Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Book Review: Carrier, A Guided Tour of an Aircraft Carrier by Tom Clancy

Known for his excellent naval military fiction, Tom Clancy is also a writer of naval military NON-fiction. In Carrier, a Guided Tour of an Aircraft Carrier, Clancy takes a look at the most powerful warships in the history of the world from a number of different angles.

The book is divided into 7 chapters that are more or less independent, more like an essay collection than a unified book. This approach works to the book's advantage and is almost required by the enormity of its target. A modern super-carrier is as wide ranging a subject as a major city and a large airbase combined.

Chapter 1, Aviation 101, explains why the aircraft carrier supplanted the dreadnought as the most feared vessel in any navy's arsenal and examines the costs associated with such vessels, such a huge financial drain that even 1st World countries frequently ask if the financial cost of a carrier is worth the benefit.

Chapter 2, Hand on the Helm, interviews Admiral Jay Johnson about what it's like to command a supercarrier, with numerous surface and submarine forces under your direct command and an air arsenal larger than most countries' entire air force.

Chapter 3 looks at the pilots who fly naval aircraft (they prefer to be called aviators). As you can imagine, these are a special breed of folks.

Chapter 4 looks at what it takes to put an aircraft carrier together, while Chapter 5 looks at the planes that form a carrier's primary weaponry and the rockets and bombs that arm those carriers.

Chapter 6 looks at the carrier group, a battle group that serves both to defend the carrier but also expand its tactical options on the battle field. Between the missile cruisers, destroyers, frigates and submarines in the group (as well as over 70 combat aircraft), a carrier commander has a tremendously flexible arsenal at his disposal (indeed if you read Chapter 1 of this book you'll learn that this flexibility is the main thing that makes a carrier group so deadly and so valuable).

Chapter 7 puts it all together at last, completing the overall picture Clancy introduced the reader to in Chapter 1 by first looking at a real carrier group response to an emerging situation, during the Persian Gulf in 1997.

Chapter 8 presents a fictional carrier group scenario, set in the Indian Ocean around a conflict involving India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, set in 2015. Clancy's gift for military fiction is well known but this fictional scenario is even more riveting than usual since you've read about 250 pages making familiarizing yourself with all the moving parts of the group before you read the story.

Having just finished a book on naval warfare, this was invaluable to me to see how all the pieces of a carrier group fit together. But more than that, it was an interesting read for anyone interested history, the military or even geo-politics, since the mere presence of an American carrier group exerts political pressure more often than military conflict.

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