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Why Aircraft Carriers Still Rule the Oceans 718

Posted by Soulskill
from the dolphins-are-slow-to-innovate dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Despite being created during World War I, the modern carrier has evolved to be the pinnacle of modern warfare's best and most visible symbols of power. Nothing says 'show the flag' more than a carrier off an enemy's coast. Some, though, have called the carrier a 21st-century version of a battleship — high on looks and weapons but vulnerable to modern weapons. Critics note air-power killed the battleship; people now suggest super-sonic 'carrier-killer' missiles will make the carrier a relic of the past. With their cost in the billions of dollars, some point to killing off carriers as an obvious cost saving measure. Carriers though still have a lot of uses. Many navies, like India and China, are adding them to their arsenal, and they are still feared by many. While carriers might be old, they are a symbol of power that no missile or submarine below the surface can match yet."
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Why Aircraft Carriers Still Rule the Oceans

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  • That's simple... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:28PM (#41378905) Homepage

    Because we haven't got railguns yet to slap onto battleships. We'll almost contently see the return of it in our lifetime. When it does happen you can be sure you'll see cruisers with small versions if they can get away with it. But you'll see very worlds military building battleships with those suckers as soon as they think they can.

      But let's be honest, despite what the article says, there's a few other reasons besides power projection. Pirates, shipping lane protection, and they work much better for disaster relief than a couple of cruisers. The capacity just isn't there. But a carrier is a city onto itself. Besides, it's hard to get a small aircraft that does tactical attacks halfway across the world to take out a pirate base. Bombers sure, but by the time it's in the air they could have scuttled.

  • by boner (27505) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:43PM (#41379137)

    US carriers have been routinely sunk by canadian, australian, dutch and english subs. As another commentator mentioned, aircraft carriers are great for projecting power against an inferior enemy, not as much when facing a sophisticated foe.

  • by boner (27505) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:46PM (#41379189)

    Sinking a US carrier by being undetected has been demonstrated. see []

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @04:50PM (#41379239)

    What we need is a submarine aircraft carrier!

    The US had two or three at the end of WW2, surrendered by Imperial Japan. Incidentally there was a plan by Imperial Japan to use these to deliver plague infested fleas to the US west coast. These submarines were no joke. The US scuttled them when the Russians, an ally at the time, wanted to inspect them.

  • by lysdexia (897) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @05:19PM (#41379677) Homepage
    This is true. Gary Brecher said it best: []
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @05:51PM (#41380063) Homepage Journal

    The problem is, like people who naysayed torpedo boats in WW II, the replacement for aircraft carriers is NOT submarines or battleships.

    It's the 21st Century.

    The replacement is small mobile destroyers with racks of armed and unarmed drones, operating in task forces.

    The fact that the current brass can't grok that, does not mean they are right. Just ask Canada which provided more actual combat equipment in Libya to take out the dictator from just a few small ships than all the planes we launched from Italy did.

    Change is Change. It isn't "like" what happened before.

    (caveat - I was only a Sergeant with a SECRET clearance who ended up in a HQ unit after doing counter-terrorism and other ops)

  • by trout007 (975317) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @06:49PM (#41380757)

    Everyone is missing the point. The real strategic purpose of a carrier is that they are so big, expensive, and have so many sailors on board that to actually sink one is basically asking for all out war. It's the same reason we have 30k troops in SK. It's not like they could stop a North Korean invasion. It has been calculated that 30k troops being killed would be enought to convice Americans to start a nuclear war.

    It's basically like going all in playing poker. Parking a carrier no matter how vulnerable is going all in and asking your opponent how bad they want to win.

  • by aurispector (530273) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @09:59PM (#41382377)

    Yep. First, take control of the skies. Carriers are very handy for that. Next, cover the area with attack copters. Finally, move in with frigates and destroyers. Nothing will be able to move without attracting a hellfire or SM-3. SEALs can mop up any fortified oil platforms, just like the last time the iranians got uppity.

    The iranian tactic of swarming with large numbers of small craft will merely create a target rich environment. Sure, they might get lucky and sink a ship but their entire coastline on the strait will look like the surface of the moon.

    Clean up the mines then it's back to business as usual.

  • by mjwx (966435) on Tuesday September 18, 2012 @10:52PM (#41382701)

    It would be interesting to see how long they last in a war between evenly matched sides where the carriers are vulnerable to air/missile attack.

    It seems like you would need an awful lot of successful attacks to take out a carrier though. The modern carrier has so many defenses, some secret, I am doubtful even a good supersonic missile could get close to one. Even if a missile does get through they are so huge and compartmentalized it would probably not sink.

    Nope, you only need one successful attack.

    The question is how many failed attacks will that cost.

    Don't place too much stock in high tech defenses. The British fleet in the Faulkands war suffered two major attacks, one from an Exocet missile that only hit because the destroyer didn't switch the CWIS system on (you can always count on incompetence) and the second was from unguided bombs dropped by low flying Argentine jets. The saving grace for the British was that Argentina didn't have that many jets or Exocets to waste. This becomes less of a defense when your opponent is producing weapons at a wartime pace. US carriers in the pacific in WWII suffered from two big problems, Japanese torpedoes and Japanese Kamikazes. It's very easy to create a weapon that is difficult to stop if you make it difficult to detect, if it doesn't need to make a return trip it's even harder to stop. What saved the carriers is the fact the US could repair or replace them faster than the Japanese could produce subs and Kamikaze pilots.

    So even if you've got enough defences to stop 15 supersonic missiles, I just have to fire 16 at you.

    Carriers going the way of the battleship because its easier to launch 100 drones from land bases and have them loiter and then attack the attack the carrier at your leisure, you've lost $100 million worth of drones but taken out $20 billion worth of carrier and support ships. Wining a war isn't about weapons as much as it's about economics.

    Even if a missile does get through they are so huge and compartmentalized it would probably not sink.

    You dont need to sink one, hell ships have been incredibly hard to sink since Nelsons day sunshine.

    The gunners of Nelsons ships didn't try to sink the french, they tried to kill the crew, cripple the sails and rigging or the holy grail of Napoleonic naval warfare, topple the mast. There was no point in putting a shot below the water line as it'll take days for a wooden ship to sink.

    By the same token, you don't have to sink a carrier, you just have to do enough damage that it cant operate. Damage the flight deck, set up a AAA exclusion zone to shoot down it's complement of jets, there are a heap of ways to do it. The fact the jets are required to return to a carrier is a huge weakness, one that Australia and Japan practice exploiting every few years in war games with US carriers. Carriers are quite fragile, thats why they have a lot of support ships.

"Just think of a computer as hardware you can program." -- Nigel de la Tierre