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tedd's avatar

How many Aircraft Carriers do you think the U.S. (or any nation) needs to maintain military superiority worldwide?

Asked by tedd (14018 points ) December 19th, 2012

My cousin, who has recently taken a hardline “hate-anything-Obama-does” stance because he’s PO’d his taxes will go up (he is in the 2%) posted an article that was basically complaining about our governments current outlook with aircraft carriers.

The Enterprise was just officially retired this month (it was the oldest carrier in the fleet, and the only one not of the Nimitz class, our current most advanced class). They also have recalled the Eisenhower from the Persian Gulf (breaking long standing policy of having 2 carriers there at all times) for a 2 month retrofit and shore leave.

My argument was that the US has 10 active carrier groups (small fleets that support the carrier + the carrier itself), plus an additional 9 Amphibious Assault Ships that are basically small carriers that are more focused on emergency troop deployments via helicopter. On top of that, should the worst happen and all sh*t hit the fan, there are 12 retired US carriers that could be impressed back into service, needing various states of retrofitting that could take them from 30 days to a year + to be in working condition. Eight of those retired carriers are currently being used as museums, or are already members of the “reserve” fleet (which means they should be in battle condition within 60 days). On top of that, the latest class of US aircraft carrier should start rolling out next year or in 2014, and it’s even larger/more advanced than the existing Nimitz class.

So how many carriers do we really need in our fleet to secure the entire world? Ignoring for the moment that our grounded Air Force is capable of hitting anywhere on the planet, almost strictly from continental US bases, let alone worldwide bases…. I’m open to the idea of having at least one carrier in every ocean and trouble spot, but at what point are we just wasting our money on overkill, especially in times such as now where our budget is such a concern?

The estimate is that each carrier group costs roughly $300 million per year to operate (all costs included). That’s 3 billion/year, before you pay for a retrofit (usually over 2 billion per carrier).

For comparison, the entirety of the rest of the world has eleven active aircraft carriers. The largest of those foreign carriers is just over half the size of the 10 Nimitz carriers we have in service today, most of them come in around 1/5 the size. Most of our retired carriers are still larger than any foreign carrier, or at least roughly the same size. No foreign nation has more than two aircraft carriers.

Exactly how many aircraft carriers should our fleet have? How many do we need to secure waters across the planet?

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15 Answers

KNOWITALL's avatar

I don’t know the answer but I like your cousin!

tedd's avatar

@KNOWITALL lol, he’s a nice guy, but he’s just reached the point of bitter recently. The guy has never had to worry about money a day in his life. His parents are both successful lawyers, he had his tuition paid for at the University of M*chigan. He had over 100k in investments before graduating, landed a job paying him hundreds of thousands a year by 24, and just paid for a 500k house in cash. I don’t begrudge his success, I always knew he would be from his intelligence growing up. But I have a hard time shedding a tear for him because he’s going to have to pay a few more % a year in taxes, and still be incredibly wealthy. Not to mention much of his money comes from capital gains, so it’s only being taxed at half my rate, me making probably under 1/10 what he does.

This has translated into him getting angry at the president for everything. Oh the president had a press conference, shouldn’t he be working? Oh he is working, well shouldn’t he be having a press conference? Oh he’s speaking in Connecticut about the massacre, well he shouldn’t be there anyways… blah blah blah. Right now if Obama made a pill that cured all forms of cancer he would complain about the color.

But I digress…. what about these aircraft carriers?

Seek's avatar

Hm. I need more information.

In which year does this hypothetical scenario take place? 1897?

tedd's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr In 1857 I presume we could have the world pretty well dominated with one Nimitz class carrier.

Seek's avatar

Ha ha, that was a typo… I changed it to 1897. A tad less reductio ad absurdum.

wundayatta's avatar

Whatever we need, it is somewhat to a good deal less than what we have. This country is way over militarized. Both on the national and on the individual level. I don’t get it. It’s as if we have the largest insecurity complex ever for any nation.

WestRiverrat's avatar

You don’t base your fleet on what others have. You define the mission you want the Navy to do, then you build a fleet to suit that mission.

The US could probably get by with a smaller fleet, but it would first have to redefine its mission.

Much of the current mission is image projection, which is a political rather than a war fighting goal.

flutherother's avatar

42, or 1 starship.

josie's avatar

Your cousin has both feet on the ground. Nice to know people like him still exist. Not for long though. Give him my best.
Answer- as many as the US can afford. These days, the more the better.

Silence04's avatar

Aircraft carriers are only an effective means of distributing air support when there are not enough air bases to facilitate specific areas of the world.

Currently the US military has more air bases in other countries than they ever have. Since the network of remote air bases have grown around the world, the need for mobile bases has obviously decreased. Not to mention the increase of guided missle submarines.

The amount of aircraft carriers a nation has does not determine their ability, at least this day in age.

tedd's avatar

@josie Ironic because he b*tches and whines about how our budget is totally out of order (he’s a stock market guy), and how we are wasting money on the poor here (basically calling them the 47%).... but he’s okay with spending billions on aircraft carriers that are increasingly obsolete and far beyond what we need to reasonably complete our military’s mission.

Besides, I’m not sure how you can get behind someone who disagrees with Obama on everything, regardless of it’s legitimate merit, because he is bitter…. That sounds pretty stupid quite frankly.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@tedd Aircraft carriers are built as much if not more for political reasons as opposed to military reasons. As long as they are used as a foreign policy tool, building them cannot be judged strictly on military necessity.

tedd's avatar

@WestRiverrat Even on a political viewpoint, how many do we need? We have enough to put several in every major theater of the world, and still have a few to spare. It’s overkill, plain and simple. I’m not even necessarily for lessening the number we have now, but I’m also not gonna cry foul when we retire one (the Enterprise) a bit early, and pull another back for retrofitting early (the Eisenhower) in an effort to save money.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@tedd, not every carrier is at sea at the same time. Great Britain found out in 1982 how important aircraft carriers are. They had to pull carriers out of mothballs to go to the Falklands.

tedd's avatar

@WestRiverrat Well for starters, we have an Air Force that has enough worldwide bases right now to almost obsolete Aircraft carriers as it is. But more than that, I don’t think we need 10 full carriers even to more than adequately prepare ourselves for any non-WW3 threats that come our way. And as far as the WW3 caliber threats, it would be stupid to keep enough ready to combat that (it would cost a fortune and they’d be useless unless it happened), and we have 12 in the mothball fleet right now we could retrofit in a year tops, plus an additional 3 of our latest model already under construction.

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