Step Aboard USS United States: An Aircraft Carrier with Nuclear Armed Bombers

Sebastien Roblin
Wikimedia Commons

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Americas

It never happened. Here's why.

Step Aboard USS United States: An Aircraft Carrier with Nuclear Armed Bombers

In the wake of the mushroom clouds that blossomed over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it swiftly dawned on political and military leaders across the globe that warfare between superpowers would never again be the same. But what exactly were the implications of nuclear weapons when it came to planning military force structure?

In the United States, it was assumed that nuclear weapons would be widely employed in future conflicts, rendering conventional land armies and fleets at sea irrelevant. The newly formed Air Force particularly argued that carrier task forces and armored divisions were practically obsolete when (ostensibly) just a few air-dropped nuclear bombs could annihilate them in one fell swoop.

The Air Force touted it soon-to-be operational fleet of ten-thousand-mile-range B-36 Peacemaker nuclear bombers as the only vital war-winning weapon of the nuclear age. This logic resonated conveniently with the postwar political program mandating sharp cuts to U.S. defense spending and force structure—which the Air Force naturally argued should fall upon the Army and Navy.

The Army responded by devising “Pentomic Divisions” organized for nuclear battlefields, with weapons ranging from nuclear-armed howitzers and rocket artillery to bazooka-like Davy Crockett recoilless guns. The Navy, meanwhile, sought to find a way to integrate nuclear bombs into its carrier air wings. However, early nuclear bombs were simply too heavy for World War II-era carrier-based aircraft.

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