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February 15, 2012 By Joseph P. Farrell

The old pre-World War Two debate on the all-big-gun battleship versus the aircraft carrier may be entering a new phase. Back then, of course, old-paradigm admirals defended the use of the battleship as the offensive arm of the US Navy, a point which, in the carrier-based battles of the Pacific, quickly proved their obsolescence. Even in the stormier North Atlantic, the German battleship Bismarck was, in part, brought to her end by ship-born aircraft of the British, until the crippled ship could be hunted down by British battleships and delivered the coup-de grace. And the Bismarck's sister ship, the mighty battleship Tirpitz suffered a similar fate, being sunk in her Norwegian fiord hideaway by British bombers. Though, of course, in the Atlantic, conditions were never quite as favorable to carrier operations as in the Pacific, as the  British carrier Glorious met a rather inglorious end beneath a rain of 11" shells from the German battlecruisers Scharhorst and Gneisenau in the Norwegian operations of 1940.

With the advent of deadly long-range anti-ship missiles in modern times such as the French Exocet and equivalents in other nations arsenals, small missile cruisers could pose a significant threat to the huge American carriers. The answer of the US Navy, for the moment, appears to be a compromise:

CVN 78 Gerald R Ford Class – US Navy CVN 21 Future Carrier Programme, United States of America

There are notable features of this ship design, among them the increase of aircraft from 140 to 160 sorties, but note that the real interest in this article is the installation of anti-missile defense systems.

We are returned once again to the days of World War Two, when battleships had to be increasingly armed with all manner of anti-aircraft guns for protection against aircraft, and none more heavily so-armed than the Japanese behemoths Yamato and Musashi. Granted, the Japanese superbattleships did not have the advantage of radar directed anti-aircraft or proximity fuses, but nonetheless packed a lot of anti-aircraft firepower. Nonetheless, both ships succumbed to the attacks of sheer overwhelming "ants". It looks to me like the same mistake is being made by the US Navy. No anti-missile defense system - especially on a ship this large - will be up to the massed attack of several missiles, and missiles are cheaper than aircraft carriers. In the current debate on national foreign and defense policy, we'd do well to look back at the lessons of history.