In a speech given aboard the newest American aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford, last week, President Trump congratulated the crew and shipbuilders on their accomplishments and reaffirmed his stance on establishing a larger, more powerful Navy, with our aircraft carriers continuing to serve as the centerpiece of our ability to project power across the globe.
However, critics within the defense industry have long been railing against the U.S. policy of creating these behemoth ships as the center of our naval war strategy, as anti-ship technology has outpaced ship defense strategies in recent years. The Gerald R. Ford is the most expensive naval vessel ever built, with the most advanced technology available and a more efficient design than previous carriers… but when facing a peer-level military opponent, it may just be a giant target.
In 2015, an allied combat exercise off the coast of Florida saw a small French nuclear submarine sneak around American defenses and “sink” the U.S. Aircraft Carrier Theodore Roosevelt along with half of its escort ships. The Roosevelt is a Nimitz class aircraft carrier, the most advanced class of carrier on the planet prior to the development of the new Ford class. The French Navy proudly reported their success on their own website, before quickly pulling the report back down for fear of embarrassing their U.S. allies.
The French submarine was not equipped with the latest in anti-ship technology, but was rather more than thirty years old and used traditional tactics to subvert anti-submarine defenses and position itself strategically near the carrier group until it received the command to fire. There was no incredible cunning, no experimental weapons platforms to test, they simply chugged along into the fight, and decimated the best of the American navy before slinking away again without taking any serious damage from U.S. forces in the drill. This test, dramatic as it may seem, is not the only time a Nimitz class carrier has failed in hypothetical battles – though the Navy keeps the results of such exercises classified, multiple reports have surfaced of similar outcomes in other trials. In fact, according to Reuters, at least fourteen American or British aircraft carriers have been “sunk” in similar war games since 1980.