"When word of a crisis breaks out in Washington, it's no accident that
the first question that comes to everyone's lips is: 'Where's the nearest carrier?'"
(President Bill Clinton, March 12, 1993, aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt)
Twenty years later, it appears that the answer to that question will soon be, "The carriers are in mothballs." Rusting away. We can't afford them any longer."
As Mike Hixenbaugh reports in the Virginian-Pilot, "If Congress does nothing to mitigate $500 billion in across-the-board defense cuts planned over the next decade, several analysts say, reducing the number of carrier strike groups from 11 is more than just a possibility - it's almost assured."
Some analysts say the Navy needs to eliminate two carriers from the fleet. Others, three or even four. Any reduction will reduce the capability of the United States to project power and respond in a crisis, a desirable outcome in the minds of some but still a fact.
Some argue that the carrier is obsolete. That it is not merely too costly; it is also too vulnerable. And the work that it does can be taken over by other, less expensive and more high-tech weapons systems. This has not been demonstrated in the real world, yet, and it should be remembered that the carrier has been declared obsolete and vulnerable since, virtually, the first one was launched. The Truman administration thought this way.
"The carrier is finished," said its secretary of Defense, Louis Johnson. He cancelled the building of a new carrier, designed for the age of jet powered aircraft, and was busily mothballing those that were still in the fleet when the North Koreans launched their invasion of the South. The Navy had one operational carrier in the Pacific, and it was 1,000 miles away. But it was soon on station. Others followed. Secretary Johnson, meanwhile, was finished and returned to the private sector.
Aircraft carriers have been an essential element in the American arsenal ever since. They are handy to have in a crisis and that goes beyond their strictly military capabilities. A carrier carried the water, literally, for thousands of victims of a typhoon several years ago, enabling the United States of America to do something no other nation on earth could do.
Giving up carriers is not merely a matter of budgeting and bookkeeping. It reduces the nation in a fundamental way.