The USS America was a Kitty Hawk class aircraft carrier and holds the title of being the only supercarrier sunk, intentionally or in battle, in world history. After she was decommissioned in 1996, the carrier was slated to be destroyed in live fire testing for the up and coming Nimitz-class carriers. The reason why she was selected was because she was quite similar in design and make to the Nimitz-class carriers and US Navy engineers wanted to see, really how much punishment a ship like this could take.
The results of the testing far exceeded any of their expectations. Over the course of four weeks, the USS America was pounded with missiles from aircraft and ships as well as torpedoes from submarines. She definitely took some heavy damage but due to her construction, she was still able to stay afloat by herself, even without a crew onboard conducting damage control. In the end, Navy explosive specialists had to board her and place demolitions charges in specific places in order to sink her, which they finally did on May 14, 2005.
It is incredibly unlikely that a team of skilled saboteurs could ever board a US Navy carrier and sink it with timed explosives. But, even against conventional threats, these behemoths of American diplomacy are pretty darn hard to take out.
Here are ten reasons why US Navy aircraft carriers are almost impossible to sink.
Number Ten: The F-18 Attack Aircraft
What would an aircraft carrier be without their aircraft? After all, their carrier air wing is what gives them their ability to attack from hundreds of miles before enemy units can even get within firing ranges of the carrier.
There are three main aircraft that make up carrier air wings and the F-18 Super Hornet is the strike warfare side of the house. The F-18 is the workhouse of the air wing and each carrier can have up to about 50 of these aircraft onboard. They are an all-purpose fighter that can combat targets in the air and on the ground.
With their speed and maneuverability they can easily outrun most combat aircraft in the world today. Though they have had limited history in proving their air-to-air prowess, with just two kills in the Gulf War, they have seen extensive use against ground targets in the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Because of this, the F-18 is more than capable of knocking out enemy aircraft and shore installations hundreds of miles before they even become a threat to the carrier.
Number Nine: Link 16
US and NATO units use what are called tactical data links to share information. Though most NATO units only have Link 11, US forces are all equipped with the newest and most secure data link called Link 16.
Broken down in its most basic form, tactical data links are simply a secure way to share information. By utilizing a variety of measures like frequency hopping and encryption, the data can be near impervious to enemy attempts to intercept or disrupt the information flow, thereby guaranteeing the free flow of communications.
In a real world scenario, the carrier would be able to link up with the entire strike group and as many other units as the carrier wanted thereby ensuring that all units would have secure comms and a means of feeding information quickly in a real-world scenario.
Number Eight: The SCIF
Going along the lines of secure information, onboard every carrier is what is called a SCIF which stands for Secure Compartmentalized Information Space. These spaces are Top Secret and only those with extensive security background investigations and a need to know are allowed to enter.
While the equipment inside is highly classified, SCIFs are an incredibly useful tool in that they allow the processing and dissemination of vital information quickly. The information that could be received could be intel about an upcoming strike, indications and warnings of a terrorist attack, or anything else that would be of national security interest or pose an imminent danger to the carrier.
Because other smaller ships like destroyers and cruisers do not have a SCIF, the carrier becomes crucial as a means for getting vital information quickly and securely. Because of this, even if an enemy was planning an attack, the carrier would be forewarned about it.
Number Seven: Their Personal Defense Systems
All warships are equipped with a robust line of defenses that when all other measures fail and a ship must stand on their own, she can still counter an attack. Carriers are no different. They have a variety of active and passive countermeasures onboard that can be their last line of defense should an enemy threat ever get through.
The most dangerous threat a carrier would face would be an enemy missile. For this, carriers have multiple Sea sparrow or Rolling Airframe Missiles designed to take out enemy missiles as a last resort before they strike the carrier.
They are also armed with the Close In Weapon System designed to shoot 20mm Tungsten tipped rounds at a rate of thousands of rounds a minute. The CIWS can also be fired in surface mode against small contacts like skiffs or suicide boats.
For sub-surface threats, carriers can employ active countermeasures known as NIXIE. NIXIE is a towed array that can be fitted with acoustic buoys that attract torpedoes away from the carrier and towards it.
Lastly, the carrier can pick up and fight against attacks along the electromagnetic spectrum with its SLQ-32. The SLQ-32 is a powerful piece of equipment that can operate passively and actively against enemy threats like jamming.
Number Six: The E/A-18 Growler
The E/A-18 Growler is a modified version of the F/A-18 Hornet, in that it has advanced electronic warfare suites onboard to counter a variety of threats. Its primary mission is the suppression of enemy RADAR defenses and it does this in two ways.
The first way is called passive countermeasures whereby it can pick up electromagnetic frequencies from enemy RADARs and pass that information along about their bearing and range to the carrier or other units.
If needed, the Growler can then take out the threats itself through active measures by launching a missile at the RADARs. Because of this aircraft, carriers can feel relative comfort from the threat that anti-ship missiles and even ICBMs pose, since without fire control RADARs to find and track a target the missiles are essentially high priced junk.
Number Five: Their Escorts
Carriers are never alone and they always deploy with escort ships. This combination of ships is then called a Carrier Strike Group. Within each Strike Group there is typically one carrier, three destroyers, one cruiser, and then a submarine. Though in today’s operations escorts may peel off to conduct other taskings, in a scenario where the strike group would be under a real threat of attack all the escorts would return to be within range to protect the carrier.
As grim as it sounds, the escorts, especially the destroyers, would act more or less as a bullet sponge for the carrier in an actual battle. This is because though the goal of a destroyer is to take out missiles well before they reach their target, in the end if it came down to trying to save a carrier by losing a single destroyer, commanders would make that difficult decision only to save as many lives as possible.
But don’t worry since though cruisers and destroyers might seem expendable they are in all reality highly capable ships and even taking one of these ships down would be a challenge for any major power in the world.
Number Four: Compartmentalization
Onboard a vessel, there are not just a couple floors and a few dozen compartments. Rather, even a smaller ship like a destroyer will have about ten decks and hundreds of spaces while a carrier will have dozens of decks and thousands of spaces. This large number of spaces is crucial since it means that even if some spaces are lost due to damage or flooding, they can be sealed off and the ship can continue fighting.
Another benefit of all these spaces is what’s called cross flooding. Cross flooding is whereby perfectly good spaces are intentionally flooded out. This is usually done as a way to manage the stability of a vessel. Because of this, even if large numbers of spaces are lost or flooded, the ship will not lose mission capability and definitely will not sink easily.
Number Three: The E-2D Hawkeye
The most advanced and top secret aircraft onboard a carrier, the E-2D Hawkeye is the eyes and ears of the Carrier Air Wing. It’s also its number one intelligence gathering asset. With a huge radar dome on top of the aircraft, the plane can coordinate strikes of all the other aircraft already in the air.
Additionally, with the Combined Engagement Concept, it can congregate data from other aircraft to help the carrier form an accurate and real time picture of the battlespace. The onboard sensors are also quite powerful in picking up enemy missile RADARs, surface search RADARs, and other electromagnetic signals that can be sent back to the carrier. Because of all these functions, it is unlikely that any enemy aircraft, surface contact, or missile will get close undetected.
Number Two: Their redundancy
Carriers are just like any other warship in that redundancy is built into the system. Take for example the electrical system. There are numerous electrical generators onboard an aircraft carrier along with a port and starboard bus. Taking out just a few generators or even one of the electrical buses will not take power out of the ship.
Another example would be its fire main system. Fire main is just seawater that is the primary method of attacking fires on the ship. The fire main loop, or how the water travels, is varied and full of twists and turns. That way, if the fire main loop is affected anywhere it can be quickly isolated and water can still be directed towards a casualty.
Number One: Their speed
The best defense an aircraft carrier has is its speed. Though the official stance is that they can go greater than 30 knots, in reality it is believed that they can go much faster than that. So fast, in fact, that they could outrun practically every other warship on the planet at full power.
Why speed matters is that if a carrier can move extremely quickly to avoid danger, than it is unlikely the threat will hit the carrier. Whether it is a missile, torpedoes, or another ship, if the carrier cannot defend against it, then it can just run away. That is not to say that a carrier can go anywhere close to what a speeding missile can travel. Rather, a carrier can move so fast so quickly that the enemy’s fire control solution will be outdated by the time the missile gets there, or that the seeker on the missile will have great difficulty in reacquiring the carrier.
For missiles and torpedoes that are passive, moving out of the general area quickly would surely defeat most of these systems.
Those were the top ten reasons why an aircraft carrier cannot be sunk. Though extremely unlikely to be sunk by any singular threat, there are emerging technologies that seek to overthrow carrier dominance. One of the main ones is the threat of swarm attacks either through drones, missiles, or suicide boats.
With the prospect of facing hundreds of threats at once, this yet untested tactic is perhaps the only means to actually sink a carrier. But as of yet the enemies of the United States have not tried such a method and the US Navy has probably already come up with ways to counter such a threat if it were to ever face it on the battlefield.
So, do you agree that the US Navy aircraft carriers are almost impossible to sink?
Well, think about it and let us know your views in the comments section. While you are thinking about it, watch this awesome video by The Infographics Show explaining the reasons why US Navy aircraft carriers are almost impossible to sink!