DodBuzz asks an interesting question: Will aircraft carriers remain useful in future wars? The answer is no. And the reason is missiles like you're seeing in this photograph: a Raduga KH-22 cruise missile mounted on a Tupolev Tu-22 Backfire long-range strike bomber.
Mark Jacobson—former advisor to General Stanley McChrystal and ex-CIA chief General David Petraeus—told DodBuzz that America's potential enemies are constantly thinking about how to beat the US military with new tactical ideas but, surprisingly, the Pentagon seems to be anchored in the past:
The services don't change. I'm not sure all the service chiefs get this yet… Are we focusing on new types of destroyers? Is anybody willing to question the existence of aircraft carriers? If you look at history this may be the battleship all over again [...] It won't be a useful weapon in the Taiwan Straits, and it may not be one 15 years from now, depending on how many nations have hypersonic missiles.
In fact, they can be rendered useless today. Carriers have been indispensable platforms in recent wars—without them, the US wouldn't have been able to quickly deploy air squadrons in different operation theaters. However, this has only been possible because the US Navy wasn't facing an enemy equipped with a KH-22 or a similar weapon.
The KH-22 is supersonic cruise missile that can sink an American super carrier from miles away, hitting them at Mach 5. It was designed by the Soviet Union after analyzing the naval battles of World War II. They asked this question: If we can attack aircraft carriers from a long distance, do we need to match their air power? The answer was obvious. Just like the battleship was rendered useless by aircraft carriers, the latter can also be neutralized with fast, impossible to stop missiles fired from a long distance. That's why the KH-22 was developed. With the newest variants, an airplane can fire one of these beasts from almost 372 miles (600 kilometers) away, opening a hole five meters in diameter and a dozen meters deep into any ship.
It's hard to imagine a Russia vs United States war scenario today, but the fact is that Russia is also making these missiles for export: The KH-22E uses conventional warheads, but they are equally lethal to carriers. Knowing all this—and knowing that China probably has these or clones of them, and other countries will get them too—does the United States really need more super carriers?
Seems to me like Jacobson is right. The next naval war could turn carriers into this century's battleship.
UPDATE: A reader posted a link to this brilliant paper by US Navy Captain Henry J. Hendrix, Ph.D. Perhaps all the armchair Commanders-in-Chief would like to read it and learn something, but here's the final paragraph of his conclusion:
An innovative culture has characterized the U.S. Navy throughout its history. The carrier had its day, but continuing to adhere to 100 years of aviation tradition, even in the face of a direct challenge, signals a failure of imagination and foreshadows decline. Money is tight, and as the nautical saying goes, the enemy has found our range. It is time to change course.
So what's the most effective vehicle in the Navy's arsenal, then? Submarines, of course.
These guided-missile submarines, known as SSGNs and each carrying up to 155 Tomahawks, represent the most effective path forward in strike warfare.
Super quiet, the Ohio SSGNs can penetrate enemy waters unseen, positioning themselves to unleash massive waves of precision strike weapons to take down critical nodes of enemy infrastructure, weakening resolve and resistance from the strategic center outward. Stealthy submarines, loaded with low-cost precision cruise and ballistic strike
Money is tight, and as the nautical saying goes, the enemy has found our range. It is time to change course. missiles capped with conventional warheads, provide the United States with an elegant "one target + one missile = one kill" solution.