Since the 1950s, the supercarrier has been the most visible representation of U.S. military power and maritime hegemony.
Although supercarriers have participated in nearly every military conflict since the commissioning of USS Forrestal in 1955, no carrier has come under determined attack from a capable opponent.
In part, this is because supercarriers are very difficult to attack, but the symbolic grandeur of the massive ships also plays a role; no one wants to know what the United States might do if one of its carriers came under attack.
What would happen if a foe attacked a United States Navy aircraft carrier during a conflict?
How would the United States react, and how would it respond?
Circumstances obviously matter for an attack on a U.S. aircraft carrier.
An out-of-the-blue attack from a conventionally armed state actor would enjoy the highest levels of success, but would also have an impact on elite and public opinion in the United States that might drive calls for dire retribution. An attack as part of a crisis would seem less extraordinarily hostile, but would nevertheless incur demands for a severe response.
Finally, an attack during active hostilities might well represent a significant escalation but would be least likely to elicit an enraged public response.
Most devastating of all might be an attack by a non-state actor that resulted in significant casualties and/or the destruction of the carrier. This would undoubtedly inflame U.S. public opinion while leaving the United States without a clear path for response and retribution.
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An aircraft carrier is a warship that serves as a seagoing airbase, equipped with a full-length flight deck and facilities for carrying, arming, deploying, and recovering aircraft.
Typically, it is the capital ship of a fleet, as it allows a naval force to project air power worldwide without depending on local bases for staging aircraft operations. Carriers have evolved since their inception in the early twentieth century from wooden vessels used to deploy balloons to nuclear-powered warships that carry numerous fighters, strike aircraft, helicopters, and other types of aircraft.
While heavier aircraft such as fixed-wing gunships and bombers have been launched from aircraft carriers, it is currently not possible to land them. By its diplomatic and tactical power, its mobility, its autonomy and the variety of its means, the aircraft carrier is often the centerpiece of modern combat fleets. Tactically or even strategically, it replaced the battleship in the role of flagship of a fleet.
One of its great advantages is that, by sailing in international waters, it does not interfere with any territorial sovereignty and thus obviates the need for overflight authorizations from third party countries, reduce the times and transit distances of aircraft and therefore significantly increase the time of availability on the combat zone.