Could North Korea really sink a US aircraft carrier?

The Korean Peninsula continues to simmer as the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-Un, launched another ballistic missile test over the weekend. In response, the US has sent forces to the region, including Ohio class missile submarines and the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson. In turn, North Korea has promised to sink the carrier. But is North Korea actually capable of sinking the USS Carl Vinson?

The Chinese have developed new and faster cruise missiles that can strike and kill American carriers. But even if we assume the North Koreans have the same weapon systems, we know they don’t have the same skill in tracking and locating enemy forces.


The “carrier killing” cruise missile is an overrated system; it’s a new version of technology that has been around since World War II. As a result, the US has developed sophisticated missile defense systems that surround their carriers.

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It’s true that missiles pose a threat to US carriers, and the North Koreans are actively testing and enhancing their ability to launch them.  But new offensive technologies are often met by advances in defensive technologies. Moreover, those weapon systems are used by soldiers who may have little experience using complex systems in combat environments. It is possible for North Korea to sink a carrier, but the training, technology, and multi-layered defenses of the American forces make it extremely unlikely. The USS Carl Vinson will continue to play an important role in trying to change North Korean behavior, and will remain a possible platform for strikes against the rogue nation.

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