Talking up Carrier Obsolescence
Neptunus Lex offers old arguments on why the modern supercarrier is just the bestest most awesome warship around, but in reality the evidence no longer holds water. He says:
Like the hedgehog who knows one big thing, there are always critics ready to proclaim the coming obsolescence of the carrier force, there have been for years. But the fox knows many things, and since the end of the Cold War, carriers have deployed to major combat operations in waters off Kosovo, Iraq (twice) and Afghanistan, where carrier-based tactical air power was practically the only game in town because of the great distances involved. We had six carriers engaged during OIF, one keeping a lid on any adventurers the Western Pacific and another in reserve. After major combat operations had ended, the term “peacetime deployment” became anachronistic in the GWOT, with deployed carrier forces providing sustained combat power ashore while remaining a constraint on the ambitions of unengaged regional opportunists.
The problem I have with this sort of reasoning is the lack of choice, almost as if we are stuck with 100,000 ton warships doing a mission no other vessel can do, while ship numbers sink rapidly below 300. I can imagine that a similar slide-rule was used pre-Pearl Harbor to justify continued production of giant armored battleships. Back then, a canvas and wire torpedo plane might seem only a minor threat to the most advanced and powerful weapon system of the day, the fast battleship, but in numbers it proved more than enough to sink even the most heavily protected vessels equipped with numerous defensive weapons. So will it be with when massed numbers of cruise missiles are launched against today’s capital ships, the aircraft carrier.
Often given as an argument for the indispensability of $6-$13 billion supercarriers long after the fall of the Iron Curtain are continued interventions in rogue or failed states such as those mentioned “Kosovo, Iraq (twice) and Afghanistan” (left out was that greatest of modern sea powers, Haiti). It seems incredulous that America is captive to such a strategy in which only earth’s mightiest warships can contend with these land-locked or virtually non-naval powers, many whom have yet to enter the 20th Century technologically speaking, never mind the 21st!
Rather than risking so much of our national treasure to combat modern Brush Fire conflicts, wearing out multi-million and billion dollar platforms against poorly armed, poorly trained but highly motivated foes, we should learn to fight better and cheaper.
The fact is, small missile platforms can show us the way. While aircraft carriers and their parasite fighters are getting fatter, fewer in number, and less affordable even by the greatest of naval powers, cruise missiles are getting smarter, faster, in some cases cheaper, available for mass production in wartime, able to loiter for extended periods, and ominously available on the Third World Arms market in increasing number and variety.
And the missiles do not need a billion-dollar platfrom to get to the target, just a ride. This may come in the form of small attack boats, ground based mobile launchers, and submarines.
Other non-naval alternatives which are available now are our fleet of heavy bombers, especially the venerable B-52s whose range with tanker support is virtually unlimited, one of which with smart bombs has the firepower of an entire naval airwing. F-15E fighter bombers can also attack targets deep into enemy territory as in Afghanistan, and can quickly change to air defense in the presence of enemy fighters.