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Aircraft Carrier Vs. Cruise Missile #21

November 14, 2007

While the Media and bloggers continue to pick at this old sore, concerning a Chinese Song class diesel submarine surfacing undetected in firing range of the carrier USS Kitty Hawk, they do keep alive a valid and serious issue: our unprecedented and enormously expensive carrier fleet is at risk from silent and deadly conventional submarines. Here is a post from

While they excel in force projection against weak third world nations, there have been increasing signs that aircraft carriers are also awfully big targets. Some suggested that in these days of cruise missiles, the carrier’s days were numbered.

Some, including me have suggested this more than once. I actually consider the launching of the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear powered submarine in 1954, as sounding the death knell for the big ships. Now the undersea boats, which we only defeated with great difficulty and enormous national effort in two world wars, has the speed, endurance and weaponry to match the big ships. Many armed with supersonic cruise missiles, they can easily outrange our best ASW defenses before they can react.

Some argue that if not the carriers, then what? No other warship currently in the Navy’s inventory can equal the giant flattops in staying power, in the ability to launch precision bombs against long range land targets on short notice, and remain in the area as long as needed the carrier advocates contend. Almost a 100,000 tons of US sovereign territory, they have no need of a permission slip to park their planes off a hostile shore, as the Air Force and Army so often required before going to war.

My own answer to this is “what if the submarines force the issue”, and sink or damage these mighty symbols of American power, much as these same vessels drove the battleships, themselves once thought unsinkable, from the world’s oceans. As we have seen so often since 9/11, the new insurgent enemy rarely plays by our rules, and the hard won lesson as proven by General Petraeus in Iraq is our armed forces must adapt to change or die.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    November 19, 2007 6:43 am

    And you don’t have to sink a carrier to put her out of action. Don’t get me wrong, I think the USN can handle themselves in a situation with Iranian small boats, but the risk to our big ships may be too great in the confined waters of the Gulf.

  2. Mark Pyruz permalink
    November 19, 2007 4:02 am

    I’ve brought up this potential, as it concerns the carriers positioned against Iran in the Persian Gulf. I remember well the wargames played out during the 1970’s, between the US Sixth fleet and the USSR. As I recall, first strikes against two carriers were a potentiality. The Persian Gulf is more restrictive than the Mediterranean. And the Iranian defense is obvious, including mobile launched cruise missiles, the likes of which hit an Israeli Corvette during the 2nd Lebanon War. Hersh even reported an elite Pasdaran seaborne assault team going undetected and spray-painting a big bulls-eye on a US warship.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink
    November 17, 2007 10:51 am

    The loss of even one aircraft carrier with its 6000 crewmen would be a national calamity, and I worry we are putting so many of out hopes in a few very expensive and vulnerable platforms.

  4. west_rhino permalink
    November 15, 2007 6:06 pm

    Where were Kitty Hawk’s ASW assets during that exercise AND how much of a player were they in the exercise? Do we have a bean counter that has decided that you can use only so many sonobouys for an exercise after having decided that the Navy needn’t field a helo with “dipping sonar”? Some pieces of the puzzle are missing, one hopes that a MAD contact or contacts while maintaining a poker face, even to lose a PR hand and not let the PLA-Navy know they were tracked is a variable that is hard to read.

    We played games with Bears and Bisons probing our detection limits as we did with B-52s and other ferrets walking the Soviet fence line… sometimes, it is told, we scrambled and sometimes we played Brer Rabbit, he lay low and say nothin about Aerflot service from Totonto to Havana being 50 miles off course to the west.

    As to poor man’s anti carrier weapon, physics package in container on deck of COSCO freighter, steered into proximity of CVBG, so sorry steering gear failing, followed by blinding flash when within proper radius. Like the Cole, just a bigger rubber raft and a biger package.

    Same thought with container on 18 wheeler running, uninspected, across the trans-US corridor ‘tween Canada and Mexico.

    Hal Lindsey’s notes aren’t so far out.

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