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Modelling the Vulnerability of Aircraft Carriers in the European Theatre

Sidharth Kaushal
RUSI Defence Systems, 20 March 2020
Military Sciences, Martial Power Programme, Maritime Forces
This article uses a variety of salvo combat models to generate a crude outline of the vulnerability of an aircraft carrier manoeuvring in the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea or the Barents Sea in a conflict involving NATO and Russia

Discussions regarding the military utility of aircraft carriers have, in recent years, had an unfortunate tendency to veer between complacent and apocalyptic. To its detractors, the aircraft carrier is little more than a white elephant comparable to the battleship in its day. Moreover, improving ISR systems are enabling peer competitors to track and target manoeuvring assets at sea.

However, important caveats often go unstated. The ISR assets, kill chains and strike assets available to different competitors – and the weight they place on anti-carrier operations – differ significantly. Assessing the vulnerability of UK carriers to Russian A2/AD systems on the basis of Chinese A2/AD capabilities in the Pacific overlooks notable Russian deficiencies in terms of ISR and the number of available launch platforms. Additionally, there has been little rigorous examination in open source literature of precisely how vulnerable carriers are to different strike assets. The rough and illustrative results that this first cut at modelling produces highlights some of the vulnerabilities of UK carriers and the avenues by which they may retain their utility.

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Author

Dr Sidharth Kaushal
Research Fellow, Sea Power

Sidharth Kaushal's research at RUSI covers the impact of technology on maritime doctrine in the 21st century and the role of sea... read more

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