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Sharpening the Spear: The Carrier, the Joint Force, and High-End Conflict
Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis operates in the Pacific Ocean during an exercise with other naval vessels operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area, Feb. 12, 2009. (DoD/Released)

Sharpening the Spear: The Carrier, the Joint Force, and High-End Conflict

Seth Cropsey, Bryan McGrath & Timothy A. Walton

Sharpening the Spear addresses the question of whether it is worthwhile to continue to build large, nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (CVN), given their considerable cost and mounting Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) threats to sea-based operations. The report concludes that the emerging threat environment increases the need for aircraft carriers, and that none of the alternatives to the CVN offer an equal or better capability and capacity across the range of military options from peacetime presence through major power war.

The following report surveys the history of the carrier and its embarked air wing, a history marked by wide swings in public and defense elite opinions as to the utility of the carrier. The authors note the consistency of the criticisms against the carrier over time, and the operational imperatives that consistently overcame them. The study continues with a discussion of the role of the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) in the Joint Force, which evaluates how CSGs support U.S. strategy and how they might be employed in key scenarios. The section concludes with a detailed effects chain analysis designed to examine the capabilities and vulnerabilities of the CSG.

These vulnerabilities track closely with many of the criticisms levied against the CVN, and serve as the basis for a series of recommendations on how to improve the CSG as a system to mitigate the mounting risks while ensuring CSG support for future warfighting needs. The study concludes with an analysis of some of the alternatives to the CVN and an assessment of the number of carriers necessary to support national strategy.

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