As the first of its class (and perpetually troubled) super carrier USS Gerald R. Ford continues to steam toward completion and a second carrier’s (the USS John F. Kennedy) production continues, the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Michael Gilday, laid out his vision of how the Navy needs to shift its approach to warfare in the coming years. And according to the admiral, the U.S. Navy is going to have to make some changes in order to prepare for the threats presented by nations like China — especially when it comes to carrier ops.

Among the top concerns discussed by Gilday was the advent of hypersonic anti-ship missiles. These platforms, when coupled with a reliable, long-range targeting system, could prove to be all-but-indefensible carrier killers that would prevent the vessels from closing to within striking distance of Chinese shores. As a result, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have both been working feverishly in recent years to try to find ways to pull more mileage out of carrier-based aircraft — and the MQ-25 Stingray drone refueler program — adding conformal fuel tanks in the Block III Super Hornet upgrades, and even experimenting with “hot loading” F-35s on austere runways on captured island chains.

Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray drone refueler will help extend the range of carrier-launched aircraft. (Boeing)

Let’s look at this like a physics problem,” Gilday proposed. “[People will say]: ‘Hypersonics go really fast and they travel at long ranges. Carriers can only travel [‘X’ distance], so carriers are going to have to go away.’ That’s a very simplistic way to look at the problem. I’ve been in two big war games since I’ve been [CNO], and I absolutely believe that we have to wring more out of what we have today in terms of how we are going to fight with it.”

The U.S. Navy is currently preparing for a series of “large scale,” exercises set to kick off this coming summer. These exercises will serve as a unique opportunity to test new approaches to combat against peer and near-peer adversaries. The Navy will need to make a hard pivot in order to embrace the best approaches to combat against such a different sort of adversary.