Video Above: Does the U.S. Have an Appetite for a Military Conflict with China?
The question of how many aircraft carriers the US Navy needs has been reverberating for years at the Pentagon, in Congress and even at the Presidential level as the Navy seeks to best meet demands and respond to threats in an increasingly dangerous and fast-changing threat environment.
Nothing in the world can project power like a US Navy aircraft carrier as it brings an ability to launch massive offensive strikes from waters off shore, holding targets and enemies at risk. This well known and often proven reality explains why the mere forward presence of a carrier can have a “calming” type of deterrent effect. At times the Navy and Pentagon leadership have called for 11 carriers, and have most of the time in recent years asked for 12. However, the US Navy now only operates 10 aircraft carriers, so it makes sense that the Navy’s newly released “Chief of Naval Operations Navigation Plan 2022” would call for 12 aircraft carriers as the Navy moves into the future.
Recommended for You
“Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, which will remain the most survivable and versatile airfields in the world, provide long-range, persistent sea control, power projection, and organic sensing in contested seas, as well as flexible options across the spectrum of conflict,” the text of the plan states.
There are many reasons why the service would cite 12 carriers as an objective, the first of which can simply be described as Combatant Commander demand. Fleet Commanders across the world, to include the Mediterranean, Pacific, Persian Gulf and Baltic Sea regularly see the need for forward carrier “presence” given the need to deter potential aggressors or even secure vital strategic international waterways. Certainly the possibility of a two-front war in various parts of the world at the same time would require a need for carrier “presence” and “power projection.”
The largest factor, however, may well pertain to China. While China only operates two carriers at the moment, the pace at which it is adding new ones, and its ambition for continued naval expansion, the US Navy is well aware of the fast-growing global threat presented by the Chinese Navy. Clearly the PLA Navy wishes to expand its role beyond merely being a regional power to a situation wherein it is the dominant global power. The Chinese Navy is already larger than the US, in terms of sheer size, and new destroyers, amphibs and submarines are being added at a staggering rate.
Finally, there is a reason the US Navy regularly conducts “dual carrier” operations in the Pacific, as newer networking technologies enable great synergies between Carrier Air Wings and massively expand an ability to launch large-scale air attacks from the ocean. Scale could be crucial in any kind of major confrontation with China, given that large areas of land, coastal regions and islands would need to be held at risk or attacked.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.