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America’s Defense Still Requires Aircraft Carriers

April 23, 2015

By Seth Cropsey and Bryan McGrath

Jerry Hendrix of the Center for a New American Security took to the pages of National Review this week (“Drydock Time: The Navy’s Aircraft Carriers Are Yesterday’s Weapons”) to advocate the elimination of the aircraft carrier from the arsenal of the U.S. Navy. A former naval aviator, Hendrix is a serious man and a gifted navalist, so his arguments should be taken seriously. Under scrutiny, however, his logic wilts, his understanding of modern warfare is revealed as unrealistic, and his ability to hone in on actual cause-and-effect relationships is questionable.

Hendrix invests 2,700-plus words in an argument for eliminating the aircraft carrier, yet undercuts himself effectively with only 32: “The same outside observer would also discern where the difficulty with the carrier design lies. The efficacy of the carrier lies not in the ship but in the capabilities of its planes.” This raises the question of whether Hendrix’s target is the aircraft carrier or the weapons system (airplanes) it employs. And while he wishes to ride the wave of notoriety as a notable carrier critic, his argument essentially boils down to this: “The airplanes the carrier employs require it to operate too close to danger. Therefore, we should get rid of carriers.”

This logic ignores seven decades of history and experience in which the airplanes assigned to the carrier have changed dramatically in response to the missions that were asked of the Navy. And while he quite rightly points to the current airwing’s lack of useful range as highly problematic, he fails to note this was itself a choice made by the Navy to reflect the threat environment. When the Berlin Wall fell, there was no power that could check the U.S. Navy at sea, and therefore the carrier could operate much closer to land. Aircraft range as an attribute was deemphasized. Now that there is a rising threat of powers capable of more aggressively targeting the carrier, it will, in some scenarios, have to operate from farther away. If the Navy chooses to build the right airplanes, the carrier will remain central to U.S. power projection.

Read the full article at the Hudson Institute: America's Defense Still Requires Aircraft Carriers

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