During the 2008 financial crisis the theory emerged that certain companies, particularly financial institutions, were “too big to fail.” These firms were considered to be so large and entwined with other companies that their closure would be catastrophic to the entire economy. In today’s Navy, the aircraft carrier has become “too big to sink.” When it functions as designed, it is an extremely powerful platform that has remarkable economies of scale. But carriers are crucial to so many of the fleet’s missions that if the enemy can defeat them, the results would be catastrophic for both the Navy and the nation. The loss of a $12 billion capital ship, more than 5,000 American lives, and a powerful symbol of U.S. military superiority would send shock waves around the world.
Yet the Navy remains blind to the reality that its carriers—by way of destruction, damage, or deterrence from completing their missions—are poised for defeat in battle. By accepting the eventual demise of the carrier, the Navy could accelerate its shift away from a carrier-centric fleet.