As It Begins Its Second Century, Is the Aircraft Carrier Obsolete


The HMS Hermes arrived too late to change the course of the First World War. But it arrived just in time to change the course of world history. 

One hundred years ago, the W. G. Armstrong-Whitworth shipbuilding company laid down the hull of the world’s first aircraft carrier at Walker, U.K. World War I, which saw the introduction of fighters, bombers, and bomb-dropping airships, was in its final months. The modest Hermes was just 600 feet long and carried just 15 Swordfish torpedo bombers. But the revolutionary idea behind it shaped the next great war and the next century of the world's navies.

A century later, hundreds of carriers patrol the world's oceans. These mega-vessels are still considered the pinnacle of sea power, but they are also, in a way, giant floating targets. New anti-carrier weapons threaten their existence—as do the spiraling costs to build them in the first place.

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