Are aircraft carriers too vulnerable?

uk 75

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Back in 1966 when the UK abandoned its aircraft carrier programme one of the arguments used was that the carrier was too vulnerable to attack by submarines or missiles.
An attacker only needed to disable a carrier and stop its airgroup flying to make the carrier ineffective.
Apart from accidents to US carriers off Vietnam this has not happened in real life.
But with China and Russia devoting time and money to devising weapons against US carriers.
After the Belgrano was sunk by a UK sub the Argentine carrier stayed home.
 

sferrin

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It must be Tuesday. Go look at what the Soviets were planning on throwing at CVBGs back in the 80s.
 

uk 75

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But so far, thank goodness, this has never been tested for real.
 

panzerfeist1

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My answer links talking about Russia's missile capabilities.

Any country presenting anything hypersonic missile related is going to be a threat to aircraft carrier its just that Russians offer more uniqueness to their missiles for example if Iranians did not have ballistic missiles they would have ended up like Serbia or Iraq. Hell even a mach 3 sea skimming missile with most of its flight at low altitudes are serious threats. For example the Kalbir missile is a more difficult target to intercept than a short range coyote missile that makes itself easily noticeable before diving down or a volley of those missiles being launched. There are defensive measures like CIWS but I wonder how they do against these kinds of attacks compared to other kinds of attacks that were before deemed successful.
 

Ronny

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Whether a carrier is vulnerable or not is up to the combat radius of their aircraft and the missiles carried by these aircraft. If the carrier has fighters with LRASM 1.1 or HCSW, it can be very safe.
HCSW.jpg
"By 2023, the U.S. Air Force plans to introduce the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon and the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon—which boast double-digit Mach numbers and a maximum range measured in the thousands of miles."
award contracts for the development and integration of an air-launched hypersonic conventional strike weapon (HCSW) with both fighter and bomber aircraft platforms. Integration will include mission planning operations and support. The HCSW will provide a prompt (Hypersonic/Hypervelocity), precision strike capability against high-value, time-critical fixed and relocatable surface targets in a single or multi-theater challenged (A2/AD) environment

012LRASMSuperHornet.jpg
Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extreme Range (JASSM-XR). JASSM-XR is expected to have a range of more than 1,000 miles
Lockheed Martin has started designing an improved version of the AGM-158C Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) only eight months after the stealthy, air-launched weapon entered operational service. The U.S. Air Force awarded Lockheed’s Missiles and Fire Control division a $175 million contract on July 3 to pay for “updates” to the AGM-158C. The update package, named LRASM 1.1, includes unspecified changes to the shape of the wing for better range
 
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In_A_Dream

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It would take quite a volley to disable a carrier, and even more to sink it. The most efficient way would be a tactical nuke, and if a country deployed one against a USN CAG, it would not end well for that country.
 

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You can only do so much to reduce vulnerability of any system/platform etc, after that you either deploy them or surrender before firing a single round. Mustn't scratch the paintwork after all.

On paper the Armada had Drake's ships down cold so he should have continued with his game of boules and allowed them to get on with it. They are warships though and risk is the name of the game.
 

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A volley of 'Shipwrecks' 30 years ago would have been deadly, things haven't got any easier in the intervening period.
Any warship or fleet is vulnerable.

Seven decades on from the end of WW2 there has only been one peer vs peer naval action and that was the Falklands which didn't quite pan out as planned. There have been plenty of exercises over the years but that's not the same as actual combat.
One Oniks might not sink a carrier but it might cripple it or otherwise leave it disabled long enough to have an impact. The kinetic force of the impact is one thing, but its the effect of any unspent missile fuel fire afterwards that will be the major concern. For a smaller ship it could be catastrophic, we've seen several large warships in recent years running into big heavy merchant ships and sustaining quite severe damage, in one case leading to a sinking. What on paper looks good and safe may not be so when water is actually leaking in, electricity cuts and your crew is fighting a serious fire.

But it cuts both ways, obsessions about whether US carriers can be disabled hides the fact that Russian and Chinese carriers are just as vulnerable.

If we are talking about CVA01 specifically, then yes there was a danger from Soviet missiles but the threat in the late 1960s was far lower than today. Soviet air-launched ASMs were big heavy objects not unlike small fighters and were vulnerable to SAMs, the main concern was having enough range to hit the Tu-16 or Tu-95 before it could launch, Tu-22 made that trickier. Pop-up launches from submarines were another concern, but again at that time still 'Shaddocks' and the 'Whisky Bins' and 'Echos' were not exactly stealthy platforms. Threats like the larger FACs like the 'Nanchukas' were taken seriously enough that the Westland Lynx and Sea Skua were developed purely to defeat that threat. It was not until the mid-1970s when the 'Shipwreck' appeared that the problems multiplied. I've seen the files at Kew and a lot of length discussion was made of the impact of the new generation of supersonic missiles allied to stealthy next generation SSGNs like the 'Oscar' and how best to counter them.
 

JFC Fuller

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It was not until the mid-1970s when the 'Shipwreck' appeared that the problems multiplied. I've seen the files at Kew and a lot of length discussion was made of the impact of the new generation of supersonic missiles allied to stealthy next generation SSGNs like the 'Oscar' and how best to counter them.

I would love to see how the Sea Harrier F/A-2 fitted into this. The declining Soviet use of long range targeting aircraft (Tu-95RT) and their increasing reliance on space based and OTH targeting systems would have rendered the kill chain breaking role of the FRS.1 redundant, the significant investment in the (then) very advanced AMRAAM and Blue Vixen combo smells like part of the response.

I would recommend this paper for a description of the Soviet approach: https://digital-commons.usnwc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1247&context=nwc-review
 
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Sensors sensors sensors and then mission planning, communications and yet more sensors.

You cannot hit what you cannot see.

Missiles are just the tip of the spear, but to work needs a long shaft.

So while the fan boys drool over thehypersonic missile. The professionals are asking how you actually target the weapon and get it into place.

People dismiss soft kill too, but the dark arts of EW ae not to be ignored even if they don't look sexy.
 

zen

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You cannot hit what you cannot see.

What are your thoughts on Satellites giving away positions and host radars on missiles?
So the easy bit is the missile radars. They are limited in size and thus range. The faster missile has limited search time and search time depends on algorithms to match the 'image' with internal database of targets and non targets. Which in turn means getting close enough for the radar or other sensor produce that image.
The offset of fast missiles is they cross the distance hopefully quickly enough to keep the target inside their limited search area.
But distance from the 'system' sensor detecting, tracking and identifying the target means a degree of error in target location and predicted location after flight time. As does the distance from launcher. Time is your enemy.
The more time spent getting there the more the target moves and less sure you are where it is.

Datalinks are a double edged sword. The dark arts of EW and hacking lurk to cause untold damage to the weapon system.

That's why there was a string push to take the spare topweight from removing the 911 radars of Sea Wolf and replace it with soft kill EW.

So those big land based OTHR might give you a possible target but something has to ID it. Otherwise it's just a return signal you can track.

Satellites also have degrees of imprecision and are extremely vulnerable. Not just to potential ASAT systems but the host of dangers that afflict all satellites.

There are other things that could done again to that vital datalink.....


To my mind the ideal weapon sneaks upto the horizon as a LO platform and then explosively accelerates to zip across the gap.
 

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Sensors sensors sensors and then mission planning, communications and yet more sensors.

You cannot hit what you cannot see.

Missiles are just the tip of the spear, but to work needs a long shaft.

So while the fan boys drool over thehypersonic missile. The professionals are asking how you actually target the weapon and get it into place.
OTHR are big and stationary, I think you can know their location by satellite image then hypersonic or cruise missiles can be used to get rid of them
 

panzerfeist1

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So the easy bit is the missile radars. They are limited in size and thus range. The faster missile has limited search time and search time depends on algorithms to match the 'image' with internal database of targets and non targets. Which in turn means getting close enough for the radar or other sensor produce that image.
The offset of fast missiles is they cross the distance hopefully quickly enough to keep the target inside their limited search area.

Some of these host radars have a 50km lock on range and I take it that aircraft carriers seem pretty big in RCS and do not move as fast as aircrafts do when they are out at sea.

Datalinks are a double edged sword. The dark arts of EW and hacking lurk to cause untold damage to the weapon system.

There problem called dual homing which besides utilizing active guidance also utilizes passive guidance. And one must not forget that some of these missiles can fly below the radar horizon further limiting countermeasures needed to be taken.

So those big land based OTHR might give you a possible target but something has to ID it. Otherwise it's just a return signal you can track.

Satellites also have degrees of imprecision and are extremely vulnerable. Not just to potential ASAT systems but the host of dangers that afflict all satellites.

There are other things that could done again to that vital datalink.....

Some OTH radars claimed that with doppler shifting can bring a resolution of 80-100 meters, But certain newer OTH radars seem to claim to classify cruise missiles or aircrafts apart than told to other defense units what they are. Targeting satellites will allow the adversary to target yours. I am also hearing that some newer satellites can monitor the flights of low altitude targets meaning not just being only limited to just tracking targets in space.

OTHR are big and stationary, I think you can know their location by satellite image then hypersonic or cruise missiles can be used to get rid of them

I heard ballistic missiles can be identified 6000kms away and certain altitudes of HGVs above 100km range can possibly be identified as well, so I guess regarding the altitudes of scramjets will be an issue to them.. Despite these systems having layered defenses and being the 1st to be attacked it would be retaliation to fire hypersonic missiles or cruise missiles back at the source.
 

GARGEAN

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But it cuts both ways, obsessions about whether US carriers can be disabled hides the fact that Russian and Chinese carriers are just as vulnerable.
Thankfully Russia has none now :rolleyes:
 

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it can be very safe.
VERY safe? Because this will allow it with 100% guarantee to intercept all P-800, 3M54, Zirkons and Kinzhals launched at it?
What can possibly make you think any of these missiles I mentioned is interceptor?. LRASM 1.1, JASSM-XR and HCSW are all air to surface weapon, they are not designed to intercept any missile but they make the aircraft carrier safe by giving it a weapon that can out range its enemy.
 

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Some OTH radars claimed that with doppler shifting can bring a resolution of 80-100 meters, But certain newer OTH radars seem to claim to classify cruise missiles or aircrafts apart than told to other defense units what they are. Targeting satellites will allow the adversary to target yours. I am also hearing that some newer satellites can monitor the flights of low altitude targets meaning not just being only limited to just tracking targets in space.
I heard ballistic missiles can be identified 6000kms away and certain altitudes of HGVs above 100km range can possibly be identified as well, so I guess regarding the altitudes of scramjets will be an issue to them.. Despite these systems having layered defenses and being the 1st to be attacked it would be retaliation to fire hypersonic missiles or cruise missiles back at the source.
100 meters resolution but at what range? Is it range resolution or angular resolution? or are you talking about velocity resolution?
I haven't heard about any satellite monitoring fly at low altitude and it doesn't make sense to me. Satellites are at high altitude, they have limited weight and power so essentially you have a weaker radar from longer distance, it must be very easy to jam.
Aircraft carrier has layered defense as well but unlike OTHR, their locations are not fixed and they are not as big. I think hypersonic missile will be used to abuse OTHR station ways sooner than they can be a threat to AC.
 

Archibald

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Somebody need to write a story "the day the aircraft carrier died" extrapolating from that exact moment in WWII when the battleship died - Repulse & Renown, Tarento, Pearl Harbor...
The battleship died because air power crippled it.
Will the aircraft carrier die because the ballistic or hypersonic missile crippled it ?
 

zen

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50km when your missile is doing over 6,000kmph or 100km per minute or 50km per 30 seconds......
30 seconds to search, match and lock on from entry into acurate range.
15 seconds covers 25km.
How hard can you turn? And keep the scramjet alight? Hard turn that dumps your V, snuffs out the scramjet and leaves you coasting at mere supersonic speeds is not a good attack. Because if you're now at 25km and doing just 2000kmph defensive systems have lots more time to engage. Because now you'll cover the distance in not 15 seconds but 45 seconds.

So full scale war (were you get to target carriers) means your satellites get to become targets. Jammed, hacked, smashed into pieces or worse just taken out by a solar flare that happened anyway.

OTHR calls for first strike to blind you.
Along with your airfields....and your command and control. Which would also be subject to some serious hard EW hacking efforts.
 
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GARGEAN

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What can possibly make you think any of these missiles I mentioned is interceptor?. LRASM 1.1, JASSM-XR and HCSW are all air to surface weapon, they are not designed to intercept any missile but they make the aircraft carrier safe by giving it a weapon that can out range its enemy.
I know what these are. And that's exactly the reason of my question: how exactly they are gonna help with interception of Kinzhal from MiG-31 or Tu-22M3? Or from P-800 barrage launched from sub? Even against ship-based missiles like 3M-54, P-800 or Zircon: you might possibly outrange them (which is question itself), but why that should make your carrier "very safe"? Or US AShMs are that less likely to be intercepted compared to soviet, russian or chinese?
 

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I know what these are. And that's exactly the reason of my question: how exactly they are gonna help with interception of Kinzhal from MiG-31 or Tu-22M3? Or from P-800 barrage launched from sub? Even against ship-based missiles like 3M-54, P-800 or Zircon: you might possibly outrange them (which is question itself), but why that should make your carrier "very safe"? Or US AShMs are that less likely to be intercepted compared to soviet, russian or chinese?
It is not about interception, with longer range weapons, you can attack your enemy without getting in range of their weapons. HCSW, JASSM-XR makes carrier safe the same way a snipe rifle can keep a soldier safe.
P-800 range: 800 km
3M22 Zircon range: 700-1000 km
Kalibr range: 2500 km?
Kh-47M2 Kinzhal range: 2000-3000 km
JASSM-XR range: 1600 km
HCSW range: thousands of miles ( no specific number but the land version with same glider vehicle can fly 6000 km, so I guess the air version can fly 3000 km at least, account for smaller booster).
They all have long range, but we can't attack what we can't see, radar horizon of a carrier is much greater than any surface ship because they can carry AEW&C. So surface ship and Tu-22, Mig-31K need OTHR if they wish to compete. OTHR can move and they are large, so JASSM-XR and HCSW is useful
pic_1543590652.jpg


I have no idea how far can submarine find target though, so they can be dangerous.
 
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GARGEAN

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How are you gonna outrange MiG-31 with LRASM? Why are you gonna always hit ground installations first? Why are you gonna be alone using AWACS? How are you gonna jam all RF and destroy all vis/IR satellites?

This is going into pointless exceptionalism. "R
This is gonna outrange, those are gonna jam, that can be intercepted" while pretending that none of possible benefits are not falling on enemy side. If simple outranging is solving all the problems - russian planes are invincible because of R-37? Russian tanks are invincible because of 9M119?

Aircraft carriers ARE vulnerable. And they WILL be destroyed in any real near peer conflict if will be in the general area of said conflict. Other question is: will it matter in such conflict?
 

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Carriers might not become obsolete overnight, but they may (or may not) slowly dwindle into financial non-effectiveness over the next x decades (or even a 100 years). As surveillance of the seas increases with technology, and reach of weapons increases, so will the carriers have to keep further and further back from enemy shores. Which will diminish their effectiveness. And at some point the carrier will basically be there to lob very long range missiles itself, via its planes. So at a point where missiles themselves will have several times the range of the planes, the planes may simply be deemed too expensive for what they're worth, when combined with the added cost of a specialized ship needed for them. And we may then see (in up to 100 years) just land bases and various other ships (or submarines) hosting hundreds of various super-long-range missiles taking the carrier's place.
 

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How are you gonna outrange MiG-31 with LRASM? Why are you gonna always hit ground installations first? Why are you gonna be alone using AWACS? How are you gonna jam all RF and destroy all vis/IR satellites?

This is going into pointless exceptionalism. "R
This is gonna outrange, those are gonna jam, that can be intercepted" while pretending that none of possible benefits are not falling on enemy side.

Aircraft carriers ARE vulnerable. And they WILL be destroyed in any real near peer conflict if will be in the general area of said conflict. Other question is: will it matter in such conflict?
If simple outranging is solving all the problems - russian planes are invincible because of R-37? Russian tanks are invincible because of 9M119?
I don't think Mig-31K + Kinzhal can be out range by LRASM but it could be out range by F-35 or F-18E/F + HCSW. B-52 or B-1 + ARRW is a good alternative to attack OTHR.
OTHRs will be hit first because they are big, FIXED targets. They can't change location, you know exactly where they are, all the time. Big stationary targets are more vulnerable to long range attack because: you don't need to find them and you can use an internal navigation system against them and INS can't be jammed.
In the middle of the ocean, aircraft carrier has AEW&C so they can see further and therefore attack further than other kinds of surface ship, some destroyer can carry mini helicopter AEW&C but they don't have the detection range or the altitude or the loiter time or the combat radius of a carrier's AEW&C so a carrier can still see further and attack first.
Nearshore, you can get support from OTHR but these are more vulnerable than a carrier because they lack mobility and they are bigger
You can have AEW&C take off from land airfield as well, but land airfield have very similar issue as OTHR, they are big and they are fixed.
I don't think we have any IR/optical satellite that can track moving target in real-time yet, radar satellite can do that but they are easy to jam, because they are essentially very weak radar at very long range. For example, the Kondor is at 500 km orbit, Lacrosse is at 687 km orbit, Huan Jing-1 is at 650 km orbit. These are very extreme range and there is no chance those satellite can generate as much power as a ground based or even fighter radar.
Out range your enemy doesn't make you invulnerable, but it sure as hell makes you safer. An aircraft carrier can be destroyed but they are still far safer than any other kind of surface ship. Possibly, only submarine are safer
 
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GARGEAN

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Question is not why OTHR locations are more vulnerable than carriers, but why they should be hit first. Defensive actions doesn't exist in US world? Plus I don't see reasons why A2/AD coverage of those should be considered any weaker than one of carrier.
Satellites... That's not exactly how it works. Their radars are not "very weak", they are not fruitcake to jam and, funnily enough, quite a few of them are passive. And I really think that you shouldn't dismiss optical systems either.
There are Lotos-S, Pion-NKS, Persona, Bars-M, Kondor... And that's only part of only russian side. You really hope that all of them are gonna magically became useless in H-hour?
 

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Question is not why OTHR locations are more vulnerable than carriers, but why they should be hit first. Defensive actions doesn't exist in US world? Plus I don't see reasons why A2/AD coverage of those should be considered any weaker than one of carrier.
Satellites... That's not exactly how it works. Their radars are not "very weak", they are not fruitcake to jam and, funnily enough, quite a few of them are passive. And I really think that you shouldn't dismiss optical systems either.
There are Lotos-S, Pion-NKS, Persona, Bars-M, Kondor... And that's only part of only russian side. You really hope that all of them are gonna magically became useless in H-hour?
OTHR will be hit first because they can't move out of range. They are always at the same place, all the time and they are too big to camouflage. So your enemy don't have to find them, their location is not a secret. That get rid of the finding target part of the kill chain. Then because OTHR can't move, INS guidance can be used against them. That get rid of jamming part of the defensive chain. In war time, OTHR are very vulnerable, far more than an aircraft carrier.
Satellites's radar are weak, very weak. An aircraft can generate electricity to supply to their radar by generators connected to their jet engines, a ground radar can take electricity from a turbine generator, a ship can generate electricity from very high power nuclear reactor. But aircraft don't stay on air 24/7, they fly for at few hours then they land, refuel. Ground radar can operate 24/7 but their generator are refueled very often. A ship can operate 24/7 and doesn't need to refuel very often but they have Megawalt nuclear reactor. By contrast, a satellite can't refuel their generator, they have to operate 24/7 for several years, they are powered by solar panels and in some rare cases a small tiny mini nuclear reactor with a capacity of 1.3-5 kW. To make thing worse, satellite are very far from targets: minimum 500-600 km altitude, the further you are, the lower the power density. So with weaker generator and further distance, a satellite radar is much easier to jam than any ground or aircraft radar. There are passive satellite but I don't see why the jammer have to be on the aircraft carrier, we can easily have a picket ship or aircraft far from the carrier jam the satellite.
Capture.PNG

Lotos-S, Pion-NKS are ELINT rather than optical satellites. Persona, Bars-M, Kondor have optical function but they operate by taking very high resolution wide-area photos then send back to headquarter for evaluation and mapping, as far as I know they can't track individual target in real time like an irst or radar. I don't think spy satellites are useless but I do think they are more vulnerable than a carrier. Satellites have to follow a predictable orbit, we know exactly where they will be at any moment in time. They are at high altitude so they can't really hide behind the radar horizon. They do not have a hard kill or soft kill defensive system. ELINT and Optical satellites are at very low orbit at 450-600 km compare to GPS satellite at 202000 km and GLONASS satellites at 19130 km, so more types of ASAT can reach them
 

uk 75

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Have really enjoyed this thread. I was in fact thinking more low tech. If you can disable a carrier from being able to steer, or in the case of US carriers start of fire on the deck (most aircraft seem to be there even now), you can prevent it from operating?
 

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Somebody need to write a story "the day the aircraft carrier died" extrapolating from that exact moment in WWII when the battleship died - Repulse & Renown, Tarento, Pearl Harbor...
The battleship died because air power crippled it.
Will the aircraft carrier die because the ballistic or hypersonic missile crippled it ?
No.
 

Flying Sorcerer

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I remember reading something in Navy International many years ago on the nature of naval-technological revolutions. The author's point was that a warship category becomes obsolete when a successor system appears that can perform its mission more efficiently or add a new capability dimension that the older system can't match. For example, the steam driven warship replaced the sailing ship because the former was not reliant on the wind. The dreadnought replaced the pre-dreadnought because the former was much more powerful, and the aircraft carrier displaced the battleship because it could control air space and project power over a much greater distance. So far nothing has emerged that can replace the aircraft carrier and it will likely be obsolesced by something much more flexible (and expensive) than anti-shipping ballistic and cruise missiles, which after all have narrow if deep capabilities. The life of a carrier may become more hazardous but it's day isn't over yet.
 

sferrin

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For all the hype, China still hasn't demonstrated it can hit a moving target at sea with a ballistic missile. Even when/if it does, so what? Is that more deadly than a formation of P-700s coming at you in 1985? Or a regiment's worth of Kh-15/22s? Sure, there are possible solutions that can also put warheads on targets (for a lot more money per pound delivered, with much shallower and less versatile magazines), which one of them can control the airspace as well as a group of E-2Ds with fighter aircraft? And perform ASW as effectively as a wing of Vikings? And make the political statement a carrier showing up on your doorstep does? Etc, etc, etc.
 

Archibald

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Somebody need to write a story "the day the aircraft carrier died" extrapolating from that exact moment in WWII when the battleship died - Repulse & Renown, Tarento, Pearl Harbor...
The battleship died because air power crippled it.
Will the aircraft carrier die because the ballistic or hypersonic missile crippled it ?
No.










YES
 

sferrin

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Somebody need to write a story "the day the aircraft carrier died" extrapolating from that exact moment in WWII when the battleship died - Repulse & Renown, Tarento, Pearl Harbor...
The battleship died because air power crippled it.
Will the aircraft carrier die because the ballistic or hypersonic missile crippled it ?
No.










YES
Elaborate. Tell us, specifically, how you're going to make carriers impotent. (Keeping in mind, of course, that any type of ship is ALREADY under threat of destruction in a war.)
 

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While I certainly disagree with those above (over) stating the demise of aircraft carriers I think it is an interesting case of various technological advances and developments potentially changing various cost/ benefit calculations as relate to aircraft carriers.
 

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you say yes / I say no / you say stop / and I say go go go...
 
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