Aircraft carriers are hideously expensive and, in the world of anti-ship missiles, increasingly vulnerable when facing a semi-sophisticated opponent. Sir Humphrey takes a very good and detailed look at how the cost issue is pushing more and more nations out of the carrier club.
So, what will nations that worry about their bottom line do if they want to project power but can’t afford a carrier and/or might not want to put all their eggs in one basket?
Drones make sense. They’re cheaper than outfitting a manned aircrew and have a great deal of future potential. DARPA seems to be looking to address this issue with plans to create a drone that can carry a decent payload over an extended distance but can also take off and land on relatively small ships.
While we’re probably far ahead of most of our competitors, this technology will certainly be achievable and spread. Once even a small ship is capable of launching a capable drone that can conduct offensive operations becomes a reality, aircraft carriers are going to look more and more like dinosaurs. Why spend the huge costs involved in building a carrier (and airwings…and support ships…and escorts) when you can build a number of smaller ships which can operate individually for routine missions or ‘swarm’ when the punch of an aircraft carrier is needed?