December 16, 2008:
All of a sudden, six
nations are building aircraft carriers (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia,
India and China.) For over half a century, most of the carrier building took
place in the United States. Russia built some, without much success, towards
the end of the Cold War. Britain and France built a few, and several other
nations (like India and Brazil), bought second had British carriers so they
could maintain one or two in service.
But now six nations are planning or
building new carriers, most of them a bit smaller (about 60,000 tons) than the
larger U.S. ones (100,000 tons). Britain recently delayed construction, for a
year or two, of its two new carriers, but is still determined to go ahead.
France has a new one in the works, as does India. China has been cagey about
its carrier plans, but all indications are that it is definitely headed that
way. Russian admirals are speaking openly about building four or more
additional carriers (Russia already has one of its last Cold War carriers refurbished
and in service.) The current global economic recession is delaying, but not
cancelling, some of these carrier building plans.
Why all this sudden interest in
carriers? Partly it's because the United States has consistently demonstrated
the usefulness of having a carrier that can quickly show up off a troublesome
coast. Moreover, the 2001 operation in Afghanistan was a success partly because
carriers were there, using smart bombs, to deliver a decisive amount of
firepower. Thus demonstrating that, with the new, more precise weapons, one
carrier can have a much more decisive impact than in the past. But partly it's
because of the end of the Cold War, and a tremendous growth in world economies.
Russia, China and India have larger GDPs, and defense budgets, than they have
ever had. Gotta spend it on something, and carriers are a sign that you've
joined the Big Boys Club.