MIGHTY TACTICAL

US aircraft carriers are almost unsinkable giants of the ocean

The USS America was a Kitty Hawk-class supercarrier first built in the 1960s and served through the Vietnam War, Cold War clashes, and on into Desert Storm. Decommissioned in 1996, the Navy decided the ship's best post-service use was as a target. America would help design the newest fleet of supercarriers to be even less vulnerable to enemy fire than she was.

The America did not go down easy. For four weeks the Navy hit the ship with everything they could muster, short of a nuclear weapon.


Even today, the wreck lies in one piece at the bottom of the ocean near Cape Hatteras. Despite the Navy's best efforts, they just could not sink the indefatigable carrier. The last time any carrier was lost to battle damage in combat was in World War II, where 12 such ships were sent to the bottom after heavy fighting. The America didn't engage in combat, but the attacking forces were out to hit her as if she had. The sinking of America was a test run for vulnerabilities in American aircraft carrier designs.

The good news is that China is going to have a really hard time doing it, even if they use an intercontinental ballistic missile. The bad news is that it's somehow possible to sink these floating behemoths, and if done could kill up to 6,000 American sailors. Still, good luck getting close.

The wake left by America following her use as a live-fire target in 2005; the ship was used as a platform to test how the hull of large aircraft carriers would hold up against underwater attacks. Following the tests, America was scuttled, serving as a further test of the sinking of a large aircraft carrier.

(U.S. Navy photo)

Carriers traverse the waves with an entourage of submarines, cruisers, and other support craft, as well as potentially dozens of fighter and electronic warfare aircraft that would make even getting close to the carrier a nearly suicidal feat. Once in close, actually hitting the ship with any kind of accuracy is just as hard – and if you do, the chances of striking a death blow are virtually nil.

For the America, teams of scientists and military engineers targeted the ship repeatedly for a full month, both above and below the waterline using anti-ship missiles, torpedoes, and almost anything else they could think to throw at the old girl and still, she persisted. It wasn't until a team of dedicated explosives experts boarded the ship and purposefully destroyed it that it gave way and sank to the bottom.

But even the Vietcong tried that move – and the USS Card was back up and fighting in no time. So maybe it's just best to avoid a fight with an American carrier.