Many people think so.
And one could agree with this without reservations, but just recently we discussed with you information that at present the US Navy is wildly straining to build two attack submarines in a year. In the meantime, he could afford to build 10 boats from just one aircraft carrier and its air wing, and perhaps with a much greater strategic effect.
In addition, unlike most surface ship acquisition programs, attack submarine programs have generally performed well in terms of schedule and budget.
And the main thing: in a situation "if something happens", what will it be easier for us to turn into scrap metal? A huge floating island, even if destroyers and other frigates are in the order with it, guarding and protecting a sea-based airfield, or an island that is half a kilometer below the surface of the sea?
Yes, of course, Aegis, rockets, Volcanoes ... And what about a massive salvo of anti-ship missiles or cruise missiles?
In fact, this is all relative. In 1941 (some 9 days before Pearl Harbor) in the American media there was a number of materials about the battleship "Arizona", extolling its power to the skies.
It is clear that until that time no one had sunk battleships from the air. Nevertheless, "Arizona" received 4 bombs during the attack of Japanese aircraft and sank.
And to this day it remains under water as a memorial.
But Billy Mitchell warned ...
In fact, Mitchell sank the captured German battleship Ostfriesland during an air demonstration back in 1921, but the Navy said the test proved nothing. Two observers that day were officials from the Japanese naval department ...
In addition, the designer of the Pearl Harbor attack, Isoroku Yamamoto, was studying at Harvard at the time and no doubt read the reports of the event, which was widely reported in the newspapers.
Well, then, on December 7, what happened happened. And the battleship ceased to be a trump card for all ages and times. But something strange happened: yes, the aircraft carrier replaced the battleship as the main ship of the military fleet, but his reign in this capacity was rather short. The aircraft carrier established her dominance in the Battle of Midway and was the centerpiece of five major naval battles between 1942 and 1944.
However, after the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944, the US Navy reoriented the aircraft carrier into a land-based strike platform. This was understandable, there was a need to recapture the territories captured by Japan, and even in the conditions of the complete inability of the Japanese fleet to oppose at least something in response.
The main naval forces of the Japanese fleet were eliminated, and submarines were never Japan's strong point. Marine aviation was also brought to naught, which is confirmed by the fact that the United States, after the death of the Hornet in 1942, did not lose a single aircraft carrier.
True, this only suggests that after 1945 the United States did not come into conflict with another fleet capable of destroying an aircraft carrier.
But we are more interested in today. And today, as we have said, the US Navy is in the process of designing and acquiring new classes of ships. There is a long debate about the usefulness of these ships, as well as doubts about the advisability of building some new types of aircraft.
It is clear that this primarily concerns the new supercarriers of the Ford class. Not only is the construction of the second and third, as they say in Russia, "shifting to the right", but also the first (built and handed over to the fleet) cannot really function. And the F-35 fighters specially designed for "Fords" also have enough claims.
And it turns out to be a very peculiar situation, unlike the fleets of China and Russia, which today rely on small missile ships in the defense of their coasts, the US fleet is flooded with large, powerful and increasingly vulnerable. This is not to say that this jeopardizes the future of America, but this moment cannot be called positive either.
And therefore more and more people in the United States are asking aloud a question that is very unpleasant for many. And this question is not about whether it makes sense to continue spending huge sums on the construction and maintenance of aircraft carriers, but about whether tomorrow the United States can afford such expensive toys as aircraft carriers.
George W. Bush in 2009 cost $ 6,1 billion.
The most recent US aircraft carrier, Gerald Ford, has spent twice as much.
But these ships require the efforts of 46% of the personnel of the fleet: for maintenance, repair and operation. In money - it is very unpleasant, because (in addition to salaries and other payments) there are also rather large American military pensions that people earn by spending their service on these ships.
And no wonder that more and more often the crosshairs of a terrible weapon with the inscription "budget cuts" are being directed at aircraft carriers.
If, according to American postulates, 11 aircraft carriers is the minimum number necessary to ensure security, then the supporters of aircraft carriers have more and more problems in the "bright tomorrow."
"If our 'small' fleet is so fragile that it cannot afford the loss of one ship due to the budget, how will it survive the inevitable combat losses?" - such a question in the pages of the magazine "Proceedings" asks Commander Philippe E. Pournelle.
The journal "Proceedings" ("Proceedings"), by the way, has been published since 1874 by the US Naval Institute. The Proceedings cover topics related to global security and include articles by military specialists and civilian experts, historical essays, book reviews, full-color photographs and readers' comments. About a third was written by military personnel, a third by retired military personnel, and a third by civilians. That is, this is the very place where the military can complain about problems openly.
There is a reason. More precisely, there is a reason, but no money. That is why, in fact, they canceled the write-off of "Harry Truman" and scraped together the money to recharge the reactors of "Abraham Lincoln". And, if the Truman, which entered service in 1998, can definitely still serve, then the Lincoln, which has been serving since 1989, looks very unoptimistic in terms of combat readiness: what is now, what is in the future.
The case when the ship does not stand up, but it is pushed there. But - in the light of the recent collisions with "Ford" - will have to.
But the austerity advocates go further, and a mothballing program for 4 of the 9 air groups is on the agenda. And then the presence of 11 aircraft carriers just starts to look frivolous. But on the other hand, the initiative of the US Congressional Budget Office to reduce the Navy to eight aircraft carriers looks logical.
Experts in the United States believe that the weakest point of the American Navy is that the Navy spends money not on acquiring new types of weapons, but on maintaining the vital functions of old ones. And if something new is acquired, then scandal after scandal, but often this new does not correspond to either the specifications or the price tags.
The current shipbuilding plan stipulates that the fleet should have 306 ships, while the actual number was reduced to 285. The US Naval Operations Command believes that there is an approximately 30% gap between what the fleet will need to fulfill its shipbuilding plan, and that it is likely to receive in the appropriation process over the next 15-20 years.
The Navy's own procurement chief recently told Congress that given current trends and budget outlooks, the fleet could shrink to 240 ships in the next few decades.
The commitment to aircraft carriers literally wipes out the rest of the Navy while simultaneously hampering its ability to respond to emerging demands and threats.
The best example is Gerald Ford.
With an initial price tag of $ 10,5 billion, its value has grown to $ 14,2 billion and is not going to stop. But even today they say that even if Ford is fully operational, it will not be possible to fill the hole formed in connection with the repairs of other aircraft carriers.
But besides the "Ford" there are two more ships under construction, the total budget for which (together with "Ford") is equal to 43 billion dollars ...
This amount may anger or envy someone (Russian readers, for example), but in the US it is already starting to scare everyone.
But there are also problems with the wings. Estimated costs for F-35Cs, which were supposed to take off from the deck of the Ford, have nearly doubled as performance concerns continue to mount.
But the worst thing is not even that. The saddest thing for the Americans is that in our time, an aircraft carrier has ceased to be an instrument for projecting power onto the region. Any region in which countermeasures are deployed. The age of impunity is passing, because the majority of countries have weapons systems capable of causing critical damage to any large ship. And who does not have their own - you can always buy the same Russian, Indian or Chinese anti-ship missiles.
At one time, the famous Admiral Nelson noted that "a ship is a fool if it is fighting a fort." Controversial (for example, Admiral Ushakov managed to storm the bastions), but we will not find fault.
In the coming new era, the "fort" is a sophisticated complex of detecting and targeting anti-ship missiles over the horizon, which makes surface ships vulnerable and which prevents them from approaching the coastline. That is, they do not give the opportunity to deploy aviation at a sufficiently safe distance. This is exactly what American aircraft carriers have dominated for decades.
Ballistic, cruise, anti-ship missiles (all launched from mobile and well-camouflaged platforms) are becoming a real threat to large ships with an excellent signature.
US Navy Captain Henry J. Hendricks has calculated that China could produce 1227 DF-21D ballistic anti-ship missiles for the price of one US aircraft carrier. How many missiles do you need to fatally hit an aircraft carrier? ..
A massive salvo of such missiles, flying at a speed of 2M to 5M, in sufficient quantities can simply break through the air defense of any order of an aircraft carrier. One missile, of course, will not sink a ship of this size, which has such a margin of survivability.
But who said that there will be one rocket?
And about the distance. The main weapon an aircraft carrier is an aircraft. The range of the current F / A-18E "Super Hornet" is between 390-450 nautical miles. The F-35 strike fighter will have a combat radius of 730 nautical miles. This is without additional outboard tanks, significantly reducing other aircraft capabilities.
The US Department of Defense Intelligence Agency estimates the range of the DF-21D anti-ship missile at 1500-1750 nautical miles, with some suggesting longer range.
Recognizing the fact that these numbers will require the deployment of carrier strike groups far beyond their reach, which immediately casts doubt on the effective use of the aircraft carrier itself and its weapons. Former dean of the Naval War College Robert Rubel remarked:
"Successful defense of an aircraft carrier is of no use if the aircraft carrier cannot in turn successfully attack enemy naval forces."
And there is nothing to add.
And despite the fact that a massive attack on land-based ballistic missiles is a rather difficult task for the current defense systems of the Navy, given the successful mass missile launches of the United States and Russia in Syria, the situation is potentially even more serious.
Military analyst Robert Haddick:
Even more sinister are the naval strike fighter squadrons, capable of launching dozens of long-range, high-speed anti-ship cruise missiles at levels that threaten to overwhelm the fleet's most advanced defenses.
Or, as an example, China's use of its missile boats. There are about a hundred of them, mostly of the "Hubei" class.
Each carries 8 winged anti-ship missiles with a range of 160 miles. In total - 600-700 missiles, which can be launched simultaneously.
Add rockets from diesel-electric submarines, frigates, destroyers and aircraft ...
And one should not discount Russia, which has always been in the forefront of the missile trade. And thanks to the efforts of Russia, high-precision missile weapons are becoming very common, and an increasing number of countries can buy them.
A worrying sign of things to come is a Russian firm that is reportedly selling a Club-K cruise missile hidden in shipping containers placed on trucks, railroad cars or merchant ships.
The world is changing, and there are more and more means of countering aircraft carriers as the main strike weapon. The range and speed of missiles will increase. Missiles will become more elusive and accurate, and of course they could be nuclear. Radars will see farther and more accurately, significantly reducing the "fog of war". Surface ships, wherever they are, will be increasingly vulnerable.
Supercavitating torpedoes (such as Russia's Shkval) already reach speeds of up to 200 knots and can track ships for over 1000 kilometers. Above the surface, supersonic anti-ship missiles, which are currently moving at 2M, will be replaced by hypersonic missiles, which will move at 5M, and in the future even faster.
The modern aircraft carrier strike group stands at the very top of military history in terms of conventional lethality and sophistication. Unfortunately, in the modern context, it is also very expensive and complex, and therefore it is very easy to disable it at a low cost.
An aircraft carrier requires a complex set of very expensive investments. The total cost of acquiring an aircraft carrier strike group from the aircraft carrier itself, 1-2 cruisers and 2-3 destroyers exceeds $ 25 billion, the aircraft wing is another $ 10 billion, and the annual operating costs are approximately $ 1 billion.
And a cruise missile fired from the launcher of a ship, stealthy and standing much lower in the hierarchical ladder, is worth less than a third of every bomb delivered by a fighter from the deck of an aircraft carrier. But the effect of using this missile can be much more significant than a bomb dropped from a deck-based aircraft.
Nevertheless, the US Navy continues to push the next generation of fighters (F-35C) and the next two Ford-class aircraft carriers through budgetary hardships, despite all the claims that come from different echelons.
We are now not even touching on the concepts of new aircraft carriers armed exclusively with UAVs, because so far there are no such ships or such drones that can replace human-piloted aircraft. In the future, yes, but no more.
According to many naval experts in the United States, yes, the aircraft carriers will remain (at least until the withdrawal of Ford) in the ranks. But the Navy must move away from its carrier-centric concept. Large surface ships are becoming more vulnerable and the navy should not build and operate them if the costs are unacceptable.
The Navy is currently straining to build two attack submarines a year, while it could afford to build 10 with just one aircraft carrier and its air wing, and perhaps with much greater strategic impact.
In addition, unlike most surface ship acquisition programs, attack submarine programs have generally performed well in terms of schedule and budget.
One of the most effective components of an effective submarine procurement program should be a "back to the future" program, which includes very quiet diesel submarines, which are not currently in the US Navy at all. Diesel submarines are very difficult to spot and can be purchased at a rate of three to four for each nuclear submarine.
The United States Navy is unquestionably the most powerful combined in the world today. Unfortunately, repeating this phrase like a prayer is useless. While the entire US fleet dominates in tonnage and sheer firepower, this may not make sense in a specific area with a force to deploy, such as the Pacific Ocean.
Projected advances in radar technology will make it difficult to maintain stealth above and below water. The same will happen with the increase in the range and accuracy of hypersonic weapons.
All this will require a different conceptual approach in the very near (2050-2060) future.
However, one thing is for sure: the aircraft carrier will not be an actual weapon in the second half of the century.