How much does it cost to sink an aircraft carrier?

How much does it cost to sink an aircraft carrier?  I ask because I have just read that the U.S. is launching a new aircraft carrier, the Gerald R. Ford (watch out, Red China: Jerry Ford is coming to get you!) for the whopping cost of $13 billion (not counting cost of supporting ships), with two more carriers, the John F. Kennedy and the USS Enterprise, coming in each for nearly that amount.

But our carriers could easily be sunk by missiles.  Both the Chinese and the Iranians have versions of the C-802 anti-ship cruise missile.

The C-802 is the export upgraded version of the Chinese anti-ship missile YJ-8...first unveiled in 1989 by the China Haiying Electro-Mechanical Technology Academy (CHETA), also known as the Third Academy. Due to the Yingji-82 missile's small radar reflectivity, low attack flight path (only five to seven meters above the sea surface) and strong anti-jamming capability of its guidance system, target ships have a very small chance of intercepting the missile[.] ... The single shot hit probability of the Yingji-82 is unknown, though one unreferenced source claims it to be as high as 98%.The Yingji-82 can be launched from airplanes, surface ships, submarines and land-based vehicles.

I figure a dozen of these missiles should be sufficient.  These missiles cannot be detected on radar, so ships are often reduced to relying on their Phalanx gun systems, automated machine guns mounted on the sides of ships for protection.  A dozen or more cruise missiles flying at just above water level would easily be enough to overwhelm such systems.  Aircraft carriers are effectively giant targets.

Back in the 1970s, before current technological advances, Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear fleet, was once asked how long our fleet could survive in battle.  He responded, "Two or three days before they sink, maybe a week if they stay in the harbor."

If anything, anti-ship missiles are deadlier than in the 1970s.  That does not suggest that a strategy of making big, expensive ships is the way to go.  Our Navy should focus on producing submarines, which can launch cruise missiles and can submerge to protect themselves.  But our military is stuck thinking in terms of World War II, where carriers were king.

Times have changed, and carriers are more of a liability than an asset.  In any event, we have unsinkable carriers in the Middle East.  They are called Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Israel.  We have unsinkable carriers in East Asia.  They are called South Korea and Japan.  Building these giant, vulnerable floating cities makes no sense.  In a shooting war, even a half-rate power like Iran could easily sink one of our carriers, causing thousands of casualties.  It's sad that the military is still stuck fighting the battle of Midway when technology has moved on.

Ed Straker is the senior writer at  He studied military strategy with a former head of the NSA at Yale.

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