New York Council, Navy League of the U.S.
New York Council, Navy League of the U.S.
New York Council, Navy League of the U.S.

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National Security Briefing: CAPT Jerry Hendrix, USN (Ret.)

Rethinking Today's Aircraft Carrier to Regain "Range" and Offensive Power

By Jeff Bogart


Just as America's newest class of super aircraft carriers -- the Ford class -- nears active service, comes this message:  It's time to rethink the U.S. Navy's biggest and most expensive naval weapon -- the super carrier with its squadrons of aircraft bombers. 

That's the brief delivered recently to New York Council, Navy League members and guests by the former head of Naval History at the Navy's History & Heritage command -- a career naval flight officer who now leads the defense strategies and assessment program for a Washington think tank. 

CAPT Jerry Hendrix, USN (Ret.), presented his critical assessment, titled the "Retreat from Range: the Rise and Fall of Carrier Aviation," on May 12 at the Cornell Club. His talk was part of the Council's midtown breakfast series on the "New Ways of Warfare." In it, he provided an overview of his research report of the same name, issued in October 2015 by the Center for a New American Security.

In Brief

Hendrix's argument boils down to this:  America's aircraft carriers and the aircraft bombers on them are no longer effective weapons, especially against Russia and China. The reasons:  the aircraft can no longer travel the distances they once could; while the carriers themselves cannot bring their aircraft close enough to land targets without becoming vulnerable to enemy cruise and ballistic missiles. In other words, they lack range--the ability to stand off beyond the weapons of the enemy while retaining the ability to strike him.

Carrier design in Hendrix's view culminated in the Forrestal and Nimitz classes. The USS Forrestal air wing's average unrefueled range was 1,210 nautical miles, 500 miles farther than the average wing during the Second World War, he said.  Moving forward to 1986, USS Nimitz in its full configuration, he added, carries 85 aircraft with 1,200 pounds average ordnance capacity and an average unrefueled range of 908 nautical miles.  

Challenge and Solution

Hendrix wants to restore the Navy's ability to  conduct bombing missions effectively and safely. "The heart of my argument," he said, is "We have to get back range" because of enemy development of ballistic and cruise missiles."

China's DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missile "has a capability," he said, "of reaching out to 1,500 nautical miles (we think its effective range is around 900 nautical miles).  They've also done a follow-on missile called the DF-26, which can reach from China to Guam. So lots of range.

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