An American aircraft carrier cannot be sunk. Is it an illusion or reality?

The commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard threatened on Tuesday that Iran’s ballistic missiles could hit “aircraft carriers at sea” with great accuracy, in reference to the US carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, but can they really be targeted?

Brigadier General Hossein Salami said in a speech broadcast on Iranian television, “These missiles can hit carriers at sea with great accuracy… These missiles are made locally and it is difficult to intercept them and hit them with other missiles.” He added that Iranian ballistic missile technology changed the balance of power in the Middle East.

His statements came in the wake of attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week, which increased the already escalating tension between Tehran and Washington, which has strengthened its military presence in the region.

Aircraft carriers are an expression of American military power. There is no other combat system that allows the American army to continue launching continuous attacks for several months without the need for land bases. Therefore, the ten aircraft carriers that the United States owns are essential in launching military operations across the seas.

At a cost of more than $10 billion, the aircraft carrier can carry 5,000 sailors and dozens of advanced aircraft, but in theory it may become an easy target for adversaries, as it can be attacked at sea, whether through missiles, air attacks, mines, or sea torpedoes launched from submarines.

According to Lauren B. Thompson, executive director of operations at the nonprofit Lexington Institute, says the likelihood of any enemy actually achieving this without using nuclear weapons is very close to zero, for the following five reasons:

Aircraft carriers are fast and flexible

Nimitz-class aircraft carriers dominate the current US fleet and, like the Ford carriers they will replace, are the largest warships ever built.

The aircraft carrier is about 250 feet high, has waterproof compartments and thousands of tons of armor.

It is not expected that an explosion or sea mine would cause serious damage.

With hundreds of waterproof compartments and thousands of tons of armour, a conventional torpedo or mine was unlikely to cause serious damage.

Because aircraft carriers are constantly moving when deployed at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour — fast enough to outrun submarines — they are difficult to find and track.

Formidable defenses

US aircraft carriers are equipped with extensive active and passive defenses to counter threats such as low-profile anti-submarine cruise missiles.

These include an array of high-performance sensors, radar-guided missiles and 20mm Gatling guns that fire 50 rounds per second.

The carrier’s air wing includes more than 60 aircraft, a squadron of early warning aircraft that can detect nearby threats (including radar scopes) over vast distances, and helicopters equipped for anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and mines.

All defensive sensors and weapons are controlled together by an on-board command center for coordinated action against adversaries.

Aircraft carriers do not operate alone

Aircraft carriers typically deploy as part of a “strike group” comprising guided-missile warships with multiple combat missions.

These missiles are subject to the Aegis system, the most advanced missile defense system in the world, which is capable of striking every potential threat, including ballistic missiles.

This defensive system is linked to other offensive and defensive systems aboard US fighters that can strike submarines, surface ships, floating mines, or attack enemy sensors needed to guide offensive missiles.

These warships can quickly evade enemy systems used to track the strike group.

The group often includes an aircraft carrier and one or more stealth attack submarines in order to overcome maritime and surface threats.

US Navy tactics

Although US aircraft carriers are protected by the strongest and most effective defensive shield ever, they need operational tactics to minimize risk while continuing to support offensive strikes, which is the main reason for their existence.

For example, an aircraft carrier will generally not operate in areas where it may have laid mines until the area has been completely cleared.

The carrier will tend to remain in the open ocean rather than entering confined areas where threats are difficult to distinguish from other local traffic.

New technology

Although there is much speculation about emerging threats to aircraft carriers, the US Navy is investing heavily in new offensive and defensive technologies aimed at countering these dangers.

The most important advance in recent years has been the bringing together of all naval vessels into an area so that sensors and various weapons can be used to maximum effect.

Integrated naval command and control systems link every available combat system in a simple way that is difficult to penetrate, while aircraft carriers have the capabilities to re-jam fighters and direct missiles.

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