Monday, October 13, 2014

Air Wings - 2014 Update

Here’s the latest carrier air wing update.  Data is from the Sep 2014 issue of Proceedings and is current as of May 2014.

Here are the current air wings with data showing the number of combat aircraft (Hornets) followed by the number of supporting aircraft and helos (Hawkeyes –typically 4, Growlers – typically 5, and MH-60x – highly variable numbers) and, finally, the total air wing count.

CVW-1  (Roosevelt)             44, 15, 59
CVW-2  (Reagan)                 34, 24, 60
CVW-3  (Truman)                  44, 28, 72
CVW-5  (Washington)          46, 25, 71
CVW-7  (Eisenhower)          44, 18, 62
CVW-8  (Bush)                      44, 28, 72
CVW-9  (Stennis)                  44, 29, 73
CVW-11  (Nimitz)                  44, ?, ?      (data incomplete)
CVW-17  (Vinson)                44, 27, 71

After a one year reprieve, CVW-14 has been slated for deactivation leaving the Navy with just 9 air wings.  When the Ford joins the fleet, the Navy will have 11 carriers and 9 air wings.  Allowing for one carrier always in long term maintenance/refueling, that still leaves one carrier without an air wing. 

CVW-2 is listed as having only 34 Hornets.  I don’t know if this is a case of a squadron being inadvertently left out of the listing or if its real.

Air wings also include a COD detachment during deployment but the aircraft are not considered part of the air wing.

Note the large variation in helos.  The reason for this is unknown but several of the wings have an extra squadron of helos.  If not for the extra squadron, the wings would total right around 60 as with CVW-1 and -7.

Note that the combat aircraft count includes the 4-6 Hornets that are always in use as tankers and, therefore, unavailable for combat, thereby reducing the combat aircraft count to around 38-40.


  1. As mentioned in different posts, the logic behind the numbers shrinking is mainly tied to multi-mission aircraft, as well as, the use of precision guided munitions; one aircraft conducting multiple missions and prosecuting multiple targets.

    I get this idea and math, but what worries me is when the missions are not so simple as launch, conduct mission, land. When the standoff distances increase and the airspace is either denied or contested, the need for more airplanes will be apparent; remember these big sortie numbers are predicated on 1.5 hour cycle times, not 4-6 hour missions. But, not the direction the Navy is proceeding in, and betting on.

    I truly do like the capability of both the SH and the JSF, but not sure the no-refuel range of these Strike Fighters will allow us to operate very well in the contested arena such as defense of Taiwan.

  2. Norm Augustine predicted that eventually the DoD wouold be able to buy 1 Aircraft that would be hsared between the 4 services. Looks like the Navy is on that glideslope!

  3. I think this begs for the small carrier end of my high-low mix approach. We had the 80,000 T Forrestals carrying 70-90 aircraft in the 60s and 70s. Brits have the 65,000 T QE2 carrying 40. Looks to me like we should be able to get these wings onto something in the 75,000 T range. A new Ford costs $13 billion, the QE2 about $5 billion. We should be able to make it CATOBAR capable and nuke powered for probably a little over half what a Ford costs. And maybe 2500-3000 crew instead of 5000 (including air wing). So for what it costs to build and operate 9 Fords we can have 6 Fords and 6 of the 75,000 T variety. And the 75,000 T carrier is not a little one, it's pretty darned big.

  4. im a bit confused.. why america retain so many carriers and air wings ? the USN naval air arm are more powerful than most other nation's air force..

    what is the purpose of such capabilities other than force projection and domination (read: bullying) ? certainly not for the defense of america itself , more like defending american interest / hegemonic ambitions in the world..

    the number of carriers and the numerous (hundreds) of foreign bases all over the world totally overwhelms me, especially when i see people saying this is the force of good versus evil, the force of freedom etc..

    1. "b", I'm not going to address the political aspects of you question as this is not a political blog. The technical and logistical answer is that for America's stated goal of protecting its worldwide interests (including its allies), the strategy is to do so via forward deployment. That means that the Navy keeps its ships active out in the world rather than waiting at home. Experience has shown that it requires roughly three ships to keep one forward deployed. Thus, if we have nine carriers we can keep three on actual deployment. At any given moment, one of the three is deployed and the other two are home undergoing maintenance and training.

      Each carrier requires an air wing, hence the number of air wings.

  5. Hey Stupid Question,

    This article says that there are 5 Super hornet squadrons on the Stennis (CVW-9). Assuming 12ish fighters per squadron wouldn't that put the count at 60ish super hornets?

    Also I wonder if there is capacity to 'surge' squadrons in the event of conflict. Assuming shipboard space, it shouldn't be too hard to send some of the squadrons from the wings whose ships are being refitted (or even potentially deployed else where) to the ships in the conflict area. A

    Although I don't know if there are administrative/maintence issues that would prevent this.


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