July 10, 2014 informationdissemination.net
Bryan McGrath and Robert Farely recently conducted an online debate on what constitutes an "aircraft carrier" in the early 21st century. McGrath rightly described the current big deck flattop as "a single combat system" equipped to conduct a multiplicity of activities beyond mere strike operations. These include airborne early warning (AEW), antisubmarine warfare (ASW), and means of countering enemy aircraft and surface to air missiles (SAM's). McGrath also identifies these requirements and a host of others that enable the independent operations expected of U.S. carriers as the principal drivers of large carrier size and cost. Robert Farley believes large amphibious assault ships of the LHD (Essex) and LHA (America) classes ought to also be included on the carrier rolls with perhaps the designation of "light carrier". He asserts that these ships can perform some of the roles of larger carriers when equipped with strike aircraft such as the current AV-8B Harrier and the incoming F-35 Lighting aircraft. As McGrath stated, the amphibious assault ship carrier cannot perform the the sort of independent operations expected of true flattops, but there may yet be a role for Farley's "light carrier" concept. Significant changes in strategic geography now allow both variants to operate in the regions best suited to their capabilities. The history of carrier development in the period between the world wars and combat in the Second World War also point to geographic assignment of different carrier types. The U.S. can maintain its nearly all of its present carrier fleet, conduct a significant rebalance to the Pacific of capital ships, and still retain the ability to operate naval aviation in the western Eurasian littorals.
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