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National Defense

Weekly Update: US Navy Carrier and USMC Assault Ship Positions


Victory at sea has often been decisive in warfare. As far back as Classical Antiquity, history has turned on command of the sea: the Greek destruction of the Persian fleet at Salamis; the Battle of Lepanto, which turned back the Ottoman advance from the shores of Italy; the defeat of the Spanish Armada, which preserved Protestantism in England and succored the independence of the United Provinces; Quiberon Bay, Cape St. Vincent, the Nile and Trafalgar were all great British naval victories that secured for that small island nation naval pre-eminence and ushered in the Pax Britannica. The modern world would be unrecognizable without an understanding of how naval power has shaped it.

Today, the United States Navy is far and away the most powerful navy in the world. No other nation, or combination of nations, comes close to rivaling it: most potentially hostile states focus on how to keep the USN as far from their shores as possible through area-denial weapons. At the heart of the Navy’s power projection capabilities is the nuclear-powered supercarrier: displacing over 65,000 tons and carrying over 85 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, these are among the largest ships ever built. They travel in Carrier Strike Groups, a powerful fleet combining air-, surface- and subsurface defense ships, support and resupply ships with the carrier’s own long-range strike aircraft delivering precision conventional and nuclear attacks on targets far inland.

The Navy also deploys Amphibious Assault Ships, that look like small aircraft carriers themselves. These versatile vessels not only launch helicopters and V/STOL aircraft, they carry a Marine Expeditionary Force capable of seizing a beachhead or port and defending it until reinforcements arrive. When an Expeditionary Strike Group appears on the horizon, its time to find a deep foxhole or to head for the hills.

Knowing the location of these powerful vessels and their escorts is a good indication of where the US Commander in Chief sees the greatest potential for danger. As President Clinton once said: “When word of a crisis breaks out in Washington, it’s no accident that the first question that comes to everyone’s lips is: ‘Where’s the nearest carrier?'” (12 March 1993, aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt). 


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