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Susan Ford Bales, daughter of former President Gerald R. Ford, christens the Navy's newest nuclear powered aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford, Newport News, Va., Nov. 9, 2013 (AP photo by Steve Helber).

What Does the Future Hold for the U.S. Navy’s Aircraft Carriers?

Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016

To advocates, they are 90,000 tons of American sovereignty, deployable anywhere on the globe to project power decisively and at will. In crises, presidents ask, Where are the aircraft carriers? But to critics, they are hugely expensive and increasingly vulnerable monuments to a naval age gone by. They represent the past, not the future, of naval power.

Recently, this debate flared up again in the United States as prospective adversaries, like Russia and China, build long-range weapons and create anti-access and area-denial environments. Does the U.S. need aircraft carriers, and, if so, how many? The answer, not surprisingly, is complicated. Carriers are hugely valuable in conflicts, and while there are alternatives, they are not very good. But in high-intensity naval conflicts, the future of carriers is more uncertain: For 75 years the U.S. has not fought a comparable opponent at sea, even as potential adversaries have built increasingly powerful anti-carrier capabilities. In facing this future, most observers agree that the U.S. Navy should hedge its bets. ...

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