Military Review

How the US Navy Aircraft Carriers Changed: Lessons from the Desert Fox

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How the US Navy Aircraft Carriers Changed: Lessons from the Desert Fox
A US Navy F / A-18 Hornet of 105th Attack Fighter Squadron prepares to take off from the deck of the USS Enterprise during Operation Desert Fox. Photo source: NavalHistory.org

“The United States and Britain have taken military measures to pressure Iraq using various land and sea-based military means, as well as the use of Tomahawk cruise missiles, according to the Pentagon's official data.

Sources tell CNN that more than 200 cruise missiles have been fired at targets in northern and southern Iraq, as well as in the Baghdad region.
The military operation began at 17:00 pm ET Wednesday (22:00 pm GMT / 1:00 am Thursday in Baghdad).
General Hugh Shelton reported that US Navy carrier-based aircraft took part in the attack. aviation ground-based both the United States Air Force and the Royal Air Force operating from unspecified bases in the region. The cruise missiles were launched both by the US Air Force B-52 bombers and from the US Navy ships at sea ... "

- excerpted from CNN's article Pentagon unveils details of Operation Desert Fox. December 16, 1998 release.

In the aftermath of Desert Storm and Operation Force Deliberate in Bosnia, the United States navy underwent a series of reforms designed to increase the tactical flexibility of carrier-based aircraft, as well as to deal with a doctrinal crisis caused by a sharp shift in priorities. The largest and most powerful fleet in the world, which had been preparing for naval battles with an enemy equal in strength for decades, had to adapt to new realities - large-scale local conflicts.

In previous operations, carrier-based aircraft faced many problems, both tactical, logistic and organizational. "Desert Storm" and "Deliberate Force" demonstrated a huge number of shortcomings that no one had previously considered. The fleet suffered from poor tactical planning (it was simply not ready for massive strikes against ground targets, and the Air Force was literally ahead of it), did not have its own tankers and, with a screeching noise, established interaction with Air Force air tankers.

The deck pilots did not have sufficient training to conduct strike missions at night - and, frankly, their aircraft were not prepared for this. There was a critical shortage of high-precision weapons, situational awareness systems, as well as capabilities for conducting reconnaissance at the operational-tactical level.

The fleet was built in the realities of the naval war of the 80s: it was preparing for anti-submarine operations, offensives and rapid maneuvers on ocean communications and repelling attacks by Soviet missile carrier regiments. But the 90s showed that fighting is transforming - and the fleet it was required to step in step with these changes.

So, with what large-scale innovations did the US Navy's aircraft carriers embark on Operation Desert Fox?

First, the Challenge Athena satellite communications system with a high data transfer rate was introduced to aircraft carriers. Oddly enough, but the fleet had serious problems with satellite communications - this limited both its interaction with the Air Force and the ILC, and with its own forces, including with carrier-based aircraft. Challenge Athena, on the other hand, made it possible to transmit even large volumes of photo and video materials using the power of a commercial satellite network.

In addition, the fleet received an updated tactical automated mission planning system (TAMPS) - this made it possible to significantly increase the efficiency of strike operations due to the high speed of processing intelligence and distributing tasks between aircraft.

Before the modernization of TAMPS, pilots downloaded maps with flight missions immediately before departure, and by 1998 each aircraft could receive them directly in the air (including the merit of the introduction of satellite communications) - moreover, on-board computers issued full-color maps, the quality of which was equivalent to tactical aerobatic charts and operational navigation charts produced by the Department of Defense Cartographic Agency!

Second, the Navy launched a WTI program to enhance the exchange of skills and experience between carrier and air force pilots. Something similar existed in the 80s in the form of the Strike University program, launched after the operation in Grenada - then the Navy also faced a serious lack of qualifications for its pilots, but the SU operated for only five years.

After the events of Desert Storm, the fleet largely standardized its tactical training program with the US Air Force - and this had a beneficial effect on the results of the combat work of carrier-based aviation, and subsequently grew into the formation of a unified tactical training system Air Combat Training Continuum.

Thirdly, the approach to the recruitment of carrier-based aviation squadrons, their armament and equipment has seriously changed. As it was repeatedly mentioned in previous materials, already in 1992, the fleet began active purchases of high-precision weapons (it should be noted that along with this, the fleet also purchased large quantities of laser-guided training bombs), and also got rid of the outdated A-6 Intruder attack aircraft.

But there were many problems with other aircraft, in particular, with the heavy F-14 Tomcat interceptors. The F-14 was an excellent aircraft, but its main tactical niche during the Cold War was the fight against attacks by Soviet Tu-22M missile carriers. The Navy never considered it as a vehicle for striking ground targets - in theory, of course, it was possible, but in practice Tomcat did not even have sets of aiming equipment for bombing. The F-14s took a formal part in Desert Storm, but did not perform strike missions - they needed modernization, and they got it.

Preparing ammunition on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. Operation "Desert Fox". Photo source: NavalHistory.org

Immediately after the end of the Gulf War, the F-14 crews underwent additional training, and a module for low-altitude navigation and infrared guidance for night flights called LANTIRN was integrated into the aircraft themselves.

One of the most important innovations was the complete modernization of the aircraft fleet, sharpened for night strike operations. Prior to Desert Storm, naval aircraft could only engage in fighter night battles, but by 1998 that had changed with the F / A-18 Hornet getting the Night Strike update. This upgrade kit included Cats-Eyes night vision devices (in the form of goggles), an upgraded laser targeting module (TFLIR) AN / AAS-38A and an improved inertial navigation system with color displays. This allowed the F / A-18s to deliver accurate nighttime strikes regardless of weather conditions.

In this form, the US Navy began to implement Operation Desert Fox.

Initially, the fleet insisted on conducting the operation exclusively on its own. In the region were the aircraft carriers USS George Washington and USS Independence with 102 attack aircraft on board - according to the calculations of the Navy tacticians, these forces were enough to carry out a campaign of retaliation against the forces of Saddam Hussein.

However, the final composition of the battle group was completely different ...

Mission Control Center aboard USS Enterprise during Operation Desert Fox. Photo source: NavalHistory.org

The aircraft carriers USS Enterprise and USS Carl Vinson are located in the Persian Gulf (they were also directly supported by the search and rescue vessel USS Belleau Wood with naval special forces to rescue downed pilots and the anti-mine ships USS Ardent and USS Dextrous). The mixed air force consisted of 200 (including B-52 and B-1B bombers, which carried air-launched cruise missiles) of the US Air Force and Navy, as well as 12 RAF Tornado aircraft.

Planners assigned them to strike almost 100 targets in seven categories: air defense systems, command posts, communications posts, WMD storage facilities, WMD factories and laboratories, Republican Guard facilities, Iraqi Air Force airfields, and targets of strategic value to the Iraqi economy.

The air campaign lasted 70 hours, and during it 97 targets were hit out of the planned 100.

On the first day, the Iraqi air defense was suppressed - the strikes were delivered by Tomahawk cruise missiles and aircraft from the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier.

On the second day, the attack was combined - the first wave was B-1B and B-52 bombers, launched from the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and Tomahawks, and after them - tactical aircraft of the US Air Force and Navy, as well as the Royal Air Force.

A total of 600 high-precision GPS-guided JDAM bombs, 90 air-launched cruise missiles, 325 Tomahawk cruise missiles were used.

Lt. Carol Watts (center) discusses with Lt. Lynsey Bates (right) his night strike against Saddam's forces after returning aboard USS Enterprise during Operation Desert Fox. Photo source: Wikimedia Commons

The tactics of carrier-based aviation differed sharply from the operations of previous years - the stake was made not on the intensity of sorties, but on efficiency and stealth. The strikes were delivered exclusively at night using the cover of electronic warfare aircraft. According to the most accurate estimates, the average number of sorties from one aircraft carrier is 50 shock combat sorties (that is, 1 for each aircraft).

“The goal of our naval forces is to directly and decisively influence events by threatening the enemy from the sea at any time and in any place. 80% of the world's population and 80% of the capitals are within 500 miles of the ocean coast. Our fleet, on the other hand, has unique opportunities for realizing its sea power. We demonstrated this during Operation Desert Fox, and will continue to demonstrate this further in the skies over Iraq, Kuwait and the Persian Gulf. At the dawn of the XNUMXst century, our Navy and Marine Corps are deployed in full combat readiness as they resolutely face an uncertain future. We have always been and will always be there when America needs us and she calls us ... "

- Address by Rear Admiral Robert K. Williamson to the Navy Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 24, 1999.

The operation was carried out successfully - the fleet competently used and worked out all the innovations, however, the "Desert Fox" had its own fly in the ointment - and, perhaps, far from one.

First, the Navy could not independently provide operational planning - in the end, this task fell to the Joint Forces Air Component Command (JFACC).

Secondly, Desert Fox once again demonstrated an important thesis (which, by the way, is still not comprehended and is a debatable topic in Russia) - an aircraft carrier cannot replace a ground airfield or operate in complete isolation from other components of the armed forces. It is necessary to combine the capabilities of the Air Force and the Navy (including in the face of ships with guided missile weapons), and not try to squeeze impossible combat effectiveness out of a single tactical unit.

Thirdly, the question of updating the composition of the fleet of carrier-based aircraft arose directly. Despite the modernization of the F-14, their combat value at the turn of the century was in doubt: the fleet no longer needed a heavy interceptor (the Soviet naval missile-carrying aircraft had already died, and a new worthy opponent for the Tomcat never appeared), and the F / A-18 did just fine with the entire range of tasks - and, moreover, had much more opportunities for modernization. The absence of carrier-based tanker aircraft also obviously affected - the Navy was impermissibly heavily dependent on Air Force air tankers. An explicit update was required both for the reconnaissance component in the person of the S-3 Viking (yes, in the 90s they were used for such specific tasks as reconnaissance and refueling), and for the electronic warfare aircraft - EA-6 Prowler.

And the question of the need to introduce airplanes with stealth technology also came up squarely. For a very long time, the Navy tried to deny their value, but the obvious limitations in the implementation of strike operations in the face of anti-air defense, as well as the fantastic successes of the Air Force using the F-117 and B-2, finally forced the ice to break. The Navy joined the Joint Strike Fighter program, which would later become known as the fifth generation F-35 fighter - but this, however, is completely different. история.
Author:
Photos used:
NavalHistory.org Wikimedia Commons
26 comments
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  1. Rurikovich
    Rurikovich 27 December 2021 06: 25
    +8
    It is to the context of the topic that it is presented in an accessible, logical, understandable way. I personally have nothing to comment on in essence. A plus hi
    1. Anzhey V.
      27 December 2021 18: 19
      0
      Thank you!)
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        1. Turist1996
          Turist1996 27 December 2021 20: 08
          -3
          Actually, "Cheshire" just applied logic. And the "podliz" Polish not Andrei-Andrzej on VO is purely provocative - suddenly someone, in the heat of proving his innocence, "merges" at least a fraction of real information.
          And "the chicken bites by the grain," as you know ..
  4. Doccor18
    Doccor18 27 December 2021 08: 59
    +9
    an aircraft carrier cannot replace a ground airfield ..

    What do you mean "can't"? Completely replaces.
    The question is different. If the operation, for some reason, increases in time, or this operation requires the simultaneous use of a large number of combat aircraft (more than 2-3 hundred), then, of course, it is more convenient to use ground airfields (if any ...).
    an aircraft carrier cannot ... operate in complete isolation from other components of the armed forces

    Why should he act in "complete isolation"? An aircraft carrier, like any other weapons system, is only an integral part, an important one, but only a part ... For that matter, will a ground airfield be able to carry out combat missions for a long time in complete isolation from all the armed forces?
    It is necessary to combine the capabilities of the Air Force and the Navy ...

    Here it is difficult to disagree. It is in the interaction, high-quality and fast, that the secret of the success of the armed forces lies.
    1. PPD
      PPD 27 December 2021 12: 51
      -4
      What do you mean "can't"?

      This is what it means. Can not.
      I never could.
      Articles about that were on the site.
      Plus, do not forget about the fuel reserves on the ship, and the speed of aircraft release. And much more. For the number of aircraft carriers to be able to be increased many times, if not by orders of magnitude.
      And not heavy aircraft carriers, but the most average ones. Converted from freight.
      1. lomax77
        lomax77 27 December 2021 17: 49
        +1
        So the aircraft carrier does not need to fully replace the ground airfield. Its task is to promptly deliver several dozen aircraft for various purposes, and everything necessary to ensure their flights, at a distance from which a strike can be made.
        If we succeed in solving the "problem" with this blow, great. Otherwise, it gains the time required to redeploy a heavier force, such as a B-52, to a nearby friendly airbase to continue the operation.
        An example of this is Enterprise's actions after 9/11.
    2. Anzhey V.
      27 December 2021 18: 27
      +5
      Why should he act in "complete isolation"?


      If you read the two previous articles, you probably noticed the emphasis on the big problems of the US Navy in the 90s, related to and even proposals to cut it for scrap.

      The Navy was literally forced to compete with the Air Force, and not only on the battlefield, but also on the domestic political field. The admirals needed to show that an aircraft carrier in terms of performance could be not just no worse, but better than ground aviation. As I wrote to the commentator below, this is not my personal vision of the situation, but the vision of the American military of those years. I worked exclusively with sources until 2000 and conveyed the situation of those years as seen in the US Navy and Air Force.

      For you to understand better, the Navy was even reproached with dependence on USAF tankers and used this argument in political battles. Only in the early 2000s did the squabbling finally subsided and the structures began to actively cooperate, not compete.
      1. Doccor18
        Doccor18 27 December 2021 21: 12
        +2
        Quote: Anjay V.
        ... but also on the domestic political field. The admirals needed to show that the aircraft carrier ... maybe not just worse, but better than ground aviation.

        The internal political struggle is understandable. It has always been and will be. But here's what's interesting. In 91, 93 and 98, the next aircraft carriers of the Nimitz type were laid. But how? After all, we are talking about budget savings, and oh, not a lot, not a little, the "professional suitability" of carrier-based aircraft ... 6 ships in the ranks, there seem to be no serious opponents, but three more are being laid ... Don't you think that the main reason of this "mouse fuss" play for show and the backstage struggle for power of individual financial and industrial clans? But the development strategy of the American fleet was unshakable, which is confirmed by the systematically implemented shipbuilding programs of the 90s ...
        1. Anzhey V.
          27 December 2021 21: 57
          +4
          In 91, 93 and 98, the next aircraft carriers of the Nimitz type were laid. But how? After all, we are talking about saving the budget, and oh, not a lot, not a little, the "professional suitability" of carrier-based aviation


          In this struggle, the fleet was far from toothless - the Navy in the 90s tore and tore, gnawing out its place in the military budget. And they were given money precisely because they admitted every mistake and dealt with all the problems in the shortest possible time. Almost every year, new doctrines were issued, tactics changed, the fleet took the most active position in absolutely any foreign policy enterprise.

          6 ships in the ranks, there seem to be no serious opponents, but three more are being laid


          The Navy in this situation considered themselves the losers. The fleet demanded 15 nuclear aircraft carriers in service - already in 1992, the topic of confrontation with China began to be raised in internal doctrinal documents. The admirals harbored no illusions, and demanded ships to be proactive. They were not given them.

          By the way, the Americans themselves, from the experience of Iraq, believed that for an operation of the Desert Storm level, you need to have at least 6 AB in the region where the hostilities are taking place. Six, just a minute! And this is due to the fact that there is no need to be present at sea communications. In such situations, the presence of only 9 AB was not considered a victory, not to mention the overall colossal reduction of the fleet.

          systematically implemented shipbuilding programs of the 90s


          They were very, very much "cut" from the original values ​​that the fleet operated in the 80s.

          Don't you think that the main reason for this "mouse fuss" is a show and a backstage struggle for power of individual financial and industrial clans?


          In Russia, unfortunately, the topic of internal political showdown in the United States after the Cold War was not comprehended and was not analyzed in any way. It was not a confrontation between individual circles - it was a total carnage between, so to speak, "civilian" and "military-industrial" power. In the States, there were enough of their own "abroad will help us", who took away production from America to Asia, cut astronautics, killed the nuclear industry, believed that with the death of the USSR, the army was no longer needed, and so on. So this is a very difficult, confused and voluminous topic, in which, alas, there are no simple answers and explanations.
          1. Doccor18
            Doccor18 27 December 2021 23: 42
            +2
            Quote: Anjay V.
            The navy in the 90s tore and tore, gnawing its place in the military budget.

            Quote: Anjay V.
            And they were given money precisely because they admitted every mistake and dealt with all the problems in the shortest possible time. Almost every year, new doctrines were issued, tactics changed, the fleet took the most active position in absolutely any foreign policy enterprise.

            Or maybe it should be so? Exactly so, "to tear and toss", "to gnaw out", to prove their necessity and to admit mistakes, to change tactics in a rapidly changing world and to work very actively in all "troubles" ... able to ensure the interests of his state anywhere in the world ... It would be nice for ours to adopt such an interesting experience.

            Quote: Anjay V.
            The fleet required 15 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers ...

            Well, from the relatively modern in the 90s, only 4 Forrestals and 1 Kitty Hawk were written off, which, for all their importance, were already quite old age. 10 operating aircraft carriers by 1992 was a very good result, despite the fact that the Soviet Navy entered an era of total reduction and degradation, and the Chinese (2 destroyers 052 of the Harbin type were at that time the "crown of creation") was a dismal sight ...

            Quote: Anjay V.
            In Russia, unfortunately, the topic of internal political showdown in the United States after the Cold War was not comprehended and was not analyzed in any way ...

            Unfortunately...
            Quote: Anjay V.
            So this is a very difficult, confused and voluminous topic ...

            Undoubtedly. Maybe you can grab it somehow. As difficult as it is, so interesting ...
            1. Anzhey V.
              28 December 2021 00: 54
              +1
              Or maybe it should be so? Exactly so, "to tear and toss", "gnaw out", to prove their necessity and to admit mistakes, to change tactics in a rapidly changing world and to work very actively in all "troubles".


              I fully agree that the armed forces must actively change and use all available methods to prove that they are worth every dollar spent on them. The US military is an example to follow in this regard, no kidding. They not only prove their worth to the state and citizens, but also directly influence the country's politics.

              But what was happening in the 90s was not exactly adequate, because the bureaucracy went against the strategy. I am inclined to believe that many military conflicts of those years simply would not have happened without this - the Pentagon was forced to look for any reason in order to get involved in hostilities and, accordingly, did not allow its capabilities and budgets to be cut. The "military-industrial" authorities were pinned to the wall, and they reacted accordingly - they began to fight very, very much.

              In addition to the fact that a priori a lot of money is needed for a war and even operations of a limited nature, such an overt display of power played well on the mood of citizens within America itself. Any politician who tried to hint about the reduction of the armed forces automatically became a target - therefore, they stopped talking openly about this by the year 1995.

              Undoubtedly. Maybe you can grab it somehow. As difficult as it is, so interesting ...


              I would like to try my hand, I will not hide it. But this still requires a lot, a lot to read, study and ponder)
              1. Liam
                Liam 28 December 2021 00: 56
                +1
                Quote: Anjay V.

                But what was happening in the 90s was not exactly adequate, because the bureaucracy went against the strategy. I am inclined to believe that many military conflicts of those years simply would not have happened without this - the Pentagon was forced to look for any reason to get involved in hostilities

                And what many wars did the Pentagon get into in the 90s?
  5. Konstantin Pekhlivanov
    Konstantin Pekhlivanov 27 December 2021 10: 43
    +1
    Can you tell us more about the 80s Maritime Strategy? I do not believe that he was only a weapon for naval combat and the experience of Vietnam was gone.
    1. Anzhey V.
      27 December 2021 18: 18
      +1
      I do not believe that he was only a weapon for naval combat and the experience of Vietnam was gone


      Of course, the fleet also had weapons for strikes against ground targets, but you need to understand that in the 80s no one planned to attack tank divisions and air defense missile systems with it. It was, roughly speaking, designed for strikes against critical coastal infrastructure, but not for strikes inland - that is what Tomahawks were designed for.

      Regarding the experience of Vietnam - it may seem strange, but they really moved away from it, and after 1991 they began to actively explore again. But as I promised, I will definitely write about the 1986 Naval Strategy exclusively based on the American vision.
      1. Konstantin Pekhlivanov
        Konstantin Pekhlivanov 5 January 2022 02: 00
        0
        Welcome to Maritime Strategy!
      2. Konstantin Pekhlivanov
        Konstantin Pekhlivanov 5 January 2022 02: 09
        0
        And also - there was an interesting article here - https://warhead.su/2018/10/29/amerikanskaya-mechta-kak-ekonomiya-flotskiy-stels-pogubila
        Can I get your look somehow?
  6. prior
    prior 27 December 2021 11: 37
    -4
    these forces were sufficient to carry out retaliation campaigns

    This is not a company of retaliation - it is lunch eater.
  7. smaug78
    smaug78 27 December 2021 16: 52
    -2
    (he was simply not ready for massive strikes against ground targets, and the Air Force was literally a head ahead of him
    In the comments to the previous article, you were shown that this is not true. But in and now there ...
    1. Anzhey V.
      27 December 2021 18: 13
      +3
      In the comments to the previous article, you were shown that this is not true. But in and now there ..


      It is a pity that in 1991 there were no comments on VO, and no one could show the stupid American staff officers that the conclusions they made after Desert Storm were not true.

      What is described in the article is not my personal opinion, but the vision of the American military - both naval and air force. So any claims can be sent straight to the Pentagon to local inept who drove the aircraft carriers through several large-scale exercises and wars in the 90s. I can even give you a list of doctrinal documents of those years with all the admirals - you can personally find each and explain them wrong)

      Regarding the statistics provided by Andrey from Chelyabinsk, it is worth saying that the F-14 Tomcat in 1991 did not hit ground targets at all. They had an official ban on this. Only F / A-18 and A-6 took part in shock missions with work "on the ground".
      1. smaug78
        smaug78 27 December 2021 18: 14
        -4
        And they gave you the numbers, but ...
  8. Turist1996
    Turist1996 27 December 2021 20: 18
    -3
    Well, Andrei, have you "eaten" the justification for you as a foreign spy ?!
    Please give me an appropriate answer .. wink
    1. Anzhey V.
      28 December 2021 00: 56
      +3
      Please answer accordingly


      I prefer to spend time talking with smart people and interesting topics)

      And trying to talk to madmen ... I'm not a psychiatrist, after all.
  9. English tarantas
    English tarantas 28 December 2021 18: 05
    +1
    threatening the enemy from the sea anytime, anywhere. 80% of the world's population and 80% of the capitals are within 500 miles of the ocean coast

    This is how to rattle the weapon. It seems not as cool as they wanted and calculated, but it seems that there is nothing to say in response, every word is a fact.
    To be continued?
    1. Anzhey V.
      29 December 2021 12: 47
      +1
      To be continued?


      Will definitely be, now I'm collecting materials.
  10. MauZerR
    MauZerR 5 January 2022 13: 37
    +1
    Thanks for the sensible material. I have not learned anything new for myself, but a special thanks to you for bringing light to the masses. I would like to add that after the 1st "Storm" there was a lot of talk about writing off Intruders, because the machines had exhausted their resource and were outdated, it was extremely difficult to maintain them in flight condition, and the project of deep modernization of the A-6F with F-404 engines and a new wing turned out to be stillborn, it was easier to replace it with a multifunctional Hornet. The presence of three types of main aircraft on the deck and the need to work with TF-30, F-110 (F-14F / B / D), F-404 (F-18) and J-52 engines did not add convenience to aircraft carrier technicians. (A-6E and EA-6B), besides, the stock of spare parts for the J-52 was melting .. And this is not counting the Vikings and the Sea King helicopters, which at the time of the conflict were already outdated and gradually began to be replaced by the Sea Hoki ... The Tomcat was a breakthrough vehicle with outstanding aircraft, but at the time of participation in the hostilities, he simply did not find opponents, being a pure AUG interceptor fighter, which had nothing to intercept. The current realities of the US Navy's air groups in the form of the F-18E / F, EA-18G and F-35C seem to be more tailored to the missions of their fleet.
  11. Basarev
    Basarev 14 February 2022 17: 37
    -1
    The most important thing that people understood was that the war had changed. There will be no more naval battles, now the ship is fighting against the coast. And air battles are no longer a priority, the plane is working on the ground. The only bad thing is that we haven’t finished it yet, until now we are fighting with the schemes of the Second World War. That's why we lose, that's why we suffer losses without any benefit to the cause.