12th US Aircraft Carrier Necessary In Increasingly Dangerous World

Mike Conaway, Special to Defense News

The US Navy aircraft carrier is an iconic asset that demonstrates American power and resolve, ensuring peace around the world — a peace the US and other nations benefit from greatly. This peace encompasses the oceans on which nearly all US goods and commodities are transported to market. But the aircraft carrier’s survival — a critical part of our naval strategy and US security — is in danger.

Today, the aircraft carrier is the target of populist arguments that may sound reasonable at face value for those unfamiliar with our security operations, but instead obscure the facts. The purpose of these arguments is to eliminate the carrier from our fleet, by arguing the carrier is an expensive, outdated platform. However, at a time when the world is becoming more dangerous, decreasing our carriers or retiring them altogether for short-term monetary gain is unconscionable and will only limit our ability to defend ourselves. Any short-term benefits will have dramatic and costly effects on our safety now and in the future.

Rather, we need to take a serious look at increasing the number of carriers. Currently, the US has 10 operational carriers with an additional one ready for service in a few years. During the Cold War, the US had 15 carriers, a number the Navy then confirmed would meet our nation’s security needs, but this number was reduced when the threat of the Cold War ended. Today, as global threats to our safety increase so too must our number of carriers.

That is why I have introduced a bill that requires the Navy to build a 12th carrier. While a higher number than 12 could be necessary, this bill, if rolled into the upcoming annual National Defense Authorization Act, would put us on the right path to matching our increasing security needs with an appropriate number of aircraft carriers.

Let’s address the arguments against carriers — arguments that have been floating around for decades, yet continue to be proved wrong.

Those in favor of cutting the number of aircraft carriers argue that the carrier is outdated due to the great leaps in missile systems being developed by belligerent competitors like China and Russia. These developments, they point out, will render carriers helpless against attacks. They compare the carrier to the battleship, saying the carrier, like the battleship, has become obsolete due to technological changes in warfare.

However, this is a false comparison since a platform only becomes obsolete when a better alternative replaces it and its mission. So far, nothing has replaced the carrier and its ability to launch fighter jets anywhere in the world from international waters. Our opening airstrikes against the Islamic State group, for instance, were all executed from a US aircraft carrier.

Carriers are adapting with the changing face of warfare, carrying more advanced fighter jets with greater capabilities, offsetting the technological advances of aggressor nations. Further, the warships that sail with carriers are adapting and upgrading their security systems, as well, which are designed to protect the carrier from evolving threats.

Other advancements to protect the carrier include directed energy. As I’ve noted previously, directed energy — railguns, lasers and high-powered microwave, for example — are much cheaper than many defense systems we operate, yet just as effective and in some cases better. These assets can be easily integrated into carrier defense.

Another hollow argument from opponents of carriers is that we simply have too many. However, when examined, the opposite proves true.

The operational tempo of our current carrier fleet is imposing real costs and harmful effects on the ships and their crews. As a result, our men and women on carriers are working overtime to fill the maintenance and deployment gaps left open by our limited number of carriers. Because carriers must undergo rigorous overhauls every few years and a midlife reconstruction that takes them out of service for three to four years, the carriers that are operational are forced to deploy for longer periods. This means that while we may have 10 carriers, not all 10 are deployable at the same time, leaving the actual number of carriers that can deploy at any one time to five.

This problem can be solved with the addition of another carrier, which will reduce operational and maintenance costs for carriers over time and take considerable strain off of our personnel in uniform, all while strengthening our security.

The US Navy strategy still incorporates the carrier as its centerpiece. Until that strategy changes or a better naval asset is built, the carrier is here to stay. Ceasing to make investments in our carrier force without a new strategy or replacement platform is foolish. Our security need for carriers has not changed and we must do everything we can to keep and maintain these assets as part of our defense.

Aircraft carriers provide the presence required to maintain peace while providing the advanced security the US is dependent upon. Despite evolving warfare, the carrier is not outdated, but rather is entering a time when we will rely on its power more than ever.

Rep. Mike Conaway is in his sixth term in the U.S. House, representing Texas’ 11th District. He serves on the House Armed Services Committee.

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