Carrier Combo: How the Navy Will Use F-35s and Tankers in the Next War

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October 16, 2020 Topic: Security Region: Americas Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: F-35U.S. NavyJetsWarOperationsStrategyAircraft Carrier

Carrier Combo: How the Navy Will Use F-35s and Tankers in the Next War

The stealth fighter will have its range (and attack options) extended.

Key point: The F-35 is a powerful new warplane that will used on America's new carriers. Here is how the Navy hopes to use it to strike from a distance.

Since their creation a century ago the goal of the aircraft carrier was to extend the range of naval forces beyond the horizon, and now U.S. Navy carriers could extend that range significantly further. Speaking at last Friday’s Virtual Hook convention webinar of the Tailhook Association, Rear Adm. Gregory Harris, director of Air Warfare in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, offer his thoughts on the future air wing that will launch from flight decks by the end of this decade.

This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest. 

The future air wing will still consist of the forty-four strike fighters but it will include a mix of Block 4 F-35C fighter jets along with Block III F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter jets changing from ten and thirty-four respectively, to sixteen and twenty-eight. The strike fighters will further equip one sixteen-aircraft F-35C squadron and three ten-aircraft F/A-18E/F Super Hornet squadrons.

The balance of the aircraft in the wing will be filled by configurations including five to seven EA-18G Growler electronic combat aircraft, five E-2D Advanced Hawkeye command-and-control aircraft, six to ten MH-60 Seahawk helicopters, three CMV-22B Osprey carrier-onboard delivery aircraft, and five to nine MQ-9 Stingray aerial tanker unmanned aircraft.

The addition of the MQ-25 Stingray, which was developed by Boeing, could be a crucial component of the air wing of the future.

“The MQ-25 adds range, which adds lethality to the carrier strike group,” said Harris as reported by Defense News. “When you add that additional range to 4th and 5th Gen[eration] fighters; when you add that range to the range we’re looking at for F/A-XX or next-generation air dominance family of systems; if you add that to the long-range weapons that we are currently procuring and look to procure in the future: we have an ability to strike at range and with volume and tempo.”

As Defense News also noted, Harris made his comments just weeks after the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy staged high profile tests of its DF-26B and DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles, which were fired into the South China Sea. The so-called “carrier killer” missiles were fired as an apparent warning to the United States Navy, which has operated carriers including the USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan among other warships in the waters of the disputed region. 

Harris downplayed the threat the anti-ship ballistic missiles present to the U.S. Navy’s carriers. 

“We just finished a future naval force structure study that looked very specifically at the carrier air wing, and throughout that study the folks who were working with us challenged us to operate farther and farther away from the threat, with the assumption that threat systems were going to prevent us from being able to operate from inside certain ranges,” Harris added.

“I’ll never stop saying it: the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is one of the 11 most survivable airfields in the world,” Harris reaffirmed. “You put on top of that a flexible carrier air wing and supported by a carrier strike group and all the capabilities that are resident with our flight III DDGs and the rest of our systems, you have an amazing capability that is able to strike at range, at depth and with volume.”

Next year, the Navy’s carrier USS Carl Vinson will be deployed with a ten-aircraft F-35C squadron (Strike Fighter Squadron 147) on the aircraft’s first carrier deployment. In addition, the warship will carry two ten-aircraft F/A-18E squadrons and one fourteen-aircraft F/A-18F squadron. The second carrier deployment of the F-35C jets is scheduled in 2022 by Marine Fighter Attack 314.

In addition, members of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211), Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and ten of the U.S. Marine Corps fifth-generation multirole fighter jets arrived at RAF Station Mahram, home to the British F-35 jets to begin training for a deployment on the new Royal Navy carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest. 

Image: Reuters