The number of aircraft carriers—and their associated carrier striking groups—in the U.S. Navy order of battle exerts a crucial influence on foreign policy. Today and into the future, the United States will go to war with no more than the carrier force in existence when the shooting starts.
In the Korean War, when the successful outcome of the conflict depended on the available air power that could be brought to bear against the juggernaut of the Chinese army, the U.S. Navy was able to triple the size of its carrier fleet by bringing World War II-era Essex-class ships and carrier aircraft out of mothballs and manning them with World War II veterans from the Naval Reserve. Today there are no carriers in mothballs available for mobilization. It would take five years to construct a large-deck carrier, even with the highest priorities. Therefore the current carrier force, and its sustaining shipbuilding program, must be capable of supporting U.S. foreign policy in the most critical areas.