an enemy warship.

But the World War II battles of carriers and battleships are, literally, history. Future foes will choose to come after these 100,000-ton behemoths with much cheaper torpedoes or missiles. The U.S. Navy bets they won’t succeed. Others aren’t so sure.

The debate resumes with a pair of essays looking at the merit of continuing to rely so heavily on carriers.

Robert Haddick, a one-time Marine and military strategist, questions the current strategy over at Foreign Policy:

China is putting anti-ship missiles on submarines, patrol boats, surface ships, aircraft, and trucks, giving it the ability to dominate its nearby seas. For the price of a single major warship, China can buy hundreds or even thousands of anti-ship missiles. And as it perfects its own reconnaissance drones, China will be able to thoroughly patrol neighborhood waters, identifying targets for these missiles. The Navy’s aircraft carriers will come under pressure to retreat from this missile zone. However, there is a limit to how far they can retreat while still remaining in the game.

But over at Proceedings, an independent journal published by the U.S. Naval Institute, a brass trio argues for the status quo. Rear admirals William Moran and Thomas Moore, along with retired Navy captain Ed McNamee, write:

The Ford class represents a true “leap-ahead” ship that will be the centerpiece of U.S. naval power for the rest of the 21st century…Amid the current cost debate, it’s important to remember why the Navy chose to design and build a class of ship that will have a lifespan of 94 years and remain in service until 2110. The Ford class will deliver increased capability—at significantly reduced operating costs—and will remain at the forefront of a long-standing approach to countering threats and providing U.S. military presence in support of a wide variety of security objectives.

Wonder who the Chinese want to win this argument?