Leveraging America’s Aircraft Carrier Capabilities

Exploring New Combat and Noncombat Roles and Missions for the U.S. Carrier Fleet

by John Gordon IV, Peter A. Wilson, John Birkler, Steven Boraz, Gordon T. Lee

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Abstract

As the United States seeks ways to stretch its defense dollars, pursue the Global War on Terrorism, and meet other national-security challenges, it is highly likely that policymakers will increase their reliance on aircraft carriers, using them more often and in more situations than they have in the past, especially if the vessels have the additional capabilities to respond appropriately.

The current and expected use of aircraft carriers led the United States Navy in fall 2004 to commission RAND to explore new and nontraditional ways that the United States might be able to employ aircraft carriers in pursuit of traditional and emerging military and homeland defense missions. Over six months, RAND created and convened two Concept Options Groups (COGs) — small groups of experienced military and civilian experts, defense analysts, and potential users who work together to identify promising ways to employ military might in nontraditional ways — to explore possible nontraditional roles for aircraft carriers. One COG explored and identified new ways that aircraft carriers could be used in combat operations; the second COG examined ways that the vessels could be used in noncombat, homeland security missions or to help the nation recover from terrorist attacks or natural disasters in U.S. territories.

Among the combat recommendations to come from the COG insights are that abilities need to be enhanced to reconfigure carrier air wings; among noncombat recommendations are that the availability of nonready carriers to respond to unforeseen crises needs to be improved. This monograph summarizes the activities, findings, and recommendations of both carrier COGs. It should be of special interest to the Navy and to uniformed and civilian decisionmakers with responsibilities related to naval and carrier operations, maritime domain awareness, or homeland security.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Aircraft Carrier Capabilities

  • Chapter Three

    Historical Nontraditional Uses of Aircraft Carriers

  • Chapter Four

    Uses of Aircraft Carriers in Future Combat Operations

  • Chapter Five

    Uses of Aircraft Carriers in Future Noncombat Operations

  • Chapter Six

    Conclusions

  • Appendix

    Future Combat and Noncombat Vignettes.

The research described in this report was prepared for the United States Navy. The research was conducted in the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation monograph series. RAND monographs present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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