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What If America's Cutting-Edge Aircraft Carriers Were Suddenly Obsolete?

Harry J. Kazianis

Key point: Like the battleships of old, no mighty class of capital ship can last forever.

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. The nuclear-powered submarine. Ultra-advanced stealth bombers and fighters. These all represent the most lethal, sophisticated and expensive weapons in the U.S. military’s mighty arsenal—and they might soon all be close to obsolete.

Well, at least if certain technological trends bear fruit, according to a number of think-tank reports, research studies and in-depth essays that have been published over the last year.

And while it might not all come to pass, or at least not right away and certainly not all at once, the trend lines are clear: America’s military, if it wants to retain its unrivaled dominance on the battlefields of the future, will need to do a great deal of soul searching and investment to maintain its edge over nations like Russia, China and many others in the years to come.

America’s Carriers vs. China’s Missiles: Who Wins?

The aircraft carrier, a symbol of American naval and overall power projection capabilities, seems under the most threat of being rendered a relic of the past. Almost every week, a new report casts a dark shadow on the future of this important U.S. military asset.

Take, for example, the recent report released by the Center for New American Security (CNAS) smartly titled, “Red Alert: The Growing Threat to U.S. Aircraft Carriers.” Author Kelley Sayler, an associate fellow at CNAS, argues that “the short, medium, and long-range threats to the carrier–including SAMs and other anti-access/area denial capabilities (A2/AD), in which China is investing heavily” will create a situation where American carriers “will not be able to act with impunity in the event of future conflict.” As Sayler explains in great detail in her report, carriers

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