Aircraft carriers like the $13 billion USS Gerald R. Ford are floating symbols of America’s military might. They are designed to deter adversaries from attacking American interests, to reassure allies in times of crisis, and to provide lifesaving close air support to American troops in combat.
These capital ships, however, are also large and appealing targets for anti-ship missiles. Now, China, which has missiles capable of striking ships up to 2,500 miles away, is said to have discovered a way to track US aircraft carriers in real time.
During naval exercises off the coast of Long Island, New York, a Chinese satellite equipped with artificial intelligence detected the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, allowing China’s military to track the ship’s movements, according to the South China Morning Post.
According to Timothy Heath, a senior international defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, if this reporting is correct, the Navy may be unable to dispatch aircraft carriers to Taiwan in response to a Chinese invasion.
“Given China’s long-range anti-ship ballistic missiles, a US carrier’s only hope of surviving a battle near Taiwan is to hide from Chinese sensors,” Heath told Task & Purpose. “If this report is correct, the carriers’ last line of defense against anti-ship ballistic missiles has been eliminated.” The carrier can be found, identified, and tracked, and that information can undoubtedly be passed on to Chinese targeteers, who can then target the warship.”
Previously, Chinese analysts had to sift through a massive number of satellite images to locate US aircraft carriers, according to Heath. The Chinese military could greatly accelerate that process by employing artificial intelligence.
Even if the story about China tracking the Harry S. Truman is false, military analysts have long predicted that artificial intelligence would make it much easier for China and other adversaries to sift through satellite images and identify targets, he said.
According to Heath, China already has a variety of ground-based radars, airborne sensors, and satellites that have made US military planners wary of sending aircraft carriers anywhere near Taiwan.
Navy veteran. Captain Jerry Hendrix expressed concern about how US aircraft carriers can be detected from space. Hendrix is a Navy veteran who served on aircraft carriers and as a strategist on the Chief of Naval Operations’ staff for 26 years.
Hendrix told Task & Purpose about a news story he read years ago about an astronaut who spotted his former carrier while serving on a space station. Through one of the station’s telescopes, the astronaut was able to see the ship’s hull number from far above the Earth.
Indeed, there aren’t many ships in the world that are as large, fast, or displace as much water as US aircraft carriers, so Chinese satellites have plenty of clues to look for, according to Hendrix. Despite being larger than aircraft carriers, super tankers do not turn into the wind to launch aircraft.
According to him, Arterial Intelligence would also enable Chinese satellites to quickly distinguish an aircraft carrier’s electronic signature from background noise on the electromagnetic spectrum.
According to Hendrix, the F-35C can fly up to 650 nautical miles before needing to be refueled. While the Navy is developing the MQ-25 drone to refuel carrier-based aircraft, he believes there will not be enough of them on individual aircraft carriers to refuel a large number of F-35Cs for a large strike.
According to Hendrix, the Navy desperately needs an unmanned combat aircraft. The service had been working on such a drone, the X-47B, but decided to prioritize the MQ-25 program first.
There is no doubt that threats to aircraft carriers are increasing, but it is also worth noting that experts have been writing the aircraft carrier’s obituary for more than a century. Indeed, the US Naval Institute has compiled a list of articles from its “Proceedings” magazine dating back to 1922 that debate the utility of the carrier.