US Aircraft Carriers Are Screwed In A Real Battle, According To Defense Analysts

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An F/A-18F Super Hornet attached launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in support of Operation Inherent Resolve March 8, 2017.
U.S. Navy/MC3 Christopher Gaines

When Dubya wanted to celebrate a “mission accomplished,” he flew in an S-3 onto a carrier hardtop. When Trump wanted to project American military strength, he spoke on the hangar deck of the newly christened carrier USS Gerald Ford.Where are the carriers?” the old president’s line goes. Nobody comes close to matching America’s 10 operational floating airports, and the current administration has announced plans to add at least two more carriers soon.


There’s just one problem: A growing chorus of defense analysts says that in a real maritime battle, U.S. aircraft carriers are totally fucked.

“Beyond a shadow of a doubt, a carrier is just a target,” one former career Pentagon analyst told Reuters in a depressing investigation of flattops’ vulnerabilities that the news service published Thursday.

Related: Could China’s Military Capability Render The Aircraft Carrier Obsolete? »

Over the past two decades, as the United States cobbled together maritime and littoral strategies based on carrier airpower, potential adversaries have fine-tuned cheaper antiship missiles and torpedoes that can turn an $11 billion behemoth city at sea into a burning patch of ocean:

The new weapons include land-based ballistic missiles, such as China’s Dong Feng-21 anti-ship missile, which has a claimed range of 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometers) and moves at 10 times the speed of sound. Certain Russian and Chinese submarines can fire salvoes of precision-guided cruise missiles from afar, potentially overwhelming carrier-fleet anti-missile defense.

Russia, China, Iran and other countries also have so-called super-cavitating torpedoes. These form an air bubble in front of them, enabling them to travel at hundreds of miles per hour. The torpedoes cannot be guided, but if aimed straight at a ship they are difficult to avoid.

A 2015 Rand Corporation report, “Chinese Threats to U.S. Surface Ships,” found that if hostilities broke out, “the risks to U.S. carriers are substantial and rising.”

Missile and torpedo threats to carriers are nothing new — they’re intimately familiar to anyone who ever had to work on an Aegis-equipped ship, or just read Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising” at some point since 1986. But as analysts tell Reuters, hostile nations can buy more than 1,200 carrier-killing missiles for the cost of one Ford-class flattop. That’s a lot more airborne threats than even a carrier group full of smaller “missile sponge” ships can defeat.

That leaves critics wondering if the costly carriers are worth the return on investment. Reuters points out that the USS Ford, which Trump praised as an example of “American craftsmanship at its biggest, at its best, at its finest,” has yet to be commissioned in three years afloat, owing to cost overruns and expensive problems with its power plant and arresting gear, among other issues.

Another issue is that, since the decommissioning of the F-14D, carriers have relied on strike aircraft like F/A-18 Super Hornets, whose closing speed and maximum range are inferior to dedicated air superiority fighters. The much-ballyhooed replacement jet, the F-35C Lightning II, is another multi-use fighter like the Hornet, with similar range shortcomings. That complicates the task of intercepting airborne threats to a carrier group at a safe "standoff" distance.

“What they (the Navy) haven’t done yet is to design and fund a strike aircraft that can fly 1,000 miles, drop its bombs and come home,” Bryan McGrath, a carrier proponent at the Hudson Institute, told Reuters.

For his part, Trump vowed that “a lot more is coming” to “give the men and women of America’s armed services the resources you need to keep us safe.” And for him, that means beefing up the nation’s beautiful, if vulnerable, carriers.

“You stand on that deck, and you feel like you're standing on a very big piece of land,” the land-developer-turned-commander-in-chief told the Ford’s sailors.

“But,” he added, “this is better than land.”

(Air Force photo / Tech Sgt. Oneika Banks)

Kirtland Air Force Base isn't much different from the world beyond its gates when it comes to dealing with mental illnesses, a base clinical psychologist says.

Maj. Benjamin Carter told the Journal the most frequent diagnosis on the base is an anxiety disorder.

"It's not a surprise, but I anticipate about anytime in the population in America, about 20% of the population has some form of diagnosable anxiety disorder, and it's no different in the military," he said.

Leading the way among the anxiety disorders, he said, were post-traumatic stress disorder "or something like panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder."

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(National Archives / Marine Corps Photo / WO Obie Newcomb, Jr., November 1943)

The DNA of a niece and nephew, who never met their uncle, has helped identify the remains of the Kansas Marine who died in WWII.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that 21-year-old U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Raymond Warren was identified using DNA and circumstantial evidence. Warren had been buried in a cemetery in the Gilbert Islands, where he was killed when U.S. forces tried to take secure one of the islands from the Japanese.

The Battle of Tarawa lasted from Nov. 20 to Nov. 23, 1943, and claimed the lives of 1,021 U.S. marines and sailors, more than 3,000 Japanese soldiers and an estimated 1,000 Korean laborers before the U.S. troops seized control, the agency said.

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(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff. Sgt. Daniel Snider)

Arizona lawmakers are vowing to fight a plan by the Air Force to start retiring some of the nation's fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack jets — a major operation at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base — as part of a plan to drop some older, legacy weapon systems to help pay for new programs.

U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a former A-10 pilot, and U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., both vowed to fight the move to retire 44 of the oldest A-10s starting this year.

During a press briefing last week, Air Force officials unveiled plans to start mothballing several older platforms, including retiring some A-10s even as it refits others with new wings.

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MOSCOW/SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un was filmed riding through the snow on a white stallion last year, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on 12 purebred horses from Russia, according to Russian customs data.

Accompanied by senior North Korean figures, Kim took two well-publicized rides on the snowy slopes of the sacred Paektu Mountain in October and December.

State media heralded the jaunts as important displays of strength in the face of international pressure and the photos of Kim astride a galloping white steed were seen around the world.

North Korea has a long history of buying pricey horses from Russia and customs data first reported by Seoul-based NK News suggests that North Korea may have bolstered its herd in October.

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Screenshot of a propaganda video featuring former Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A high-profile local Taliban figure who announced and justified the 2012 attack on teenage Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has escaped detention, Pakistan's interior minister confirmed a few days after the militant announced his breakout on social media.

Former Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, who claimed responsibility on behalf of his group for scores of Taliban attacks, proclaimed his escape on Twitter and then in an audio message sent to Pakistani media earlier this month.

The Pakistani military, which had kept Ehsan in detention for three years, has declined to comment but, asked by reporters about the report, Interior Minister Ijaz Shah, said: "That is correct, that is correct."

Shah, a retired brigadier general, added that "you will hear good news" in response to questions about whether there had been progress in hunting down Ehsan.

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