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The US Navy Wants More Aircraft Carriers for a Russia or China War

Aircraft Carriers
A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 115 launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) in the western Pacific Ocean Nov. 11, 2017. The Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz strike groups are underway conducting flight operations in international waters as part of a three-carrier strike force exercise. The U.S. Pacific Fleet has patrolled the Indo-Pacific region routinely for more than 70 years promoting regional security, stability and prosperity.

The U.S. Navy’s top officer in the Indo-Pacific region has asked for more aircraft carriers to deter China and Russia.

Vice Admiral Karl Thomas, commander of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, spoke to reporters at the end of a major multinational exercise in the Pacific Ocean. He called for more flattops to persuade America’s near-peer adversaries that “today is not the day to start a conflict,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

We Need More Aircraft Carriers 

While clearly pleased two carriers, one from the US and UK, were able to train together recently in the Pacific, Thomas added that “[W]hen we think about how we might fight, it’s a large water space, and four aircraft carriers is a good number, but six, seven or eight would be better,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Although the U.S. Navy has ten supercarriers, it doesn’t deploy all of them at the same time or in the same region. America’s global responsibilities and interests mean that those vessels are divided across the seven seas, while some are going through refitting and maintenance at port.

As the world’s superpower, the U.S. is spread across the globe, focusing more on specific regions depending on circumstances. For example, when the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the Pentagon’s primary concern, American aircraft carriers made the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea their hub. But that has now changed with the Indo-Pacific and Chinese truculence, becoming the Pentagon’s primary concern.

Conversely, China has the largest navy in the world and can deploy more than 700 vessels in the event of a conflict. More importantly, Beijing can focus all of its military power in the region as it doesn’t have any serious global presence—although that is changing because the Chinese Communist Party definitely has global ambitions.

China has two aircraft carriers and is building a third.

The only way to deploy more aircraft carriers in the Indo-Pacific is to leverage the power of Allies. The United Kingdom has HMS Queen Elizabeth, which was in the region only recently, and is building HMS The Prince of Wales. France has the nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle, and India, who has its own issues with China, can field a couple.

But Beijing’s and Moscow’s Area-Denial/Anti-Access (AD/A2) capabilities might restrict any allied aircraft carriers operating in hostile waters.

Thomas also called Russia, which recently finished a joint naval exercise around the Japanese home islands, aggressive and authoritarian, adding that the U.S. and its allies ought to hold joint exercises in order to “deter aggression from some of these nations that are showing burgeoning strength [and] tell these nations that maybe today is not the day [for a war].”

Aircraft Carriers 

Aircraft carriers weren’t considered the top dog of naval warfare until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor when a swarm of aircraft taking off from four aircraft carriers sunk, destroyed, or damaged the U.S. Pacific Fleet in December 1941.

Perhaps the most famous aircraft carrier battle took place in the Pacific theater of World War Two when the Imperial Japanese Navy and U.S. Navy clashed during the Battle of Midway in 1942. In total, the battle involved seven aircraft carriers, four Japanese and three American, and dozens of other warships. In the end, after a brutal fight, all Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk at the cost of only one American.

The Battle of Midway was a turning point in the war as it allowed the U.S. to steadily gain sea superiority and launch its “island-hopping” campaign that led the Allies to the doorstep of Japan unhindered.

Since then, the aircraft carrier has become the go-to option for regional- or super-power force projection worldwide. In short, any country that wants to claim a serious, global, and expeditionary military capability must have a credible aircraft carrier, with the more, the better.

1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

1945’s Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist with specialized expertise in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. john A irvine

    December 3, 2021 at 8:28 am

    The aircraft carrier and it’s supporting cast was determined to be obsolete and highly vulnerable near land based air in 1942 and this was driven home during Okinawa in 1945. When untrained pilots in obsolete aircraft always got through and struct home. Japan started the battle with 14000 aircraft and after sending 2500+ with fuel for only one-way still had over 10,000 at end of battle. So much for carrier air dominance over the fleet. The Navy, just like in WWII, will call for almost all of the Airforce and Army to be utilized providing secure operating areas under which the navy carriers and surface forces can safely operate. Back then the Navy was against the Air Corp’s four engine bombers until they wanted them for themselves. Same with being against the Army having merchant shipping with which to operate until the Navy confiscated the army’s ships so they could resupply Hawaii at the beginning of the war. Note Army ended war with largest navy in the world because it was so hard to be supported by the navy.., keep in mind each B-1, B-2 and B52s all carry more ordnance than an entire carrier wing and only place the pilots at risk. The navy like then is spending so much money on systems that will be useless in the next war except as targets. They’ll be like the Battleship fleet in the first year or so of the war after being sunk at Pearl Harbor. After being raised and repaired they spent their time sailing slowly in circles along the west coast so as to be seen doing something and so as not to waste the precious fuel remaining in Pacific. If wasn’t for Admiral King forcing their use the battleships would have been scrapped for their steel so maybe the army could’ve had armored landing craft at Omaha Beach. Yes their landing craft were made out of plywood. Finally in spite of all you have heard there were 78 major amphibious landings in the Pacific and the army did about 3/4 of them. Mostly without major navy fleet support.

  2. J

    December 3, 2021 at 9:43 am

    The article is a bad argument for more carriers, but you have woven a tapestry of conclusions and facts similarly biased, seemingly from an Army perspective.

  3. Ben

    December 3, 2021 at 10:21 am

    Nice to have more of these carriers but we dont have enough to crew them.

  4. Steve Maricic

    December 3, 2021 at 11:15 am

    I’m not a military expert, but I fear that our aircraft carriers would be sitting ducks in a conventional war with China. If PRC military threats against Taiwan persist, I think we ought to re-consider the idea of using one or more air bases on Taiwan as “unsinkable aircraft carriers”. Stock them with defensive missiles, fighter planes, and bombers. Do it quickly — before the PRC can build an invasion fleet. Tell the PRC we can remove our forces if and when they cease their belligerence.

  5. Jim

    December 3, 2021 at 11:25 am

    Six aircraft carriers were used against Pearl Harbor

  6. Karl R Maier

    December 3, 2021 at 11:51 am

    Which would you rather have, 60 fighter/bombers from a vulnerable/expensive aircraft carrier, or 1,000 drones in assorted flavors for the same price, but more recent manufacture, from a land based air field? Losing an aircraft carrier would be a horrific defeat that might cost the war. Losing 100 drones would be replaced in a month with the latest upgrades.

  7. TrustbutVerify

    December 3, 2021 at 12:03 pm

    If you think Aircraft Carriers and other naval assets are simply targets, what do you think land bases are…especially in Taiwan in easy missile range of China?

    Our big deck amphibious (LCD/LSD) ships can deploy 20 F-35s each. Along with our super carriers, allied carriers and VLS tubes on various mobile platforms, we can put a lot of hurt downrange in a hurry…and it isn’t easy to find ships in a big ocean or target them.

    Having said that, just sending the B-1s with LRASMs would be sufficient to sink all capital ships in the Chinese navy from range in one sortie. Which would be the way to quickly stop any invasion of Taiwan or misadventures in the SCS.

  8. Allan Williams

    December 3, 2021 at 12:07 pm

    When you have more carriers (including LHA/LHD ships) than the rest of the world combined but can meet your obligations, maybe you need to reevayour obligations.

  9. JMIII

    December 3, 2021 at 1:08 pm

    Agree strongly about using B-1’s with LRSMs against the Chinese Fleet. The USAF just retired 17 B-1’s. We could spend less than half a billion to refurbish them and equip them to serve as a force dedicated to sink the major surface ships of the PLAN. We should also consider spending money to refurbish the Nimitz class carriers instead of the hundreds of millions to decommission them. Though up to 40 years old, they are still probably superior to 80% of the rest of the worlds carriers. They can be employed in the less critical environments or as a reinforcement wave. That would allow us to focus 4 US carriers in the Indo-Pacific. Add in Japanese, British and Indian Carriers and the PLAN gets way over matched.

  10. Roger J. Buffington

    December 3, 2021 at 4:30 pm

    Aircraft carriers in the 21st Century are like battleships were in 1941 — obsolete and expensive. America needs an updated fleet of land-based aircraft armed with cruise and hypersonic missiles, as well as missile destroyers similarly armed. Aircraft carriers will not last 3 days in any kind of war with China.

  11. "Content"

    December 3, 2021 at 5:08 pm

    What does the US need vs. the Chinese?

    BALLS. That’s what we need.
    WILLINGNESS TO SACRIFICE. That’s what we need.
    LESS CORRUPTION. That’s what we need.

    China is very easily conquered. Very very easily. SIMPLY STOP BUYING FROM THEM. You are projecting our greatest strength (a self-sustaining economy) onto them. Stop that. They DIE (figuratively) if no one imports from them. We merely suffer inflation as we reshore & reonshore to better countries/ourselves.

    Meanwhile they D I E.
    Xi gets lynched.
    (Granted there might be plenty of unforseen consequences including a war as the CCP spasms in death… want it now or in 30 years though? You’re getting it either way.)

    All that’s stopping us is the same corruption that got us into this mess. All that’s stopping us is the same corruption that buys aircraft carriers fit for force projection in WW2 or against half-tribal societies over drones.

    Grab scumbag TRAITOR companies and SLAP them till they cry like LeBron James. Yank their necks with a ROPE until they reshore. Get SCUMBAG blackrock out of China.

    There’s the truth for you.
    But you’re not courageous enough to hear it, are you?

    Certainly Beijing Biden isn’t. Neither was Beijing ‘Bama. Nor the Beijing Bushes.

  12. Curtis

    December 3, 2021 at 6:12 pm

    War with China or Russia is unwindable because of their nuclear arsenal. Carriers probably are obsolete, just as battleships became after WWII. Stop living in the early 20th century. You are 100 years in the past. If ten carriers is not enough, no number will satisfy the military industrial complex. I vote for joining the 21st century for a livable minimum wage, paid family/sick leave, and decent infrastructure; not making war on the rest of the world.

  13. Ed

    December 3, 2021 at 6:57 pm

    While the LCS ships have been, uh, slow to reach their anticipated level of usefulness (to put it mildly), how about 50 more of them each with a dozen F-35’s and dozens of drones that can both refuel aircraft, carry anti-aircraft missiles for maintaining airspace, and deliver offensive weapons. That’s a fleet of 600 F-35’s on 50 ships that would cost a quarter of just 1 aircraft carrier.

    Instead of just 1 aircraft carrier, that would be 200 LCS’s with 2,400 F-35’s (obviously the aircraft cost is higher).

    I love the big carriers, we need the big carriers, but we should have a mix of smaller ships that work as a team. If one is lost, all is not lost.

  14. Mark H.

    December 3, 2021 at 6:58 pm

    Pearl Harbor attack was carried out by the Japanese First Air Fleet also known as the “Kido Butai.” This force consisted of three carrier divisions. 1st division Akagi (fleet flagship) & Kaga; the 2nd division Hiryu & Soryu; and the 5th division Shokaku & Zuikaku. As a massed force it was capable of deploying more than 300 modern attack aircraft manned by the most highly trained naval aviators in the world. Tactical analysis by the US Navy after the war determined it likely would have overwhelmed Oahu’s air defenses even if they’d been more alert to the threat. Part of the reason for this likely outcome is that Japanese carrier aircraft at the time had greater performance and range than the land based light aircraft of the day. That isn’t the case anymore, especially with aerial refueling capability for land based planes. If we were to deploy significant air units to Taiwan with refueling and AWACS (airborne radar) support, we could limit Chinese attacks to stand-off missiles which could be intercepted by modern anti-missile coverage. Modern carriers do give tactical mobility to an allied force, but when it comes to a slugfest, carriers are middleweights at best (lightweights when operating singly). Only land based air can throw a true heavyweight punch.

  15. Pete Orsi

    December 3, 2021 at 7:10 pm

    No expert here but, too many eggs in one basket. Don’t have to sink it, just foul the deck with a swarmed weapon and the ship is useless.
    We just lost a whole carrier to one US sailor. Keep focused on “Diversity” and you will get more like him

  16. Chris Cha

    December 3, 2021 at 7:19 pm

    Agree with commenter CONTENT above. And, we wouldn’t even have to do a complete ban on China products. Pick a few select products…. raise tariffs tremendously for some, ban purchases for others, and China would back down in a heartbeat.

    On the topic, though… I think the carriers would be useful for launching initial stealth strikes to destroy China radar and defense systems. After that they’re likely to be juicy targets. I’d invest more money in bases on Japan and weaponize the hell out of Taiwan.

  17. scott allen

    December 3, 2021 at 9:10 pm

    The US always wants to fight the next war with what won the last war.

    Battleships won the sea war in WWI
    but the Navy brass still wanted battleships before WWII
    Air Craft carriers won the sea war in WWII
    now the Navy wants more Air Craft carriers now.
    All it takes to sink an air craft carrier is one more drone then the carrier/group has defenses.
    electronic warfare is the future.

  18. Timothy Gasser

    December 3, 2021 at 10:23 pm

    A lot of shading in this article. China’s 700+ ship Navy? 300 or so are small missile patrol boats. China’s 3 carriers? 1 is barely operational, and is not capable of sustained deployment. This is the Navy campaigning for more budget dollars.

  19. Alex

    December 4, 2021 at 2:41 am

    The fact that some people want a war with Russia or China is striking. Madmen, the war will not take place in Eurasia! Your country will be destroyed first, this is how the military doctrine of Russia is built! China is also building up its nuclear potential and can do so! Live at home, raise children, do not meddle with the force that will destroy you!

  20. Lucius Severus Pertinax

    December 4, 2021 at 4:11 am

    If the Navy wants more carriers, it would do well to stop insisting they be Nuclear -Powered.
    Vessels of 90-100 thousand tons displacement could be powered by by Diesels (4 x 70,000Hp) that would not only deliver 33-35 knots speed, but ranges of 20,000 nautical miles or more. They could be delivered in 1/3 the time and at 1/3 the cost of one of these new Ford class carriers.

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