How do you take an aircraft carrier out?

What is the current modern warfare methodology via strategy, tactics and necessary hardware for destroying or defeating an aircraft carrier?

If you can get close enough to one, and don’t mind spending the rest of your days at the bottom of the ocean, Tom Clancy suggests a torpedo to the propellers.

Depends how serious you are. A nuke-tipped cruise missile would do the job handily.

How would a terrorist with a few million to spend approach the job? Is a task like this even feasible for anything smaller than a reasonably powerful country to contemplate? Could an electric mini-sub or frogmen magnetically attach C-4 (or whatever) to the underside of the hull and sink it by blowing a big enough hole in the hull?

Remember that the USS Cole didn’t sink.

So a terrorist attack on a much larger ship would need to be an order of magnitude larger than the Cole attack to have any hope of sinking a carrier.

I posted a similar question a while ago, the consensus was that 6 torpedos to the hull should sink it.

Well, now you just seem to be asking for actual advice. That could be frowned upon in here. If I could devise a way to take out a carrier with a couple million bucks and amateur saboteurs, I don’t think I’d tell you what it was.

And dnooman– what did you mean about “not minding spending the rest of your days at the bottom of the ocean”? Are you implying there is no way to attack a carrier without being killed? Of course it would be difficult, but certainly fatal? I don’t think so.

I suspect he meant something like you hear about assassinating the president: it’s not really hard, assuming you don’t mind getting the ultimate injected coctail of sedatives later, or spending the rest of your life in a psychiatric ward, alone.

I would think explosives under the keel would be the way to go. I have no clue how much explosive would be needed, but I bet it’s way more than a couple of scuba divers could handle.

What I would do is plant the explosives next to the docking pier, while the carrier is out to sea. Blow it up when the carrier returns to port. You’d have months to move as much as needed.


  1. Security would also have months to detect this.
  2. Even if it did sink, it would be in very shallow water, and probably salvageable. And from the surface, it might not even look sunk.

Dude, it’s all about air to ground missles fired by a sworm of energy fighter jets, BIG bombs and, a colonial pirate ship! Or sabotage from on board, like the cook in “The Hunt for Red October.” Oh no, I got it…space based LASER. BOOYA!!


p.s. On the real, it’s gotta be either a fat cruise missle or a torpedo, but good luck getting past the battle group.

silkworm from 10 miles out should do the trick

How do you take out an aircraft carrier? Well, first, make reservations at a dockside restaurant with a really big docking area… :wink:

If I can ask for perhaps clarification, what nation’s aircraft carrier are we talking about? I don’t think it’d be very easy to take out an American carrier, for instance, with a plane or sub because of the size and capabilites of the task force. Hold on, let me rephrase that. I don’t think that it’d be easy for another nation to take out an American carrier UNLESS they had good enough stealth to either be able to bomb the flattop from the air without being detected or a good enough submarine with enough stealth to avoid detection from the cruisers (are they still AEGIS cruisers or have I played too much Civ II?) Of course, there are cruise missiles; how would those play out?

The Soviets have had a nuclear tipped torpedo at least since the 60’s. If it were detonated close enough to the Aircraft carrier it would almost certainly destroy it.

The Soviets spent billions to defeat/foil the U.S. Navy, not that they ever could – but the idea that everything out there not U.S.-issued is Gilligan-like: with coconut radios and pedal powered ships is incorrect.

There are plenty of ways for that torpedo to be delivered. Case-in-point:

I dunno. All that swabbie stuff is a mystery to me.


Most battleships are destroyed in port. A CVN in port is a much easier target than one at sea.

A large flat flight deck is an excellent artillery target. A CVN in port has zippo counterbattery capability.

The idea would be, I suppose to start fires that could quickly cause a lot of damage before the (smaller-than-normal while at port) crew could deal with them.

The more devious out there would have more devious ideas, methinks.

If we’re speculating, say, for the plotline of a new thriller novel or screenplay, I’d say a really exciting story might include "terrorists’ launching a wave of torpedoes from shore towards an aircraft carrier near shore or in a harbor.

Relatively conventional torpedoes could be concealed in regular houses or commercial buildings beside the water, or even launched from truck trailers overlooking the dockside.

Remember the torpedo tubes on the PT boats (eg. PT109) are far above the water, with the torpedo launched via compressed air.

A massive launch of dozens of torpedoes could conceivably be carried out by just a handfull of teams, each launching out the back of an eighteen-wheeler type freight trailer.

WWII-type torpedoes are NOT high-tech. They are powered by a tank of compressed gas which turns the propellers with exactly the same kind of compressed air motors found on those “Air Hog” toy model airplanes. Torpedoes could be built anywhere and assembled onsite from smaller components.

Aircraft carriers are awfully big, so it would seem the torpedoes could be aimed rather than guided, if launched from close by. Alternately, simple model RC radios could be used to steer each bomb to its target, if they didn’t run too deep for an antenna to break the surface.

We are talking about plotlines for fiction here, right?


I don’t think anyone will say anything that is a no-no here. The method is simple in concept an hardly a secret…lots of explosives put on target. It’s how you manage to do that that is the trick and that leaves you only a few possibilities:

  1. Air launched missiles
  2. Suface launched missiles
  3. Submarine launched torpedo (I don’t know that there are any surface ships anymore that carry torpedoes)
  4. Submarine launched missiles
  5. Divers attaching explosives to the hull

Carriers are tough to take down so whatever you do will have to be BIG. In WWII the USS Lexington took two torpedoes and three bombs in the Battle of Coral Sea and she managed to repair herself sufficiently within a few hours to move at 25 knots and recover aircraft. Unfortunately one last fire was still going and ignited gas vapors causing a huge explosion that did her in. The ship was abandoned and sunk by American torpedoes. Still…the point is that except for some bad luck at the end that ship took a lot of punishment and was till operational. Now compare the Lexington’s 27,000 ton displacement (Essex Class) with a modern Nimitz Class at around 97,000 tons and you can see you have a MUCH bigger task before you if you want to sink it.

As to attacking a carrier being almost certainly fatal the answer would be yes…whatever attacks a carrier today could reasonably expect to not make it home. It isn’t just the carrier you need to worry about but the whole battlegroup. Fire a torpedo? You now have an arrow pointing right back to your sub…buh-bye. Missile? Arrow pointing back to you again. If the missile came from a plane good luck getting close enough in the first place…a carrier is most definitely interested in keeping missile toting aircraft out of firing range. You will have an ‘escort’ of fighter planes on you before you get within 200 miles of the carrier. Maybe you could conceive of a way to get close enough to fire but you aren’t getting back home after that.

It would also cost more than a few million dollars to buy the means to attack an aircraft carrier. These terrorists would not only need the missile but the launching platform as well…submarine or ship or plane for a missile. Your costs just jumped to the hundred million dollar range (you’d need more thanone jet to do the job). Terrorists aren’t known for their airforces or navies. That leaves them scuba divers with explosives. In that case you’d need a lot of divers with a lot of explosives and they’d have to get at the carrier in port. I don’t kow for sure but I’d bet carriers are somehow protected from this sort of attack as well (such things were carried out in WWII so it is nothing new). You would also need a dozen scuba divers getting in the area with a truck load of explosives avoiding detection within the US. You also can’t swim very far in scuba equipment even if you aren’t dragging a few tons of explosives with you so you would likely need underwater vehicles to move about making you even more conspicuous.

In short only another country, not terrorists, really has a shot at sinking a carrier and that country would have to throw a lot at the carrier to be successful. The USSR had developed doctrines for this when nukes were carried aboard carriers. They had a quick strike policy that would sink the carriers but probably lose them the attacking ships (this was a good trade in their view and the attacking ship might get away). With the advent of sub launched missiles the Russian navy’s focus on aircraft carriers fell to the wayside. Carriers aren’t too much of a threat to Russia as there isn’t a whole helluva lot to attack from the Pacific side and a carrier would have to get into the Baltic of Black Sea to go after much else of use and those two places would be bad for a carrier to get stuck in. The Russians did build the Shipwreck (or Granit to the Russians) supersonic missile in the 80s but I’m not sure they ever really saw service in any numbers. With a 1600 pound warhead the thing was a bruiser to be sure and a few of those would definitely hurt a carrier badly if not sink it.

Vote democrat and push for the peace dividend


Plant some spies in with the purple-shirts who can put a chemical additive into the aviation fuel that renders it useless. What good is an aircraft carriers without aircraft?

underlining mine

[nitpick]The Lexington sunk at Coral sea was not an Essex-class carrier.[/nitpick]