In recent years, both China and Russia have begun deploying ballistic missiles that were developed with one specific target in mind: America’s massive super carriers. As the most potent means of American force projection, Nimitz and Ford class super carriers provide the U.S. with a platform to launch air strikes from aircraft like the Super Hornet and forthcoming F-35C, serving as the nation’s “big stick” when engaging in diplomatic efforts like the pursuit of North Korean denuclearization.

China’s DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile, in particular, is a hypersonic platform that could easily circumvent the Navy’s existing missile defense apparatus and, provided it was fed with good targeting data, could sink an encroaching aircraft carrier nearly a thousand miles away from Chinese shores. America’s carrier-based aircraft, on the other hand, have an operational range of only about 500 miles – creating a significant capability gap that renders American carriers obsolete in a potential conflict with China.

As a result, the United States has launched a number of initiatives aimed as offsetting this capability gap and reasserting its carriers as the most formidable military presence on the globe.