Report: U.S. aircraft carriers’ ‘unchallenged primacy may be coming to a close’

A report published Monday by the Center for a New American Security, a D.C.-based think tank that focuses on national security, claims that the Navy’s carrier operations are at an inflection point. Faced with growing threats abroad, the United States can either “operate its carriers at ever-increasing ranges … or assume high levels of risk in both blood and treasure.”

The report, titled “Red Alert: The Growing Threat to U.S. Aircraft Carriers,” focuses on China’s burgeoning military posture in the Pacific and on a term that is starting to appear with increasing urgency in defense circles: anti-access/area denial, or A2/AD. The term A2/AD refers to a concept that has long existed in warfare: denying the enemy an ability to move around the battlefield. Currently A2/AD strategy is much the same as it was when moats were dug around castles, except today’s moats are an integrated system of surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship cruise missiles, submarines, surface ships and aircraft — all designed to push enemy forces as far away as possible from strategically important areas.

“Operating the carrier in the face of increasingly lethal and precise munitions will thus require the United States to expose a multi-billion dollar asset to high levels of risk in the event of a conflict,” the report says. “An adversary with A2/AD capabilities would likely launch a saturation attack against the carrier from a variety of platforms and directions. Such an attack would be difficult – if not impossible – to defend against.”

Last week, China’s A2/AD strategy made international news after satellite imagery showed the deployment of HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island, a disputed atoll in the South China Sea. Though small, the island is claimed by both Taiwan and Vietnam. The CNAS report classifies the HQ-9 as a short-range A2/AD threat but indicates that the movement of such systems into disputed territory in the South China Sea, if properly reinforced, is a potentially long-term problem for U.S. naval operations. Medium and long-range threats discussed in the report include land-based Chinese bombers and anti-ship ballistic missiles such as the DF-21D and DF-26. The two missiles “represent a significant threat to the carrier,” with an estimated range of 810 and 1,620 nautical miles, respectively. According to the report, if the DF-26 is as operational and as accurate as the Chinese say it is, the missile would be able to hit the U.S. territory of Guam.

Full article: Report: U.S. aircraft carriers’ ‘unchallenged primacy may be coming to a close’ (The Washington Post)

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