The Need for Additional Aircraft Carriers

Major General James E. Fechet

The United States naval forces have gone out on this scene to rehearse a number of routine and fundamental steps of this inevitable conflict. The fact that they have taken this opportunity to rehearse and to display the best of which the Navy is capable is perhaps the best insurance which we have that that conflict may yet be postponed a little while. The time has come for the American people to realize that if that rehearsal could be perfect, and the weapon rehearsed with the best in the world (which it most certainly is not), our enemies, looking on, might realize the advantages of postponing the real thing forever.

All the reports on the movements of the fleet over broad expanses of the Pacific are not yet in, but, as the war games proceeded, the same failure has appeared again which has appeared in all of the previous practice periods. There are enormous holes today in the new first line of defense-holes through which a first-class au power of the world could push an over-whelming force of flying gun strength and which the United States would be powerless to repel.

The reason that modern military tactics require placing air power with the fleet I because of the indisputable fact that the only way to oppose hostile air forces arriving by sea is with fighting aircraft based at sea. This is done through the medium of the aircraft carrier.

An aircraft carrier is in reality a floating airport. The larger types are capable of handling efficiently about seventy-five fighting planes, divided between the pursuit, scouting, and bombing types.

In the Pacific maneuvers, we found the United States with only two of these modern, first-class floating airports. They are the Lexington and the Saratoga .

If Great Britain were carrying out the present maneuver problems in the Pacific there would be available the following: Hermes , Eagle , Argus, Furious, Courageous, and Glorious. This superior strength speaks for itself. In undertaking to interpret the lessons taught by the maneuvers in the Pacific, where obviously a superior air force at sea could pour through our own weak two-aircraft-carrier defense and raze our coastal strongholds, destroy noncombatant populations, and cripple our secondary defenses, I have called for a review of the lessons taught in pervious annual fleet maneuvers.

To my fellow citizens to whom I try from time to time to give a picture and impression of how remarkable a modern aircraft carrier is, I am invariably turned back by the astounding fact that we have only two of these ships in the first class. The Langley , it must be remembered, is a purely experimental ship and would be of no value whatever in actual warfare.

It is natural that the question should be asked, “If these ships are so remarkable why do we possess only two of them?” Under the provisions of the London Naval Treaty, Great Britain and the United States are allowed 135,000 tons of modern aircraft carriers: Japan, 81,000 tons.

We have built (in addition to the experimental Langley ) but two carriers, the Lexington and the Saratoga of 33,000 tons each. One more carrier, the Ranger , is on the ways and will utilize 13,800 additional tons in this category. We are thus permitted to build 55,200 tons more, up to the imposed limit of 135,000 tons.

We have utilized 66,000 tons in building two vessels; the British have used about 45,000 in building their two most recent ones. Since the treaty prohibits the replacement of these vessels until after twenty years from the date of completion, it is evident that Great Britain has at least what we call “paper superiority” over us during the life of the treaty of aircraft carriers, by virtue of the difference between 66,000 and only 45,000. In other words, England can build an additional carrier of 19,000 tons, giving her three carriers to our two in the utilization of 66,000 tons of the allowed quota.

The aircraft carrier, a sort of floating nest for winged guns, is a craft of comparatively recent development, and we are only just beginning to realize how valuable these ships can be. At the time of the Washington naval conference so little was known regarding their usefulness that it was believed that 135,000 tons of these ships would be all that any nation would need or would ever build. The potency of the modern airplane has since shown how wrong that estimate was.

Today we know that aircraft carriers are needed by our fleet for: Offshore patrol against raids on the Panama Canal, the base in the Hawaiian Islands, and other important vulnerable positions; patrol of the Caribbean area against establishment of enemy forces; patrol of trade routes and escort of convoys; operation against enemy trade and lines of communications; seizure of advanced bases; operation with the battle fleet in any theater of war for protection, for scouting, patrol, reservicing of cruiser and battleship planes, and for attacking enemy vessels, aircraft, and bases.

In addition to all these, an aircraft carrier is an invaluable weapon for bringing action against a weaker but faster fleet.

When our battle fleet, supported by scouting force, put to sea upon the Pacific to repel an imagined invading horde, the United States had only two sea landing fields from which to operate her aircraft afloat. Even the most skillful maneuvering and placing of these two ships left wide areas through which enemy aircraft could pour without serious opposition. The United, States has provided itself with only two of the only known craft afloat which can oppose that hostile air power which now destroys our long-famed geographic isolation.

Our present deficiency in aircraft carriers and the unwillingness of Congress to improve the eyesight of our Navy by sanctioning construction of the new flying-deck cruisers should be a matter of grave concern to all those who have the safety and welfare of the nation at heart.

 

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