American Carrier Air Power at the Dawn of a New Century
RAND NATIONAL DEFENSE RESEARCH INST SANTA MONICA CA
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This report presents the highlights of the U.S. Navys carrier air performance during the first two major wars of the 21st century Operation Enduring Freedom against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002 and the subsequent 3-week period of major combat in Operation Iraqi Freedom in early 2003 that finally ended the rule of Saddam Hussein. The report also addresses ongoing modernization trends in U.S. carrier air capability. In the first war noted above, U.S. carrier air power substituted almost entirely for land-based theater air forces because of an absence of suitable shore-based forward operating locations for the latter. In the second, 6 of 12 carriers and their embarked air wings were surged to contribute to the campaign, with a seventh carrier battle group held in reserve in the Western Pacific and an eighth also deployed and available for tasking. The air wings that were embarked in the 6 committed carriers in the latter campaign flew approximately half the total number of fighter sorties generated altogether by U.S. Central Command. As attested by the performance of naval aviation in both operations, the warfighting potential of todays U.S. carrier strike groups has grown substantially over that of the carrier battle groups that represented the cutting edge of U.S. naval power at the end of the Cold War. The research findings reported herein are the interim results of a larger ongoing study by the author on U.S. carrier air operations and capability improvements since the end of the Cold War. They should interest U.S. naval officers and other members of the defense and national security community concerned with the evolving role of U.S. carrier air power in joint and combined operations. An extensive bibliography is included.
- Marine Engineering
- Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics
- Attack and Fighter Aircraft