Magazine | June 22, 2015, Issue


Carry On?

Jerry Hendrix is not the first to disparage the Navy’s and the Congress’s decision to continue building and improving the large aircraft carrier. Critics have disparaged this decision all the way back to the Eisenhower administration, yet the construction and maintenance of large aircraft carriers in our fleet has withstood all attempts to end this vital defense program. I personally participated in several studies of the issue, and the answer was always the same. Nothing can replace aircraft carriers, with their combined high speed; unlimited endurance; simultaneous attack, strike, and self-defense capability all in one package; and service life of 50 years. It is all about mission effectiveness, and with no way to base the U.S. Air Force overseas, there is no other acceptable option. I note that Mr. Hendrix does not offer a viable alternative to the large carrier. No one has persuasively done so.

Peter M. Hekman Jr.

Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (Retired)

San Diego, Calif.

Jerry Hendrix responds: It is gratifying when an individual of Vice Admiral Peter Hekman’s professional reputation takes notice of the ideas presented. I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t note that the carrier-effectiveness studies he alludes to occurred in the 1980s, well before several nations that would make themselves competitors of the United States began to invest in anti-access/area-denial technologies intended to push American carriers far from their shores and outside the range of our current carrier-based aircraft. To take Vice Admiral Hekman’s arguments in order: I would point out that the carrier’s current “high” speed of 30-plus knots is slow compared with the hypersonic ballistic missiles targeted at them. I would suggest that the air wing, which has shrunk from 80-plus aircraft in the 1980s to 60-plus aircraft today owing to increased costs and complexity, is no longer capable of simultaneous offensive-strike and self-defense operations. Last, I would respectfully invite the admiral to note that I did present two alternatives to building carriers: invest in a new air wing that could operate from beyond the range of anti-access/area-denial weapons; or abandon the construction of supercarriers and build larger, nuclear-powered, guided-missile submarines that would possess large magazines of precision-strike cruise missiles and could operate with impunity inside anti-access/area-denial environments. I thank Vice Admiral Hekman for his contribution to our national security while on active duty and for continuing this vital debate regarding the Navy’s future.

Corrections: The Week (June 1) mistakenly referred to Joshua Tree National Park as “Joshua National Park.” Happy Warrior (June 1) mistakenly identified James Truslow Adams as “James Breslow Adams.”

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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