For seven decades, they’ve been the ultimate symbol of American power. When conflicts break out across the globe, U.S. Navy aircraft carriers — fast, mobile and each packing more firepower than most countries’ entire air force — have been the first responders, more often than not. “When word of crisis breaks out in Washington, it’s no accident the first question that comes to everyone’s lips is: where is the nearest carrier?” Bill Clinton famously said.
But today’s 1,000-foot-long, nuclear-powered supercarriers and their air wings are expensive, costing up to $15 billion just to build. Plus, the latest anti-ship missiles could render them vulnerable to attack. It’s for those reasons that one influential Navy officer is proposing the Pentagon rethink its approach to building and deploying carriers.
Instead of today’s small number of gigantic carriers, the Navy of the future should operate a larger number of smaller flattops, Capt. Jerry Hendrix asserts in the pages of Proceedings magazine. “Moving away from highly expensive and vulnerable supercarriers toward smaller, light carriers would bring the additional benefit of increasing our nation’s engagement potential.”
It would also spread out U.S. naval air power instead of concentrating it in just a few places, where it can be more easily knocked out.