Carriers can retain high end warfighting utility also. In addition to air-to-surface missions, either at sea or across the shore, the carrier air wing can also focus on air-to-air work, not simply to defend the carrier, but to support surface forces in various ways to include defeating enemy air ASW efforts (a key initial mission of the old Soviet Su-27), protection of our high-demand, low-availability assets like P-8s and Triton UAVs, and air superiority over distributed surface forces. Presumably (and this would have to be evaluated by gaming and simulation) such missions would allow the aircraft carriers more scope for maneuver and thus reduce their risk.
More and more, missiles are becoming the principal strike weapon of all the world’s armed forces. Navy fleet design should pivot on that assumption, especially when hypersonics begin to proliferate. Once freed of the onus of being the Navy’s “main battery,” aircraft carriers could be put to more innovative uses and the actual number and type needed would be based on a different set of criteria, leading to different numbers. This, in turn, would allow the Navy to adopt a fleet design more compatible with projected technological, geopolitical, and budgetary conditions. In the final estimate, it should also obviate the futile controversy over whether aircraft carriers are vulnerable or not.
Robert C. Rubel is a retired Navy captain and professor emeritus of the Naval War College. He served on active duty in the Navy as a light attack/strike fighter aviator. At the Naval War College he served in various positions, including planning and decisionmaking instructor, joint education adviser, chairman of the Wargaming Department, and dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies. He retired in 2014, but on occasion continues to serve as a special adviser to the Chief of Naval Operations. He has published over thirty journal articles and several book chapters.
This originally appeared on CIMSEC and first appeared on TNI in December 2019. Image: Reuters.