Retired US Navy Captain and current Telemus Group Vice President Jerry Hendrix expresses considerable dismay over our Navy’s shrinking air combat reach, and it’s entirely justified.
In 1996 the range of the carrier’s air wing was about 800 nautical miles. By 2006 that figure had dropped to 500 miles. Meanwhile, China has developed antiship missiles like the Dong Feng-21, the “carrier killer,” with a range of 1,000 miles.
He concluded his op-ed with this:
[Absent] long-range, penetrating strike aircraft…carriers will be unable to make a meaningful contribution to deterring and, if necessary, winning a conventional conflict with China…. To avoid that unfortunate outcome, civilian leaders, including lawmakers and the Navy secretary, will need to step in to get naval aviation back on target.
He’s right up to a point. That’s a necessary step, but it’s not sufficient. The Navy needs also to expand and increase its capability with ship-launched land attack missiles (along with expanding its arsenal of air-launched land attack missiles and their range).
The PRC aims to overwhelm ship defenses with raw numbers of anti-ship missiles. We need to overwhelm PRC defenses with numbers of accurate, maneuvering, penetrating missiles to destroy PRC facilities. We have the core of this, already—as we do for an expanded naval aviation facility. That core is in the ship-launched anti-ship missile weapons in inventory and in the submarine-launched cruise missiles in inventory. Those need, badly, to be expanded: the anti-ship weapons on board augmented with long-range land-attack missiles, and the SLCMs on board augmented with long-range cruise missiles. Along with getting long-range air-launched land attack missiles into the inventory.
Absent these, the outcome of a war with the PRC will be catastrophic: we’ll be swept from the Western Pacific, and there’s no reason to believe the PRC wouldn’t follow up that success in the way Japan could not 80 years ago.