The U.S. has sent a carrier group as well as a bombing group to the Middle East as a way to warn Iran. This has brought up the usual claims that a carrier is increasingly vulnerable and maybe even a liability in conflict. But these arguments elevate the missile above everything to the point that their analysis dismissing the carrier is fatally flawed.
The best way for them to do that is with the so-called “carrier-killing” ballistic missiles. The Chinese have developed new and faster cruise missiles that can strike and kill American carriers, and this technology is being developed by bad actors around the world. Assuming a nation does have these missiles, it is increasingly difficult to find and track these carriers. The Nimitz-class and newer Ford-class cruisers can travel at 35 knots, which can outrun many submarines, and in 30 minutes can make their potential location anywhere within 700 square miles. It becomes even harder to track the carrier in combat conditions when the carriers can use squadrons of F-35s with extended sensors, electronic warfare craft to jam sensors, and Ohio-class submarines with first-strike capability. All of these weapons systems make it incredibly tough for the enemy to locate carriers whose speed allows them to perform deceptive maneuvers.
The carrier-killing cruise missile is an overrated system and only the newest version of technology that has been around since World War II. As a result, the U.S. has sophisticated, layered, and upgraded missile defense systems that surround carriers. The carrier has a combat air patrol (CAP) that tries to identify and destroy missile batteries, followed by Aegis cruisers (when travelling with the carrier), land-based missile systems like the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) based in South Korea, and finally, the close-in weapon systems. This is on top of simple things like the carrier simply moving out of range of most land-based missiles. Moreover, there is a significant chance America could “kill the archer” by unleashing cyberattacks that ruin the launch.
It’s true that missiles pose a threat to U.S. carriers, and that bad actors like Iran are pursuing weapons to try and negate them. But new offensive technologies are often met by increases in defensive technologies, and using them in a time of war against a fast-moving carrier is much more difficult than more alarmist analysts make it sound. It’s possible to sink a carrier, but the training, technology, and multi-layered defenses of the American forces, as well as the possibility of cyber counter-attacks, make that extremely unlikely. Or to put it another way, the North Koreans launched a missile that is called, “No Dong,” (no kidding) and like the name implies the missile strategy is like having no dong. The American carrier in the region will continue to play an important role in trying to change Iranian behavior and will remain the preeminent platform in America’s arsenal.