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    U.S. Aircraft Carriers: Powerhouses at Risk in an Era of Evolving Threats

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    USS Gerald R. Ford pulls alongside USNS William McLean during a replenishment-at-sea..” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The United States Navy, with its formidable fleet of Nimitz-class and the state-of-the-art Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers, represents the pinnacle of naval dominance. Yet, these impressive symbols of power are not immune to the evolving landscape of modern warfare, where a single lapse in defense could have catastrophic consequences.

    USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) steams in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 27, 2019, for the first time since July 2018.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    These majestic titans of the seas, with a legacy of naval superiority since World War II, face a growing array of threats that test their resilience. The crux of the matter lies in the reality that for a carrier’s defense systems to be effective, they must work flawlessly every time, while an adversary needs only one successful strike to cause irreparable damage.

    USS Gerald R. Ford conducts high-speed turns in the Atlantic Ocean, Oct. 29, 2019.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates highlighted the strategic paradox: “Consider the massive overmatch the U.S. already enjoys. Consider, too, the growing anti-ship capabilities of adversaries. Do we really need eleven carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one? Any future plans must address this.”

    USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) transits the Atlantic Ocean.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    “I don’t know when that’s due to be reported out, but that is part of our [Program Objective Memorandum] 24 efforts that we’re working on now is how that would play out as far as potentially extending at least a couple of the first Nimitzs,” Stefany said of the study.

    Lancer bombers and F/A-18 Super Hornets fly over the JMSDF helicopter destroyer JS ISE (DDH-182), front, and the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The Russian military has also honed its skills in targeting U.S. carriers, with the P-700 Granit missile, capable of Mach 1.6 speeds and a range of 388 miles, designed to form an attack network and single out high-value targets like carriers.

    U.S. and ROK Navies, including the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, participate in Exercise FOAL EAGLE off Korea” by #PACOM is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Amid these looming threats, the Navy continues to explore options to bolster its carrier fleet’s longevity and adaptability.

    U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan” by manhhai is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

    Officials are considering extending the service lives of the oldest Nimitz-class carriers, despite the ticking clock of technological advancement and real-world events that might necessitate such decisions.

    161014-N-OI810-1467 WATERS SURROUNDING THE KOREAN PENINSULA (Oct. 14, 2016) The U.S. Navyâs only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), transits waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula during Exercise Invincible Spirit. Invincible” by SurfaceWarriors is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    The intricacies of naval strategy are further complicated by the development of hypersonic weapons, an area where the U.S. lags behind adversaries like Russia.

    161111-N-GP548-051 PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 11, 2016) The U.S. Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer JS Izumo (DDH 183), lead ships in formation during Keen Sword 17 (KS17” by SurfaceWarriors is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    Such weapons, with their unpredictable flight paths and formidable speed, could potentially render even the most sophisticated carrier defenses obsolete.

    161111-N-GP548-070 PHILIPPINE SEA (Nov. 11, 2016) The U.S. Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force helicopter destroyer JS Izumo (DDH 183), lead ships breaking formation during Keen Sword 17” by Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    With the increasing vulnerability of carriers and the skyrocketing costs associated with their maintenance and construction, the strategic direction for the future of the U.S. carrier fleet is under intense scrutiny.

    161014-N-NF288-972 WATERS SURROUNDING THE KOREAN PENINSULA (Oct. 14, 2016) The U.S. Navyâs only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), transits waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula during Exercise Invincible Spirit. Invincible S” by SurfaceWarriors is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    The Navy’s shipbuilding plans reflect a cautious approach, outlining a transition period and considering a blend of manned and unmanned systems to pave the way for a more resilient and versatile naval force.

    160926-N-NT265-065 APRA HARBOR, Guam (Sept. 25, 2016) The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), flagship of Carrier Strike Group Five is moored in Apra Harbor, U.S. Naval Base Guam (NBG), after the completion of Valiant Shield 2016. V” by SurfaceWarriors is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    An underwater drone is vital for various military operations. It can discreetly collect information on enemy fleet activities. Such devices could assist US and allied troops with immediate local weather assessments.

    The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress, conduct joint exercises.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Furthermore, these small underwater devices can be equipped to transport powerful explosives and pursue targets relentlessly until reaching them to deploy their devastating payload.

    An F/A-18E Super Hornet launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68).” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    As the Navy navigates these tumultuous waters, it remains to be seen how the iconic aircraft carrier will evolve to meet the demands of 21st-century warfare and maintain its role as a cornerstone of American military might.

    Multiple aircraft from Carrier Air Wing 5 fly in formation over USS Ronald Reagan” by #PACOM is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

    “There’s technical uncertainty that we have to drive out, which will then drive to certain solutions – understanding where artificial intelligence is going to be at a point in time, understanding the level of autonomy that we need to do and execute the missions, in terms of where we need to execute them,” Conn said. “We have to technically drive down those risks and when we do, the ranges will get tighter and tighter and closer to a single point solution within 10 years of the budget that you are writing.”

    Relevant articles:
    Ball of Fire: How the U.S. Navy’s Aircraft Carrier Age Could End in a Bang, The National Interest
    China Could Do the Unthinkable: Sink a U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier, nationalinterest.org
    5 Ways the Age of the Aircraft Carrier Could End, The National Interest
    class Carriers, Decision in Next Budget, USNI News

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