The modern super carrier lies at the very center of American national security strategy, and, at over a thousand feet in length and approaching nearly 100,000 tons in water displacement, it is a uniquely American weapon.
The U.S. Navy currently possesses 10 of these behemoths, and while China, Russia, Brazil, India and France each claim a single carrier in their naval inventory, none comes even close to matching the capabilities of an American flattop.
When an iconic super carrier comes within sight of a foreign shore, its citizens know that the Americans have arrived.
But the Navy’s current carrier plan would squander this military advantage, not by squeezing carriers out but by overbuilding them.
Right now, the Navy plans to modernize its carrier program by launching a new wave of even larger and more expensive ships, starting with the USS Gerald Ford, which cost $15 billion to build — by far the most expensive vessel in naval history.
This is a mistake: Because of changes in warfare and technology, in any future military entanglement with a foe like China, current carriers and their air wings will be almost useless and the next generation may fare even worse.
As the Defense Department prepares to release its budget in February, the military faces a critical decision over how to proceed with the next generation of aircraft carriers.
If the Navy fails to bring carrier costs under control and to modernize the air wing, it will consign these iconic symbols of American power to irrelevance.
The era of the aircraft carrier dawned in 1912.
At first, it was envisioned as a support ship for a fleet organized around the battleship.
The carrier’s purpose was to launch airplanes to search for the enemy fleet and then act as spotters, reporting and correcting the gunnery fire of the battleships.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor with carrier-based aircraft, naval strategists began looking at carriers in an entirely new light.
Six months later, the massive strategic victory at Midway permanently cemented the carriers as the centerpiece of modern naval power.
During the 1950s, the carrier evolved into the super carrier in order to carry aircraft capable of striking deep into the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons.
Ever since, it has remained at the fore of American foreign policy. It is the ubiquitous symbol of American power. Read more: