The Buzz

5 Ways Russia and China Could Sink America's Aircraft Carriers

Maybe China and Russia don’t need to kill a carrier to drive the species to extinction. All of the factors above—the weapon systems that can kill carriers, and the costs associated with the ships themselves—come together to create caution about how to use the ships. In the event of a conflict, U.S. Navy admirals and the U.S. president may grow so concerned about the vulnerability of carriers that they don’t use them assertively and effectively. The extraordinary value of the carriers may become their greatest weakness; too valuable to lose, the carriers could remain effectively on the sidelines in case of high-intensity, peer-competitor conflict.

And if aircraft carriers can’t contribute in the most critical conflicts that face the United States, it will become impossible to justify to the resources necessary to their construction and protection. That, more than anything else, will lead to obsolescence, and the end of the aircraft carrier as the currency of national power.

Do these factors mean that the aircraft carrier has become obsolete as a platform? No. China and Russia have worked relentlessly on ways to kill aircraft carriers because they perceive those ships as critical security threats. Moreover, China and Russia have developed the array of systems they now deploy because aircraft carriers have good answers to many of these weapons. Finally, China has embarked on its own carrier program; the PLAN will soon operate the second-largest carrier force in the world.

Nevertheless, aircraft carriers face real dangers from advanced military technology. The greatest threat, though, probably comes from the procurement process; unless the United States can restrain cost growth in the carrier and its air wing, the ships will struggle to retain their place in the overall architecture of U.S. defense policy.

Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to TNI, is author of The Battleship Book. He serves as a Senior Lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His work includes military doctrine, national security, and maritime affairs. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns and Money and Information Dissemination and The Diplomat.

Image: USS George Washington transits the Pacific Ocean. Flickr/U.S. Navy

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