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Are Aircraft Carriers Still Relevant?

Could the world’s largest aircraft carrier become a dominant force in the future? From the great battleships of the past to modern times, could it become a thing of historical significance?

With the increasing cost of building and maintaining aircraft carriers, and the technological advancements that have occurred in the field, does it make sense to keep them operational?

It’s a controversial question, but did the aircraft carrier replace battleships? For over a hundred years, battleships served as the core of navies all around the world. These massive ships were very powerful and seemed to be very resilient to smaller ships.

The myths about the potential demise of battleships were soon debunked by major engagements, such as the Battle of Jutland. During this battle, the British lost several battle cruisers and battleships. Eventually, the two behemoths would finally meet in a battle using aircraft technology.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, many US battleships were destroyed by a massive torpedo and dive bombers from Japan. This ended the notion that battleships were superior.

Although the USS Oklahoma and USS Arizona were the first battleships to be sunk by hostile aircraft, they weren’t the first ones to be attacked and destroyed by airborne forces. In 1921, the German battleship the German Ostfriesland was sunk during air trials, demonstrating the potential of airborne attacks.

Although the tests were conducted to demonstrate the potential of airborne attacks, many military observers were not pleased. The test’s creator, General Billy Mitchell, had urged for a change in thinking for a long time, but his warnings have reportedly fallen on deaf ears.

During the Battle of Midway, the aircraft carrier emerged victorious. From 1942 to 1944, it participated in numerous sea battles. These massive ships proved their worth once again.

How Long Does It Take To Build An Aircraft Carrier?

It’s not surprising that it can take years to build an aircraft carrier due to the complexity of the hardware involved. Most carriers can take around five to six years to build, while some take longer.

The Nimitz-class carriers typically take around six years to build. The HMS Queen Elizabeth, which was commissioned in 2007, started sea trials in 2017. India gets its first indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant after 17 years of work. Although, now with the current capabilities and from the experience of making INS Vikrant,India can now make aircraft carriers in about 7-8 years.

Also Read, INS Vikrant- Way To Becoming a Truly Global Naval Power

Are Aircraft Carriers Still Relevant?

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Despite the various achievements of the carriers over the years, many military officials are starting to question their relevance. A new study conducted by The Diplomat claims that the US Navy’s future depends on the future of the carriers.

The study, which also looked into the future of carrier operations, suggests that orders for the new Ford-Class carriers have significantly decreased.

Thomas Modly, who was one of the study’s members, said during a press briefing that the future of the carriers was a major focus of the study.

The study’s members noted that the country’s long-term challenges require hard decisions and clear-eyed assessments. As the US Navy has four new Ford-class carriers under contract, we have time to rethink what comes next.

The study’s members also noted that the country’s long-term challenges require a comprehensive assessment of the various factors that affect the development of a naval force. These include the cost of building ships, the need to sustain an industrial base, and the evolution of the nation’s maritime strategy.

The goal of this study is to analyze the various advantages and disadvantages of unmanned and manned aircraft. It will also look into the potential cost-benefit of nuclear and conventional power systems. Concerns about the immense investment needed to build these types of carriers and the rising threats they could face are likely to put the future of these systems in doubt.

Also Read, Know Your Enemy – Chinese Aircraft Carrier Liaoning

In addition, China is reportedly developing a new long-range missile that can be very accurate and maneuverable. This could put carriers at risk. According to reports, the DF-12D can travel at speeds of up to 930 mph.

If China were to deploy hundreds of these missiles, it would greatly affect the operations of naval forces in the region.

Even if China were to deploy these missiles, carriers would still need to operate at least 620 miles from the shore. This would severely limit their effectiveness since their combat range is limited.

Even though carriers are primarily about offense, they also play a vital role in maintaining and supporting naval forces. This makes them unlikely to become obsolete.

One area where carriers could still be relevant is by equipping them with unmanned aircraft. These relatively cheap and lightweight planes can stay in the air for long periods of time, which is very advantageous for carriers.

These types of aircraft can also be used in more risky and longer-range operations, which allows carriers to stay out of harm’s way. One of the most prominent examples of this type of aircraft is the X-47B.

An unmanned aircraft that can land and take off from an aircraft carrier is known as an unmanned combat aerial vehicle. This type of aircraft could eventually be used in the wings of carriers.

India’s Indigenous Aircraft Carrier Program, for instance, started with the idea of arresting and ski-jump take-off. The shipbuilder was also able to produce various components, such as gas turbines, arresting cables, and phased array radars. The landing system and the MiG-29K fighter jets supporting the program were purchased from outside.

The construction of the Vikrant, which was delayed several times due to various reasons, was finally completed in 2020.

Over the years, aircraft carriers have been around, and they are still very powerful war machines. They are also capable of carrying out other tasks not just related to the ship itself.

Over the years, the basic concept of aircraft carriers has not changed. They have evolved to accommodate different types of aircraft, such as the first bi-planes and modern aircraft. Why can’t carriers just replace their aging fleets with more drones? They need to adapt to keep up with technological changes in order to remain relevant.

Also Read, Indian Navy & Need For Aircraft Carrier

Importance of Aircraft Carrier

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The aircraft carrier is capable of providing effective and efficient combat power against hostile forces. Its ability to operate continuously and without constraints is also beneficial for the country as it allows it to protect its warships and submarines. On the high seas, where merchant’s vessels are commonly docked, there are constraints on the availability of shore-based aircraft. With an aircraft carrier, the country can operate its vessels without any constraints.

The commissioning of India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant, on September 2, 2022, marked a tectonic shift in the country’s naval program. The Navy is now pushing for the construction of a third carrier to maintain its combat edge against China in the Indian Ocean Region. The clamor for a third carrier is growing louder as the country aims to become a Blue Water Superpower. A Blue Water Navy can deploy anywhere in the world and is capable of establishing a powerful force.

An aircraft carrier is regarded as the most important element in any country’s naval program, as it can provide a powerful and diverse offensive force. Besides this, other ships such as destroyers and frigates can also perform their duties effectively. The entry of an aircraft carrier into the international arena has raised the bar for the country’s naval capabilities.

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