The action so far: Gen. Maxwell Taylor wrote in support of small aircraft carriers on Sept. 1. Adm. J. L. Holloway III responded with "Big Carriers Are Best" on Sept. 21. Then Adm. E. R. Zumwalt said that "Admiral Holloway Has It Wrong" on Sept. 27. Here's the latest shot from Capt. Viscardi, USN (Ret.):

A tremendous amount of dialogue can, and will, be generated by the publication of the views of the two former chief naval officers-- views that appear to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. The position espoused by Zumwalt comes closest to what I, a former naval captain (19,000 levels below a CNO's position) believe to be the direction in which today's Navy should be headed. Close--but not close enough!

In order to maintain the most flexibility in the immediate decades ahead, I believe the Navy should be looking at a medium-sized carrier (45,000 ton to 60,000 ton displacement) that can operate conventional, high-performing, carrier-based fighter/attack aircraft; ASW (helo and conventional) aircraft; and, of course, VSTOL. (I also believe, but economics precludes, that all future capital ships should have nuclear propulsion.)

The rationale for this position is as follows: the large carriers (particularly Nimitz Class) are, in essence, for the power projection missions; however, unlike Holloway, I believe that confrontation with Russian first-line aircraft is only one--and perhaps not the primary one--of many carrier missions now and for the foreseeable future. Power projection capability is necessary--and we have that capability in the fleet today. VSTOL/helo decks are needed for, among other chores, global surveillance and targeting aircraft for a "balanced distributed force" (Zumwalt's terminology), but we also need, for an indeterminate period, a conventional/VSTOL/helo carrier of medium size to provide for "brush fire missions." These are missions that are primary but do not require the total impact of a power projection carrier. Examples range from assistance to a Third World Country, escorting amphibs and submarine hunting/surveillance to simply providing additional air capability to a battle group; that needs a boost.

The Big carriers can indeed, do the job, but as the saying goes, "It's like shooting a sparrow with a five-inch gun."