Aircraft Carriers and Maritime Strategy – a debate

[by J. Scott Shipman]

Last Friday night at the U.S. Naval Academy, retired Navy Captain Henry “Jerry” Hendrix and Commander Bryan McGrath debated the future of the aircraft carrier. My wife and I were fortunate to attend. Given the pressure placed on the Navy’s shipbuilding budget, the debate could not have been more timely. Commander McGrath argued the “nuclear aircraft carriers with air wings are the most cost effective and efficient platform to project power in the maritime and littoral realm to support U.S. national security interests in current and future security environments.” Captain Hendrix argued against this resolution. While both arguments hold much merit, I tend to side with Captain Hendrix.

Lots of numbers and statistics were thrown around, but one issue did not enter the debate: it has been 70 years since an aircraft carrier was shot at. The lesson of the Falklands War underscores the potential power of modern precision munitions, and carriers are big targets.

This video is highly recommended. C-SPAN also recorded the debate with a transcript here.

3 comments on this post.
  1. carl:

    Guided missiles bring something new to the fight but perhaps not so much new as we think. Japanese dive and torpedo bombers with well trained crews were pretty precise and when making coordinated squadron attacks they were the stuff of nightmares. So as far as lethal goes, missiles aren’t all that new. It took a lot to get to that level but it takes a lot to a level where a coordinated and big missile attack can be made. Maybe not so much novelty as we like to think.

  2. Grurray:

    I was having some trouble with the volume, so I’m going to have to try to watch this later. One thought comes to mind, and surely this must somehow be in the works and I just haven’t seen it yet:
    carrier based attack boat drones to sail into the littorals under the missiles while the mother ship is back past the horizon.

  3. J.ScottShipman:

    Hi carl,
    .
    Indeed; guided/precision munitions have changed the threat environment, but the novelty you mention we’ve seen—albeit in WWII with kamikaze attacks (the extreme precision munition). In my mind, the PLAN and their DF-21 “carrier killer” missile seeks to substitute hulls at sea and at risk with precision ballistic missiles that can deter a carrier from certain areas of the seas surrounding China’s claimed territory. Google Andrew Erickson’s unclassified work, and one will find the threat (s) is real and something to consider.
    .
    Hi Grurray,
    .
    The C-SPAN recording seems to be better than YouTube. A 2011 Proceedings article touched on your idea. (BTW, the article is one of the best examples of frugal tactical ideas I’ve seen.) As far as I know, your concept of operation is not being considered—though the carrier would not be safe in the littoral of a peer competitor adversary.