The recently renewed debate over aircraft carrier requirements has focused mainly on the factors of cost and utility. These issues notwithstanding, analysts often overlook or understate the carriers' inherent vulnerabilities. Regardless of the number of carriers national leadership decides to maintain, because they remain the U.S. Navy's preeminent capital ship and a symbol of American global power and prestige, they are a potential key target for both unconventional and conventional adversaries. Carrier proponents, however, universally seem to accept on faith alone the premise that a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (CVN) is essentially invulnerable.
Yet an intelligent adversary could potentially exploit carrier weaknesses. The sudden, unexpected loss of a CVN, especially by unanticipated asymmetric means, would shock both the military establishment and the American psyche-perhaps being a military equivalent to the Twin Towers' collapse on 9/11. The truth is, a deployed aircraft carrier is more vulnerable to mission kill than is commonly believed, and the Department of Defense should consider efforts to prevent or mitigate such an exigency.