Naval Aviation: Capabilities

for Today... and Tomorrow

U.S. Naval Aviation is a multifaceted and versatile warfighting team, consisting of Navy and Marine Corps people, aircraft, organizations, and facilities. Operating from sea and shore bases, Navy and Marine Corps aviation performs a wide range of missions throughout the world. In combination with cruise missile-equipped ships and submarines and the ground combat and combat service support elements of Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs), Naval Aviation can project decisive, dominant military power from the sea.

Navy Sea- and Land-Based Aviation

Within Naval Aviation, the Navy possesses a large and varied force of combat and support aircraft. Whether sea- or land-based, the Navy's aviation communities and their aircraft are key elements in the service's ability to achieve its operational and tactical objectives. Most U.S. Navy ships have the capability to support air operations and all naval vessels can be serviced by helicopters.

Carriers and Carrier Aviation

Experience shows overseas presence - being there - is clearly the best way to do business. In regions where the United States has significant interests, it is imperative that the United States provide tangible evidence of its commitment, and the means to defend those interests. Our presence and crisis-response centerpiece continues to be the aircraft carrier. The aircraft carrier is a self-contained, self-supporting system that is ready for action immediately upon arrival in crisis areas, independent of overseas bases, infrastructure, or the permission of foreign governments.

Carrier aviation stands ready to provide offensive air support to Naval Expeditionary Forces. If elements of a MAGTF are conducting operations ashore, Naval Aviation's advanced surveillance capabilities and offensive and defensive technologies allow it to provide close air support to Marines operating far beyond yesterday's beachheads.

Currently, the Navy operates 12 carriers (11 active and one operational reserve), plus ten active and one Naval Air Reserve carrier air wings. These are multi-purpose wings, consisting of strike-fighter, reconnaissance, surveillance, electronic combat, anti-submarine, tanker, and search-and-rescue capabilities. In the coming years, carrier aviation's capabilities will increase, even as the composition of its air wings change. The Navy is in the process of "necking down" the number of aircraft types that fly from carrier decks. Instead of flying a larger number of aircraft types, each optimized for a narrow range of missions, the service is moving toward a smaller force that consists of more capable and more lethal multi-mission aircraft. And it is not only carrier air wings that are changing � the sea bases from which they operate continue to evolve as well. Over the next decade and a half, the Navy will make the transition from today's Nimitz-class carriers to a new carrier class that builds upon new technologies and concepts. The ships of this class will be in service well past the mid-point of the 21st century.

Surface Combatants and Naval Aviation

Surface combatants such as cruisers (CG and CGN), destroyers (DD and DDG), and frigates (FFG) are capable of launching and recovering the SH-60B Seahawk and other helicopters. Naval Aviation extends the sensor range of these ships, which in turn enhances the capability of shipboard weapons systems. The Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) combines the SH-60B Seahawk with computer-integrated shipboard equipment to expand the range and capabilities of surface combatants for antisurface warfare (ASUW), undersea warfare (USW), surveillance, and targeting missions. The tactical options generated by the real-time exchange of data between warships and these helicopters give naval commanders greatly enhanced ability to control the battlespace, especially in crowded littoral regions.

Amphibious Warfare Ships and Naval Aviation

Amphibious warfare ships are capable of recovering and launching aircraft such as the AH-1W, UH-1N, CH-46E Sea Knight, the H-53 Super Stallion/Sea Dragon, the AV-8B Harrier II, and the MV-22 tilt-rotor Osprey. The CH-46E Sea Knight is the Marine Corps major troop and supply, ship-to-shore, transport aircraft. The Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallions provide a heavy-lift troop and supply transport capability, while UH-1N Hueys perform utility, command-and-control, and other duties. The Navy's MH-53E provides an airborne minesweeping capability. AV-8B Harriers and
AH-1 Cobras provide offensive air support and helicopter escort for the MAGTF. The MV-22 Osprey will have the ability to transport 24 combat-equipped Marines, or a 10,000-pound external payload, 2,100 nautical miles with just one aerial refueling. This surface ship/aviation team greatly enhances the ability to conduct Operational Maneuver from the Sea (OMFTS).


 Logistics Ships and Naval Aviation

The Navy's large logistics ships are capable of launching and recovering all vertical take-off and landing aircraft in the naval inventory. Logistics ships with their aviation ability are an integral part of the Navy's self-sustainment capability. Aircraft such as the Navy's CH-46D Sea Knight, the airborne workhorse of the fleet, provide replenishment of supplies and munitions in all weather, day or night. This capability gives the battle group the ability to operate without depending upon a politically or militarily vulnerable shore-based infrastructure.

Command and Control Ships and Naval Aviation

Command and control ships such as the USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) are capable of handling aircraft up to and including the H-53 Super Stallion/Sea Dragon and the V-22 Osprey. This air capability provides the Fleet Commander or Joint Force Commander with the capability to rapidly and efficiently move people and equipment to places in-theater, where and when they are needed, in an ever changing environment.



Maritime Patrol Aviation

The maritime patrol force is a land-based facet of naval air power, having global reach while still maintaining a small logistical "footprint." With their ability to conduct ASUW, USW, surveillance, and mining operations, forward-deployed P-3C aircraft provide continuous, multi-mission support to joint task forces and naval task groups at sea. Operating in support of carrier battle groups, surface action groups, and amphibious task forces � or independently � these aircraft are an important, flexible element in our naval forward presence posture. Their Tactical Support Centers are also a critical component in the Navy's integrated, worldwide network of maritime command and surveillance centers.

Special-Purpose and Support Aviation

The Navy also operates specialized fixed-wing and helicopter squadrons that support a variety of naval and joint activities. These include electronic intelligence collection aircraft, strategic communications command/relay aircraft, minesweeping helicopters, and various types of cargo, passenger, and vertical replenishment fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. Most of these squadrons are active-duty commands; several are composite active-reserve, or reserve squadrons.


Naval Aviation trains Navy and Marine Corps aviators and naval flight officers, along with Coast Guard aviators, select naval aviators from allied countries, and certain U.S. Air Force personnel. It also maintains a school system to train the enlisted personnel that will maintain aircraft and support Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard flight operations. From bases located primarily in the southern and southeastern United States, Naval Aviation produces the finest aviators, naval flight officers, enlisted aircrew, and support personnel in the world.

Marine Corps Aviation

The Marine Corps tailored organization for combat, the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, exploits the synergy inherent in closely integrated air and ground operations. Effectively blending infantry forces, artillery, armor, and tactical aviation, the MAGTF generates maximum combat power with the minimum logistical footprint. Each MAGTF is an integrated combined-arms team.

Naval Aviation supports the MAGTF in six functional warfare areas: offensive air support, anti-air warfare, assault support, air reconnaissance, electronic warfare, and control of aircraft and missiles. To perform these missions, the Marines require several different types of aircraft, both fixed- and rotary-wing, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as well as the support equipment to maintain and control them.

Marine aviation, as the landward extension of Naval Aviation, can readily and routinely transition between sea bases and shore bases without substantial loss of capability. Presently, Marine aircraft are deployed on board amphibious ships as part of the Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), or MEU(SOC), and with several carrier air wings embarked on carriers. Transition from sea-basing to land-basing is not dependent upon the availability of established aviation facilities; the Marine Corps expeditionary airfield (EAF) system allows committed forces to rapidly construct and operate stand-alone airfields. Marine squadrons have also been forward-deployed to and operated from conventional land bases (such as Aviano, Italy). The transition from sea to shore is further enabled by the MAGTF's expeditionary command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence capability.

The logistical support needed to sustain Marine aviation ashore for extended periods in austere theaters is embarked aboard two Aviation Logistics Support Ships (TAVBs). These ships are maintained in the Ready Reserve and are used to transport critical intermediate-level maintenance and supply support to a forward operating area. This ability to sustain the aircraft ashore is augmented by the Maritime Prepositioned Force (MPF), which provides the ordnance necessary to prosecute the campaign. Together the TAVB and MPF provide the warfighting Commanders-in-Chief (CINCs) with logistical leverage because of their varied employment and mobility options.

In order to enhance Marine aviation's role in MAGTF expeditionary operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps has set a goal to reduce the number of models of aircraft that are being operated. An additional objective of this process is to achieve the vision established by an earlier Commandant, General Randolph Pate, in 1957 - an all short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) aviation component. This transition will be accomplished while ensuring that state-of-the-art capabilities are maintained in the required functional areas. Modernization initiatives to enhance night and adverse weather effectiveness, to improve aircraft supportability, reliability and maintainability, and to reduce strategic lift dependency also remain essential to the fulfillment of our warfighting requirements.

Naval Aviation Vision Statement  Chief of Naval Operations Forward  Commandant of the Marine Corps Foreword
  Introduction  New Challenges...Enduring Realities  Naval Aviation:  Capabilities for Today... and Tomorrow
Sharpening the Vision:  The Process  Section 1:  Element Definitions and Goals
Section 2:  Program Plans, Descriptions and Roadmaps  Acronyms  Director Air Warfare Closing Remarks