Over the next few months, the Department of Defense (DoD) will conduct an internal review of defense strategy and planning. Aircraft carriers are often scrutinized during these reviews, especially when resources are tight. Despite the extra attention, carriers have done quite well of late; since 1994, when the current force of 12 ships was reached, the rest of the fleet has fallen from 391 to 295 vessels. The reason is simple: when subjected to rigorous assessment, decision-makers recognize that the aircraft carrier is among the most effective and flexible tools in the nation's arsenal.
With the U.S. confronting the twin challenges of access to overseas bases and an ever-widening array of threats, the role of carriers would appear more significant than ever. However DoD does not seem to be waiting for the review's completion before making critical decisions that will impact the nation's security for many years to come. In late 2004 they announced plans to eliminate another aircraft carrier. Congress, insisting that such dramatic shifts in policy must be grounded in strategy, is not supporting this planned reduction.