Aircraft Carriers Have a Choice: Adapt or Die (Like a Battleship)

Sebastien Roblin

Key point: Anti-carrier technology keeps advancing and the Pentagon must keep up.

Since World War II, aircraft carriers have dominated naval warfare based on a simple principle: their onboard air wings could assail targets far beyond the reach of the guns and torpedoes of opposing warships and coastal batteries.

However, that dynamic has not remained constant. Already, China and Russia have developed numerous of long-range anti-ship missiles deployable by air, sea and land with ranges approaching or exceeding that of today’s carrier-based jets.

A new report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment (CSBA) argues that the U.S. Navy must increase the range of its carrier air wings, or give up on carriers as the centerpiece of its naval strategy altogether.

This is hardly a new argument in defense circles, but the CSBA report develops its conclusion in a clear and concise manner while doing the complicated math of calculating various range/payload regimes and missile interception rates. Furthermore, the report’s recommendations to fix the air wing don’t involve pie-in-the-sky super-fighters and major spending hikes.

The New Long-Range Threat

In conflicts since World War II, U.S. carriers have been able to park relatively close off targeted coastlines and launch dozens of sorties for sustained aerial bombardments, a job for the which their FA-18E/Fs and F-35Cs, with ranges of 500-700 nautical miles, are well suited. Against limited regional adversaries, such an approach will likely continue to work.

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