Navies and naval strategy fascinate me. For 4,950 of the last 5,000 years, if you wanted to project military power fast and hard, you sent your navy. But even during the great naval battles of World War II, engineers had developed missiles and airplanes that could destroy just about any naval vessel anywhere, except (crucially) submarines.
Today, the U.S. Carrier Strike Group, with its 7,000 sailors and aviators supporting the largest military ships ever built, can put 90 deadly aircraft within striking range of any point on earth within 48 hours. If you see an aircraft carrier in international waters off your coast—and you will see it, because it's huge—you might adjust your foreign policy.
But note that aircraft carriers aren't the deadliest or most effective weapons systems we have. The deadliest are our nuclear ballistic missile submarines, each of the 14 containing up to 200 nuclear bombs that they can deliver to any point on earth. And to date, no other country has developed effective means of detecting and eliminating them. That's why they're our ultimate deterrent: strike the U.S. with nuclear weapons, and our submarines will end you.
Aircraft carriers, as previously noted, are quite obvious to everyone. And their attack range is less than the strike range of Chinese missiles. Which makes one wonder, what are they for anymore? Bloomberg has more:
For several years, the Pentagon has “admired the problem” of how long-range enemy missiles affect its carrier fleet but has avoided tough decisions about how to increase the fleets’ aircraft range and provide for more unmanned aircraft, said Paul Scharre, senior fellow and director of the technology and national security program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a nonprofit think tank. Meanwhile, the Navy’s strike range from its carrier wings has actually dipped by 50 percent, below 500 miles, according to Jerry Hendrix, another CNAS analyst.
Last year, the they recommended scrapping the Ford-class carriers after the Kennedy’s completion and boosting the Navy’s offensive range with a greater reliance on unmanned aircraft, including a long-range attack platform. The Navy’s submarine fleet would also grow to 74, from 58, under the author’s recommendations, which reflected a 2 percent annual increase in Pentagon funding.
Despite these strategic shortcomings, there’s still a political reality to wrestle with: The Navy’s largest ships remain politically untouchable. The carrier retains a mystique throughout the military and Congress; it’s an 1,100-foot giant that’s become a uniquely American symbol of dominating military power.
So, there it is. The incentives are wrong, and they're for fighting the last war. It's like when Germany built the Bismarck or when France built the Maginot Line.
But yeah, let's cut Medicaid and build another carrier!