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Naval Airpower

The position of aircraft in connection with naval warfare must be studied almost as an independent problem, since many of the circumstances and conditions are utterly different from those which obtain on land. Apart from differences in the constructional features which, particularly in the case of the aeroplane, are considerable, the questions which arise in the matter of attack and defence are so entirely modified, at least as affecting the primary function of the arm, as to influence fundamentally the question of armament.

It was universally agreed after the Great War that airplanes would play a more vital role in future warfare, but there were sharp differences of opinion as to how air forces should be organized for future employment. Britain separated her aviation from her army and her navy, and merged the two branches into a single organization controlled independently of the Army and her Navy. The United States did not separate her aviation from her Army and her Navy. Neither did Japan. Their Navies, consequently, were able to develop naval air power freely.

After World War I, General Mitchell, who commanded the Army Air Service in Pershing's Army in France during the war, returned to America and began a vigorous campaign to organize and to operate US Military aviation on the British pattern - this is, he advocated merging US Army and US Navy aviation into a single separate organization, entirely independent of the Army and the Navy, and co-equal to them. In his drive for a single air service, Mitchell proclaimed that airplanes could sink battleships. He declared that aviation would make ground armies and surface navies obsolete - a prophecy that has yet to be realized. He maintained that aircraft therefore should be controlled, developed, and operated by a single centralized government agency, completely independent form the Army and the Navy.

The absorption of Britain's efficient Naval Air Service by centralized Royal Air force in 1918, and the consequent withering of her Naval Air Arm, left her in 1942 relatively a second rate Navy as compared to that of the US. To revitalize her naval air arm, Britain, on two occasions modified her system of air organization - once during World War II, and once afterwards; and each time to conform more and more closely with he system of organization for U.S. Naval Aviation. The real issue between the US Navy and the crusaders for a single air service was not about battleships versus airplanes, but whether the US Navy was to be free to develop naval air power and use it in war. The US Navy vigorously opposed Mitchell's proposal. It foresaw that airplanes would play an increasingly important role in naval warfare, and insisted that it be free to develop naval air power, and to operate aircraft according to its needs to the same extent as in the case of its other weapons.

Naval aircraft require different capabilities to perform various types of missions. Naval aircraft missions can be categorized under eight job types: fleet air defense, strike warfare, antisubmarine warfare (ASW), electronic warfare, early warning, amphibious assault, training, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Each mission requires different capabilities in the craft that perform them. Most aircraft are able to perform more than one type of mission and may perform support functions as well. To accomplish these missions, the Navy and Marine Corps have over six thousand active and reserve aircraft

Strike aircraft attack enemy surface targets such as ships and ground forces. Strike aircraft are classified into two types, medium and light, depending on the weight of the payload they carry. There are several major design factors involved in attack aircraft design. Range, payload, and weapon delivery precision determine how far away a target can be attacked and the amount of damage that can be inflicted. Maneuverability and stealth will allow the aircraft to evade surface to air missiles and enemy fighters as well as making them less visible to enemy sensors. Marine Corps aircraft emphasize vertical or short takeoff capability to provide air power in the absence of airfields. The A-6 Intruder, once the backbone of the Navy's attack force, was withdrawn from service in the 1990s. The F/A-18 is proving everyday to be a reliable, flexible platform and is expected to remain so well into the 2lst century. Upgrades to the F/A-18 radar, engines, weapons, and enhanced all weather attack capability are currently being planned. The AV-8B Harrier is demonstrating to be a safe, effective aircraft. Upgraded engines and night attack capability will provide the Navy and Marine Corps more control over a broader spectrum of operational and threat scenarios.

The fleet air defense mission performed by Navy and Marine Corps fighters is to defend the fleet from shore and sea based air attacks. Fighters attack incoming bombers seeking to destroy aircraft carriers and their accompanying ships. Cruise missiles are also a threat since they can be launched from air, surface, and subsurface platforms, thereby making the speed, range, and loiter time of the defending Navy aircraft critical design considerations. The F-14D provided air dominance for the carrier task force and strike aircraft while over hostile territory. The F-14D digitized avionics allowed maximum hardware/software commonality with the F/A- 18.

The naval airborne early warning mission provides all weather active and passive air and sea surveillance of enemy targets and maritime traffic. The E-2C Hawkeye is a carrier based early warning aircraft that serves as the eyes and ears of the fleet. A preplanned product improvement program consisting of upgrading the engines and radar will improve the E-2C's ability to counter the 1 990's threat.

Electronic countermeasure aircraft reduce the electronic vision of the enemy by jamming the opposing force's sensors. These capabilities enhance those of fighter and strike aircraft by providing information on the location and identity of the enemy while degrading enemy capabilities. The EA-6B Prowler remains the primary platform for suppression and degradation of enemy defense systems by tactical jamming. Modernization of the EA-6B involves major upgrades to the aircraft's navigation, communications jamming, radar, instruments, and computer systems. These upgrades will allow the crew to more accurately and rapidly evaluate a large number of threats.

The Tactical Electronic Warfare Reconnaissance Force performs electronic support measures and signal intelligence functions. This includes interception of radiated electromagnetic energy for intelligence purposes to support military operations. During the 1980s the force consisted of EA-3B aircraft which were approaching the end of their service life. A program to replace the EA-3B aircraft involved removing a number of S-3 aircraft from the ASW inventory for conversion to a dedicated ES-3 configuration. Despite the modification of S-3 aircraft to an ES-3 electronic surveillance aircraft, the ES-3 was withdrawn from service by the end of the 1990s.

Antisubmarine Warfare [ASW] is a cornerstone of naval strategy. ASW type platforms include several kinds of aircraft and helicopters. The aircraft are designed to seek out and destroy enemy submarines. The sensors carried by these aircraft are primarily acoustic devices. Maximum loiter times and long ranges are key characteristics of ASW aircraft. Aircraft and helicopters are more effective, sustainable, and survivable ASW platforms when compared to ships and submarines. The P-3C, S-3B, SH-2F, and SH-60B/F can quickly position sensors and prosecute targets at mid to long ranges.

The transport of troops and supplies ashore from ships is termed amphibious assault. The Marine Corps uses both fixed wing and helicopters to accomplish the airborne portion of this mission. Artillery, support vehicles, troops, and supplies must be brought ashore in a short period of time making aircraft an essential element in this mission. To modernize the airborne amphibious force, the MV-22 OSPREY tilt-rotor aircraft is being developed as a replacement for the aging CH-46 medium lift helicopter. The medium lift force is used primarily to transport personnel.

The heavy lift force consisted of CH-53 helicopters which have a sixteen ton lift capacity, providing increased logistic lift for heavy equipment and weapons. Command and Control and light lift capability is provided by the UH-1. The Marine attack helicopter force consists of AH-1 attack helicopters. Their mission provides fire support for aerial and ground operations during ship to shore movement and subsequent operations ashore.

Ship to shore transport of weapons and supplies were provided by Navy vertical replenishment forces. The present force consists of CH-46 helicopters. A variety of helicopters; H-l's, H-2's, H-3's, H-46's, H-53's, and H-60's, provide numerous essential services in all aspects of naval aviation. Sea air rescue, utility, and logistic support to the shore establishment, fleet, test facilities, and ranges are the types of services provided by support helicopters.

The Navy organic airlift inventory included C-9, CT-39, UC-12, C-130, C-131, C-20, US-3 and C-2 aircraft. The organic air lift force provides flexibility for timely support to fleet commanders and their ships at sea.

Mine warfare consists of mine laying and mine countermeasures. These tasks consist of denial of harbors to the enemy and destruction or neutralization of hostile mine fields. The Navy's airborne mine countermeasure force conducts mine clearing operations. The RH-53 helicopters initially performed this mission, until the MH-53E replaced the RH-53 force. The MH-53E has increased fuel capacity, a hover/tow coupler, and improved mission capabilities.

A little known but very important mission involving naval aviation is Fleet Ballistic Missile Communications. TACAMO (Take Charge and Move Out) aircraft fill the role of relaying very low frequency signals to strategic missile submarines. Initially the force consisted of EC-130Q's. These aging aircraft were replaced by a modified 707/E-3 design designated E-6A, which maintained the same basic equipment currently installed in the EC-130Q.

Intermediate and advanced training needs are accomplished by T-45 aircraft, simulators, academics and training management systems. The T-45 aircraft is one of naval aviation's top priorities. The T-45 will replaced the T-2C and TA-4J as they reached the end of their service life.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and their associated sensors, launch, recovery, mission planning and control, data relay, sensor data processing, and exploitation subsystems are managed under the UAV Joint Project Office with Navy as executive service. The role of UAVs in all of the services is expected to grow due to technology and sensor miniaturization resulting in increased UAV utility and cost effectiveness.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:27:00 ZULU