Key Point: Let’s frame maritime strategy toward North Korea with confidence, while abjuring overconfidence like the plague.
Could North Korea’s armed forces sink an American aircraft carrier? Yes—depending on what type of carrier they confront, how skillfully U.S. Navy commanders employ the flattop and its consorts, how well North Korean warriors know the tactical surroundings and, most crucially, whom fortune favors in combat. Fortune is a fickle ally, prone to switch sides and back again in battle. It’s doubtful an American carrier would fall prey to undersea or aerial attack—but only the foolish say never or always in martial competition, a topsy-turvy affair in which the weak sometimes best the strong.
It could happen, and that warrants forethought.
First, some preliminaries. We know for a fact that the DPRK Navy can sink surface vessels. It did so in 2010, launching a sneak submarine attack on the South Korean corvette ROKS Cheonan. Granted, Cheonan was a single ship operating alone, not the centerpiece of a carrier or amphibious task force ringed with escort ships equipped to hunt and assail submarines. The Cheonan incident nevertheless offers proof, if more is needed, of a timeless truth about undersea combat: even a technologically backward diesel sub running slowly—and thus silently—can approach, strike and sink a modern surface craft crewed by highly professional mariners such as those comprising the ROK Navy. The same could befall the U.S. Navy.