Carrier air wings require change

The US Navy needs to change the structure of its carrier air wings (CVWs) in the future to meet future threats, particularly in high-end combat against potential adversaries such as China and Russia, a team of defence analysts from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank, said in a report.

Speaking on February 7, 2019, at the centre, senior fellow Bryan Clark said: “If the US Navy is going to continue to invest in aircraft carriers, it needs to reconsider how it’s going to configure its [carrier] air wings.”

Clark said the Navy’s current CVW is not designed for the way it is going to operate in the future: “Unless the Navy is going to reconfigure its air wings, it should reconsider its continued investment in aircraft carriers.”

Clark briefed the audience on a worst-case scenario where an adversary such as China could launch a salvo of six hundred 1,000lb-class weapons at a carrier strike group and recommended the type of defences, including a CVW, that would be needed for a carrier to operate in the ocean in a highend fight.

The report titled ‘Regaining the High Ground at Sea: Transforming the US Navy’s Carrier Air Wing for Great Power Competition’ said that today’s CVWs lack the reach to operate at sufficient ranges from operational areas, the stealth to fight in contested environments and the specialised capabilities in infrared search and track, electromagnetic warfare and anti-submarine warfare needed to defeat adversary platforms and systems.

Clark sees the need for a CVW to move towards including more unmanned aircraft. He recommended development of three new aircraft types: an unmanned air combat vehicle (UCAV); an unmanned refuelling aircraft, initially the MQ-25; and the FA-XX, a new fighter with a longer strike range.

Recommendations for reconfiguring the CVW by 2040 include:

- Sustaining planned procurement of the F/A-18 Super Hornet through FY2023

- Sustaining procurement of the F-35C Lightning II through the first half of its planned production, ending in FY2024

- Developing an FA-XX fighter, a derivative of an existing fighter, by 2024

- Developing a low-observable UCAV for production by 2025, and develop the air vehicle as an aerial refuelling system for the mid-tolate 2030s.

- Continuing development of the MQ-25 Stingray Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System and increasing the overall number of air vehicles to 12 per air wing.

- Retiring the EA-18G electronic attack aircraft as they reach the end of their service lives during the 2030s and replace them with UCAVs equipped with the Next- Generation Jammer, and also with expendable UAVs and missiles

- Field a rotary-wing MALE [medium-altitude, long-endurance] UAV (in concert with the US Marine Corps) to augment the carrierbased helicopter squadrons and assume some of the ASW missions.