Imagine a great power war erupts in the next 30 years. Congressional mandate and the iron law of defense procurement suggest the U.S. Navy would enter the conflict with between 8 and 12 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (CVNs). The Navy plans to construct a CVN every five years until 2028, accelerated to every four years from 2028 to 2048. If carrier strike groups (CSGs) built around Nimitz-class carriers in the second halves of their lives, post refueling and overhaul, and their Ford-class successors went to battle relying on current capabilities and established doctrine, would they prevail? Much ink has been spilled speculating about the answer, and rightly so. A great deal of U.S. blood and treasure is at stake.
Editor's Note: The views expressed are written solely in the author’s personal capacity and do not represent those of the U.S. Navy, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
1. Megan Eckstein, “Navy Pursuing ‘Surface Development Squadron’ to Experiment with Zumwalt DDGs, Unmanned Ships,” USNI News, 28 January 2019.
2. See CAPT Robert F. Johnson, USN (Ret.), “Carriers Are Forward Presence,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 122, no. 8 (August 1996).
3. The British ships, dispatched to aid in the defense of Singapore at the start of World War II, were sunk by Japanese aircraft. See Barry Gough, “Prince of Wales and Repulse: Churchill’s ‘Veiled Threat’ Reconsidered,” Churchill Proceedings (remarks delivered at the 2007 International Churchill Conference, Vancouver).
5. Norman Friedman, “How Promise Turned to Disappointment,” Naval History 30, no. 4 (August 2016).
6. Ernest Andrade Jr., “The United States Navy and the Washington Conference,” The Historian 31, no. 3 (May 1969): 345−63.
7. Albert A. Nofi, To Train the Fleet for War: The U.S. Navy Fleet Problems, 1923–1940 (Newport, RI: Naval War College Press, 2010).
8. Robert Farley, “No Contest: Why USS Enterprise Is the Best U.S. Navy Ship Ever,” The National Interest, 23 June 2017.
9. Norman Friedman, Winning a Future War: War Gaming and Victory in the Pacific War (Washington, DC: Naval History and Heritage Command, 2017), 11–19, 73–108.
10. ADM John S. Thach, USN (Ret.), “Butch O’Hare and the Thach Weave,” Naval History 6, no. 1 (March 1992).
11. Clark G. Reynolds, The Fast Carriers: The Forging of an Air Navy (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2013).
12. James D. Hornfischer, Neptune’s Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal (New York: Bantam Books, 2011).
13. William H. Honan, “Return of the Battleship,” New York Times Magazine, 4 April 1982.
14. Charles E. Myers Jr., “A Sea-Based Interdiction System for Power Projection,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 105, no. 11 (November 1979).
15. Senator Bumpers is quoted in Honan, “Return of the Battleships.”
16. Edward J. Marolda and Robert J. Schneller, Shield and Sword: The United States Navy and the Persian Gulf War (Washington, DC: Government Reprints Press, 2001).
17. The term “augmented carrier strike group” derives from a distributed fleet proposal in a Navy report to Congress. Navy Project Team, Report to Congress: Alternative Future Fleet Platform Architecture Study (27 October 2016), 13.
18. Robert C. Rubel, “Deconstructing Nimitz’s Principle of Calculated Risk,” Naval War College Review 68, no. 1 (Winter 2015), art. 4.