This letter references numerous points in Steve Cohen’s article in Forbes of October 25, 2010 entitled “Where Are The Carriers?” which concerns the availability, value, and number of U.S. aircraft carriers.
As a former Navy enlisted man and Naval officer, I am concerned with our ability to deter, thwart, and counter aggression in the world. Our carrier battle groups are formidable forces that can be forwardly deployed to remote and far-flung locations around the globe. Each carrier provides on the order of 70 aircraft ready for battle. They are highly maneuverable moving platforms, and contrary to the Defense Secretary’s thinking, the long-range anti-ship missile systems of any foreign country probably do not have pinpoint accuracy at long distances to inflict damage on the carriers. Fixed long-range missile sites could be knocked out, if necessary, by a number of U.S. systems and by the conduct of special operations. At short ranges, enemy shipboard-based missiles would be subject to attack from our aircraft, surface warfare vessels and submarines.
It is worthy to note the apparent value of aircraft carriers to China. It currently has four aircraft carriers under refurbishment, which it purchased from other countries.
If Secretary Gates isn’t going to rely on the carrier battle groups for close air support for our troops, then he will have to use land-based planes, which are typically located potentially far from the various hotspots in the world. The planes have to fly long distances to get to their targets and our fixed bases could be vulnerable to enemy air attacks and sabotage operations.
As of the end of October we had only three out of 11 carriers operational. Having two carriers in dry dock and six carriers in various stages of refurbishment, maintenance and recertification means we are not prepared to address potential conflicts around the globe. Three carrier battle groups would not be enough to counter a North Korean attack against South Korea. Furthermore, we need at least one or two carrier battle groups to support operations in Afghanistan. It is estimated the six carriers in various stages of repair and maintenance could be made available for operations within 30 to 90 days, but this is unacceptable in terms of needed response times.
We need to do a better job of having more of our carriers operational at any one time. Our security and the security of our allies are in jeopardy when eight of eleven carriers are laid up for repairs, maintenance and refurbishment. We probably need 15 carrier battle groups to cover our worldwide security commitments, and provide for downtime associated with in-port maintenance activities.