The Navy's "unchallenged primacy" around the world "may be coming to a close," with defense systems being developed by countries including China, Russia and Iran, a new report warns.
"Red Alert: The Growing Threat to U.S. Aircraft Carriers,"
published Monday by the Center for a New American Security, a D.C.-based think tank that focuses on national security — and posted by the Washington Post
— focuses on the new strategy to push the enemy forces as far away as possible from strategically important areas, called anti-access/area denial, or A2/AD.
"While the U.S. Navy has long enjoyed freedom of action throughout the world's oceans, the days of its unchallenged primacy may be coming to a close," the report's introduction states.
"In recent years, a number of countries, including China, Russia and Iran, have accelerated investments in anti-access/area denial … capabilities such as advanced air defense system, anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles, submarines, and aircraft carriers. These capabilities are likely to proliferate in the coming years…"
The United States "must re-examine the relevance of the carrier and its air wing and explore innovative options for future operations and force structure," the report recommends. "If the United States is to maintain its military superiority well into the future, it cannot afford to do otherwise."
For example, the report states, China's "emphasis on long-range anti-ship missile procurement," coupled with its growing tech base, qualifies that nation as the "pacing threat" to the U.S. military, the report says.
But in the Baltic as well, Russia's naval base in Kaliningrad also houses an air defense network and anti-ship missiles, and NATO commanders are detecting Russia's A2/AD buildup around Syria, the Post reports.
Yet U.S. carrier groups have reduced their long-range strike ability in favor of being able to fly more air missions at shorter ranges, the report notes.
"An adversary with A2/AD capabilities would likely launch a saturation attack against the carrier from a variety of platforms and directions," the report warns. "Such an attack would be difficult – if not impossible – to defend against."
China's A2/AD strategy has recently made news after satellite imagery revealed the existence of HQ-9 surface-to-air missiles on Woody Island
, a disputed atoll in the South China Sea.
The new report classifies the HQ-9 as a short-range A2/AD threat but indicates the movement of such systems into disputed territory in the South China Sea, if properly reinforced, is a potentially long-term problem for U.S. naval operations.
The report covers possible short-term countermeasures for a sophisticated A2/AD network, but in the long-term suggests putting U.S. combat power into systems such as submarines and long-range carrier-based drones.
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