Over the Horizon: Symbol and Utility in the Great Carrier Debate

By Robert Farley, on , Column

Driven in part by a recent article in Proceedings, the magazine of the United States Naval Institute, the debate over the nature and utility of aircraft carriers has once again erupted between naval analysts. In "Twilight of the $uperflous Carrier," Capt. Henry J. Hendrix of the U.S. Navy and retired Lt. Col. J. Noel Williams of the U.S. Marine Corps argue that modern supercarriers are simply too expensive and too vulnerable to be usable weapons of war. They contend that the era of the supercarrier has come to an end, and that the future of naval power resides in warships like the USS America, a big-deck amphibious assault ship that will eventually be capable of operating the F-35B Lightning II VSTOL fighter jet. Bryan McGrath of Information Dissemination disputes several key assumptions of the article, including the relative vulnerability of supercarriers and big amphibious ships, and the role that UAVs will play in the future of carrier aviation.

But while this discussion has thus far been useful and productive, it sidesteps some of the most important ways in which aircraft carriers matter for national defense and national power. ...

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