Critics of U.S. aircraft carriers have been arguing for decades that the survival of the world’s biggest warships will increasingly be at risk in an era of long-range, precision-guided, anti-ship missiles. In recent years, China has typically been identified as the military power most likely to drive U.S. carriers from the sea.
But the U.S. Navy seems much less worried about carrier attacks than observers who lack military credentials and clearances. In fact, the outgoing Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, told an audience earlier this year that “we’re less vulnerable now than we have been since and including World War II.”
One reason the Navy is not alarmed is that it has invested heavily in new technologies aimed at bolstering the defenses of carrier strike groups. It also has changed its tactics for operating near China. But the biggest reason for confidence about the future resides in the difficulties China would face in trying to find and track U.S. carriers.
Large-deck, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers of the type the U.S. Navy operates seem like easy targets. They are over a thousand feet long, 25 decks high, and made of steel that reflects radar signals. They have distinctive optical-, infrared-, and radio-frequency signatures.