My latest at the Diplomat evaluates a couple of arguments on the end of the aircraft carrier:
I suspect that we will continue to see navies devoting resources to multi-purpose flat-deck aircraft carrying warships. Put simply, as long as states continue to see utility in such ships, they’ll continue to build them. Larger ships with dedicated equipment will carry more and better aircraft. The largest ships, operated by the largest states, will carry an array of exceedingly advanced aircraft, both manned and unmanned.
At the same time, the constitution of a carrier air group will always be an imperfect fit with the tasks of the day, because development of the air group generally takes place long before the specifics of future conflict are known. And this fact underscores the utility of aircraft carriers.
Any air group (whether consisting of F-35s, F/A-18s, Yak-38s, A-6s, or Sea Hawk helicopters) represents a best guess at the demands of future conflict, mediated through the lenses of bureaucracy and the defense industrial base. Many of the assumptions behind these decisions can and often do turn out to be incorrect. The carrier’s primary virtue is therefore its flexibility and adaptability to different circumstances, not in its unique capacity to solve specific problems.