Billions wasted? Why the aircraft carrier could be a giant paper tiger

Why the US Navy’s aircraft carrier could end up being as obsolete as the old battleships of decades past: The last “Battle of Battleships” went down in history as a one-sided massacre when the US Navy destroyed the Imperial Japanese Navy’s battleship. Kirishima during the Battle of Surigao Strait on 25 October 1944. As part of the largest battle in Leyte Gulf, this particular engagement marked the last battleship-to-battleship in history and was one of the only combats in this type among capital warships in the entire Pacific Campaign of World War II.

While the role of the battleship in navies around the world for another fifty years, and it was not until Operation Desert Storm in 1991, which marked the last time that U.S. Navy battleships fired angrily when the USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin performed standard naval artillery support.

A hundred years ago, the battleship ruled the tide, but World War II proved what General Billy Mitchell and other aviation proponents already knew: that the aircraft carrier would be the future. The United States had pioneered naval aviation when a flight deck was erected on the cruiser’s forecastle USS Birmingham (CL-2), but the Royal Navy HMS Furious was the first warship to be refitted to operate as a carrier. The Japanese would later launch the Hōshō, the first purpose-built aircraft carrier.

Over the past hundred years, transporters have grown larger and more powerful and are arguably far from obsolete.

Still, there are reasons to wonder about the long-term future of aircraft carriers. Interesting Engineering addressed the issue this month, pointing out the time and cost to build transporters. During World War II, the United States grew from a handful of aircraft carriers to save the day during the Battle of Midway to a massive fleet of flattops by the end of the war.

It’s not hyperbole to say that the US Navy had more carriers than it knew what to do with, but today it still maintains eleven super carriers, speaking of keeping some of the carriers. -aircraft aging a bit longer than expected. The reasoning is that it takes an awful lot of time to build a transporter – up to five or six years, but that’s only for commissioning. Sea trials take another two to three years. the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) took eight years to build.

Anti-ship weapons

With the introduction of new warships, military thinkers looked both for ways to protect their ships but also for ways to sink the ships of their enemies. The battleship proved particularly vulnerable to new weapons, especially from aircraft, as the Royal Navy discovered most horribly in December 1941 when HMS Prince of Wales was sunk.

During the Cold War, the great threat to US Navy aircraft carriers was Soviet submarines, but today the carrier could face even more powerful threats, including so-called killer missiles. aircraft carriers and nuclear-tipped torpedoes. Such weapons could mean that aircraft carriers would have to operate far from enemy waters and further and further from enemy territory.

At sea aboard USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) March 6, 2002 — The sun rises behind USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) as it prepares to hand over operations to Battle Group John F. Kennedy. The Kennedy and her embarked Air Wing (CVW) relieve the Roosevelt to conduct missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Navy photo by PhotographerÕs Mate 1st Class Jim Hampshire. (RELEASED)

This could seriously limit the effectiveness of an aircraft carrier given the combat range of aircraft.

The future carrier

The carrier likely won’t go away, but it may need to evolve to stay relevant. This could include a move away from the US Navy’s massive super carriers and a shift to smaller amphibious assault ships that can operate with short vertical takeoff and landing (SVTOL) aircraft such as the Lockheed Martin F-35B. Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

Additionally, unmanned drones could be developed to operate from these smaller platters. They would have the added benefit of being cheaper to build and can stay in the air for long periods of time, Interesting Engineer noted. In addition, unmanned aircraft do not require additional time in pilot training and could meet the shortage of pilots in the army.

Aircraft carrier Russia

200125-N-KB540-1134 PACIFIC OCEAN (Jan. 25, 2020) The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) transits the Pacific Ocean Jan. 25, 2020. Carrier Strike Group Theodore Roosevelt is on a scheduled deployment to the Indo-Pacific. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Alexander Williams)


Explosive Ordnance Disposal 1st Class Christopher Courtney assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 6 (EODMU-6), Det. 16 assist his team members during SPIE (Special Purpose Insertion Extraction) training from an SH-60 Seahawk helicopter. The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) is deployed in support of maritime security operations (MSO) and the global war on terrorism.

The aircraft carrier can evolve in other ways, and maybe we could see a re-examination of submersible aircraft carriers, which could surface to deploy these unmanned drones and then dive to avoid being targeted by hypersonic missiles of an enemy.

Simply put, the carrier must adapt to the changing world of the 21st century to stay relevant. Otherwise, it risks flying off into the sunset like the battleship or, worse, being a costly target in a future conflict.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to over four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A gallery of military hairstyleswhich is available on

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