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    U.S. Aircraft Carriers at Crossroads: Adapting to New Threats in the Age of Hypersonics and A2/AD

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    America’s reliance on its fleet of aircraft carriers, a centerpiece of its naval warfare strategy since World War II, has come under scrutiny amid growing threats from hypersonic weapons and anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) systems developed by rival powers.

    050315-N-3241H-001 Indian Ocean (Mar. 15, 2005) – The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) underway in the Indian Ocean prior to flight operations. The Carl Vinson Strike Group is currently on deployment to promote peace and stability and respond to emergent events overseas. USS Carl Vinson will end its deployment with a homeport shift to Norfolk, Va., and will conduct a three-year refuel and complex overhaul. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Dusty Howell (RELEASED)

    As the world’s geopolitical landscape shifts, the U.S. Navy faces the pressing need to reassess and adapt its strategies to the rising capabilities of Russia and other potential adversaries.

    090729-N-3038W-459 SAN DIEGO (July 29, 2009) The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 11 transits into San Diego prior to mooring at Naval Air Station North Island. Nimitz is preparing for a 2009 regularly scheduled Western Pacific Deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class John Philip Wagner Jr./Released)

    For decades, the U.S. has projected power across the globe with its 11 nuclear-powered supercarriers.

    These massive ships, with their ability to launch and recover aircraft, deliver firepower and maintain a formidable presence, have been an emblem of American dominance at sea.

    051115-N-8492C-378 Pacific Ocean (Nov. 15, 2005) Ð Flying the First Navy Jack, the conventionally powered aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) prepares to conduct flight operations following a formation sail with ships From the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. The Kitty Hawk Carrier Strike Group is currently conducting the bilateral Annual Exercise 2005 (ANNUALEX) with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. ANNUALEX focuses on improving the military-to-military relationship between the U.S. and Japan. The purpose of ANNUALEX is to improve bilateral interoperability, defend Japan against maritime threats and to improve capability for surface warfare, air defense and undersea warfare. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Todd Cichonowicz (RELEASED)

    However, the evolving battlefield of the 21st century has cast a shadow over the carrier’s future effectiveness and survivability.

    “The way that it procures weapons and equipment and plans for wars is simply outmoded,” warns one assessment.

    071004-N-5928K-005 Persian Gulf (October 4, 2007) – The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65), conducts an underway replenishment with the Military Sealift Command (MSC) fast combat support ship USNS Supply (T-AOE 6), while the guided-missile destroyer USS Arleigh Burke (DDG-51), and the guided-missile cruiser USS Vicksburg (CG-69), follow behind. Enterprise and embarked Carrier Air Wing One (CVW-1) are currently underway on a scheduled six-month deployment. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class N.C. Kaylor. Image released by LT Mark C. Jones, PAO CVN 65.

    With growing calls for strategic change, the U.S. must confront the harsh reality: its adversaries are no longer just observing but actively seeking to undermine its strengths with cheaper, efficient countermeasures.

    Despite the alarming predictions, the Navy is not without recourse.

    A potential solution lies in combined operations and new technologies such as rolling air defense missiles and directed energy weapons.

    Moreover, the adoption of drones, like the MQ-25 Stingray, aims to extend the operational reach of existing carrier-based aircraft.

    The Navy’s consideration of light carriers also signals a willingness to diversify and distribute capabilities.

    Light carriers could offer a more survivable, cost-effective option for specific scenarios, particularly if the future of warfare leans towards unmanned vertical-takeoff vehicles.

    But even as the Navy explores new paths, the stark reality remains: “The US Navy is being too predictable,” and predictability can be fatal in modern warfare.

    The fast combat support ship USNS Arctic (T-AOE 8), left, conducts an underway replenishment with the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) Jan. 15, 2007. Eisenhower and embarked Carrier Air Wing 7 are on a regularly scheduled deployment in the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command area of responsibility in support of maritime security operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Miguel Angel Contreras) (Released)

    The deployment of supercarriers is expected, and “the one thing a military does not want to be in any conflict is predictable,” especially against rivals with targeted arsenals to neutralize expected responses.

    The U.S. Navy’s formidable fleet of Nimitz and Ford-class carriers, symbols of seafaring strength, now finds itself at a crossroads. Acknowledging this, the Navy has initiated studies on light carrier designs and capabilities, weighing operational utility against cost and considering the evolving makeup of the carrier air wing.

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