Happy 100 For U.S. Navy Carrier Air and what it Brings
While the Centennial of U.S. Naval Aviation — traditionally recognized as the moment Eugene B. Ely’s Curtiss pusher lifted off from USS Birmingham (Scout Cruiser # 2) in 1910– is a historic milestone that was passed over a decade ago, we are now in the Centennial of United States Navy Aircraft Carriers.
On 20 March 1922, following a two-year conversion at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, the former USS Jupiter (Navy Fleet Collier No. 3) was recommissioned as the United States Navy’s first aircraft carrier USS Langley (CV 1).
Named in honor of Samuel Pierpont Langley, an American aircraft pioneer, and engineer, “The Covered Wagon” started as an experimental platform but was quickly proven an invaluable weapons system that changed how the U.S. Navy fought at sea.
As noted by the Navy:
In the nearly 100 years since, from CV 1 to CVN 78, aircraft carriers have been the Navy’s preeminent power projection platform and have served the nation’s interest in times of war and peace. With an unequaled ability to provide warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict, and to adapt in an ever-changing world, aircraft carriers, their air wings, and associated strike groups are the foundation of US maritime strategy.
SECNAV Carlos Del Toro’s official message celebrating 100 years of U.S. Navy Carrier Aviation.
About those big decks…
Today, the U.S. Navy has more big deck flattops than any other fleet in the world– a title it has held since about 1943 or so without exception– including 10 beautiful Nimitz-class supercarriers (all of which have conducted combat operations) plus one Gerald R. Ford-class carrier in commission (and finally nearing her first deployment) and two more Fords building.
It is expected the Fords will replace the Nimitz class on a one-per-one basis. Of the current 10, five are in PIA, DPIA, or RCOH phases of deep maintenance, leaving just five capable of deployment. Still, even with half these big carriers tied down, the five large-deck CVNs on tap are capable of more combat sorties than every other non-U.S. flattop currently afloat combined.
For reference, check out this great series of top-down shots by MC3 Bela Chambers of the eighth Nimitz-class supercarrier USS Harry S Truman (CVN-75), the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R 91), and the Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (C 550) transiting the Ionian Sea during recent NATO tri-carrier operations.
It should be noted that, when talking about smaller but capable carriers such as Charles de Gaulle and Cavour, the U.S. Navy also has a fleet of “non-carriers” that can clock in for such power projection as well.
Further, there are seven remaining Wasp-class and two America-class amphibious assault ships, which can be used as a light carrier of sorts, filled with up to 20 AV-8Bs or F-35Bs (after updates), with the latter concept termed a “Lightning Carrier.” A slow vessel, these ‘phibs are not main battle force ships, and they cannot generate triple digits of sorties per day, but they are a powerful force multiplier, especially if they free up a big deck carrier for heavier work. While not as beefy or well-rounded an airwing as a Nimitz or (hopefully) Ford-class supercarrier, these LHD/LHA sea control ships can provide a lot of projection if needed– providing there are enough F-35Bs to fill their decks.
Speaking of which, USS Tripoli (LHA-7), is set to fully test the Lightning Carrier concept next month, drawing 20 F-35Bs from VMX-1, VMFA-211, and VMFA-225.