Sorry, China: U.S. Aircraft Carriers Are Far From Obsolete
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The U.S. Navy currently operates three aircraft carriers in the Pacific, which, according to Chinese movements and comments on Taiwan and the South China Sea, appears to be a powerful demonstration of power.
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The move, which includes the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the USS Nimitz and the USS Ronald Reagan, has a normally strong US presence. This type of message has not been seen in recent years and signals the rapidly growing importance of US deterrence efforts in relation to China. A report in the International Business Times states that a three-carrier mission has not occurred in about three years. The trend appears to be clearly related to the recent tensions between the United States and China over the coronavirus pandemic and Chinese naval maneuvers over Taiwan and the South China Sea.
According to a report in the Global Times newspaper in Beijing, Chinese officials cited China's strong opposition to the movements and said, "China can counteract this by doing military exercises and demonstrating its ability and determination to maintain its territorial integrity." The Global Times, a paper supported by China, also specifically refers to China's well-known "carrier killer" DF-21D and DF-26 anti-ship missiles. There has been a lot of discussion about these weapons as there are regular reports that they operate at a range of 900 miles, a distance some say may force US carriers to operate in much more distant ranges. Although not much is known about the technical maturity and guidance systems of these weapons, the naval leaders knew that their carriers would be used "anywhere" in international waters.
This type of scenario regularly invites debate, speculation and strategic discussion about the continued functional benefits of aircraft carriers. Navy studies consistently examine alternative configurations for future carriers to follow the first three or four Ford-class ships currently under development. Perhaps the service will design smaller, faster and more agile carriers, or expand the use of drones with longer ranges.
At the same time, airlines are unlikely to go anywhere soon for several reasons. First, the reported range of this type of Chinese carrier killer missile is not a serious threat to nearer carriers unless it has precision guidance systems and the ability to hit moving targets. Even though there is of course not much discussion for understandable security reasons, the U.S. Navy is pushing ahead with new technologies to improve its multi-layer anti-ship defense systems. Porters regularly travel in strike groups, which means that they are defended by destroyers, cruisers, and various air surveillance and attack goods. Second, the Navy continues to take quick steps to arm its surface ships with new laser weapons and advanced EW systems that can "block" incoming rockets, stop them, destroy their trajectory, or simply take them off course.
In addition, the Navy's multi-layer defense system not only includes new long-range aerospace and ship sensors, but interceptors fired on deck continue to receive software upgrades, making them far more accurate. For example, the Navy's SM-6 missiles and the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block II are now equipped with software and sensor upgrades to help them better recognize and destroy approaching "moving targets". In the case of technical upgrades for SM-6, for example, a "dual mode" viewfinder is built into the weapon itself, as a result of which moving targets can be distinguished better and adjusted in flight to destroy them. The ESSM-Block II also has a sea-skimming mode, with which the interceptor can destroy approaching missiles that fly parallel to the surface in lower positions. Some newer, advanced interceptors no longer rely solely on ship lighting fixtures, but receive semi-autonomous electronic "pings" and make in-flight adjustments to destroy an approaching anti-ship missile.
New antenna sensors such as advanced drones and the ISR-capable F-35C should also successfully be a surveillance object for "air nodes", with the help of which surface commanders can be made aware of approaching missiles. They would also help ships attack an approaching anti-ship missile from the air and, in some cases, intercept or destroy it. In fact, this ability is already being used by U.S. Navy destroyers. It's called Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air. This is a system that uses an air node such as a Hawkeye surveillance aircraft or even an F-35 to detect approaching threats from outside the horizon, to network with ship-based commands and controls and enable a well-directed SM-6 interceptor to take the approaching missile from a great distance.
All of this means that despite the Chinese claims that its carrier killer missiles make carriers "obsolete", there does not appear to be much certainty that carrier groups have not successfully defended themselves against them. This is especially true when carriers are flanked by well-armed DDG 51 destroyers. Perhaps these factors are part of why U.S. Navy leaders continue to say that their airlines can operate successfully wherever they need to. Finally, the successful interception of 900 nautical miles anti-ship missiles could prove less urgent when the carrier-fired MQ-25 Stingray tanker arrives, which at least promises to nearly double the range of attack from fighters fired from the deck like that F-35C and F / A-18 Super Hornet.
Kris Osborn is the new defense editor for national interest. Osborn previously worked at the Pentagon as a highly qualified expert in the army's deputy secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist on national television channels. He has been a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel and The History Channel. He also has a master's degree in comparative literature from Columbia University.
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