When Attackers Become Targets

The Navy's high-tech warships are still prey for "sea skimmers"

Isolated and exposed on the open seas, surface fleets in the 20th century have proved increasingly vulnerable to a succession of ever more sophisticated attacks from the air. In 1921, Army Air Service General Billy Mitchell demonstrated that rudimentary aerial bombardment could scuttle the most heavily armed warships, a lesson Japan put to good use when it nearly destroyed the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor. Carriers that could launch swarms of fighter planes became the dominant sea weapon in World War II. Although the Reagan Administration has committed the U.S. to a 600-ship Navy with 15 carriers, some strategists consider flattops...