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An Endangered Species?
by Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Armstrong, Small Wars Journal
For over five decades the nuclear powered Aircraft Carrier has been the center of naval strategy and policy for the United States of America. In the 1950's the big guns of the gray-hull battleships had been America's capital ships since the Spanish American War. In the six decades that the battleships ruled the seas they brought the United States from a regional power to a global leader in the bipolar world of the Cold War. The Carrier and its embarked air-wing have dominated the oceans, littorals, and near-shore, taking the United States to its current position as the world's lone Superpower. In the post-Cold War world, filled with asymmetric threats, a global war on terrorism, and the prospect of mounting regional stability operations, it is time for the Sea Services to re-evaluate what they consider their capital ship. In the 21st century the busiest and most important naval vessels, and therefore our capital ships, are the Amphibious Assault Ships, known affectionately by their Sailors and Marines as The Gators.
Throughout the United States Navy's 233 year history strategy and policy have dictated what vessel was the focus of our nation's shipbuilding plans. The early Navy was based around the strategic concept of guerre de course, and its missions of commerce protection and commerce raiding. The result was an American Navy based around Humphrey's Fast Frigates as the capital ship. As the nation left the age of sail and the littoral warfare of the Civil War behind us, and began to move toward the world's stage, it became clear that a blue water fleet was required. Visionaries like CAPT A.T. Mahan helped lead to a fleet dominated by battleships and the battlefleet. After years of struggle against the battleship mafia" by men like ADM Moffet, World War II dramatically demonstrated the importance of the Aircraft Carrier. The struggle against the Soviets placed it and the Air Wing as the central vessel of the time. American naval strength throughout history has been ensured by the ability to recognize when new strategic challenges present themselves. It is time to consider what asset best accomplishes the strategic missions of the new century as a guide to identify today's capital ship and shipbuilding priority.