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Dire Straits: Potential Naval Shortcomings in Contrast to China

Since 1944, there has been a debate about how to conduct American naval operations. Two schools of thought have developed. The “missile” school focuses on single-use assets like missiles, offering the advantage of reduced costs both upfront and over time. On the other hand, the “carrier” school of thought believes that Carrier Battle Groups, which consist of an aircraft carrier along with naval convoys, offer greater tactical and operational flexibility. This, combined with the increase in effectiveness due to pilot skill, might offset the costs of operating a carrier group. 


During the Cold War, these two doctrines split along the lines of East and West. The U.S. built carriers while China mainly focused on missiles. These systems are racing against one another, each trying to get a leg up on the other. 


America's “Big Blue Blanket" combines Carrier Groups, air power and surface vessels in an effort to outmaneuver and overwhelm adversaries. In contrast, China’s missile doctrine, critical to a future South China Sea confrontation, is based around its Dong Feng class missiles. This includes hypersonic missiles, which are theoretically capable of overwhelming and destroying U.S. carriers. 


While the U.S. does have air defense assets—namely the Aegis-equipped destroyers, cruisers and frigates capable of launching standard missiles—these are decreasing in number and have significant logistical challenges in combat operations. As things stand, this places the U.S. Navy at a disadvantage against the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), limiting the Navy’s capacity to counteract any move into the Taiwan Straits. That said, any definite conclusions on which naval strategy is superior, and which measures to superiority should be used, are subject to extensive debate. 



Sources


Beidel, Eric. “Carrier Debate Rages In Face of New Threats.” National Defense, vol. 97, no. 706, 2012, pp. 32–34.


Larter, David. “As the US Navy Scrambles to Field More Missiles in Asia, a Tough Decision Looms for Aging Cruisers.” Defense News, 12 Apr. 2021, https://www.defensenews.com/naval/2021/04/12/as-the-us-navy-scrambles-to-field-more-missiles-in-asia-a-tough-decision-looms-for-aging-cruisers/.


Nast, Condé. “‘Floating Pointlessness’: Is This the End of the Age of the Aircraft Carrier?” Vanity Fair, 5 May 2022, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2022/05/is-this-the-end-of-the-age-of-the-aircraft-carrier.



Stires, Hunter. “Exclusive: CNO Announces the Return of Vertical Launch System At-Sea Reloading.” The National Interest, The Center for the National Interest, 5 July 2017, https://nationalinterest.org/feature/exclusive-cno-announces-the-return-vertical-launch-system-21425.

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