A U.S. aircraft carrier strike group (CSG) is the most powerful, mobile and flexible aggregation of military capability in the 21st Century. A CSG is fully capable of supporting operations across the entire spectrum of conflict and peacetime operations. It has the added advantage of being able to conduct such operations from the sanctuary of the open oceans. This freedom to maneuver is not only a strategic asset, allowing the CSG to go where and when needed and remain on station indefinitely, but also of great operational importance to its ability to act both offensively and defensively. Maneuverability is essential to the CSG’s ability to secure sea lines of communications, opening them to friendly forces and closing them to adversaries.
The key to the effectiveness of the carrier strike group is its ability to persist in the right place at the right time. This requires that the CSG maintain operational maneuverability. Maneuverability allows for both tactical flexibility and stealthiness. The space needed to secure operational maneuverability can be envisioned as a “box” defined at one end by the distance to and from the objective and at the other end by the distance to and from resupply. When operating against hostile forces, the box also must encompass a sufficient area to allow the CSG to disappear from view or, as necessary, actively defend itself. The ability to defend at sea is closely tied to the capability for long-range, persistent and high quality detection and tracking. The ability to remain at sea in an operationally useful maneuver box depends on long-range, high volume, reliable logistics support. If the CSG can “see” and strike at great distance without being targeted in return and simultaneously remain within range of its logistics support base, it will be able to perform whatever mission is assigned it.
The ability of the carrier strike group to achieve operational maneuverability is challenged today perhaps as never before. According to Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, Admiral Robert Willard, China is now deploying a long-range, anti-ship ballistic missile with a maneuvering warhead. China and a number of prospective adversaries are acquiring aircraft carriers, advanced naval strike aircraft, long-range anti-shipping cruise missiles and modern, quiet diesel-electric submarines. Even as the CSG fights to maintain a position within striking range of its targets it will have to contend with the growing long-range threats to its survival.
The effectiveness of the carrier strike group is often associated with its ability to conduct airstrikes. While this is critical, equally important is the CSG’s ability to use its maneuverability to deny targeting to an adversary. For this to happen, the battle group must see threats at sufficient distance to defeat them and remain sufficiently close to the target while being continuously available for resupply. This condition is dependent on the presence of two vital enablers, the E-2 Hawkeye surveillance aircraft and the C-2A Greyhound carrier onboard delivery aircraft. For a CSG to operate with maximum flexibility and freedom of maneuver, both offensively and defensively, it must have the long range detection, tracking and situational awareness provided by the new E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and the long-range, time-critical resupply provided by the C-2.
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