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The Navy Passed on This Aircraft Carried (Armed With Nuclear Weapons)

Sebastien Roblin

Sebastien Roblin

Security,

A mistake?

The Navy Passed on This Aircraft Carried (Armed With Nuclear Weapons)

The schematics for CVA-58 nonetheless informed the Navy’s first supercarriers, named rather appropriately the Forrestal-class, laid down during the Korean War. But the heavy-bomber carrying United States remains notable as the supercarrier the Navy absolutely thought it needed—but which with literally just a couple years more hindsight it discovered it truly could do without.

(This article appeared earlier this year.)

In the wake of the mushroom clouds that blossomed over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it swiftly dawned on political and military leaders across the globe that warfare between superpowers would never again be the same. But what exactly were the implications of nuclear weapons when it came to planning military force structure?

In the United States, it was assumed that nuclear weapons would be widely employed in future conflicts, rendering conventional land armies and fleets at sea irrelevant. The newly formed Air Force particularly argued that carrier task forces and armored divisions were practically obsolete when (ostensibly) just a few air-dropped nuclear bombs could annihilate them in one fell swoop.

The Air Force touted it soon-to-be operational fleet of ten-thousand-mile-range B-36 Peacemaker nuclear bombers as the only vital war-winning weapon of the nuclear age. This logic resonated conveniently with the postwar political program mandating sharp cuts to U.S. defense spending and force structure—which the Air Force naturally argued should fall upon the Army and Navy.

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