Up to the 1400s naval warfare is a species of land warfare. Fire your guns a few times and board the enemy. Warships have very high forecastles and after castles because it is advantageous to hold the high ground. The distance of your “bang” is quite short – an arrow’s range, a musket ball or the end of your sword.
Sometime in the 1500s the English get the idea that ships are floating gun platforms but don’t fully understand how to do it and so in the Armada battle they bang away at the Spanish fleet without doing much damage. It takes a while to standardize guns, work out tactics and it all comes together at Trafalgar. The bang/distance ratio is still short – a thousand yards is pretty good shooting – and most engagements are much closer. But as guns get bigger and more accurate the bang/distance ratio grows until at Jutland battleships are hitting smudges on the horizon thousand of yards away.
Enter the airplane. The first aircraft carrier is built in 1918 but airplanes are flimsy things and can’t carry much of a bang and the battleship lobby is contemptuous. But the Yamato and Musashi, the greatest battleships ever built, are sunk by planes whose home carriers are far over the horizon. And that’s the end of the reign of the gun platform.
The US Navy has heavily invested in the aircraft carrier – huge nuclear-powered super-carriers, a lot of them and immense experience with using them. At 700-800 miles they’re the queens of the bang/distance ratio.
Or are they?
On October 7 2015 four ships in the Caspian Sea launched 26 cruise missiles at targets in Syria 900 miles away. Three of them were Buyan-M class corvettes. 1000 tons displacement, a crew of 50 and 8 1000-plus mile range missiles. That’s a big bang/distance ratio isn’t it? The lifetime cost of the USN’s 10 or 11 carrier battle group groups must be something like a thousand billion dollars. But what gives the better bang/distance – a trillion dollars’ worth of them, or a hundred million dollars’ worth of Buyans?
If the bang/distance ratio is the key to naval surface warfare, then it’s clear the carrier’s day has passed.
A Carrier will be the canary in the coalmine.
Add Zircon into that equation and it starts to become really interesting.
That’s one reason that during every war game the pentagon does with China the US loses quick.
Nick J says
The whole point of the carrier task force is to project power anywhere in the world. It still works versus tinpot countries that do not possess hypersonic missiles. The same can be said of US bases worldwide. The problem faced by those who possess the ability to “take out” a carrier task force is the response. Destroying a task force tells the world that Empire is over, that is unless the Empire escalates to nuclear response. To preempt this some serious diplomacy and new understanding is imperative.
The “nuclear response” is also obsolete, since US rivals both have nukes, too. As Andrei Martyanov points out, the US eastern seaboard from New York to Miami would be ashes in 30 minutes of a US strike against Russia, which would probably defeat US missiles, too. Luckily, and Larry might confirm, there are still a few adults in the Pentagon who know this.
There’s an interview on YouTube with Stephen F. Cohen – who was probably the foremost scholar on Russia until his death in 2020, and his wife Katrina vanden Heuvel and Dan Rather where he makes this exact same point. Cohen said that the he believed that the dossier was a product of Western intelligence and mentions John Brennan specifically as being behind it. The dossier, he said, was so full of obvious mistakes that Russians would never make, such as people holding positions they did not have, that they couldn’t have been behind it. He believed that the deep state was targeting Trump because of his statements about NATO and his statements like “wouldn’t it be nice if we could get along with Russia?” There are a bunch of videos with Cohen going back decades where he’s warning what would happen if NATO continued to provoke the Russians. Now we’re living the consequences.
Sorry, meant to post above comment under the MORE ON THE WEST’S ANTI-RUSSIAN PHOBIA story.
Excellent article. The US Armed Forces are set up to club baby seals. Goat herders in tents. Not peer opponents. And carriers are so battle wagons in Hawaii right now. As stated, they are excellent at force projection against weaponless people. Pelosi goes to Taiwan. The Chinese finally lose patience? A carrier will sink. And that is 5000 people. Biden’s administration damn near fell when we lost 13 when we ran away in Afghanistan. 5000 swabbies die and the government falls. And on another point, note the enlistment rates. I am an Army veteran. Everyone in my family did a hitch. No lifers. If I had a son now who told me he was joining? I would bitch slap him. Why die for Halliburton and Joe Bidens Big Guy cut? We have not “defended” America since before World War 1.
M Droy says
End of the Carrier sure.
But are US missiles (and targeting) that great. After all just 2 weeks earlier US missiles destroyed the Kunduz hospital in Afghanistan (a rare example of a hospital attack actually being a hospital).
Russia entered Syria around October 2015. In 2018 the White Helmets faked a chemical attack at Dhouma (the eventual OPCW inquiry lead to whistle blowers explaining how their report of no evidence had been re-written by management – something that almost no western media will touch). False flags follow Red Lines as Dawn follows Dusk.
The result was rather weird. US said all missiles had hit their targets without interference. US said Russia had not been informed in advance (France and UK said it had). Russia said 71 out of 103 missiles had been brought down by Syrian air defence (S-200s and 300s i believe – effective but not ultra modern).
One of oddest successful targets was claimed by US as a CW factory. That the US would punish Assad for using CW on his own citizens by bombing a CW factory on the outskirts of Damascus is quite bizarre. Journalists visited later, and it seems that Syrian claims it was a baby milk manufacturer are correct.
So did the Syrians and Russians lie? Well we know very well that both are consistently honest almost all the time.
Or are Western missiles crap against even early versions of Russian tech? Perhaps.
Or perhaps the whole thing just got a little silly.
The white house (Obama) set Red lines. The CIA (or rather MI6 with I guess CIA oversite) triggered them with a White Helmet engineered false flag (the whistleblowers claims and the OPCW overruling make this quite certain).
What is Trump to do? Sack the CIA for dishonesty? Recall the Ambassador from London?
My guess is an arranged deal – once again the Russians bailed the US President out of a Syrian CW mess. A Missile “punishment” was “arranged”. Russia and Assad were in on it. US pretends to punish Syria, Syria pretends to be punished. The missiles were targeted to miss or not explode, with enough advance warning for Syria’s air defence to look impressive. Faces saved all around – a Trump Deal.
Wrong factual data , the syrian AD uses upgraded but older SAM system and other SHORAD like Pantsyir system to destroy the FUKUS cruise missile attack. And bear in mind there’s additional missiles coming from israel planes.
The “leakers” was allowed because they targetted an empty building , to give the arrogant west something to gloat about. I think anyone who been to Turcopelier website or Andrei M’s remember about the strike and the resulting chaos among the US personel monitoring it from Qatar CAOC. The obvious sign of a massive failure was mattis claiming it is 100% succesfull and anyone said otherwise is lying propaganda
I agree with your naval summary. I think the sub has replaced the carrier. Your thoughts?
HELMHOLTZ SMITH says
Imagine subs with very accurate hypersonic missiles and a surface fleet of small nimble craft equipped with same. Not only do you have a force capable of dealing with other fleets but, for the first time in naval history, a really powerful deep land attack capacity. I think we’re at a new stage in naval ops.
and you got non SSBN subs carrying nuclear torpedoes that will wreak havoc on your coastal cities. Undetectable and with no early warning for these subs , truly a game changer in a nuclear first strike arsenal.
imagine all cities on both coasts of CONUS suddenlu wiped out in massive tsunamis caused by these nuke torpedoes and the survivors died due to massive radiation..
US will not be able to strike back as their nuke response was geared toward the enemy ICBM detection + SLBM detection and not for sneak attack using the Poseidon Torpedoes
Thank God the Russians do not employ a first strike strategy then…
My understanding is that US doctrine treats an attack on a carrier as equivalent to attacking a city. So that then justifies nuclear escalation.
There is a reason for that: they know the carriers are super vulnerable in a war against an adversary who can fight back. So their only protection is the nuclear threat.
So much money spent on equipment that can intimidate developing countries and to create career structures for roles such as carrier pilot.
As a doctrine (assuming what you describe is still the case) that presents some interesting approaches for potential opposition to US hegemony. You want to take out carriers, but you need to do it in a way that can’t be traced back to you.
That rules out obvious carrier-killer weapons like Zircon and Poseidon as long as no-one else has them. Do you give them to other countries to create deniability? That seems like too much of a risk, in case those countries end up not-friendly.
That leaves us with mystery carrier killer weapons as the best strategy – submersible drones like Poseidon that aren’t as big or obvious, and aren’t publicised. Something along those lines, or something I can’t think of because I’m not a naval weapons expert. Something sneaky anyway.
That seems to me like the perfect concept for an arms race, since if you can prove they exist, they must not be the right weapon and there must be another, more secret one. The only option for a paranoid hegemon is to spend more and more money on developing untried counters to weapons you’re imagining, that might not actually exist. Could bankrupt a country that way.
HELMHOLTZ SMITH says
For example https://www.military.com/video/guided-missiles/advanced-weapons/club-k-container-missile-system/2932801006001.
Does it really exist?
Wow that container system is crazy. As if container shipping wasn’t broken enough these days, can you imagine the security theatre that will ensue at ports if that gets taken seriously?
I came across this immediately after I posted that comment – https://eurasiantimes.com/nightmare-for-us-china-follows-russias-footsteps-developing-its-own-nuclear-powered-super-torpedoes/
A swarm of smaller global-range torpedos, oh my, that’s going to crank up the paranoia, especially after the outsize performance of swarm tactics back in the Millenium Challenge 2002. Gonna be a lot of dead whales in the future I fear.
Peter VE says
If I remember correctly, about two days after that volley, the US carrier posted in the Persian Gulf scuttled south to the open ocean.
Fred Flint says
Talking about precision
A Russians submarine? hit the UKR military in Odessa port twice in what seems to be 300M and 800M away from the grain elevators, which where undamaged.
Just a coincidence , russia already ran out of precision guided ammunition and their army ran out of food , fuel and soldiers.
it will be sooner than later when ukraine 1 million army reach the gates of moscow
Carrier ops are obsolete in peer warfare , it is eclipsed by Hypersonic ASM.
but the question is this , how tight is a nuke carrier reactor assuming one sank , will it contaminate the sea around it ?
a great article similar to this excellent post
“in a potential battle today between a US carrier strike group and a peer or near-peer adversary, a mere half-dozen ships with an extremely limited number of defenses will face massed salvos of hundreds of cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, supersonic and hypersonic anti-ship missiles, and dozens of submarines with many hundreds of torpedoes – all of which deploy large modern warheads capable of inflicting a mortal blow against any of the ships in the group.
US naval power apologists may argue that the array of defenses on these ships is much more capable than in World War II. But it simply does not matter. It won’t be enough. Regardless of how one attempts to crunch the numbers, a putative engagement between a carrier strike group and the PLA Navy in the South China Sea would entail simultaneous massed attacks of precision-guided anti-ship missiles zooming in from all points of the compass.
It doesn’t require more than middle-school math to realize the inevitable result: the strike group’s defenses would be utterly overwhelmed. In all likelihood, every single ship would be sunk in a matter of minutes. It would be a catastrophic defeat – one which would shock the entire world and forever alter the course of military history.
The plain truth of the matter, in my estimation, is that, faced with the wide array of 21st century anti-ship missiles possessed today by Russia, China, Iran, and likely even North Korea, conventional surface fleets are effectively obsolete, and this will be proven beyond dispute in the first few hours of the next great power war.”
Given the growing sophistication of the technology of cheap drone there would be swarms of them enveloping like carriers, like Arctic summer mosquitos.
In the Pentagon’s $250M Millennium Challenge 2002 (MC02) against Iran, it wins – 12 times until they changed the rules and refloated the carriers – by using cheap, freely available tech such as motorbikes & small launches against the might of the US Navy.
Even the usually gung-ho US tops ra ra ra Popular Mechanics had to admit it.