by DAVID AXE
For 60 years the U.S. Navy has been organized around its force of large, heavily-protected aircraft carriers, each deploying more combat power than most whole nations can muster. “Carrier proponents … seem to accept on faith alone the premise that a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is essentially invulnerable,” Commander John Patch writes in the current issue of the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings. “The truth is, a deployed aircraft carrier is more vulnerable to mission kill than is commonly believed.”
“Mission kill” means knocking a carrier out of action, rather than sinking it. So what are our carriers’ greatest weaknesses? Patch sketches a range of threats, from explosives-laden small boats to cruise missiles and ballistic missiles. He particularly emphasizes the danger posed by crafty, bloody-minded extremists. For one, “carrier crew size and diversity would likely allow unfettered access to clandestine infiltrators of almost any ethnicity,” Patch writes.
In other words, because there are so many people on carriers — up to 5,000 — some of them are bound to be brown-skinned. And the presence of brown-skinned sailors could make it easier for Islamic terrorists to sneak on board and sabotage the ship.
So how would one defend against such infiltration? Patch doesn’t say, but the implication, however indirect, is clear: fewer non-white sailors would help. In implying, even vaguely, that racial integration has weakened the carrier force, Patch plays into a sea swell of race anxiety in the Navy that outsiders rarely observe. Many in the Navy are unhappy with what they see as affirmative action gone out of control, to the detriment of our national security. “What core competency of the Navy is a diverse Navy supposed to represent?” blogger CDR Salamander asked.
Well, innovation, for one. “Recognizing the unique potential everyone adds in cultural background, gender, age, and ethnic diversity provides the foundation for creative interaction and healthy debate in our workforce,” said Dr. Walter Jones from the Office of Naval Research.
“Presuming carrier invulnerability is dangerous,” Patch contends. Sure, but presuming that a racially diverse Navy contributes to our carriers’ vulnerability is arguably more dangerous, as that threatens the vibrant, integrated society at the foundation of our highly capable armed forces.
But never mind all that. In fact, Patch’s entire premise is illogical. Most of the potential attacks he highlights aim for a carrier mission-kill, rather than a “hard kill” that might sink the ship and claim thousands of lives. And for good reason. Sinking a carrier makes sense from a terrorists’ point of view, as it would be catastrophic, bloody and symbolic, like the USS Cole attack times a hundred. But carriers are heavily armored and compartmentalized. It would take a very, very big bomb for a terror attack to sink a flattop, making any attempted hard-kill logistically improbable.
But a terrorist mission-kill, however possible, is pointless — for it’s strictly a tactical victory. In the absence of many hundreds of dead Americans and the resulting propaganda coup, what does a terrorist have to gain from knocking a carrier out of action for a few days or weeks? Carriers are an extremely minor threat to terror groups; disabling a carrier would not make terrorists any more secure in their bases, nor advance their causes. Better to invest your time and bomb-making materials in attacking a crowded public market in a U.S.-occupied country where you might exacerbate ethnic and religious schisms. That, at least, could help undermine some U.S.-backed government.
Carriers are unlikely terror targets because they’re too tough for spectacular damage and too irrelevant from a terrorist’s operational perspective. Really, the question of carrier vulnerability is not worth feeding the sea service’s tragic undercurrent of racial fear.
Update, 1/13/10: CDR Salamander writes in with this clarification:
I appreciate the mention at your site and all, but my stand is nowhere even close to what Patch may or may not have been going for. As a matter of fact, my take is almost 180 degrees out. I don’t care what race, creed, color, religion, or national origin anyone I am working for/with is. Heck, I spent the better part of two decades putting my life in the hands of about every DNA mix and confession you can name — most of the time in the Navy you can never tell anyway. I just don’t care. All I want is for them to be the very best qualified in the position they hold. Operating a nuclear reactor, flying helo or inspecting a recent repair below the waterline — I just don’t care.
Some people though are more concerned about where a person’s DNA comes from more than they are about their qualifications, character, and performance. That is what I oppose.