The scenario of a conflict between China and the United States over Taiwan becomes more tangible with the passage of time, and both countries prepare to protect their interests. But is sending US aircraft carriers to China really a viable strategy or suicide?
China and the United States: the tension grows
The US commitment to Taiwan’s independence runs counter to the Chinese Communist Party’s desire to annex the island. If war broke out, the US Navy and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLAN) Navy would be the main forces fighting.
Washington is considering strategies such as “High Seas Control” to block vital shipping lanes for China and put economic pressure on the country. However, China has developed capabilities to counter the US Navy in the Pacific Ocean and the South and East China Seas.
The role of aircraft carriers in a possible conflict is crucial, but it is also risky.
Aircraft carriers: Powerful but vulnerable
China has deployed a sizeable force of DF-21D missiles, known as “Carrier Killers,” specifically designed to track and destroy US aircraft carriers. These warships, though powerful, are poorly defended against these types of missiles.
Losing one of these ships could stop the Americans dead in their tracks, which China sees as an opportunity to defeat Taiwan’s defenses and complete its annexation.
Aircraft carriers are incredibly powerful warships that can launch and recover fighter jets, helicopters, and other aircraft. They are symbols of naval strength and allow for global military operations. However, aircraft carriers have vulnerabilities that enemies can exploit despite their strength.
One major vulnerability is their size and visibility. Aircraft carriers are huge and easy to detect, making them prime targets for enemy surveillance systems, radar, and satellites. Their large decks, which are used for launching and landing aircraft, also make them vulnerable to attacks from missiles, torpedoes, and submarines.
Aircraft carriers heavily rely on their aircraft for offensive and defensive capabilities. The carrier’s effectiveness is significantly reduced if these aircraft are destroyed or incapacitated. Enemies may target the aircraft before it can take off, weakening the carrier’s offensive power.
Additionally, maintaining and resupplying the aircraft with fuel, ammunition, and spare parts is a complex logistical challenge that enemies can disrupt.
While aircraft carriers have advanced self-defense systems, they have limitations. Despite radar and missile defense systems, they can struggle to handle multiple attacks at once. Modern anti-ship missiles are becoming more sophisticated, making it difficult for carriers to defend against them effectively.
Geographical factors and operational limitations also make aircraft carriers vulnerable. Operating in narrow waters or near hostile coastlines restricts their maneuverability and exposes them to attacks. Carrier strike groups, which include support ships for protection, require coordination and can have their own vulnerabilities that enemies can exploit.
It is crucial to continually adapt carrier designs and defensive strategies to address emerging threats and ensure their effectiveness in modern naval warfare.
Submarines: A Strategic Alternative Against China
The future of naval engagements in a conflict with China would be led by submarines, not aircraft carriers. The United States must prioritize the submarine in its defense strategies in the Indo-Pacific.
The submarines could launch devastating attacks against invasion forces in the Taiwan Strait and even attack mainland China if necessary. In addition, they could covertly land troops and weapons supplies for the defenders of Taiwan.
A necessary shift in US military strategy
Aircraft carriers have lost their lead in naval conflicts, at least in the Indo-Pacific. It is time for Washington to make sweeping changes to its defense posture, allowing the Navy to develop effective strategies to put the submarine at the forefront of its war plans.
The Silent Service should get its comeuppance in the buildup to a possible war with China. The era of aircraft carriers as the undisputed leaders in naval conflicts has come to an end.