Amidst the welter of calls for reducing defense spending, cancelling weapons programs and bringing the troops home, it is useful to consider the role that American global power has served over the past decades. U.S. military power provides a degree of global stability unparalleled since the heyday of the Roman legion. Of all the elements of U.S. military power the one that has been the most versatile and, arguably, the most successful at keeping the peace in its domain is naval power. It is important to remember this in view of reports that the secretary of defense is about to make major cuts in U.S. amphibious warfare programs.
The most powerful and capable expression of U.S. naval power is the carrier strike group (CSG). The CSG can project unequalled destructive power against a wide range of targets ashore, on the seas and in the air. The CSG is also able to exert influence and control over an enormous volume of sea and air space, ensuring the free flow of goods and people across the global commons. As has been demonstrated repeatedly from Haiti to Indonesia, the CSG is also a potent force in the execution of humanitarian assistance operations. A critical aspect of the CSG’s ability to provide unparalleled support in humanitarian crises is its ability to deploy anywhere in the world and operate from international waters.
The CSG is also possibly the most complex military organization ever to exist. There is the aircraft carrier itself, a 90,000-plus ton nuclear powered goliath with a crew of more than 4,000. The carrier is supported by its own fleet of escort ships and submarines able to conduct air, surface and subsurface warfare simultaneously. Of course there is the air wing that deploys with the aircraft carrier. The air wing consists of a combination of strike aircraft (currently F/A-18s but soon also F-35s), helicopter and the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye surveillance aircraft. Carrier operations are supported by the C-2 Greyhound cargo and passenger aircraft. Networked together, the combination of ships, submarines and aircraft/helicopters in the CSG can respond to missions across the entire breadth of the spectrum of conflict.
The value to the United States of the Navy’s ability to deploy a CSG anywhere in the world’s oceans cannot be underestimated. During Operation Enduring Freedom, the USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) was initially deployed to the north Arabian Sea to serve as a platform from which helicopters and Marine Corps units could be inserted into Afghanistan. Subsequently, the USS Enterprise (CVN 65) with accompanying ship and submarine task group, followed by the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) with a similar task group deployed to provide air support for operations over Afghanistan. Naval strike aircraft have provided near-continuous air support to deployed U.S. forces since that time. No other Navy in the world could have undertaken this mission.
The aircraft carrier is an expensive military system, particularly when the price of escorts, the air wing and other enablers is also factored in. I am sure there will be calls in the not too distant future to cut the number of carriers — there are currently 11 in the Fleet. Such ideas focus only on the price of the CSG but not its value.
Find Archived Articles: