Doing It Wrong: The Value of an Aircraft Carrier

Aircraft Carrier

James R. Holmes takes on the carrier in his latest article at The Diplomat.  Building on Sir Julian Corbett’s strategic thought, he lays out the “naval repertoire”: dispute command, win command, exploit command, police the sea. From there, he asks, how useful are carriers.  Not very, Holmes concludes, arguing the platforms are too expensive, too few, and too vulnerable.

Unfortunately, he only covers a specific section of the range of military operations (ROMO), arguably about 1/3 of the more kinetic range, perhaps a little more with the nebulous inclusion of “police the sea.”

This negates the much larger segment of the ROMO (and since I’m a Cowboys fan, that word/name literally and figuratively is a 4-letter word), namely everything that would otherwise fall under the “soft power” header (as I noted here, the vast number and types of operations performed in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief [HA/DR] operations, presence/influence operations, and of course messaging, just to generally cover a few).  None of those are about kinetic or Phase I-III operations.  As a matter of fact, many of the types of missions to which I am referring could arguably prevent Phase I from even taking place (and also assist in ensuring a successful transition out of Phase IV).

Are these the missions for which the carrier was designed, built, and marketed?  Decidedly not, but we do not live in Sir Julian’s strategic environment, so the terms of reference need to be updated to more accurately reflect the way the world is today, as well as the way the world may develop tomorrow.

To fixate on the carrier as only a battle platform is myopic by at least half.


CDR Elton C. Parker III is currently serving as the Special Assistant to the President and Military Assistant to the Provost of National Defense University.  A career naval aviator, his most recent tour was as Speechwriter and Special Assistant to the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe.  The views expressed here are his own and do not represent the views, opinions, or positions of the National Defense University, The U.S. Navy, or the Department of Defense.


Image: U.S. Navy, aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70)transits in the Arabian Gulf, March 9, 2012