Friday, February 12, 2016

Navy Wants To Deactivate Air Wing

ComNavOps has long been saying that the carrier force is on a steady downward trajectory and that we are headed for a 8-9 carrier force.  Here is further proof of the trend, as reported by USNI News website (1).  The Navy is asking Congress for permission to deactivate Carrier Air Wing 14 which would reduce the number of air wings to 9.

Absorb that number:  9 air wings.

That means that, regardless of the number of carriers we have, we can only ever deploy 9.  By law, the Navy is required to have 11 carriers even though we only have 10 now since Enterprise was retired and Ford won’t be commissioned for a few years, yet.  The Navy obtained a Congressional waiver for this period.  By law, the Navy must maintain 10 air wings.  Ten air wings was one less than the number of carriers and recognized the reality that one carrier is always in extended overhaul and unavailable for combat.  Thus, 10 deployable carriers and 10 air wings.  Now, the Navy is claiming that two carriers will always be in extended overhauls so only 9 carriers are deployable and, therefore, only 9 air wings are needed.

This is simply paving the way for a permanent reduction from 11 carriers to 10.  Eventually, the Navy will make the argument that with only 9 air wings, it makes no sense to maintain 11 carriers and they’ll propose eliminating a carrier, probably the next one slated for a mid-life nuclear refueling.

We’ve repeatedly noted that the air wings of today are far smaller than the air wings when the Nimitz class first commissioned and yet we’re building bigger carriers.  Some people have suggested that this is not a problem and, in fact, is a good thing since it allows us to surge aircraft to the carriers in the event of war.  My response to this nonsensical notion is, where will these surge aircraft come from?  We only have 9 air wings.  Each will be deployed in war.  Where are these extra surge aircraft?  There aren’t any and dropping another air wing is only going to make the situation worse.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Navy is so desperate to build new ships, whether useful or not, that they’ll sacrifice anything to do so.  Now, it’s an air wing.  Next it will be a carrier.

We’re pivoting to the Pacific, supposedly, an area that is lacking airbases and the Navy is trying to drop air wings and carriers?  What kind of sense does that make? 

(1)USNI, “FY 2017 Budget: Navy Asks Congressional Permisson to Shutter Carrier Air Wing”, Megan Eckstein, February 9, 2016,


  1. All types of ships have been downsized some 30%, except the carriers, so they don't have enough escorts or aircraft. In the 1990s the Nimitz carriers deployed with 60-70 aircraft. Now they are down to 45 and falling below 40 as the F-35s trickle out. And this with the help of four Marine Corps fighter squadrons dedicated to help fill this gap. Don't look at our Navy's "notional" CAW list, ask sailors how many aircraft actually deploy.

    Why can't our Admirals do the math and push for logic (maybe they are) My quick math says that for the cost of one carrier we could afford to buy and maintain 200 more aircraft. Keep in mind that a carrier is a transport, it has no weapons itself. This would allow more warfighting flying machines per carrier, and a robust back up inventory, and even extras to deploy to strategic land bases, like Guam, Bahrain, or Sicily, preferably the Marine air freed up. I'd like 60 brand new F/A-18Es in preservation storage for a real war. We stockpile ammo and missiles for wars, why not aircraft?

    If war with China ever occurs, I suspect our Admirals will wisely keep our carriers safely east of Guam, and rotate aircraft into forward land bases in the region to fight. Then they will return to port a few weeks later with just a dozen aircraft left. Then what?

    1. "If war with China ever occurs, I suspect our Admirals will wisely keep our carriers safely east of Guam, and rotate aircraft into forward land bases in the region to fight."

      What forward bases? We have no US bases in easy reach of likely areas of conflict. There are Japanese bases that we might be able to use if Japan opts to get involved in a war with China, however, those bases are also in easy reach of Chinese cruise and ballistic missiles and will probably not be functional for long. The same applies to Guam. So, what bases?

      That's the advantage to a carrier. It provides an air base and is difficult to target.

  2. CVW-14 has been a paper wing for some time, it last deployed in 2011 and wasnt going anywhere any time soon.
    Its not any use comparing the current strategic situation to 30 years ago and the numbers of planes on a carrier.
    The military share of the federal budget that isnt mandated is around 50% and US defence industrial base is eye watering expensive. Something has to give now and then and a paper carrier wing is one of those things.
    Just think about the size of the F-35C, its in the same weight class as the RA-5C Vigilante and is just as expensive in comparative terms. There are no cheap A-6s and A-7s to fill a carrier deck anymore.

    1. CVW-14 has not been actively deployed but has contained a wing of actual aircraft. As stated in the referenced article, the wing's aircraft will now be disbursed among the remaining wings.

      It is highly useful and hugely informative to compare the current situation to 30 years ago. This type of historical analysis is how we come to realize that we are hollowing our fleet, shrinking our air wings, reducing the combat effectiveness and deterrent effect of our carriers, and drifting away from a strong naval force.

      There are so many things that could give way in a budget crunch before actual combat aircraft. We could cut the flag ranks and staffs by 80% (again, a lesson that would be obvious from a study of history), we could cut ships that have no mission (the LCS), we could cut highly questionable ships like the Zumwalt class, we could cut LX(R) amphibious ships that reduce rather than enhance our amphibious capability, we could cut F-35s that are wreaking financial havoc on our budgets and do not meet the requirements of Pacific Pivot and AirSea Battle operations, we could halt diversity training and gender integration efforts, we could end humanitarian assistance efforts that rack up wear and tear on military assets without accomplishing anything that supports the Navy's primary responsibility of warfighting, and so on.

      By your logic, we can cut down to two air wings since that's all that have deployed at one time for quite a while.

      The point of the post was that this is paving the way for a permanent reduction in carriers from 11 to 10. It's only a matter of time until someone makes the argument that we only have 9 wings so 11 carriers are a waste.

    2. My checking shows currently 2 carriers deployed ( Stennis Truman)and 1 forward deployed to Japan( Reagan

      Two are having a mid life overhaul (Lincoln Washington) and and Nimitz is having a 'quarter life O/h ( 18 months) while Vinson is doing 6 mth overhaul.
      That leaves Eisenhower , Bush and Roosevelt as back from deployments.
      We can see roughly from this that 3 CV are deployed, 3 are back from deployments and 3 are under major maintenance and 1 with short maintenance.
      9 wings fit in with this fine as a 11 carrier fleet means 7 available carriers.
      Ive never suggested only 2 wings for 2 deployed carriers and my logic above does suggest 9 is fine

      I cant find actual aircraft currently for CVW14 but 4 squadrons is only half strength.
      Another wing that is forgotten about is CVRW-20 which has only one combat squadron left and has been renamed Tactical Support Wing -TSW , so it means that its probably finished as F18C arent available for reserves anymore.

    3. Interesting 8 part series on youtube covering overhaul of Nimitz. Surprising numbers from Nimitz on TDY on other ships.
      Im thinking that CVW-14 was pretty hollowed out even with its few squadrons assigned if its been sitting on base for 4 years, anybody looking at their career would jump at a chance for TDY for a deployment.

    4. Think about the implication, here, for a war. We have only 9 air wings. When the inevitable attrition occurs, where will the replacement aircraft come from? Modern aircraft are far too complex to ramp up production in a month. It takes years, in a very real sense, to build a plane. High tech electronics, long lead items, rare earths, etc. are not going to be acquired quickly. While we might be able to ramp up aircraft frameworks, we'll have nothing to put in them.

      Every air wing we deactivate and every squadron we reduce in size is warfighting capability that is never coming back. If the F-35 isn't everything it's claimed and then some, we'll be in a world of hurt because we certainly won't win any war of attrition.

    5. CNO, the LCSs have missions, just not wartime mission. There use as peace time patrol vessels, and R&D platforms for future mission modules are useful as it offload those dues from Destroyers and Cruisers. Consider the amount of run time this saves on our real combat vessels. And of course when the mission modules do actual go into service, the existing LCS can provide a platform to deploy them on.

      As for the reduction to nine air wings I really don't like it, but when a look at the advantages of temporarily going dropping one wing. One thing is we can concentrate our existing aircraft and pilots into effective deployable units. The same is true for spare parts and maintains personnel that increase those units effectiveness. And hopefully the saving by closing can by use to buy more aircraft.

    6. I have no problem with a peacetime force component and have advocated exactly that. HOWEVER, a $600-$700M LCS is not needed for peacetime work!

      LCS is saving little or no wear and tear on our combat fleet because they can't do any of the combat fleet peacetime activities like high end training, long endurance patrols, intel collection, etc.

      You don't seriously believe that a drop to 9 air wings is temporary, do you? It's never coming back and we'll shortly lose a carrier.

    7. "It takes years, in a very real sense, to build a plane. High tech electronics, long lead items, rare earths, etc. are not going to be acquired quickly. While we might be able to ramp up aircraft frameworks, we'll have nothing to put in them."

      The US plans to build 3100 F35s, between nowish and 2035, thats 155 a year, or one every two days.
      The UK managed to build three fighters per day during the Battle of Britain

      A 6:1 production difference, but I think that could be cut in half quite quickly,

      Even so, two full Carrier Air Wings a year could be replaced under current production timetables, possibly as many as 4 if a back to back production schedule can be quickly set up.
      On top of that, the F35 isnt the only aircraft on a carrier, although super hornets and growlers appear to be rolling out around 30 per year.

      And most of the F35s are As rather than Cs, obviously

      What killed the German and Japanese airforces wasnt lack of aircraft, it was lack of safe training spaces. Allied fighters were operating over most of Germany by the end of 1943, training flights were easy targets and they were targeted mercilessly, the Japanese just didnt seem to bother trying to train a new crop of pilots.

      The loss of pilots this loss of a squadron entails is likely a far bigger problem, the pilots are likely harder to replace than the hard to replace aircraft. Even accounting for conscripting and recalling former pilots, Cat and Trap operations are a fiendishly hard skill that is rapidly degraded, its such a difficult job that the UK has decided to operate STOVL aircraft instead.

    8. You're missing the point. Modern aircraft production can't be instantly ramped up. If war broke out today and we wanted to double aircraft production, it couldn't happen. We don't have the production facilities. Worse, long lead items are called that for a reason. We can't simply call the radar or electronics manufacturers and tell them to deliver twice as many units starting tomorrow. That equipment is produced in very sophisticated facilities utilizing some very rare materials - materials that often come from potentially unfriendly countries and via shipping routes highly susceptible to interruption.

      Just as we can't instantly restart the F-14 production line, neither could we instantly double our F-35 (or whatever aircraft) production.

  3. This is our Pacific navy
    LCS with no weapons
    Flat tops with no planes
    Aircraft with no range
    Missiles older than Barry Manilow talked with anti ship duties
    Overall no modern weapons just stuff left over from Jimmy Carter. Did I miss anything?

    1. OK, you've summed up the problem. Now, offer a solution (or at least a partial one!). What do we need for a credible Pacific naval force?

    2. if one cannot overpower the potential enemy with military superiority and certainity of winning , then diplomacy is the only option

    3. Submarines can do a lot of damage. Also, the LSRB should make a big difference with ASuW and mine laying.

    4. "if one cannot overpower the potential enemy with military superiority and certainity of winning , then diplomacy is the only option"

      Historically, that's not the case. Most major wars seem to be started by the side that ultimately loses.

    5. Subs are a completely valid approach and many would argue we should be emphasizing them even more than we do.

      I'm nowhere near as convinced about the LRSB especially for missions requiring penetration of thousands of miles of enemy airspace like for the offensive mining mission or, to an extent, the ASuW role. Stealth will only get an aircraft so far. It's not magic. The bomber will be detected and then it's defenseless. We won't be able to afford to build many (we only have 19-20 B-2s!) and attrition will quickly render them combat ineffective.

      What do you think?

  4. For the cost of one carrier, we could have 200 more aircraft, boosting CAWs from 45 to 65 aircraft each to allow for losses, and still have a couple dozen in replacement squadrons. A carrier is not a weapon, it's just a transport. I'd choose 200 more combat aircraft.

    1. If we cancelled the remaining 20 or so LCS we could also buy a lot of aircraft.

  5. Solution. Make ships in 10-12 vessel lots like we to keep costs down

    More avenged, more mines mines mines both ship, aircraft and sub deployable

    Sink the LCS. It's useless except in Brown water. Not a lot of that between Hawaii and China

    Update missiles to both be long ranged and fast. Aka like British ram jet air to air missile. Ram jet offers size speed and package options

    F-22 naval version updated. Lockheed can make them. I've friends who know where and how the tooling is used and want to make this a reality

    Clean the cadre so that war fighters are promoted without diversity. Capacity before stupidity

    Let the clear headed officers offer solutions. They know their environment.

    Like JSTARS which was made in days. Don't ask how I know it just was. Make ideas and use them by letting our officers be Americans. Support creativity from within without wanting to take out 99% of targets. Shoot for 80% more cheaper missiles fired at once

    Turn the marines loose. Turn the nerds loose on the Chinese df21 missiles. Americans are ingenious. That alone is our biggest weapon

  6. Looking back to end of Cold War when the numbers of active carriers started dropping. There were 15 CV then including Midway and the number of CVW was only 4 more than current 9 proposed active.
    So the USN has dropped to 9 carriers ie down 6 while the wings have been reduced by 4. ( 6, 13,14,15)
    The maths says the ratio of wings to carriers now is greater than when the Cold war ended.
    Like I said before there really isnt a problem if my numbers are OK.
    However as CNO pointed out the attrition numbers arent there any more and CVWR has been wiped away which is a problem in the making

    1. To pick a date, at the end of 1990 the Navy had 15 carriers including CV-41 Midway and had 13 air wings.
      That's a ratio of 0.87:1 wings:carriers.

      Today, the Navy has 10 carriers due to a temporary waiver until Ford enters the fleet this(?) year at which time we will have the Congressionally mandated 11 carriers and 9 wings. That's a ratio of 0.82:1 wings:carriers.

      The US has not dropped to 9 carriers. The US has 10 currently while awaiting the entry of Ford to make 11.

    2. The first deployment of Ford isnt till 2019, so it seems a premature use of the numbers to count it this year.
      As far as Im aware the CVW doesnt join the carrier till deployment occurs, but some deck landings and working up with surface ships will occur before then.

    3. The carrier joins the fleet on the day it is commissioned which is supposedly this year. On that day, the carrier is ready to go to war - in theory.

      We're counting ships and wings. The deployability is irrelevant and cyclical. Ships and wings wax and wane as regards readiness as a natural part of their workup cycles but the counts don't go up and down as their readiness changes.

      No carrier has a wing until it deploys but we count them. At any given moment, only one or two carriers are deployed but out carrier count isn't one or two.

    4. Certainly while an existing carrier just back from deployment can probably deploy fairly quickly again. Its out of the question for those doing refuels or quarter life updates.
      Deployment is the be all and end all and for Ford that date doesn't happen till 2019. The current cycling with time ashore means the 9 wings have been enough. AS I see it except for helicopters and Marine EA6 squadrons , naval wings are just shore training units , not warfighters until the are deployed.

  7. Regarding physical carrier size.
    The F35 is, when empty, 5,000lbs heavier than the Phantom. 10,000lbs heavier than the Intruder and 25,000lbs heavier than the Skyhawk.
    Its between 90 and 360ftsq bigger than the above.
    The Tomcat is heavier, but smaller.

    There are considerable arguements made that the next Naval Aircraft needs to be considerably bigger and heavier than the F35C.

    Aircraft are also increasingly complicated, requiring more ground crew, more tools, more spares, more everything.

    Additionally, the "military service" requirements of Carriers have grown wildly, power requirements for radar and comms have gone up, power requirements for aircraft movements have increased, to the point where old carriers cant be adequately upgraded because there simply isnt the power to run everything. Its one thing to turn off your water production system to charge your catapult boilers, its quite another to have to turn off your radar and shut down comms, the Ford Reactors provide 3x the electrical power of the Nimitz.
    More power means bigger reactors (to a degree conquered by miniaturisation).
    Better Radar are bigger than older radar, again, partly countered, but also a factor.

    There are then "HR Service" requirements, trained pilots, are in high demand. As are nuclear technicians, and aircraft engineers, and pretty much any expensively trained crew.
    Not all by any means, but many of the crew on a carrier could quickly find alternative employment.
    A pilot who, in the commercial world, could live in a 10,000sqft home, with a cinema room, and super kingsize bed, gardens, a pool, and ready access to fine restaurants, he is not going to tolerate a single bunk in a triple rack, 2 to a cupboard , eating cafeteria food out of a slop tray on a metal bench.

    Ship life has to compare with alternative shore life and not be, primitive, in that comparison.

    All of which quite significantly adds volume to a carrier.

  8. Save the carriers and strike aircraft for fast strikes and keep the Chinese bottled up in port with mines. Mines will hamper them more than carriers in the opening and closing phases of war

  9. "Aircraft are also increasingly complicated, requiring more ground crew, more tools, more spares, more everything."


    A Camry today is more complicated than a 1984 Camry.

    Its also infinitely more reliable, requiring less maintanance, not more.


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