Thursday, August 25, 2011

Proceedings Magazine September 2011

Whenever the budget gets tight, the age-old large-vs.-small-carrier debate seems to resurface; it has risen again with an article in the May issue of Proceedings by Navy Captain Henry J. Hendrix and retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel J. Noel Williams. In arguing their case that the age of the supercarrier is on the wane, the authors espouse the supposed advantages of using an increased number of smaller ships in place of large carriers. But that viewpoint is based on false assumptions and flawed premises, and the summary conclusion that the supercarrier suffers a "declining utility" is often stated but never proved. The challenge for the adversary in the maritime environment is the same as ours�developing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities as well as remote-targeting capability. To merely assume that initial operational capability of the Chinese DF-21D antiship ballistic missile means the death knell of the large aircraft carrier (a popular mantra now with the anti-large-carrier contingent) is to not understand the full requirements of a successful kill-chain. The notion that the aircraft carrier's radar signature will be the carrier strike group's Achilles' heel is wrong. Current Navy and Department of Defense efforts to combat the DF-21 threat focus on the entire kill-chain to assure access for our maritime forces. The DF-21 is a chess move against our carriers. The United States holds the advantage. It is folly to think that strike-group commanders would not fight in the event of a conflict with China that puts our carriers at risk. Risk calculus will be assessed in the same manner it was assessed for the four decades of the Cold War, against an adversary with fleets and aircraft of dedicated "carrier killers."