The Aircraft Carrier’s Glass Jaw
Martin Sieff exposes what the modern aircraft carrier might have to face in a real shooting war:
There is a widely held popular assumption that even if you could pump one or two torpedoes or two or three sea-launched missiles into a U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier, they are so huge, so tough and have so many fail-safe systems built into them that they would keep on operating regardless.
That may prove to be the case, but the simple fact is that no one has ever fired a few torpedoes into a nuclear aircraft carrier-size hull or blasted it with a few missiles to be sure.
This is a true case. Filled as they are with tons of aviation fuel and a fragile nuclear reactor, they could become a floating bomb if hit in the right spot. Potential foes currently have the weapon to make this a reality:
The Russian-built and designed Sunburn — known by the Chinese as the Hai Ying or Sea Eagle HY-2 — in particular is designed to be a U.S. carrier killer. It can fly at Mach 2.5 — two and half times the speed of sound, around 1,700 miles per hour — carrying an almost 500-pound warhead. And it can deliver a tactical nuclear weapon.
Writing in Defense Review on Nov. 20, 2006, respected defense analyst David Crane noted a report in Aviation Week that said China was also “developing a new high-speed cruise missile called Anjian — ‘Dark Sword.'” “From the picture we’ve seen of it, Anjian also looks very stealthy — i.e., it looks like it utilizes stealth technology,” Crane wrote. “If China’s already perfected this item, it would be another weapon that our Navy can’t combat.”
The writer also compares the giant ships to another fragile weapons system from another era, the battlecruiser:
U.S. nuclear aircraft carriers, for all their size, resemble battle cruisers more than battleships in their high speed, great offensive armaments and most of all lack of armor-plate protection.
Earlier New Wars made the argument that the aircraft carrier is a direct descendant to the fast warships, when the great Admiral Fisher made the mistake of thinking “speed is armor”. And though the flattops for all their size and versatility are very handy to have around in peacetime, they might be a liability in war:
They are unequaled in their capability to project power around the world. They are even a godsend to help societies afflicted by terrible natural disasters as they proved after the 2004 tsunami hit Indonesia. But the one thing they are not designed to do is take a lethal punch.
Smaller carriers could take care of the disaster relief if need be. During the Falklands War we also saw how Harrier capable ships could perform a power projection role. I would prefer large numbers of small ships around in case of war, which could be replaced by another quickly if needed, than a few irreplaceable but still vulnerable Big Ships.