There is no more strategically agile, operationally responsive and tactically flexible platform in the U.S. arsenal than the aircraft carrier. Properly supported as part of a carrier strike group (CSG) and sustained by the world’s best aerial and sea-based logistics system, the aircraft carrier can exploit the vast spaces of the open oceans to threaten U.S. adversaries and provide needed assistance to friends, all while minimizing its vulnerability to hostile action. This is accomplished by the CSG’s ability to establish a broad section of the open ocean as its operational maneuver space. The boundaries of this space are determined by the maximum range at which carrier aircraft can strike their targets, the maximum range at which threats to the carriers from missile and air-breathing threats can be detected and the greatest distance the resupply flights can reach the carrier. The greater the range at which sensor platforms, strike systems and resupply aircraft can operate, the larger the strike group’s operational maneuver box and the more flexibility and survivability it will have.
Over the years potential adversaries have paid the CSG the singular complement of focusing much of their naval strike assets on defeating it or at least denying it a workable operational maneuver box. The Soviet Union tried trailing the carriers with surface ships and submarines, tracking it with airborne and even space-based sensors and threatening it with massed raids by supersonic bombers. China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy is reported to have developed a maneuvering warhead for a long-range ballistic missile with the intention of using them to defeat the CSG.
But the carrier strike group is deploying a number of capabilities designed to counter the emerging threat and ensure that the carrier and its escorts have the maximum operation space within which to maneuver. First, there is the new F-35C Joint Strike Fighter. With around double the range of the current FA-18 E/F, a more powerful radar and better avionics, the F-35C can increase the strike range for the strike group and provide enhanced air defense. Then there is the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, just entering deployment, The E-2D is a game changer when it comes to managing the air defense battle and supporting strikes against land and sea targets. With its improved radar, new sensor suite, upgraded avionics and a massive communications sweep, the Advanced Hawkeye can significantly expand the safe operational box in which the CSG will operate. Finally, there is the certainty of resupply anywhere in the operational box. Today, that job is performed by the venerable C-2 Greyhound which carries supplies, personnel and mail out to the carrier. The Greyhound’s substantial range, high service ceiling, pressurized cockpit and large cargo ramps allows it to support the carrier’s under all kinds of environmental conditions, and at extreme ranges. The F-35C, E-2D and C-2 will contribute to making the aircraft carrier one of the most effective and survivable platforms in the U.S. Navy’s fleet.
The reports of the demise of the aircraft carrier are premature to say the least. The above mentioned programs will provide the aircraft carrier a new lease on life. Moreover, other technologies now under development such as electromagnetic launch, high-powered lasers and unmanned combat air vehicles will fundamentally change the role and power of the carrier in future warfare.
Find Archived Articles: