Matthew Fay at the Niskanen Center puts together some compelling analysis on whether or not the aircraft carrier fleet deserves to be prioritized in the budget given new threats against it, and possibly superior alternatives.
Earlier this week, Senators John McCain and Jack Reed, respectively the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer complaining that the Navy is postponing a key test on its expensive Ford-class aircraft carrier. The letter argued that the Navy’s decision to postpone the test would leave the new capital ship vulnerable. The Navy, for its part, has argued that the computer simulations it has run are sufficient to uncovering the carrier’s vulnerabilities.
In reporting on the letter, Anthony Capaccio of Bloomberg Business quoted a number of experts who bolstered the case that the shock test is essential and the computer simulation will not be sufficient. But does debate on the test ignore bigger threats to the Ford-class, and U.S. Navy carriers in general?
The same day Capaccio reported on McCain and Reed’s letter, Dave Majumdar penned an essay for The National Interest on the merits of aircraft carriers in today’s maritime operating environment. Majumdar interviewed Jerry Hendrix of the Center for a New American Security, a retired a Navy officer and whose views on carriers have been previously discussed here. Citing threats to U.S. carriers from Chinese anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities—particularly long-range anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles and advanced air defenses to counter a carrier’s air wing—Hendrix argues that the Navy should save the money slated for the next Ford-class carrier, instead investing it in guided-missile submarines (SSGNs). From Majumdar’s piece:
These SSGNs are so capable that Hendrix suggests that the Navy cease building the new Ford-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers after the two vessels currently under construction are completed. The Navy could buy numerous SSGNs for the price of a single new aircraft carrier—a new Ford-class carrier costs roughly nearly $13 billion without factoring in the price of the air wing.
Read more from Fay here.