Aircraft Carriers Are A Liability

Back in March, the LA Times revealed how a stealthy US attack submarine fired a long-range Tomahawk missile into Somalia, killing a wanted terrorist. Once again the utility of America’s fleet of super-stealthy submersibles is proven by striking at her enemies at long range, in a role once the sole domain of the aircraft carrier. Yet, some like Peter Brookes at the New York Post claim we have too few flattops to fight the War on Terror. He says:

“After cutting the number of active aircraft carriers from 12 to 11 last year, the Navy is now requesting Congress’ permission to go down from 11 flattops to 10 for the years 2012 to 2015…Scanning all the potential flashpoints around the world, it’s not at all clear that we have enough flattops to meet current -and potential – wartime needs now.”

My own view is carriers are hurting, not helping our defense needs. Because they are so expensive, the newest Ford Class costing from $8-$11 billion each, plus hundreds of millions for annual upkeep not to mention many billions more for planes and escort ships, the rest of the fleet suffers accordingly. We are currently down to 279 warships with no end to this decline in sight realistically.

The high visibility of such massive warships are hurting our security, as every new deployment is followed closely by potential antagonists in this new Information Age. Rather than being a “reminder” to Iran, who is used to such ship movements, they seem to increase tensions wherever they go. A submarine armed with long-range cruise missiles would be more of a potential threat to Tehran because the Mad Mullahs would never know when the invisible attack boats would rain down fire and vengeance upon them.

Noted military analyst Bill Roggio in the Weekly Standard suggests that the Big Ships would be a liability in wartime:

“Iran should actually start to worry when there are no aircraft carriers in the Gulf, as the U.S. would seek to minimize exposure of its $9 billion capital ships during any conflict with Iran. The fact is that if the United States wanted to strike at Iranian terror camps in Khuzestan, it could do so without parking carriers in the gulf. The U.S. Navy has a wide array of submarines and cruisers equipped to launch

Tomahawk missiles, while U.S. Air Force bombers can strike Iran from bases inside the US.”

This is a loaded statement, and echoes what we often contend: that in a full scale blowup the carriers would have to flee for the safety of a nearby port. In a real shooting war at sea, imagine what happened during the submarine missile strike on the Somali terrorist camp, but on a far grander scale involving scores of warships and hundreds or thousands of missiles.

I know some of you will say that the submarine can’t do close air support, only a carrier can. If the Army and Marines control the land, and the Air Force still has bombers, why do we need these increasingly vulnerable battleships to support the troops? They are quite handy, but who can afford them anymore?

Then, there is this oft repeated description of the flattops which irks me no end:

“Carriers are also handy tools of (gunboat) diplomacy.”

No, REAL GUNBOATS , small craft which can cruise into shallow waters where pirates tread are tools of gunboat diplomacy, not these “4.5 acres of floating, sovereign US territory “.

Finally, in his blog War is Boring, journalist David Axe asks concerning the supercarrier USS George Washington‘s recent trip to South America: “…is a lumbering, $15-billion aircraft carrier group, with more combined destructive power than most of the world’s militaries, the right choice for exercising alongside the tiny coastal navies of South America? That’s a mission that might best be performed by smaller, cheaper warships, right?”

It seems long overdue for the USN to freeze all construction on aircraft carriers for at least a decade or longer. Such an act is hardly unprecedented, as occurred soon after World War 1 when the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty halted all battleship construction until right before the next conflict. Such tremendous savings could go towards building up our escort fleet of frigates and patrol craft, thus producing a real brown water force capable of defeating the new pirates at their own game.

Mike Burleson is a regular columnist with Sea Classics magazine and an advocate of Military Reform. He resides in historic Charleston, SC.

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