Projecting Power: American Style

Carrier Strike Group, the very name is an expression of American power. They are free range expressions of America wherever they go. More powerful in and of themselves than any other nations’ navy, and more powerful than most countries. No wonder America’s friends love them, and America’s enemies loathe them, but rarely can do anything about them. Tom Rogan talked about this in the Washington Examiner a while back.

Why are American aircraft carriers so useful to policymakers?

Because a Carrier Strike Groups offers two opportunities: diplomatic messaging and military destruction.

In diplomatic terms, the arrival of a CSG offshore signals either commitment or threat.

Foreign governments recognize the high logistical, economic, and human costs of a CSG visit to their waters. Correspondingly, when a CSG turns up, an allied nation is able to see and feel that America values them. But a CSG also reminds allies that their relationship with America is valuable. After all, when an aircraft carrier arrives with its complement of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines, American power is hard to ignore.

The U.S. Navy recognizes and doubles down on this perception, throwing parties for local leaders while at port. The simple point is that the pure size and technical capability of American aircraft carriers speaks to power. If Hollywood sends the message that America is cool, CSGs send the message that America is better as a friend than as an enemy.

On that point, a CSG’s threat messaging power is also obvious. For a start, the aircraft that make up each CSG’s Carrier Air Wings (the aircraft squadrons on a carrier) are very potent. Embarked on each CSG are at least 40 F-18 E/F fighter-bombers, an electronic warfare squadron of EA-18 Growlers (F-18 variants tasked to disrupt enemy communications, tracking, and targeting), an AWACS radar squadron of 4 or 5 Hawkeyes, and passenger transport planes. Oh, and each CSG also has around 20 helicopters tasked with anti-submarine warfare, combat search and rescue, and logistics.

To be clear, those aircraft offer a power projection capability unmatched by any other Navy.

But that’s just the start. Because the other ships in a CSG also have their own power. A CSG’s destroyer squadron and guided missile cruisers can shoot down enemy missiles (including ballistic missiles) and jets, destroy enemy ships and hit targets on land. And lurking below the surface is at least one (normally two) attack submarines.

Collectively, these capabilities enable a CSG to operate in a simultaneous defensive and offensive posture.

What they do is power projection and deterrence. They are the final visible arbiter of what the United States will allow you to get away with. We’ve talked about this before, of course. American power, like British before it, nearly always acts to ensure free trade, under rules but essentially allowed. I talked about it here. There I said this:

And here, again from Wikipedia, is why it’s important:

From an economic and strategic perspective, the Strait of Malacca is one of the most important shipping lanes in the world.

The strait is the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, linking major Asian economies such as IndiaChinaJapan and South Korea. Over 50,000 (94,000?)vessels pass through the strait per year, carrying about one-quarter of the world’s traded goods including oil, Chinese manufactures, and Indonesian coffee.

About a quarter of all oil carried by sea passes through the strait, mainly from Persian Gulf suppliers to Asian markets such as China, Japan, and South Korea. In 2006, an estimated 15 million barrels per day (2,400,000 m3/d) were transported through the strait.

That’s a lot of oil, and a lot of it goes to our friends in the region, Japan, South Korea, and Australia.

You’ve noticed that there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver there, that’s a problem for us. The carriers while immensely powerful (equal to most country’s air forces) need room to maneuver, when you’re sailing into the wind at 30 knots you can cover a lot of water. but it’s doable. They are also quite vulnerable if an enemy can get close, that’s what the rest of the battle group is about. This, incidentally, has been true of capital ships forever, battleships had vulnerabilities too, chiefly to aircraft and submarines.

Anyway, the Obama administration made a lot of noise a while back about a ‘Pivot to Asia” or something like that. That could make sense since they seem to be running away from our commitments in the Middle East. But that leaves the question, With what?

(I’m guessing most of you have read that article, it’s one of the top five posts here, all time. The answer to with what is Carrier Strike Group(s).

Three of these Groups are now either in the Indian Ocean or the Western Pacific. Why? The short answer is North Korea. The Nimitz (and its group) is transiting from the Indian Ocean and is expected to end up in the Western Pacific as well.

How it gets there is also significant. It will no doubt sail through the Strait of Malacca and between the Philippine Islands and China. This is the very area where China is sowing artificial island and making absurd claims of sovereignty. And so this move is a message not only to North Korea, but to Xi’s China as well. You would be wise to see our point, or we just might emphasize it in ways you won’t like.

In North Korea’s case, we just might emphasize our displeasure in ways that leaves the country a smoking ruin.

In other news, the United States Air Force has announced that the Eighth Air Force, based at Barksdale AFB, LA, is once again preparing its facilities, crews, and equipment for 24 hour ground alert. A practice that was pretty much discontinued in 1991, but is now once again necessary. Frances Fukuyama has not (as far as I know) commented.

 

 

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