A sharp jerk - and the plane disappears in a cloud of superheated steam, rushing forward, towards the wind. Another moment - and the boundless sea stretched under the wing ... Gone! The deck crew jumps off their knees and prepares for the start of the next F / A-18. The fighter, swaying under the load of bombs, approaches the catapult - the reflective shield rises behind, the sailors fix the catapult shuttle to the nose landing gear. A final check follows and a fancy SHOOTER begins — arms at shoulder level, body turning from side to side, returning to the starting position, hand to side — bringing the engines to take-off mode. Done! Now follows the characteristic gesture of "sitting down" with an outstretched hand ... TAKE OFF !!!
Shooter is a member of the deck crew of an aircraft carrier responsible for aircraft production. Due to the high noise level, communication between the pilot and the Shooter is accomplished with the help of a sophisticated gesture system.
The last time US Navy aircraft carriers were massively used about a quarter of a century ago was the hot winter of 1991, during the Desert Storm offensive operation. The violent 43-day air war that crushed the army of Saddam Hussein became a reference example of the new generation wars - where the stakes were made on high-quality information support, high-precision weapon and the absolute technical superiority of the winner over the vanquished.
In total, 44 countries (international forces - MNF) have signed up to the Coalition against Iraq. However, in fact, the whole operation rested on American bayonets. The Yankees made a decisive contribution to the defeat of Hussein, and, frankly, they could have managed on their own. The “Allies” were invited only for courtesy (however, some of them ran himself, hoping for praise and a tasty piece from “Uncle Sam”).
As expected, in a super war the American fleet flashed with its power and magnificence. For the first time, Tomahawk cruise missiles were used limitedly - in total, 288 SLCMs were fired on the positions of the Iraqi troops and Iraqi infrastructure. Mine-sweeping ships engaged in the elimination of mine installations in the Persian Gulf. Battleships with a deafening roar fired at the coast. In general, the classical naval forces were symbolic in a purely land war. Before the mass appearance of Tomahawk SLCM, the only naval means capable of providing real support to the Army and the Air Force was deck aviation US Navy.
“Jack of all trades” or stupid relic of the past, seeking any, sometimes the most ridiculous ways to prove the viability of its existence?
What are the prospects of modern AUG in air offensive operations? How rational was the decision to use the forces of the six carrier groups to strike at targets deep in the coast?
The answer can be found by following the combat path of each of the “heroes”.
As noted above, the Yankees drove six aircraft carriers of different generations to the Middle East. Despite the 40-year-old difference in age, the Nimitsev and Midway decks were the same - the best and most modern aircraft at the time. The real combat power of an aircraft carrier is weakly correlated with its age - the composition of the air group rapidly changes with the appearance of the next generation of fighters (bombers, UAVs), and no radical changes are required in the design of the ship itself.
USS Teodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) sounds like the Suez Canal
At first glance, the choice of AUG combat maneuvering areas seems illogical — half of the aircraft carrier groups were stationed in the Red Sea. This situation is in clear contradiction with the very idea of the aircraft carrier, as a mobile airfield deployed near the enemy. Deck pilots, on the contrary, had to act from afar, making flights across the entire Arabian Peninsula. The average duration of sorties from aircraft carriers in the Red Sea was 3,7 h versus 2,5 h for those based in the Persian Gulf, 200-280 miles from the coast of Kuwait. Closer approach did not dare.
It is easy to guess that this disposition was dictated by security measures. To send all six aircraft carriers to the turbulent waters of the Persian Gulf would be too careless and presumptuous. There is no hope for an escort. An encounter with a random mine, anti-ship missiles or an attack using asymmetric means (a boat with suicide bombers) is obvious.
If you have already come to “direct the bluff”, you should avoid risky situations whenever possible. Why bother with unnecessary trouble if the air force still does most of the work?
Otherwise, you can get "Scud" on the wide deck (as it could be with the aircraft carrier "Saratoga").
"America", "Saratoga" and "John F. Kennedy" operated from the Red Sea. "Theodore Roosevelt" in the company of the old "Ranger" and quite already decrepit "Midway" ventured into the Persian Gulf.
Otherwise, the contribution of the US Navy carrier-based aviation to Operation Desert Storm is as follows:
Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71)
The atomic aircraft carrier, the fourth ship in the Nimitsev series. At the time of the operation "Storm in the Desert" he was one of the largest, most powerful and modern ships in the world. The length of the 332 meter. Full displacement 104 600 tons. The crew of a gigantic ship - 5700 pilots and sailors.
Roosevelt advanced from Norfolk 28 on December 1990, and on the third day already suffered the first loss - during the training flight, the plane EW EA-6B “Prowler” crashed. The burst cable of the aero-finisher did not leave the car a chance - the plane rolled over the deck and fell overboard. The aircraft carrier moved further across the Atlantic.
A powerful combat unit arrived at the position in the Persian Gulf even before the operation began, but the first combat departure from an aircraft carrier took place only on February 19 1991 of the city - on the third day of the war.
During the fighting, the Roosevelt aircraft wing suffered minor losses - for various reasons, three aircraft were lost (F / A-2C fighter-bomber and A-18 attack aircraft). But perhaps the loudest state of emergency occurred on February 6 - a sailor from the deck crew was sucked into the engine of an airplane taking off.
Of course, all this is complete nonsense against the background of the overall results of the aircraft carrier's combat work:
75 days at sea, 4149 sorties, 2200 tons of dropped bombs. Powerfully!
These are the best performance among all American aircraft carriers involved in Operation Desert Storm.
But is the power of the “Roosevelt” against the background of the Air Force so great? However, more on that later.
"John F. Kennedy" (CV-67)
The last of the super naval carriers of the US Navy with a non-nuclear power plant. The only ship of its type, the result of a deep modernization of aircraft carriers such as "Kitty Hawk".
Kennedy has been in the Middle East since August 1990, but made no attempt to slow down the deployment of Iraqi troops in Kuwait. Subsequently, he was appointed flagship combat group in the Red Sea.
In total, during the 43 of the day of the war, the Kennedy wing carried out 2574 combat sorties, dropping tons of bombs on 1600's enemy heads.
Official sources claim that the aircraft carrier, named after the American nation, returned freedom to the people of Kuwait. Probably without him would have failed.
78 days at sea, 2672 combat sorties, 2000 tons of dropped bombs.
On the first day of the war, the America’s air wing provided cover for the MNS aviation strike groups, but soon the pilots launched independent attacks on the positions of the Iraqi troops. The military bases, the positions of the Scud missiles, clusters of enemy armored vehicles, bridges and the oil-producing infrastructure of Iraq were subjected to fierce bombing. According to American data, for 43 days of intense combat work, pilots from "America" managed to knock out 387 tanks and enemy armored personnel carriers!
It is worth noting that "America" is the only aircraft carrier that had to operate on both sides of the Arabian Peninsula. A month later, on February 14 1991, America was relocated from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf, where it joined Roosevelt, Ranger and Midway.
The third in a series of four Forrestal attack aircraft carriers, with a total displacement of 75 thousand tons. Ancestor of modern superaviantsev with gigantic size and angular flight deck.
“Lady Sarah” was in the Red Sea from 22 August 1990, but its pilots did not even try to delay the Iraqi army or “project” their force in any other way. The Yankees can not be denied prudence - an attempt to get into Kuwaiti airspace by forces of one or two, even six aircraft carriers, would have given nothing but fierce losses among the equipment and personnel of the wing.
As a result, instead of “projection of force” and calls for Saddam Hussein to stop the aggression, the crew of the Saratogi headed for the coast of Israel. The ship embarked on the roads of Haifa, free from the watch went ashore.
On the way back, there was a tragedy - a boat overflowed with sailors and bags of souvenirs, flew briskly into a high wave and overturned. The crew of the Saratoga was missing the 21 sailor. However, everyone was no longer up to them - a military operation against Iraq began in the region.
The Saratogi pilots made 2374 combat sorties in the conflict zone.
Own losses amounted to three aircraft (F / A-18C "Hornet", A-6E "Intruder" and heavy interceptor F-14 "Tomket"). The Hornet from the Saratogi air wing is considered the only MNS aircraft shot down in aerial combat (shot down by Iraqi MiG-25, pilot Michael Spencer died).
30 January 1991. The Saratogi Air Wing set a record by performing a strike operation with the simultaneous participation of the Hornets 18 - as a result, over the 45 tons of bombs were dropped to the enemy position! (one hundred Mk.83 caliber 454 kg)
At about the same time, another remarkable event occurred with Saratoga.
- Johnny, do you see this shooting star?
“Yes, Steve, that's damn cool.” I made a wish to quickly return alive to my baby in Ohio.
Fortunately for the Yankees, Scud flew over their head and fell into the sea somewhere over the horizon ...
Ranger in dry dock. In the background are the Hancock and Coral Sea (1971)
An elderly "Ranger", launched in the distant 1956, was scheduled to be written off for the 1993 year. The ship was sent without regret into the war zone, closer to the shores of the enemy.
The aircraft wing of the aircraft carrier made 3329 combat missions in the conflict zone. Average among other AUGs.
More than that, nothing remarkable happened to the Ranger.
The old man Midway was surprised.
The ship, built in 1945 year, demonstrated combat capability at the level of Kitty Hawk supercarriers, and in overall efficiency (cost / effect) surpassed everyone, including the atomic Theodore Roosevelt!
3019 sorties, 1800 tons of dropped bombs. Moreover, Midway is the only American aircraft carrier that has not lost a single aircraft during the entire operation Desert Storm.
Vintage "Midway" - a representative of another era. The legacy of piston aircraft and naval battles for Guadalcanal and Midway.
For the Midway aircraft carrier, exotic concepts of combat use were not required (“means for projection of force”, “weapons of the first day of war”, etc., bureaucratic tricks not related to reality).
It was created for real sea battles. At a time when the combat radius of low-speed aircraft did not exceed a couple of hundred miles, and the take-off weight was less than 10 tons - the idea of a maritime mobile airfield was truly a reasonable decision.
During the Cold War, the Yankees began to build "shock super-aircraft carriers" with the expectation of their use in local wars, where they will duplicate the tasks of conventional aviation. Sailors forgot about the sea and got into the air - in the original field of activity of the Air Force. The result is the following paradox:
The not too large and relatively simple aircraft carrier of the time of WWII demonstrated effectiveness at the level of modern overgrowths. The Midway wing made, on average, 76 combat missions per day. Airplane "Theodore Roosevelt" - 96 sorties per day.
The size of the atomic super-giants increased 2 times, the cost and complexity of the buildings reached astronomical values - moreover, their real combat effectiveness increased by only a few% compared to the old ship.
Upgraded USS Midway (CV-41) with Corner Flight Deck
But, excuse me, what does all this matter?
In Operation Desert Storm, the wings of six aircraft carriers made 18 117 sorties.
During the same period, land-based airplanes flew over 98 thousands of sorties over Iraq and Kuwait.
The total contribution of the six AUGs was at the level of 15% of the combat work of the Air Force of the Multinational Force.
And what value would they have separately?
Moreover, the effectiveness of aviation is estimated not only by the number of sorties. Such a parameter as combat load is very indicative. Aircraft carriers dropped about 10 thousand tons of bombs on Iraq.
During the same time, Air Force planes poured thousands of tons of death on 78 Iraqi heads. Impressive?
The penultimate word of the day before yesterday of the technique
The participation of six AUGs in Operation Desert Storm provided a clear example of ineffective use fleet. The results of the combat work of the aircraft carriers turned out to be so insignificant that we can’t talk about any serious impact on the operation. Most likely, the pilots of the air force did not even notice the presence of such "assistants".
Sea pilots were satisfied with this situation. "Centurions" calmly sat behind the backs of the Air Force pilots. Moreover, they received a generous portion of fame and did not particularly hurry to go under the shots of the Iraqi Shilok. With all due respect to the mastery of these people, their participation in the operation “Desert Storm” can only be called a profanation.
Centurion - a pilot who landed 100 aircraft carrier deck
All the facts form a single picture:
- scanty, on the background of the Air Force, the number of sorties and dropped bombs;
- a ridiculous disposition, with the placement of half of aircraft carriers in the Red Sea;
- delays in entering the war. The most powerful of the ships ("Roosevelt") deigned to make the first sortie only on the third day of the war - eloquent testimony to the "necessity" of his participation in the operation;
- the military work of the “centurions” was regularly interrupted by long delays. For 43 of the day of the war, it was only six days when combat flights were made from all aircraft carriers. As a rule, the rest of the time, two of the six “floating airfields” were not capable, and were engaged in other important matters - repair and replenishment of stocks of strategic materials (fuel, used food) from supply ships.
And where were they to hurry? The Air Forces did all the work for them.
Figures irrefutably indicate that carrier-based aviation, due to its small size and unsatisfactory aircraft performance characteristics, is a useless tool in local wars.
Carriers were created as a specific naval weapon. The only adequate scope for this technique is the open ocean. Where there is no competition from ground-based tactical combat aircraft.
However, with the development of the nuclear submarine fleet, jet aircraft and the emergence of in-flight refueling systems, the combat value of these huge expensive ships causes great doubts.
Statistics on the combat use of aircraft carriers are taken from the report Cost-Effectiveness of Conventionally and Nuclear-Powered Aircraft Carriers. GAO / NSIAD-98-1 - August 1998