The Buzz

The Real Problem with America’s Aircraft Carriers Is Easy to See (But Near Impossible to Fix)

As the report notes, China’s new facilities are certainly open to attack, but that presumes Beijing has not already made the decision to fire first—something Chinese planners would be tempted to do considering the advantages in a crisis of making such a call.

But isn’t there a simple solution to all of this? Why not build an aircraft that can outrange Chinese, Russian or Iranian missiles? The ideal would be an aircraft that can travel at least 2500 miles, hit its targets, loiter at least for a short amount of time, and come back to the carrier. Why 2500 miles you ask? That is the possible maximum range of China’s new DF-26, or second generation carrier-killer missile. However, when one considers the fact that America has already spent billions on a navalized version of the F-35 with a likely operational maximum range of 550 nautical miles and that it would take at least a decade to develop such a fighter—if the money and sheer political will could be found, a tall task for sure—at least in the short term to medium term, America’s carriers will be outranged and under a high degree of risk for years to come.

So is the era of carriers dominating the high-seas over? As Dave Majumdar reported recently, and has been said in this and other publications, thankfully hitting a carrier on the open seas travelling at a good rate of speed is not an easy task. But maybe the real question is this: Would a sitting U.S. President really risk thousands of American sailors lives knowing the threat? What does that say about the state of the deterrent value of an American carrier? Food for thought.

Harry Kazianis (@grecianformula) is a Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Center for the National Interest and Senior Editor for The National Interest. Kazianis is the author of the new monograph The Tao of A2/AD, now available on Amazon.