More than two decades into the missile age a new breed of weapons has emerged that will greatly change the way we fight. Just as technology caused the battleship to be eclipsed by the aircraft carrier, soon the aircraft carrier will be eclipsed by the missile carrier. This is not to say the aircraft carrier will not exist in the future, but it won’t retain the central position in power projection it holds today.
The reason the aircraft carrier rose to predominance above the battleship was the ability of the carrier air wing to effectively deliver force at far greater distances. While the battleship could generate much more firepower (by a factor of ten) in a short period of time, its effective range was too short compared with the airplane. A plane could find and deliver firepower at great distances, because the pilot onboard could navigate accurately to 200 nautical miles or more, locate enemy forces, identify and prioritize the targets, and guide the weapons to hit the target with reasonable accuracy.1