Carrier Task Force (CTF)

CBS News reported on 18 December 2006 that the Bush administration has decided to ramp up the naval presence in the Persian Gulf to send a message to Tehran. CBS reported that an additional aircraft carrier would be added to the Gulf contingent in January 2007. A Pentagon official called the report "premature" and denied knowledge of changes in deployments in the Gulf. The New York Times reported 20 December 2006 that the Bremerton-based aircraft carrier and its strike group could leave weeks earlier than planned as part of a move to increase the U.S. military presence in and around the Middle East. Cmdr. Dave Werner, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon, said that no decision had been made about changing the level of naval forces in the region.

Moving up the Stennis' departure date in January 2006 allows a longer overlap with USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, the carrier currently in the Persian Gulf. Eisenhower deployed 01 October 2006, and could remain on station into March 2007. According to the New York Times story, the move was intended as " ... a display of military resolve toward Iran that will come as the United Nations continues to debate possible sanctions against the country ... Doubling the number of carriers in the region offers commanders the flexibility of either keeping both strike groups in the Gulf or keeping one near Iran while placing a second carrier group outside the Gulf, where it would be in position to fly combat patrols over Afghanistan or cope with growing violence in the Horn of Africa. ... Senior American officers said the increase in naval power should not be viewed as preparations for any offensive strike against Iran. But they acknowledged that the ability to hit Iran would be increased and that Iranian leaders might well call the growing presence provocative."

The mission of Carrier Task Force (CTF) is similar to that of a carrier strike group, but much larger in scale and scope: to deter and dissuade aggression, keep sea-lanes open for commerce, and conduct maritime security operations. The carrier task force is part of "training like we fight". As the Navy looks at different hot spots overseas, the best response to many scenarios requires a multi-carrier task force. The purpose of training as a CTF during JTFEX is to provide warfare commanders with the greatest capability and staying power for fighting the global war on terrorism with a dual-carrier, combat-ready, maritime force.

Air power "persistence" is essential. During normal cyclic flight operations, a pilot spends a significant amount of time transiting to and from target areas. With the enhanced capabilities the CTF provides, by alternating air plan flight cycles, the CTF is able to maintain a nearly constant air presence over the targeted areas. It is difficult for one CVW to conduct flight operations for much more than about 12 hours before having to stop. However, with the combined striking power of two CVWs, the CTF is able to conduct air operations over a continuous 24-hour cycle. During the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, USS Enterprise (CVN 65) was operating with USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) off the coast of Afghanistan. When the order to launch air strikes arrived, together, both CVWs flew 24-hours a day.

Carrier Task Force (CTF) 150

The USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Carrier Strike Group (JCSSG) combined forces with the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Carrier Strike Group for its Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX) off the coast of Southern California to form Carrier Task Force (CTF) 150, 12-16 November 2006. JTFEX is the final phase before JCSSG is certified by Commander, U.S. 3rd Fleet as "deployment ready." It uses a free-flowing battle problem that employs multiple scenarios to enable JCSSG to demonstrate that it is capable of integrating into a CTF. The commander of CTF 150 has operational control of both carrier strike groups (CSG). Merging strike groups into a CTF increases the assets available to the commander in theater.

CTF 150 spent one week conducting a wide range of maritime security operations across many different warfare disciplines. As elements of the CTF, Stennis Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9 and Reagan's CVW-14 effectively became a single team. The CTF integrates two CSG air wings which, combined, provide the strike warfare arm of CTF 150. The combination provides greater flexibility, striking power, and persistence than one carrier air wing could provide alone.

While CTF 150 conducted air warfare exercises, the surface components operate across the full spectrum of surface warfare. Led by Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 21, CTF 150's Sea Combat Commander (SCC) conducted sustained operations in four general disciplines: maritime interdiction operations (MIO), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASUW), and mine warfare (MW). CTF 150 also conducted exercises in expanded maritime interdiction, vessel boarding, and oil-platform defense.

This exercise also shifted command and control of the various disciplines [MIO, ASW, ASUW, MW] between the Carrier Strike Force to practice shifting authorities, to ensure the right combination of command and control where and when they are most needed. Of the four disciplines, ASW is a top war fighting priority and continues to increase in importance. The ability to track, identify, and if neccessary target submarines is of the utmost importance. Exercises, such as JTFEX 07-1, allow carrier strike groups to hone their warfighting skills and ensure we are proficent and effective during upcoming deployment in support of global war on terror.

CTF 150 [Commander, Task Force 150]

An entirely unrelated CTF 150 [Commander, Task Force 150] was established near the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. This other CTF 150 is comprised of naval ships from numerous coalition nations, including Canada, France, Germany, Pakistan, United Kingdom, and the United States. CTF 150, which conducts maritime security operations (MSO) in the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, the Arabian Sea, Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. MSO help set the conditions for security and stability in the maritime environment, as well as complement the counter-terrorism and security efforts of regional nations. These operations deny international terrorists use of the maritime environment as a venue for attack or to transport personnel, weapons or other material.

Carrier Task Force Background

The term Carrier Task Force has previously been applied in several other ways. It has been used to refer to a group of ships centered on a single aircraft carrier, a group more properly designated a a Carrier Battle Group [BATRU] or more recently a Carrier Strike Group [CSG].

In June 2006 USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63), and USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) cruised side-by-side in the Western Pacific Ocean as part of a formation of 15 ships comprised of the three aircraft carriers and their respective carrier strike groups. The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is currently participating in Valiant Shield 2006, a major military exercise off the coast of Guam involving 28 Naval vessels including three carrier strike groups. Approximately 290 aircraft and more than 20,000 service members from the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard are taking part in the exercise. The term "Carrier Task Force" was not invoked in this context.

One of Adm. Marc A. Mitscher's most important contributions to naval aviation was his development of the carrier task force. During the period between World War I and World War II Mitscher's experience with the Navy's developing carrier forces were instrumental in making carrier aviation a true striking force for the Navy in the Pacific war. He sought to improve the technology, tactics and doctrine for Naval Aviation. Certainly one of his most lasting contributions is the development of the carrier task force. Early in World War II aircraft carriers tended to operate alone. Mitscher sought to change this doctrine with the concentration of carrier forces that would eventually become the carrier task force. During the years of bitter naval combat in the Pacific, his name and the words "fast carrier task force" came to be synonymous. Carrier forces led by Admiral Mitscher gained and maintained control of the sea and air up to the very shores of Japan.

The fast carrier came to maturity as a ship type with the arrival of the Essex-class carriers in the fleet in 1943. These ships cairrie 90 to 100airplanes and could steam at speeds in excess of 30 knots. The job of a fast carrier was to take the naval war to the Japanese warships, aircraft, merchant marine and island bases. In the Navy's words, the fast carriers "were primarily an offensive weapon used to gain control of vast sea areas and to destrov enemy Forces..." The Fast Carrier Task Force, with its high cruising speed, maneuverability and operational efficiency in combination with the offensive punch of its air squadrons, was definitely up to carrying out this assignment.

The Navy defined a task force as "an assemblage of naval units of the right type and in sufficient numbers for the accomplishment of an assigned task." In its manner of organization, all elements were thought of "as integral parts of the whole complex required for control of the sea. Each should be used in the manner best suited to its inherent characteristics and all should be formed into a unified operating machine through the taskforce system." This description of the WW II task force implied a subtle change from pre-war ship tactical organization to scouting and battle fleets. Instead of an organization based upon a hierarchy of power (cruisers to fight destroyers or other cruisers; battleships to fight cruisers or other battleships), there was a new emphasis on organic organization based upon function. No longer were all fleet units subordinated to the all-powerful battleship.

A typical fast carrier task force of the U.S. Navy in WW II was divided into various task groups, each of which had three to six carriers and a sufficient number of escorts to provide an antisubmarine screen, antiaircraft protection and defense against surface attack. Sometimes a given task group would be used for an independent offensive operation, or it might be detached for refueling and replenishment at sea. Ideally each task group would have four carriers (three CVs and one CVL), two fast battleships or battle cruisers, four heavy or light cruisers and sixteen destroyers. Three or four of these task groups constituted a fast carrier task force. This kind of multiple carrier organization received its first serious combat test in the Gilbert Islands landings in November 1943 when four task groups formed Rear Admiral Marc A. Mitscher's Task Force 50 (later redesignated alternately as Task Force 58 and 38).

Tested in combat, the fast carrier task force proved its effectiveness as the Navy-Marine Corps amphibious team island-hopped its way across the Central Pacific via the Gilbert, Marshall, Caroline and Marianas Islands. In the Battle of the Philippine Sea (June 19-21, 1944), in the Marianas campaign, the U.S. Navy brought 15 fast carriers, organized into four task groups, to bear on a Japanese Fleet formed around nine fast carriers and land-based aircraft. History has labelled the first day of this battle the Marianas Turkey Shoot.

As Chief of Staff, Commander Fast Carrier Task Force, Pacific (Task Force 38), Admiral Burke was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of the Second Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star Medal, a Gold Star in lieu of the Second Legion of Merit, and a Letter of Commendation, with authorization to wear the Commendation Ribbon. The citations for the Gold Star in lieu of Second Distinguished Service Medal read: "For...outstanding Chief of Staff to Commander First Carrier Task Force, Pacific, during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Pacific War area from December 15, 1944 to May 15, 1945...Commodore Burke was in large measure responsible for the efficient control under combat conditions of the tactical disposition, the operation, the security and the explosive offensive power of his task force in its bold and determined execution of measures designed to force the capitulation of the Japanese Empire...throughout the seizure of bases at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, including two carrier strikes on Tokyo, a carrier strike on the Kure Naval Base, and an engagement with the Japanes Fleet on April 7, in which several hostile men-o-war were destroyed by our aircraft..."

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