Why the Carriers?
The United States has become increasingly entwined in the
business and security issues with the rest of the world.
Our economy and security depends upon our protecting our
overseas interests as well as encouraging peace and stability
around the globe. Forward presence by U.S. Navy aircraft
carrier battle groups and amphibious ready groups helps us
accomplish this. As former Secretary of Defense William Cohen
stated: "If you don't have that forward deployed presence,
you have less of a voice, less of an influence." The U.S. Navy
is engaged. And engaged means being there.
As example, on 11 September 2001, USS Enterprise (CVN 65) had
just been relieved from being on station in support of Operation
Southern Watch. She was heading south in the Indian Ocean,
beginning her trip back to homeport in Norfolk, Va., when,
on television, they saw the live coverage of attack on the
World Trade Center, then on the Pentagon. Enterprise, without
an order from the chain of command, put the rudder over,
executed a 180-degree course change and headed back to the
waters off Southwest Asia. Enterprise then remained on station
in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, launching air attacks
against al Qaeda terrorist training camps and Taliban military
installations in Afghanistan. For approximately the next three
weeks, aircraft from Enterprise flew nearly 700 missions in
Afghanistan, dropping hundreds of thousands of pounds of ordnance.
The carrier battle group, operating in international waters, does
not need the permission of host countries for landing or
overflight rights. Nor does it need to build or maintain bases
in countries where our presence may cause political or other
strains. Aircraft carriers are sovereign U.S. territory that
steam anywhere in international waters - and most of the surface
of the globe is water. This characteristic is not lost on our
political decision-makers, who use Navy aircraft carriers as a
powerful instrument of diplomacy, strengthening alliances or
answering the fire bell of crisis. As former President Bill
Clinton said during a visit to the aircraft carrier USS
Theodore Roosevelt, "When word of crisis breaks out in
Washington, it's no accident the first question that comes to
everyone's lips is: where is the nearest carrier?"
The carrier battle group can not only operate independently but
it presents a unique range of options to the President, Congress
and Secretary of Defense. By using the oceans - more than 70% of
the earth's surface is ocean - both as a means of access and as
a base, forward-deployed Navy and Marine forces are readily
available to provide the United States with a rheostat of
national response capabilities. These capabilities range from
simply showing the flag - just a presence - to insertion of
power ashore. The unique contribution of aircraft carriers to
our national security was best expressed by Gen. John
Shalikashvili, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
who said during a visit to USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, "I
know how relieved I am each time when I turn to my operations
officer and say, 'Hey, where's the nearest carrier?' and he can
say to me 'It's right there on the spot.' For United States'
interests, that means everything."