Will Aircraft Carriers Remain Useful in Future Wars?

Defense analyst questions if Pentagon leaders are willing to be honest about the makeup of future wars and what the military will need to win.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has shown himself to be a student of modern warfare, says a former adviser to both Gen. Stanley McChrystal and Gen. David Petraeus.

But at a time of rapid advances in military and technological capabilities, “let’s hope he’s a student of the mid-20th century history as well, because the interwar period is going to have a lot of warnings and lessons” for the U.S. as it winds down in Afghanistan, said Mark Jacobson, now a fellow with The German Marshall Fund of the United States.

World War I convinced world military leaders that the future of combat was battleships, trench warfare and getting around trench warfare, he said.

“They were totally dismissive of aircraft, totally dismissive of strategic bombing and absolutely dismissive of the aircraft carrier,” Jacobson told DodBuzz. But World War II validated air war and the carrier.

Everyone agrees that cyber war capabilities are important, but Jacobson says the Pentagon is still trying to figure out what to do with it. Meanwhile, adversaries are constantly learning to work around U.S. strengths.

“But the services don’t change,” he said. “I’m not sure all the service chiefs get this yet … Are we focusing on new types of destroyers? Is anybody willing to question the existence of aircraft carriers? If you look at history this may be the battleship all over again.”

They will have some use in particular situations and environments, he said, but a carrier will never deploy anywhere it does not have absolute air domination and in some cases it would simply not have that.

“It won’t be a useful weapon in the Taiwan Straits, and it may not be one 15 years from now, depending on how many nations have hypersonic missiles,” he said.

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is an associate editor and White House correspondent for Military.com. Bryant covers all corners of the military arena, is an expert on "Don't Ask Don't Tell" issues, religious proselytizing and other ongoing military policy issues. He has covered Air Force support missions during the Kosovo War and in 2006 the aero-medical evacuation mission out of Balad Air Base, Iraq. A journalist since 1979, Jordan also covered stories in Lebanon, Gaza and Morocco. During the Vietnam War he was assigned to 15th Admin. Co., 1st Cavalry Division, Bien Hoa Army Base. Before joining Military.com Jordan was a staff writer and deputy news editor for Military Times newspapers in Springfield, Va.