No Longer Taboo: Pro-Navy Senator Warns Aircraft Carriers May Be “Obsolete”, “Sitting Ducks” for Hypersonics

How do you shoot down a hypersonic missile when you can't even take down a normal one?

The new chief of naval operations, Adm. Michael Gilday, was confirmed quickly by the Senate last week  [text is from two weeks ago], but lawmakers made clear that the cost and growing vulnerability of aircraft carriers to ever-faster and evasive missiles will be among the issues he’s expected to tackle when he officially takes the reins.

The Navy’s main force projection tool, the carrier, became a punching bag for several lawmakers at Gilday’s confirmation hearing, as they alternately raised the threat posed by Chinese and Russian hypersonic missiles and berated the Navy’s future top admiral for the significant delays and cost overruns associated with the new carrier Gerald R. Ford.

At one point during the July 31 hearing, the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., told Gilday the Navy’s arrogance on the carrier “ought to be criminal.” Later on, longtime friend of the Navy Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, warned that hypersonic missiles were a “nightmare weapon” that threatened to make carriers obsolete.

And while the lawmakers differed on the future of aircraft carriers and their long-term viability, the hearing left no doubt that Gilday, a career surface warfare officer, has his work cut out for him in proving he can guide the service toward a more stable future for the Navy’s most expensive and strategically invaluable assets.

To be clear, Inhofe does not oppose carriers, and he has publicly reminded multiple Trump administration officials of the Navy’s legal requirement to maintain 11 of them. Inhofe was in the bipartisan chorus of lawmakers who opposed Pentagon plans to cut costs by decommissioning the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman before the administration scuttled  those plans this year.

When it comes to the Ford program, Inhofe plans to keep the Navy on a short leash and pressed Gilday to commit that he would work to prevent the kind of widespread “first-in-class” issues that have plagued the Ford. It’s an issue with some urgency behind it, as the Navy prepares to tackle the new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine for nuclear deterrent patrols, as well as a next-generation frigate, new classes of unmanned warships and a new large surface combatant.

“The Navy entered into this contract in 2008, which, combined with other contracts, have ballooned the cost of the ship more than $13 billion without understanding the technical risks, the costs or the schedules, and you know this ought to be criminal,” Inhofe said.

The Navy had taken a gamble integrating immature dual-band radar, catapult, arresting gear and weapons elevators, and Inhofe expressed displeasure with the result.

Tackling the first-in-class issue will be a priority, Gilday said.

“I commit to that and complete transparency as well as taking what we learn from the Ford and ensuring that we don’t commit those same mistakes again in the Columbia class and other ships that we need to field in the next few years,” Gilday told Inhofe.

‘Sitting ducks’

As for rising threats to the carrier, King believes hypersonic missiles are an existential threat to the Navy and urged Gilday to take the issue head on.

“Every aircraft carrier that we own can disappear in a coordinated attack,” King said. “And it is a matter of minutes. Murmansk, [Russia], to the Norwegian Sea is 12 minutes at 6,000 miles an hour.

“So I hope you will take back a sense of urgency to the Navy and to the research capacity and to the private sector that this has to be an urgent priority [To do what LOL? No amount of “research capacity” will give you the ability to intercept hypersonic missiles.] because otherwise we are creating a vulnerability that could in itself lead to instability.”

In an interview with Defense News, King said the speed at which the Russians and Chinese are fielding the capability worries him.

“My concern is that we are a number of years away from having that capacity, and our adversaries are within a year of deployment,” he said. “And that creates a dangerous gap, in my view. This represents a qualitative gap in offensive warfare that history tells we better figure out how to deal with, or it will mitigate our … advantage.”

King, who represents the state where half the Navy’s destroyers are produced, also said he’s concerned about the long-term viability of aircraft carriers in a world with hypersonic missiles.

“I think it does raise a question of the role of the aircraft carrier if we cannot figure a way to counter this capability,” he said. “I don’t want indefensible, $12 billion sitting ducks out there. I’m not prepared to say the carrier is obsolete, but I say that this weapon undermines the viability of the carrier.”

Inhofe, in response to another senator’s questions about carrier obsolescence, said he disagrees carriers are becoming obsolete, but that he’s concerned about the cost.

But the threats to the carrier are mounting, experts say. With the advent of ground-launched hypersonic missiles, it’s a matter of time before air-launched hypersonic missiles present a nearly insurmountable threat, barring a significant development to counter them.

“I think what King’s comments reflect is that he sees the vulnerability of the aircraft carrier only getting worse,” said Bryan Clark, a retired submarine officer and analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “Specifically, maybe not so much these kind of boost-glide weapons, but its more about cruise missiles that are hypersonic — air-launched perhaps.

“Then you are talking about something that is relatively inexpensive and could be delivered in large numbers, and that would be a bigger deal because missile defenses are not necessarily built for hypersonic weapons.

“So we’ll have to find a way to deal with this new challenge, or we’ll have to rethink how we do things.”

Source: Defense News

  1. The Globalist says

    Perhaps the US should increase its military spending to 1.5 trillion to combat this, issuing more treasury bills to finance it. And of course, it can further reduce spending on infrastructure. The need for sewage systems and roads is much over-rated anyways.

    1. Bob nunez says

      No need of sewage systems waste of money.Better open shitting system like SAN Francesco and LA.

  2. Mary E says

    The US navy should scuttle plans to spend Millions (or billions?) on refurbishing and maintaining their aircraft carriers – and even some warships (now obsolete)…
    and spend those dollars (which aren’t going to last long) on moving naval bases out of harms way along the Eastern seaboard!! Unless the Navy does not believe in global warming and its effects on the Atlantic ocean that is! Then, they will lose not only bases, but the ships that are there…what then?? The US taxpayers have had it with underwriting the spendthrift military’s very unwise use of their money…

    1. BillA says

      no biggie, shallow water becomes deep water; new construction

  3. Vish says

    American aircraft carriers are about projecting American imperial power around the world to defend … not democracy… but the American Empire and its capitalist system.

    So if these aircraft carriers are sitting ducks, that is a positive development.

    Turn American aircraft carriers into floating coffins.

    Rest in Pieces, America–at the bottom of the ocean.

    1. Nick Rhynes says

      Woe be the foolish nation that ever tried to take out one of these ‘status symbols’. They Do project power, which is why they are useful. In a war, of course, they won’t last long. That’s been obvious for years.

      An argument can be made whether they’re worth the expense but I would say that they have certainly served their purpose for over 5 decades. Not bad longevity for a weapons system, expensive as it may be.

      There’s no real point in worrying if they’re sitting ducks as if one were to be attacked, it would be the opening salvo of a much larger conflict in which I don’t think even the USN could argue their survivability.

  4. CHUCKMAN says

    So very true.

    Although Pentagon dwellers would say that, short of war with Russia or China, the carriers are powerful statements in the world.


    We don’t know Iran’s capacity, but it too has what seem to be serious anti-ship missiles.

    1. David Bedford says

      I think I recall Iran saying they had the capability to sink them

  5. John C Carleton says

    Thats been the case for years.

    When did this military genius figure out what has been know for years.?

    For many years, in war games, subs have gotten through, sunk carriers.
    Few years back it was an antique design diesel French sub did it.

    French reported it, USA threw a hissy fit, France took the report down.
    So the USA NAVY, at least, has know for 10-20 years flattops are obsolete except for parking off the coast of a third world country with no real military, slaughtering that countries civilians, blow up their cities and towns, with the planes from the carriers.

    Against a real military, like Iran, Russia, China, aircraft carriers are sitting duck, status symbols.
    Very expensive status symbols.

  6. john allen villones says

    I’d love to see a world without war, only respect and harmonious relationship, but seeing how China acts against it’s neighbor is so very alarming matching with their continuous military advancement and bullish behavior, I think it’s time for the US to review it’s defense budget and expenditures to further bolster the power rebalancing in the region not just projection.

    1. skinnerreturns says

      China has very stable relationships with her neighbours, from Russia, Korea, India, Vietnam or Pakistan!
      The growth of China, is what is key to re-balancing the region, stopping the US from hegemon.

    2. Vish says

      This is the classic American mentality: psychologically project America’s own malign nature onto its geopolitical opponents.

      China (as well as Russia, Iran, Venezuela) are advocating for a multipolar world where America and its coalition crime partners won’t be able to get away with its serial wars of aggression; economic terrorism in the form of sanctions; or regime change coup d’etats dressed up as democracy.

      America is a global bully that spends more on its military than most of the world (including China and Russia) combined and wages planetary warfare based upon pathetic deceptions like non-existent WMDs in Iraq, a fake war on terrorism, or promoting “freedom and democracy”–from Iraq to Afghanistan to Libya to Yemen to Somalia, and beyond.

      This is the true face of America’s “rules-based” New World Order.

      And it’s why the America menace needs to be contained and counter-balanced everywhere on this planet.

  7. thomas malthaus says

    The conclusion: more aircraft carriers.

    1. Dražen Janković says

      Very logically thinking, just like common military!

    2. JustPassingThrough says


  8. JustPassingThrough says

    or we’ll have to rethink how we do things.”

    What a great idea.

    How about starting by emasculting MIC.

    Forbidding people like bad dog mattis from sitting on the board of MIC companies.

    Dropping the khazarian war effort.

    Literally send bolton out to pasture.

    Let pompeo realize his ruptured rapture.

    Get out of S.A. Africa, Europe, M.E. Japan, Korea etc.

    Let Denmark keep Greenland without sanctioning them.

    Tackle the problems at home

    …and just shut the f*ck up for awhile.

    It’s over bunkie.

    You had your chance and you blew it… bigtime.

  9. Dr Paul Newport says

    It’s great that America’s main tools for dominating the rest of the world have become somewhat obsolete. Hopefully now we will see a rapid rise to power of China and Russia, and the reestablishment of a multipolar world where the US will no longer be able to get away with bullying the rest of the world

  10. Séamus Ó Néill says

    Although I would love to see a world without war, I have to be a realist. Russia’s and China’s development of hypersonic weapons has made conventional warfare asymmetrical at the moment , with America lagging behind….and that makes America, because of her psychotic and psychopathic nature, an extreme threat to mankind ! From the beginning of the last century, America has had designs on being the No 1 hegemon and any casual glance through the last seven decades will show how ruthlessly she breezed through country after country, exterminating the population as she went, to achieve that aim. Confronting America in “conventional” warfare now would probably make this insecure bully resort to the nuclear option….a safer bet therefore, would be enforced bankruptcy through de-dollarisation. This would curb her military ambitions and force her to act as a normal country, once again observing international rules, treaties and guidelines.

    1. Nick Rhynes says

      ‘Exterminating the population…”

      Bring it down a notch, mate 🙂

      1. Séamus Ó Néill says

        I’m sorry if I offend your sensitivities, but that what America does…ok, they don’t genocide the entire population, but they would if they could. They have butchered countless millions since 1945 , without a second thought. They had plans to nuke every major city in the USSR and if they’d carried that through, where would they have ended their intended carnage?….complete annihilation of mankind?

  11. says

    America may not be no. 1 anymore. They have to realise it and swallow its pride.

  12. Sherman Kent says

    Reminds me of Billy Mitchell saying battleships were obsolete in the 30s. Scary shit.

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