ComNavOps has documented the steady shrinkage of naval aviation for some time now. Carriers have declined from 15 to the current 10 (9 active). Worse, the airwings have shrunk from around 90+ aircraft during the Cold War to the current levels of around 65. Carriers embarked 6 combat squadrons (VF and VA) in the mid-60’s and now embark 4 squadrons (VFA). Even worse, combat squadrons (fighter and strike aircraft) have shrunk from around 14 planes to the current 12 (nominal, actual average is around 11). The Navy stated some time ago that squadrons would shrink even further when the F-35 entered service. USNI website now reports (1),
“Seven F-35C squadrons of 10 aircraft and a Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) of 30 aircraft will begin to be based at Lemoore starting in 2016, according to the statement.”
Current airwings have around 44 combat aircraft in four squadrons. This is going to drop to 40 aircraft (nominal). That’s not a lot of combat aircraft. Note that the goal of 10 aircraft per squadron is the nominal figure. The reality is going to be squadrons with 8 or 9 actual aircraft and airwings are going to shrink from the current actual combat count of around 44 to around 36.
You know, of course, what all this suggests? That’s right. We need bigger aircraft carriers. The Ford was a step in the right direction but with airwings continuing to shrink, we need to go further and build an enlarged Ford.
Ahh ……….. Wait a minute. I’m re-reading what I just wrote and something seems off. If the airwings are shrinking, why do we need bigger carriers? The Fords are bigger than the Nimitzs but will embark fewer aircraft. That would seem to suggest the opposite – that the carriers should be getting smaller. Now I’m all confused. Smaller airwings but bigger carriers? I can’t figure this out. I’m just going to trust that the Navy knows what it’s doing.
(1) USNI, "Navy To Base F-35Cs at NAS Lenmoore", Sam LaGrone,
October 2, 2014