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rec.aviation.military Frequently Asked Questions (part 2 of 5)
Section - C.12. What's the composition of an aircraft carrier's air wing?

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Top Document: rec.aviation.military Frequently Asked Questions (part 2 of 5)
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Most of the questions along this line refer to the US Navy's carriers, so
I'll discuss them first, then cover other countries.

* United States:  The US Navy currently operates thirteen aircraft
carriers, although at any given time at least two are undergoing refit.
The oldest carriers in service are the two surviving members of the 79250
tonne Forrestal class (CV-60 Saratoga and CV-62 _Independence_).  CV-41
_Midway_ (the last of its class) was retired in 1992, AVT-59 _Forrestal_
and CV-61 _Ranger_ (also Forrestal class) in 1993 (_Ranger_ is mothballed
for the Ready Reserve Fleet).  USS _Saratoga_ is due to be decommissioned
in September 1994, leaving the US Navy with twelve carriers until USS _John
C Stennis_ becomes operational in 1996.

These are followed by three 81775 tonne Kitty Hawk carriers (CV-63 _Kitty
Hawk_, CV-64 _Constellation_, and CV-66 _America_), and the USS _John F
Kennedy_ (CV-67), the sole vessel of its class, and the US Navy's last
conventionally powered carrier.  _Kennedy_ will be used as a training
carrier after 1995.

The first nuclear powered carrier was the 93970 tonne USS _Enterprise_
(CVN-65), launched in 1961; this was followed in 1975 by the first of the
93300 tonne Nimitz class, which consists so far of CVN-68 _Nimitz_, CVN-69
_Dwight D Eisenhower_, CVN-70 _Carl Vinson_, CVN-71 _Theodore Roosevelt_,
CVN-72 _Abraham Lincoln_, and CVN-73 _George Washington_, to be followed by
CVN-74 _John C Stennis_ (to become operational in 1996, replacing
_America_) and CVN-75 _United States_ (in 1998, replacing _Independence_).
A ninth Nimitz class vessel (CVN-76, not yet named) has been authorised,
and a tenth (CVN-77) will be requested.  The ships from CVN-71 on differ
slightly from the first three (displacing 96836 tonnes), and are sometimes
considered a separate class (Roosevelt class).

In principle, the air wings embarked on the carriers are interchangeable;
actually, the slightly different capabilities of the various carrier
classes mean that this cannot quite be achieved in practice.  Three
slightly different types of carrier air wing (CVW) are currently in use.

The "Conventional CVW", currently (mid 1994) the most common, consists of
nine squadrons.  There are two VF fighter squadrons (with twelve F-14
Tomcats each), two VFA fighter/attack squadrons (twelve F/A-18 Hornets
each), one VA attack squadron (ten A-6E Intruder attack aircraft and four
KA-6D tankers), one VAW airborne early warning squadron (four E-2C
Hawkeyes), one VAQ electronic warfare squadron (four EA-6B Prowlers), two
anti-submarine squadrons (one VS with eight or ten S-3B Vikings, and one HS
with six SH-3H Sea King or SH-60F Ocean Hawk helicopters), and two C-2A
Greyhound COD (carrier on-board delivery) transport aircraft.  Total
complement is 86 or 88 aircraft.

The USN is progressively switching to the "Transitional CVW", which
consists of ten squadrons.  It is essentially the same as the "Roosevelt
CVW" described below, except that the two VA and one VS squadron each
consist of only eight aircraft, and most HS squadrons have the older
composition of six SH-3Hs.  Total complement is 82 aircraft, or 84 if the
newer HS squadron is present.

The "Roosevelt CVW", taking its name from the carrier on which it was first
deployed, is expected to become standard by the turn of the century.  It
consists of ten squadrons.  There are two VF fighter squadrons (ten F-14
Tomcats each), two VFA fighter/attack squadrons (ten F/A-18 Hornets each),
two VA attack squadrons (ten A-6E Intruders each), one VAW airborne early
warning squadron (five E-2C Hawkeyes), one VAQ electronic warfare squadron
(five EA-6B Prowlers), two anti-submarine squadrons (one VS with ten S-3B
Vikings, and one HS with six SH-60F Ocean Hawk and two HH-60H Rescue Hawk
helicopters), and two C-2A Greyhound transports.  Total complement is 90
aircraft.  A variant of this, tested in one air wing, replaces one of the
F-14 squadrons with a third F/A-18 squadron.

Strictly speaking, the C-2s belong to separate units and are assigned to
carriers individually; they are not officially part of the carrier's air

The A-6 will be retired before the end of the 1990s.  The attack role will
be taken over by additional F/A-18s, including the considerably enhanced
F/A-18E/F series.  The F-14 will also gain an air-to-ground role, and
probably a change of designation to F/A-14.  The new standard CVW, circa
2000, will probably have four squadrons of F/A-18s.

In addition to its giant carriers, the US Navy also operates a number of
smaller helicopter and VTOL carriers; the aircraft aboard these are
operated by the US Marine Corps.  The oldest belong to the 18300 tonne Iwo
Jima class, built between 1961 and 1970 (six ships; LPH-3 _Okinawa_, LPH-7
_Guadalcanal_, LPH-9 _Guam_, LPH-10 _Tripoli_, LPH-11 _New Orleans_, and
LPH-12 _Inchon_; LPH-2 _Iwo Jima_ was retired in 1993).  Normal complement
is four AH-1T/W Cobras, 20 CH-46D/E Sea Knights, four CH-53D Sea Stallions,
and four UH-1N Iroquois; they have occasionally carried Harriers, mainly on

The five ships of the 39300 tonne Tarawa class were built from 1976 to 1980
(LHA-1 _Tarawa_, LHA-2 _Saipan_, LHA-3 _Belleau Wood_, LHA-4 _Nassau_, and
LHA-5 _Peleliu_).  Complement is four AH-1T/W Cobras, 12 to 16 CH-46D/E Sea
Knights, six CH-53D Sea Stallions or CH-53E Super Stallions, and four UH-1N
Iroquois.  Like the Iwo Jimas, they have sometimes carried Harriers.

The five ships of the 40530 tonne Wasp class (LHD-1 _Wasp_, LHD-2 _Essex_,
LHD-3 _Kearsage_, LHD-4 _Boxer_, and LHD-5 _Bataan_) entered service
beginning in 1989.  These are intended to be dual-role ships, carrying
different complements of aircraft for the assault role or the "sea control"
role.  The assault complement, which will probably be the more common,
consists of 30 helicopters (an unspecified mix of AH-1W Cobras, CH-46E Sea
Knights, CH-53D Sea Stallions, CH-53E Super Stallions, SH-60B Seahawks, and
UH-1N Iroquois) and six AV-8B Harrier attack aircraft.  In the sea control
role, the ships become true aircraft carriers, with 20 AV-8B Harriers and
four to six SH-60B Seahawk helicopters.

* Argentina:  The Argentine Navy's single carrier, the 20000 tonne
_Veinticinco de Mayo_ (25th of May) was originally a British carrier of
World War II vintage, being laid down in 1942 as HMS _Venerable_; it also
saw service with the Netherlands (as _Karel Doorman_) before being bought
by Argentina in 1968.  The ship played no part in the Falklands War of
1982, being withdrawn to port after the sinking of the _General Belgrano_.
In 1986 it was laid up for a complete refit; the ship has yet to return to
sea.  Although Argentina operates the Super Etendard strike aircraft,
designed for carrier service, early tests indicated that it would be
unsuitable for use with the _Veinticinco de Mayo_ (presumably because the
aircraft were designed for the larger French carriers), and Argentina's
Super Etendards have always been operated from land bases.  The carrier's
combat wing originally consisted of A-4Q Skyhawks, which have since been
retired; however, Argentina has recently bought 54 A-4Ms from the US, and
it seems likely that some of these will be aboard when the carrier sails
again.  The Argentine Navy also has six S-2E Trackers, re-engined with
turboprops.  The future air wing of the _Veinticinco de Mayo_ will probably
consist of about six A-4Ms for light attack, five S-2ETs for outer-zone
anti-submarine warfare, three or four SH-3D/Hs for inner-zone ASW, and two
Alouette IIIs for plane guard and search and rescue.

* Brazil:  Brazil's single carrier, _Minas Gerais_ (also originally
British, starting life as HMS _Vengeance_, a sister ship to Argentina's
carrier), was laid up in 1987.  The original plan involved a catapult
refit, but the ship was recommissioned in October 1993 with this left
undone, although she does have new boilers and electronics.  The former air
wing comprised six to eight S-2E Trackers (now re-engined with turboprops)
and four to six SH-3E Sea Kings in the anti-submarine role, plus two Bell
206B Jetrangers and two or three HB.350 Esquilos (licence-built Ecureuils)
for utility duties; it seems to be more or less unchanged.  Plans to build
a larger, 40000 tonne carrier, with an air wing including a navalised AMX,
appear to have been abandoned.

* France:  The French Navy currently operates two 33223 tonne carriers,
_Clemenceau_ and _Foch_, commissioned in the early 1960s.  They carry 16 to
20 Super Etendards in the strike role, about 7 F-8E(FN) Crusader fighters,
four Etendard IVP reconnaissance aircraft, six Alize ASW aircraft, and a
handful of AS.365F Dauphin helicopters for plane guard and SAR duties;
these are often augmented by a few Lynx ASW helicopters.  The Etendard IVPs
are expected to be retired in 1995; the F-8s, originally expected to be
retired fairly soon and temporarily replaced by F/A-18s pending the arrival
of the Rafale M, will now soldier on until the Rafale enters naval service
in 1999.  The Alizes are nominally scheduled to be retired in 1998, but in
fact are likely to survive into the next century.  Two Grumman E-2C Hawkeye
AEW aircraft have been ordered, with an option for two more.

France's two current carriers are intended to be replaced by two 35000
tonne nuclear powered carriers, _Charles de Gaulle_ and _Richelieu_; the
first was launched in April 1994, while the second, originally planned for
2004, is likely to slip to 2009 (or possibly be cancelled altogether).  The
air wings will be similar to those of the existing carriers, probably
consisting of 16 to 20 Super Etendards, about 10 Rafale M fighters, two
E-2C Hawkeye AEW aircraft, possibly a few Alizes, and the same complement
of helicopters.

* India:  The Indian Navy's first carrier was the 19512 tonne INS _Vikrant_
(originally laid down in 1945 as HMS _Hercules_, but sold to India before
its completion in 1961).  It originally carried Sea Hawk fighters and Alize
ASW aircraft; the Sea Hawks were retired in 1979 and the Alizes were
relegated to shore duties in 1990.  The present complement of the _Vikrant_
consists of about six Sea Harrier Mk 51 fighters, six Sea King Mk 42B
ASW/ASV helicopters, and three Sea King Mk 42C utility transport
helicopters.  In 1987 the Indian Navy acquired a second carrier, the 29000
tonne INS _Viraat_ (formerly HMS _Hermes_), which currently carries an air
wing of the same composition.  The _Viraat_ is somewhat larger than the
_Vikrant_, however, and its Sea Harrier complement is expected to be
enlarged.  India has plans to build two or three new carriers in the near
future, probably carrying new combat aircraft (candidates include the
Russian MiG-29K, Su-33, and Yak-41).

* Italy:  The Italian Navy operates a single carrier, the 13452 tonne
_Giuseppe Garibaldi_, launched in 1983 and commissioned in 1987.  Its air
arm is still in training, but is planned to consist of 16 AV-8B-Plus
Harriers in the fighter/attack role and 18 SH-3D Sea King ASW helicopters
(possibly including some AEW variants).  The Sea Kings will eventually be
replaced by EH.101s.  The Italian Navy intends to acquire a second carrier
in the same class, and possibly a third.

* Russia (and the former USSR) (see also section C.13):  The USSR's first
serious attempt at seagoing aviation were the two 19200 tonne helicopter
carriers of the Moskva class, _Moskva_ and _Leningrad_, the first being
launched in 1967; these carried 15 to 18 Ka-25 helicopters of various
subtypes.  _Leningrad_ was retired in 1991, _Moskva_ in 1992.

They were followed in 1976 by the first of the 43000 tonne Kiev class,
which eventually numbered four ships (_Kiev_, _Minsk_, _Novorossiysk_, and
_Baku_; the last was later renamed _Admiral Gorshkov_), and carried the
USSR's first V/STOL aircraft, the Yak-38.  The air wing originally
consisted of twelve Yak-38F/M strike fighters, one Yak-38U trainer, and 15
to 20 helicopters of the Ka-25 and Ka-27/28/29 families.  The first three
of these carriers were retired in the early 1990s, along with the entire
fleet of Yak-38s; the one surviving ship, _Admiral Gorshkov_, now carries
only helicopters.  The four ships were actually divided into three
subclasses, _Novorossiysk_ and _Baku_/_Gorshkov_ differing from the first
two ships, and from each other.  _Novorossiysk_ was designed for a larger
air wing, although by the time it entered service, the Yak-38 was falling
out of favour, and it probably carried extra helicopters rather than
fixed-wing aircraft.  _Gorshkov_ carried a still larger air wing, and was
designed with the (now cancelled) Yak-41 in mind; the actual capacity of
the ship's hangars has never been released, but it probably carries about
35 to 40 aircraft or helicopters.

The USSR's first conventional carrier, the 67500 tonne _Tbilisi_ (later
renamed _Admiral Kuznetsov_), was launched in 1985.  It was originally used
for sea trials of a variety of naval aircraft prototypes; the aircraft
types involved have now been narrowed down, and the _Kuznetsov_ is now
involved in training of naval pilots and crew.  When it enters full
service, it is expected to carry an air wing of about 50 to 60 aircraft,
comprised of about 20 Su-33 multirole fighters, perhaps another 10 to 20
strike aircraft of unknown type (probably another Su-27 derivative), a few
Su-25UTG trainers, and the usual assortment of Ka-27/28/29/32 helicopters.
The Yak-44 AEW aircraft has been cancelled (but a revival is being
considered); a Ka-32 helicopter has been seen with what appears to be an
AEW system.

_Varyag_ (formerly _Riga_), sister ship to _Kuznetsov_, was left incomplete
at the Nikolayev shipyard; Russia, after dithering for several years,
finally decided not to buy the ship, and (after failing to sell it to
anyone else) the Ukrainian government has ordered it to be scrapped.  The
third large carrier, the 75000 tonne, nuclear powered _Ulyanovsk_, was
never completed and has already been scrapped.

* Spain:  Spain's only current aircraft carrier, the 16700 tonne _Principe
de Asturias_, was commissioned in 1989 to replace the aging 13000 tonne
_Dedalo_.  The design was based on the Sea Control Ship concept, developed
in 1974 for the US Navy but then abandoned.  It carries six to eight AV-8B
Harrier strike aircraft (expected to be upgraded to AV-8B-Plus standard,
with air-to-air radar), six to eight SH-3H Sea King helicopters (mainly in
the ASW role, but also including one or two AEW versions), and four to
eight AB.212ASW helicopters.

* United Kingdom:  The Royal Navy's three 20600 tonne Invincible class
carriers (_Invincible_, _Illustrious_, and _Ark Royal_) were originally
designated "through-deck cruisers", to get around political attempts to
prevent the RN from operating carriers.  At any time, two of the carriers
are in service while the third undergoes refit.  The two active air wings
normally each consist of nine Sea Harrier FRS.1 strike fighters (to be
replaced by the more advanced FA.2 version), nine Sea King HAS.6 ASW
helicopters, and three Sea King AEW.2A AEW helicopters.  The composition of
the Sea King complement varies to meet the requirements of particular
missions, often including the HC.4 assault transport version.

A new helicopter carrier, HMS _Ocean_, was ordered in 1994.

[Most of this information comes from Lindsay Peacock's article in the June
1993 issue of _Air International_, and from _Modern Warships_ by Tony
Gibbons and David Miller, and _Modern US Navy_ by John Jordan; thanks to
Simon Shpilfoygel for additional information on the Russian carriers, and
to Robin Lee for recent updates]

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Previous Document: C.11. Why do USAF aircraft have tailhooks?
Next Document: C.13. What's happened to the former USSR's aircraft carriers?

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