Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Navy captain: Time to deep-six the old school manned aviation carrier — before long-range Chinese missiles do it for us

Navy Capt. Henry Hendrix has just written one of the best papers I’ve seen in the last several years by an active duty officer. In it, he challenges some of the central beliefs of his service. "After 100 years, the [aircraft] carrier is rapidly approaching the end of its useful life," he asserts. Hendrix, the ...

Tom Freeman/CNAS
Tom Freeman/CNAS
Tom Freeman/CNAS

Navy Capt. Henry Hendrix has just written one of the best papers I've seen in the last several years by an active duty officer. In it, he challenges some of the central beliefs of his service. "After 100 years, the [aircraft] carrier is rapidly approaching the end of its useful life," he asserts.

Hendrix, the current director of naval history, says the current aircraft carrier is too expensive, inefficient, and of doubtful survivability. It is now in danger of becoming, like the battleship during the mid-20th century, "surprisingly irrelevant to the conflicts of the time."

"If the fleet were designed today," he observes, "it likely would look very different from the way it actually looks now -- and from what the United States is planning to buy."

Navy Capt. Henry Hendrix has just written one of the best papers I’ve seen in the last several years by an active duty officer. In it, he challenges some of the central beliefs of his service. "After 100 years, the [aircraft] carrier is rapidly approaching the end of its useful life," he asserts.

Hendrix, the current director of naval history, says the current aircraft carrier is too expensive, inefficient, and of doubtful survivability. It is now in danger of becoming, like the battleship during the mid-20th century, "surprisingly irrelevant to the conflicts of the time."

"If the fleet were designed today," he observes, "it likely would look very different from the way it actually looks now — and from what the United States is planning to buy."

He would like to see unmanned combat aerial vehicles, more than mere drones, capable of flying off both big carriers and the smaller "amphibious" carriers.

What would the equivalent of this paper be in the Army? Has it been written? Any smart colonels out there challenging sacred cows?

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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