Are U.S. Navy’s Super Carriers a Relic of Wars Past?


Full Member
Mar 3, 2009
Minot N.D.
WASHINGTON — Budget pressures at the Pentagon have renewed a debate about the value of the U.S. Navy’s giant aircraft carriers, with critics arguing the warships are fast becoming costly relics in a new era of warfare.

With the Pentagon facing $500 billion in cuts over the next decade, a Navy officer has dared to question the most treasured vessels in his service’s fleet, saying the super carriers are increasingly vulnerable to new weapons and too expensive to operate.

“After 100 years, the carrier is rapidly approaching the end of its useful strategic life,” wrote Capt. Henry Hendrix in a report published this month by the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think-tank with close ties to President Obama’s administration.

Changes in naval warfare mean that carriers “may not be able to move close enough to targets to operate effectively or survive in an era of satellite imagery and long-range precision strike missiles,” Hendrix wrote.

Under U.S. law, the military is required to maintain 11 aircraft carriers.

Ten are currently in service after the retirement of the USS Enterprise, which is due to be replaced in 2017 with the USS Gerald Ford, the first of a new class of “big decks.”

The new carrier carries a prohibitive pricetag of $13.6 billion, double the cost of the last aircraft carrier. And that does not count the $4.7 billion spent on research and development for the new class of carriers.
Chinese missiles

It costs about $6.5 million a day to operate a single carrier strike group, which includes five other warships, an attack submarine, an air wing of 80 fighters and helicopters, and a crew of 6,700.

But Hendrix maintains the return on the investment is paltry.

Each F/A-18 fighter in the carrier fleet has dropped roughly 16 bombs in 10 years of war, which works out to about $7.5 million for each bomb when all the costs of the aircraft are taken into account.

That compares to the cost of firing a Tomahawk cruise missile, at about $2 million each. And five naval destroyers armed with Tomahawks cost only $10 billion to build and $1.8 million a day to operate, Hendrix said.

Apart from the mushrooming cost, carriers are facing mounting dangers from increasingly sophisticated ship-killing missiles, skeptics say.

U.S. strategists are fixated on China’s DF-21D missile, which they fear could potentially knock out a carrier and deprive the American fleet of its dominance on the high seas.

Former Pentagon chief Robert Gates cited the anti-ship missiles and other hi-tech weapons in a speech in 2010 in which he questioned whether it was worth spending billions on more carriers.

“Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?” Gates told retired naval officers.

Advanced missiles and stealthy submarines “could end the operational sanctuary our navy has enjoyed in the Western Pacific for the better part of six decades,” said Gates, who referred to carriers as potential “wasting assets.”

His remarks alarmed naval leaders, and the latest dissent has failed to dissuade most officers, who view the big decks as crucial and note that China is deploying its own carrier.

Pete Daly, a retired vice admiral who once commanded the USS Nimitz carrier strike group, defended the ships as a vital element of U.S. military might.

To hit deeply buried targets, fighter jets flying off a carrier were more effective than Tomahawk missiles, and knocking out a super carrier is “very, very hard,” said Daly, now head of the U.S. Naval Institute.

As for China’s missiles, “it was an additional threat to take into account,” Daly told AFP. But he added: “The U.S. Navy is very aware of this and has plans to deal with it.”

The cost of the carriers had to be compared with the huge funding required to protect and supply air bases and troops on land, as illustrated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

And the carriers could be ordered in without the political strain associated with a drawn-out ground war.

“The American people are very wary of commitments ashore, there’s no appetite to go in and have a ten-year presence in some place,” said Daly.

“Here you have a force that can go to a location, deal with a task ahead and then leave quickly or stay as long as it needs to. The political dynamic of that is completely different”.
Are U.S. Navy’s Super Carriers a Relic of Wars Past? | Defense News |


Beware of the Dildópony!
Full Member
Jun 15, 2008
You can't effectively use a saw to drive nails, and you can't expect to use the same tool for every task. Head-to-head scenarios with large, developed nations don't require the same strategy or tools as asymmetric conflict with smaller, less organized forces and factions. Lacking local airfields, we use carriers to project force from off the coastline of an Iran, watching all the while for small, fast boats. Obviously, a more strategic solution would be called for elsewhere, but that flexibility comes at a price that budget cuts are making difficult, if not impossible. Prior planning prevents ...


Old Salt
Full Member
Jan 16, 2011
Floyd Co, IN
Probably don't "need" 11 carriers...but a blue water navy with unparalleled force projection via those CBGs is a huge asset IMO.

In other news, I saw a semi trailer on I-65 last week painted in a US Navy featured a Global Hawk RPA.


Full Member
Sep 23, 2011
Phoenix,Az, USA
Never been in the military so my opinion may be worth nothing, but I can't see that our country is worse off with carriers than without them. Plus, once we "theoretically" dock them, what about the 80 jets and helicopters?


Full Member
Jan 15, 2009
I think the issue isn't about whether or not to have carrier groups. They're already built so it's not like we're going to sink them. I do think that 11 CBGs is excessive though. As the fleet gets older, I think we should probably pare it down to 1 new one for every two that are decommissioned. When we get to 6 CBGs, then we see where we stand in the world. The problem with having all the toys is that you look for ways to play with them. I think most of us would agree that it's the world's turn to police itself a little more after we've been at war for 12 years.


Full Member
Mar 31, 2009
wishing i was in KY
In Iraq the carriers weren't really needed once the war was in swing. An air force squadron can generate far more sorties with the same number of aircraft than a carrier squadron, and do that ad infinitum. We have a whole army of maintainers, and a whole army of munitions guys, and crew chiefs, and fuelers, all operating from a fixed base with plenty of room. We dont care which way the wind is blowing or if it is nighttime.

The carrier guys have to do all those jobs with far fewer people....and a LOT less space. As a general rule, they can either launch aircraft, recover aircraft, or fix aircraft. But they aren't doing all three and certainly not at anything close to the rate a land based squadron can.

In Iraq the Navy typically flew for three or four days and then took two days off. When they were not operating, the AF flew all of their missions along with our own, and hardly noticed. In fact, we enjoyed it because we got a few more day missions since they don't like recovering aircraft at night and typically flew more of the daytime stuff when they were flying. If the carriers left we could have flown all of their stuff for years without a stretch.

Delivering large volumes of airpower is not what the NAvy is good at...they ARE good at delivering airpower quickly, in places where we don't have bases. They are good at delivering "a message." Nothing says I don't like what you are doing like having a #@$ing carrier parked in your backyard right offshore. The President can get on the phone and move a carrier to a trouble spot without worrying about host nation agreements or countries getting their panties in a wad about overfly rights. The Navy has access to the vast majority of the entire world's population from international waters. They are a SWAT team, a QRF, and give us the time as a nation to get the AF in place to deliver a long term ass whoopin, if that is required.

So, given the mission and purpose of the carrier group, the number of carriers ought to be based on how much coverage area you want to assign to each one. The fewer the carriers, the larger the coverage area each one is responsible for, and the longer it may take one to get in place where it is needed. So how many you need should be based on the maximum amount of time you want the carrier to take to arrive. That is going to depend on the current/projected threat situation, and is not so easy to answer.

Sean the Nailer

Full Member
  • May 20, 2006
    Winnipeg, Mb.
    "reducing" the # of carriers to a more 'convenient' number is NOT the answer, in my opinion.

    What is the point of gaining all that power and respect, over however many years....only to not just "give it back" but to more ignorantly "give it up".

    That would definitely not be a good thing, in my books. And I'm not even an American. Ya'lls may not be perfect, but you're a damn-site better than most of the others out there. Who is it, exactly, that you'd like to have "Their" carrier just off your shores? Think about that for a moment.

    You have the impetus, the momentum, and hell, call it the 'scepter'. Point is, don't give it up. Support it. You don't necessarily need to "build it up more" though building it 'better' is always good.

    Can anyone argue that point? Really?


    Full Member
    Nov 20, 2004
    So. Ca
    The Navy likes to call the big Nimitz class carriers "4.5 acres of sovereign and mobile American territory" Nothing is invulnerable, all said sinking a modern supercarrier will take lots of ordnance.


    Full Member
    Oct 23, 2011
    Forest hill, Louisiana
    They are worried about these Supercarriers costing so much, but yet they send 500million to Egypt, 500 million to Pakistan, lord knows how much more to other countries. Put term limits on EVERY politician and cut their lifetime benefits and salaries. This will free up incredible amounts of money.


    Full Member
    May 25, 2012
    DFW, TX
    How can one possibly think sea control can be enacted via anything other than steel ships. What about global trade? The Navy is great for force projection, but the US Navy is the one reason we have stable global trade and safe seaways. Not having proper sea control (and even sea denial) will hurt the global market.

    Does the writer of this article ever heard of sea control? Submarines do not suffice.


    Banned !
    Full Member
    Feb 25, 2007
    SE Michigan
    The OPEC countries agreed to do business in US Dollars because of those carriers. We provided security, they sold oil in dollars.

    Now our reliance on OPEC oil is decreasing, I guess a case can be made to decrease the fleet. But if the world eschews the US Dollar, we'll probably be wanting more military assets in very short order.


    Full Member
    Oct 30, 2007
    You can't run an empire without them. Aircraft carriers give us access to the world. The rest of the Navy exists to protect and service the carriers. That's why I find a discussion of Chinese aircraft carriers infinitely more interesting.


    Better to die on your feet than live on your knees
    Full Member
  • Jul 27, 2007
    They are worried about these Supercarriers costing so much, but yet they send 500million to Egypt, 500 million to Pakistan, lord knows how much more to other countries. Put term limits on EVERY politician and cut their lifetime benefits and salaries. This will free up incredible amounts of money.

    Regarding your post consider the following....How many CBG's would this support Cilck on image to enlarge.


    One-Eyed Jack

    Gunny Sergeant
    Full Member
    Nov 29, 2004
    Minden, NV
    If you're counting what a CBG did, you have to count what the other side didn't do because they were within the range of CBG's weapon systems. It used to be called gunboat diplomacy, I'm sure there's a more polite term for it, like "enlightenment."

    The right way to figure out how large our military should be is to first determine what needs to be done and how ("DIME"), then build and maintain the assets to do that job. If you start out with the number of carriers, submarines, missiles, aircraft and personnel and then ask how can we use them, you're working the problem backwards and will end with your head up your ass and your ass in your hand.


    Senior Chief
    Full Member
    Mar 29, 2011
    Northern Colorado
    ^^ you nailed it, there is much more to a CBG than just air sorties. Much more than time to explain.

    All branches of the military work in conjunction to the mission at hand. We can not simply replace Navy Airpower with Air Force, the Air Force must establish a forward or supporting base to launch from. The Navy has the ability to mobilize at a moments notice, and also maintain one very vital key element "logistics". You can only airlift so much gear to a foreign campaign, the Navy not only transports personel, equipement, but also fuel, and ordnance. The sea lanes must be protected, from threats above and below.

    I was a Carrier Corpsman in the 7th fleet, and it was a pain in the ass always having to deploy whenever some foreign leader got a wild hair up their butt, but I can tell you they tighten their shit when that big-ol fully loaded carrier comes rolling through.