Here’s an interesting question: Will aircraft carriers remain useful in future wars? The answer is no. And the reason is what you’re seeing in this newly captured photograph: a Raduga KH-22 cruise missile mounted on a Tupolev Tu-22 Backfire, “a long-range strategic and maritime strike bomber.”
Mark Jacobson — former advisor to General Stanley McChrystal and ex-CIA chief General David Petraeus — told DodBuzz that America’s potential enemies are constantly thinking about how to beat the US military with new tactical ideas but, surprisingly, the Pentagon seems to be anchored in the past:
The services don’t change. I’m not sure all the service chiefs get this yet… Are we focusing on new types of destroyers? Is anybody willing to question the existence of aircraft carriers? If you look at history this may be the battleship all over again […] It won’t be a useful weapon in the Taiwan Straits, and it may not be one 15 years from now, depending on how many nations have hypersonic missiles.
In fact, they can be rendered useless today. Carriers have been indispensable platforms in recent wars — without them, the US wouldn’t have been able to quickly deploy air squadrons in different operation theatres. However, this has only been possible because the US Navy wasn’t facing an enemy equipped with a KH-22 or a similar weapon.
The KH-22 is supersonic cruise missile that can sink an American super carrier from miles away, hitting them at Mach 5. It was designed by the Soviet Union after analysing the naval battles of World War II. They asked this question: If we can attack aircraft carriers from a long distance, do we need to match their air power? The answer was obvious. Just like the battleship was rendered useless by aircraft carriers, the latter can also be neutralised with fast, impossible to stop missiles fired from a long distance. That’s why the KH-22 was developed. With the newest variants, an aeroplane can fire one of these beasts from almost 372 miles (600 kilometers) away, opening a hole five meters in diameter and a dozen meters deep into any ship.
It’s hard to imagine a Russia vs United States war scenario today, but the fact is that Russia is also making these missiles for export: The KH-22E uses conventional warheads, but they are equally lethal to carriers. Knowing all this — and knowing that China probably has these or clones of them, and other countries will get them too — does the United States really need more super carriers?
Seems to me like Jacobson is right. The next naval war could turn carriers into this century’s battleship.