Questioning the Carrier

Opportunities in Fleet Design for the U.S. Navy

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The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is naval history’s most powerful and versatile warship. It is the reason the U.S. Navy is the predominant force at sea today. Throughout its illustrious history, the carrier has overcome serious flaws, including its expense, vulnerability, centralization of combat power, and its airwing’s short range. The U.S. Navy always accepted those flaws because the carrier was the best means of delivering firepower. Today’s technologies, however, provide key opportunities for the U.S. Navy to move beyond the limitations of a carrier-centric fleet by redesigning its force structure.

Questioning the Carrier
examines how the U.S. Navy can embrace the Age of the Missile, network the distributed fleet, and diversify to develop a fleet that benefits from the aircraft carrier’s many strengths without being wholly dependent on them. By acting on those opportunities, the U.S. Navy can develop a structure that performs the carrier-centric fleet’s functions more effectively using a force consisting of more platforms with less total risk and within the same long-term budget. As adversaries are improving their ability to deter the carrier thus causing its utility to wane, the author examines the Navy’s past successes to show how it can overcome institutional resistance to change and continue to rule the seas.

About the Author

Editorial Reviews

Questioning the Carrier skillfully uses naval history and current events to conduct a holistic review of the aircraft carrier’s ability to lead the U.S. Navy against our nation’s adversaries. This is a superb contribution to the debate over the Navy’s force structure, especially valuable because it comes from a serving naval officer. ― Adm. James Stavridis, USN (Ret.), former Supreme Allied Commander, NATO and author of The Sailor’s Bookshelf and The Leader’s Bookshelf
“Jeff Vandenengel’s Questioning the Carrier provides analysts with a sobering, superbly documented, and exceedingly well reasoned examination of the future of the aircraft carrier in naval warfare. His 'must read' comprehensive review of the evolution of U.S. fleet operations which placed the carrier at the center of operations even as America’s adversaries slanted their weapons development to target it suggests that the relevance of the carrier is not only in decline but at an end.”—Capt. Jerry Hendrix, USN, (Ret.), PhD
“Just as citizens should always look beyond the echo chambers coinciding with their beliefs, service planners should do so as well when examining alternative concepts and the force structures that support them.  While not everyone (including me) will agree completely with Jeff Vandenengel's diagnosis of and prescription for the U.S. Navy's future, Questioning the Carrier is a highly thought-provoking and very useful addition to the debate.  We need more young people like Jeff with the courage to challenge the assumptions about our Navy's future!” ―Adm. Sandy Winnefeld, USN (Ret.), former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and author of Sailing Upwind
"Questioning the Carrier addresses macro questions of geopolitics that are of interest to many. Vandenengel uses a clever analogy of aircraft carriers fighting against a “archer” who they can choose to hide from, shoot, or shoot down their arrows—all increasingly that find the odds no longer in their favor."―New York Journal of Books
"In this book, Jeff Vandenengel makes critical contributions to ongoing debates about what kind of fleet the Navy needs and how it can evolve beyond its carrier-centric force design."―Center for International Maritime Security
"This book is intended to provoke thought, bringing up a topic that challenges the status quo of the U.S. battle fleet — the future of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier."—Seapower Magazine
"The book format is at a Naval academic level yet is still an easy read. This publication presents the concept well and worth a read especially by those in the Naval strategic, tactical and design fields." —Sea History

More Info

CIMSEC Interview: Questioning the Carrier with Jeff Vandenengel, February 20, 2024

Proceedings Podcast, December 15, 2023