FROM “STORMS IN THE DESERT” TO “IRAQ FREEDOM”
Over the past decades of the Cold War, the key task of the aircraft carrier component of the US Navy was to prepare for a major armed conflict with the Soviet Union. Carriers were to ensure dominance at sea and the unimpeded use of sea lines of communication by the ships of the United States and their allies in the face of opposition to the Soviet fleet, which by the middle of the 1980-s. reached its peak.
The first Gulf War 1991 turned the view of the American military and political leadership on the principles of using aircraft carriers and the fleet as a whole. Admiral William Owens, who commanded the Sixth Fleet at the time, believed that "For the Navy, more than for any other type of aircraft, Desert Storm was the godmother of the changes."
During this operation, the US Navy did not have to fight for supremacy at sea and in the air. On the contrary, the key task of the fleet was to participate in delivering massive strikes against coastal targets using high-precision weaponsthat was not previously included in the list of its priority tasks. Operation Desert Storm marked the beginning of a revolution in military affairs, but it took almost a decade to massively introduce new technologies and transform the fleet carrier component.
The largest naval base of the US Navy Norfolk. This 20 December 2012 picture shows aircraft carriers Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), George HW Bush (CVN-77), Enterprise (CVN-65), Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), as well as UDC and other ships of the Atlantic fleet.
Projecting power “offshore” and participating in low-intensity local conflicts in coastal areas became the basis of the new “From the Sea” naval strategy, and the role of aircraft carriers in it was key. At the same time, the fleet constantly faced sharp criticism from representatives of the Air Force, who questioned the effectiveness of strike operations on deck aviation and criticized her for her limited range. It was noted that carrier-based aviation is not capable of conducting effective operations at a distance of more than 900 km.
Key to the US Navy’s aircraft carrier component were operations in Afghanistan and Iraq at the start of the 2000s. They showed significantly increased capabilities of aircraft carriers.
TO 1400 KILOMETERS
The large-scale air operation in Afghanistan began less than a month after the September 11 terrorist attacks on 2001 and lasted about five months (October 7, 2001 - March 16, 2002). It managed to take part six aircraft carriers. Most of the time, two aircraft carriers participated in the operation at the same time.
The main difficulty in the bombing of Afghanistan was the geographical remoteness of the theater of operations (theater of operations) and the lack of suitable military air bases in the region. The average distance from the aircraft carrier to the target was about 1100 km, and the most distant of the affected objects were at a distance of 750 nautical miles, that is, about 1400 km.
Despite the significant distances that aircraft carriers shared in the Arabian Sea and their objectives, naval aviation was able to ensure that there are at least six fighter-bombers (IB) around the clock in the airspace over Afghanistan. It should be noted that these indicators would have been impossible to achieve without the use of air force tankers.
The main striking force of the US aircraft carriers is the F / A-18E / F fighter-bombers.
The intensity of flights during operations in Afghanistan was relatively low. Each wing had on average 40 combat sorties per day. The total number of aircraft departures per day, including departures of tankers, aircraft electronic warfare (EW), etc., was about 90. This figure was sufficient to perform all the combat missions.
About 80% target readings were obtained after the aircraft was lifted into the air. The total share of precision weapons was about 60% (for deck aircraft - 80%), while during Storm in the Desert this figure was less than 10%, and in 1999 in Yugoslavia - about 30%. Naval aviation and Marine Corps carried out about 12 thousands of combat missions, which accounted for 72% of their total number.
The aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk (CV-63) in the course of this operation carried out functions unusual for American aircraft carriers — it was the forward base for the concentration of special operations forces. On the aircraft carrier was left only eight IS, which allowed to place a significant number of helicopters.
UP TO FIVE AIRWAYS UNIFIED
Carriers played a key role and during the military operation in Iraq in 2003, Saudi Arabia and Turkey denied the United States the right to use its military air bases to attack Iraq, which placed the main burden of military operations on carrier-based aircraft. The Navy concentrated five aircraft carriers to attack Iraq — two in the eastern Mediterranean and three in the Persian Gulf. This allowed to fly around the clock. All in all, in the oceans were eight of the twelve American aircraft carriers.
The share of carrier-based naval aviation and the Marine Corps accounted for about 14000 sorties - approximately 34% of the total. The number of flight sorties of carrier-based aviation was more than 5500, and the number of sorties after in-flight refueling exceeded 2000.
Deck Aviation operated at a distance of 900-1300 km. Due to the shortage of tanker aircraft, the deck F / A-18E / F Super Hornet, which were first massively used during the operation in Iraq, carried out about 400 refueling missions as tankers. In the first month of the war, the average number of daily aircraft flights per deck wing aircraft exceeded 120. The share of precision weapons during operations in Iraq increased to 80% (for carrier-based aviation, about 95%).
F / A-18E / F today perform almost all the tasks in aircraft groups of aircraft carriers.
The experience of the operation in Iraq formed the basis for the adoption of the Fleet Response Plan (Fleet Response Plan), which provides for the deployment in the event of a crisis of the maximum number of aircraft carriers in a short time. Initially, the “6 + 2” formula was used, that is, the deployment of six aircraft carriers within 30 days and two more within 90 days. In connection with the reduction in the number of aircraft carriers, this indicator was somewhat adjusted and replaced by the formula "6 + 1". The experience of the war in Iraq was also taken into account when moving from carrier-based combat groups (CVBG) to carrier-based strike groups (CSG) with a reduction in the number of ships accompanying the aircraft carrier.
Traditionally, American superavianos are perceived as a symbol of the policy of "big stick", that is, the right of Washington to force intervention in the affairs of other states. At the same time, recently they have been repeatedly and quite successfully used in such an unconventional role as the provision of humanitarian assistance and emergency response.
In December, 2004 - January 2005. The aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) was actively involved in providing humanitarian aid to Indonesia, seriously affected by the 26 earthquake in December. 2004. The United States (United Unified Assistance) was one of the reasons a significant increase in the positive perception of America by the citizens of Indonesia.
In March, 2011, the aircraft carriers Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and George Washington (CVN-73) participated in providing humanitarian aid to Japan after the 11 earthquake in March of 2011 (Operation Tomodachi).
Such non-military operations have a significant political and diplomatic effect. High speed, the ability to produce about 1500 tons of fresh water daily, as well as provide round-the-clock operations of aircraft for several weeks, give aircraft carriers significant advantages in providing humanitarian assistance in case of serious natural disasters over universal landing craft (UDC).
PROSPECTS OF USE OF AIRLINES
The experience of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that aircraft carriers, which are called "floating airfields", have two significant advantages over real airfields - mobility and independence. Carriers can be quickly transferred to the region in which there is a growing threat to US national interests. Unlike coastal-based aviation, carrier-based aviation allows both to quickly build up military power in the region, and to quickly roll it up. Using aircraft carriers, it is possible in a short time to provide a demonstration of power, projecting it as much time as is necessary in specific conditions. Neither the Air Force nor the army provide such a possibility. Carriers allow operations without the need to obtain the right to use the territory and airspace of other states. The experience of operations in Afghanistan has shown that aircraft carriers can be used effectively even on a highly remote theater of operations from the sea coast.
In the near future, universal landing ships will be used to carry out operations against weak opponents.
Over the past two decades, the mechanisms of using super heroes for power projection have been sharpened, which allowed for long and high-intensity operations. At the same time, recently, two diametrically opposed challenges have appeared before the carrier strike groups as the main key element of the US Navy.
First, it becomes obvious that in the short term, in order to carry out operations against relatively weak opponents, there will be no need to involve a supercarrier. Supercarriers, unlike light aircraft carriers and UDC, provide a larger range of actions for carrier-based aviation and, above all, DRLO and reconnaissance capabilities. But to fight a weak opponent, the possibilities of supercarriers seem to be excessive.
The precedent was the operation in Libya (Operation Odyssey Dawn), when the power was projected at the expense of the UDC airgroup Kearsarge LHD-3. The adoption of a new generation of America-type UDC with improved aviation capabilities and short-take-off and vertical landing aircraft F-35B will allow low-intensity military operations with smaller forces, which is especially important in the face of reduced military spending.
At 2015, the US Navy should become the lead carrier of the new generation, Gerald Ford (CVN-78).
Critical comments began to appear in relation to aircraft carriers and on the part of supporters of the development of the fleet of large surface combat ships. Some experts believe that modern and prospective destroyers have more advanced, as compared to aircraft carriers, capabilities of air defense, air defense and missile defense, and Tomahawk SLCMs are able to perform many information security tasks at lower costs and risks.
Secondly, many states, including Iran and China, are actively developing the so-called “access restriction systems” (A2 / AD - anti-access / area denial) - non-nuclear submarines, anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles, anti-ship aircraft, mines , air defense systems. Having no real opportunity to deprive the US Navy of domination in the World Ocean and its individual regions, Washington’s potential adversaries are striving to secure for themselves the potential to challenge domination at sea, primarily in their own coastal regions. The use of large ship connections in such conditions will be associated with an ever-increasing risk. This reduces the effectiveness of the use of aircraft carriers in the event of a conflict with similar states, and also forces them to move aircraft carriers away from the coast, which reduces the effective range of deck aircraft.
The development of China’s aviation and fleet, its growing ambitions in the western Pacific and the desire to become a full-fledged naval power, including the creation of its own fleet carrier component, once again draw attention to the problem of gaining dominance at sea and in the air. At the same time, for two decades the domination of the transoceanic approach and the projection of power against weak adversaries, insufficient attention was paid to the development of these functions.
It is worth noting that the successful use of aircraft carriers by Washington to demonstrate force during the Taiwan “mini-crisis” in March 1996 was one of the reasons for the acceleration and buildup of Chinese naval construction programs.
SUPERAVIANOTS OF THE FUTURE
In the 2015, the US Navy should enter the lead aircraft carrier of the new generation Gerald Ford CVN-78. The cost of the ship is estimated at $ 12,3 billion, among which is $ 3,3 billion of one-time costs for R & D. New aircraft carriers will differ significantly from their predecessors such as the Nimitz.
Carriers such as Gerald Ford will be able to provide up to 270 sorties a day.
The flight deck will be optimized, and its total area will be increased without increasing the ship’s displacement. The “island” superstructure will be reduced in size and shifted closer to the starboard and stern. The ship will be equipped with three, not four, as before, aircraft lifts - two of them will be located in front of the "island" and one - on the left side in the rear part. This will increase the number of sorties per day from 120 on aircraft carriers such as Nimitz to 160 (with a standard load). With increased round-the-clock load, the number of sorties can be increased for a short time to 270 per day. For comparison, during the exercises in July 1997, the aircraft carrier Nimitz CVN-68 was able to achieve the 243 indicator of aircraft sorties per day (including 193 combat), which was largely achieved by creating the most favorable conditions and limiting the combat radius to 360 km.
The increase in the flight deck will facilitate the movement of large, prospective UAVs through it, the wingspan of which will be significantly larger than that of modern deck-based information security forces, and maneuverability - worse.
New aircraft carriers will also be equipped with a single dual-band radar, improved arresting gear, electromagnetic catapults, as well as a new, improved nuclear power plant. All this will significantly improve the performance of its main functions by the aircraft carrier, will reduce the crew crew by 600 people and reduce the cost of operating the ship by $ 4 billion during its fifty-year life cycle. More economical in operation, new catapults and aerofinisers, among other things, will increase the take-off weight of deck-mounted aircraft and reduce the load on the airframe.
"MAIN CALIBER" OF AIRLINES
Technological development and changes in the principles of the use of aircraft carriers significantly affected the appearance of deck aviation groups. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, carrier-based aviation underwent unification and "optimization". From a diverse fleet of aircraft assembled according to the principle “one task - one plane”, in our years they came to an air group built around the only type of combat aircraft: F / A-18E / F, which provides both air defense formations and strikes against ground targets . The EW problem is solved by its modification EA-18G Growler, which replaced the EA-6B Prowler aircraft.
The EW EA-6B Prowler (top) aircraft are replaced by the EA-18G Growler (bottom), built on the F / A-18E / F base.
Boeing was able to create a plane that really meets the requirements of the fleet, but it should be noted that the reason for this lies largely in a significant simplification of these requirements. The disappearance of the threat from Soviet missile-carrying aircraft and the ships carrying heavy anti-ship missiles made it possible to abandon the specialized interceptor whose niche was occupied by the F-14 Tomcat, and reducing the threat from submarines from the specialized anti-submarine aircraft. Therefore, now the functions of the air defense and the air defense system were assigned to escort ships, universal F / A-18E / F and multi-purpose helicopters.
In the wake of cuts in military spending of the early 1990s, to which all types of US Armed Forces were subjected, deck aircraft suffered only one really painful loss, which affected its capabilities. In 1991, for financial reasons, the development of the new A-12 Avenger II strike aircraft was discontinued, which was carried out with 1983 using the Advanced Tactical Aircraft (ATA) program as a replacement for the A-6 attack aircraft. The A-12 was supposed to be the unobtrusive “day one” aircraft, the more advanced analogue of the F-117 Air Force. When in January 1991, the ATA program was closed due to a significant increase in cost and timing of its implementation and the fleet was left without its own unobtrusive strike aircraft, the A-6 functions were assigned to F / A-18E / F.
The “missions of the first day of war”, that is, the actions of aviation in the airspace of the enemy under the conditions of the continuing centralized air defense system, are the most difficult task that modern aviation can face. The lack of an unobtrusive aircraft suitable for this role forces the US Navy to resort to either the massive use of SLCMs or the help of the Air Force, which is not always possible and contradicts the idea of the self-sufficiency of aircraft-carrier strike groups. The third option is to fight the enemy's air defense system with the help of strike groups under the cover of EW facilities, which is fraught with high losses.
The Pentagon realized the need to create a subtle strike aircraft for the fleet. After several years of searching, the Navy decided to join the Air Force. This led to the birth of the program to create a single for the Air Force, Navy and the Marine Corps of the fifth generation fighter - Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). F-35C Lightning II - JSF option for the Navy at the end of 2010-x - the beginning of 2020-x. should occupy the vacant niche of the “first day” strike aircraft and supplement F / A-18E / F.
In many ways, the success of the program F-35C depends on the implementation of the program of the shock-reconnaissance deck UAV - UCLASS. It is difficult to judge now whether the promising drone will suffer the fate of the ATA program or whether it will be successfully implemented, which, according to the most optimistic forecasts, will make the F-35C redundant. UAVs developed under the UCLASS program, due to their low profile, long range and no threat to the pilot, are able to take on the role of a strike aircraft of the “first day of war”. It is assumed that new drones will be commissioned to 2020.
Thus, in the coming decade, with the introduction of a new generation of aircraft carriers, promising carrier-based aircraft and UAVs, the capabilities of the aircraft carrier components of the US Navy should increase significantly. Of particular importance will be the increase in the combat radius of carrier-based aviation and its ability to act in the face of opposition from modern air defense systems. With the adoption of the new UDC and F-35B fighters, American supercarriers are likely to be less likely to be involved in low-intensity conflicts, which will partially reduce the operational load on the fleet, as well as increase the presence of aircraft carriers in the Asia-Pacific region.