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US should deploy more aircraft carriers to deter China, top US commander says

Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, visiting aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson Aug. 31, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Haydn N. Smith)
November 30, 2021

Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, the commander of the Japan-based U.S. 7th Fleet, called for the U.S. to send more aircraft carriers to the Pacific to counter China during a Tuesday press junket, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Thomas spoke to members of the media during a press access event aboard the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70). The press event comes on the tail end of a 10-day set of joint naval drills between U.S., Japan, Australia, Canada and Germany as well as an October set of joint drills featuring U.S. and Japanese warships and the U.K. HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier.

Thomas said the combined forces of the U.S. and its allies represent “an incredible amount of power,” but said the allies should strive to place even more warships in the Indo-Pacific region.

“When we think about how we might fight, it’s a large water space, and four aircraft carriers is a good number, but six, seven or eight would be better,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ comments come as China continues to rapidly expand its navy. In 2019, China overtook the U.S. as the nation with the largest naval force.

While the U.S. still has more aircraft carriers than China, that lead is slipping. China’s first domestically-produced aircraft carrier entered service in 2019 while its second aircraft carrier is moving through seaworthiness tests and is on pace to officially enter service by 2024. China’s third aircraft carrier — the first Chinese carrier to feature an advanced catapult launch system instead of the ski-ramp launch systems of the first two carriers — is also on track to finish construction by as early as February of 2022.

When asked about the threats posed by China and Russia, Thomas said it was important to show a united face to “other nations that might be more aggressive and authoritarian.” Thomas added that the U.S. and its allies should use more joint exercises to “deter aggression from some of these nations that are showing burgeoning strength” and “tell these nations that maybe today is not the day,” to start a fight.

The U.S. may not be the only nation to answer Thomas’ calls for more aircraft carriers in the Pacific. In addition to the U.K.’s new aircraft carrier, Japan is modifying two helicopter carrier ships to be able to field the short take-off/vertical-landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35 Lightning II, the F-35B. Japan’s modifications would essentially enable its helicopter transports to act as “Lightning Carriers.” The U.S. similarly plans to use its Wasp and America-class amphibious assault ships as miniature aircraft carriers for its F-35Bs.

Thomas noted Italian forces also recently practiced landing their own F-35Bs on the HMS Queen Elizabeth, demonstrating the potential for smaller nations to deploy their aircraft on allied carriers. Thomas said he hoped to see more allies in the Pacific embrace the practice of pairing up their respective ships and planes with other allies.