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Navy's Big Weakness: Our Aircraft Carriers Are (Expensive) Defenseless Sitting Ducks

Every single change in technology in the past 50 years has had "Stop building carriers!" written all over it. But the Navy paid no attention.
 
 
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I've been saying for a long time that aircraft carriers are just history's most expensive floating targets and that they were doomed.

But now I can tell you exactly how they're going to die. I've just read one of the most shocking stories in years. It comes from the U.S. Naval Institute, not exactly an alarmist or anti-Navy source. And what it says is that the U.S. carrier group is scrap metal.

The Chinese military has developed a ballistic missile, Dong Feng 21, specifically designed to kill U.S. aircraft carriers:

"Because the missile employs a complex guidance system, low radar signature and a maneuverability that makes its flight path unpredictable, the odds that it can evade tracking systems to reach its target are increased. It is estimated that the missile can travel at Mach 10 and reach its maximum range of 2,000 kilometers in less than 12 minutes."

That's the U.S. Naval Institute talking, remember. They're understating the case when they say that, with speed, satellite guidance and maneuverability like that, "the odds that it can evade tracking systems to reach its target are increased."

You know why that's an understatement? Because of a short little sentence I found further on in the article -- and before you read that sentence, I want all you trusting Pentagon groupies to promise me that you'll think hard about what it implies. Here's the sentence: "Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack."

That's right: no defense at all. The truth is that they have very feeble defenses against any attack with anything more modern than cannon. I've argued before no carrier group would survive a saturation attack by huge numbers of low-value attackers, whether they're Persians in Cessnas and cigar boats or mass-produced Chinese cruise missiles.

But at least you could look at the missile tubes and Phalanx gatlings and pretend that you were safe. But there is no defense, none at all, against something as obvious as a ballistic missile.

So it doesn't matter one goddamn whether the people in the operations room of a targeted carrier could track the Dong Feng 21 as it lobbed itself at them. They might do a real hall-of-fame job of tracking it as it goes up and comes down. But so what? Let me repeat the key sentence here: "Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack."

Think back a ways. How old is the ballistic missile? Kind of a trick question; a siege mortar is a ballistic missile, just unguided. A trebuchet on an upslope outside a castle is a ballistic weapon.

But serious long-range, rocket-powered ballistic weapons go back at least to the V-2. A nuclear-armed V-2 would have been a pretty solid way of wiping out a carrier group, and both components, the nuke and the ballistic missile, were available as long ago as 1945.

A lot has happened since then, like MIRVs, mobile launchers, massively redundant satellite guidance -- but the thing to remember is that every single change has favored the attacker. Every single goddamn change.

You know that Garmin satellite navigation you use to find the nearest Thai place when the in-laws are visiting? If you were the Navy brass, that should have scared you to death. The Mac on your kid's bedroom desk should have scared you.

Every time electronics got smaller, cheaper and more efficient, the carrier became more of a death trap. Every time stealth tech jumped another step, the carrier was more obviously a bad idea. Smaller, cooler-running engines: another bad sign for the carrier.

 
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