Loren B. Thompson
Not so easy.
5 Reasons Russia and China Might Not Be Able to Sink a U.S. Aircraft Carrier
Although there has been much speculation about emerging threats to aircraft carriers, the Navy invests heavily in new offensive and defensive technologies aimed at countering such dangers. The most important advance of recent years has been the netting together of all naval assets in an area so that sensors and weapons can be used to maximum effect. Initiatives like the Naval Integrated Fire Control – Counter Air program link together every available combat system in a seamless, fast-reacting defensive screen that few adversaries can penetrate. Numerous other advances are being introduced, from the penetrating recon capabilities of stealthy fighters to shipboard jamming systems to advanced obscurants that confuse the guidance systems of homing missiles.
Large-deck, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are the signature expression of American military power. No other combat system available to U.S. warfighters comes close to delivering so much offensive punch for months at a time without requiring land bases near the action. As a result, the ten carriers in the current fleet are in continuous demand from regional commanders — so much so that extended overseas combat tours are becoming the norm.
Nobody really doubts the utility of large-deck carriers. There’s nothing else like them, and the United States is the only nation that operates a fleet big enough to keep three or more carriers continuously deployed at all times. However, two issues have come up over and over again since the Cold War ended that have led at least some observers to question why carriers are the centerpiece of America’s naval fleet. One concern is that they cost too much. The other is that they are vulnerable to attack.
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The cost issue is a canard. It only costs a fraction of one-percent of the federal budget to build, operate and sustain all of the Navy’s carriers — and nobody has offered a credible alternative for accomplishing U.S. military objectives in their absence. Critics say carriers are more expensive than they seem because an accurate accounting would include the cost of their escort vessels, but the truth of the matter is that the Navy would need a lot more of those warships if it had to fight conflicts without carriers.
The vulnerability issue is…