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Magazine Articles

The Future of Naval Aviation

May 2011 - Navy
By VADM Allen G. Myers, USN

Throughout this year, we celebrate Naval Aviation's first century of accomplishment, innovation, courage, and teamwork. In honoring our past, we celebrate our present and look to the future of how Naval Aviation will continue to enhance our Navy.

Our founding fathers created a Navy for two fundamental reasons – to influence foreign powers and coalitions and to control the sea lanes to ensure our prosperity – and they did this a full nine months before declaring our independence. Today, our Navy is forward deployed around the globe, providing credible deterrence on many oceans, delivering critical effects, deep over land, like in the Middle East, and engaging in relief operations like in Japan.

Within years of the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk, military strategists began to consider the utility of flying machines. For a Navy dominated by a battleship admiralty, the early answer was that planes might be useful as a scouting platform. But for the past 100 years, Naval Aviation has proven beyond a doubt that what was initially thought to be a useful reconnaissance capability is now a critical element of our power projection and national security.

Naval Aviation has expanded and enhanced the areas our ships can influence – from simple line of sight at the crow’s nest to an area that extends hundreds of miles. As we cele- brate our first hundred years and look to the future, Naval Aviation will begin its next century modernizing every community, bringing increased capabilities, range and multimission performance to enhance the effects we deliver from the sea.

The Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force (MPRF) community will transition to the P-8 Poseidon, replacing the P-3 Orion as a long-range antisubmarine warfare (ASW), antisurface warfare (ASuW), intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft. Poseidon will be capable of broad- area, maritime and littoral operations and will integrate with the carrier strike group. Built from the ground up on Boeing’s commercial 737 airframe and aircraft systems, the P-8 will be air-refuelable and carry a full range of weapons systems and sensors to ensure maximum interoperability in future battle space. We will soon reach initial operating capability (IOC) and are on track to deploy the first squadron in 2013.

In terms of personnel and airframes, rotary-wing aviation is the fastest growing community in Naval Aviation. By 2020, helicopter pilots will account for more than half of all naval aviators.   The continued transition to the MH-60R/S extends the actionable range of our ships through their antisubmarine warfare (ASW), antisur- face warfare (ASuW) and mine countermeasure (MCM) capabilities, while also conducting logistics and search and rescue (SAR) operations. These capabilities and the integration into the carrier’s air wing, make the future exceptionally bright for our rotary wing communities.

As the eyes and ears of the fleet, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye will provide network-enabled long range sensors to facilitate unmatched command and control capability. The Advanced Hawkeye will execute maritime airborne early warning and command and control, relay communi- cation, and support irregular missions with capabilities two generations beyond the venerable E-2C Hawkeye. Progress continues steadily for our first fleet squadron to begin transitioning in 2013.

The ongoing transition from the EA-6B Prowler to the EA-18G Growler will exponentially enhance the nation’s tactical airborne electronic attack platform – a Navy core competency. We’ve already seen success with the first combat employment of the Growler in Operation Odyssey Dawn, where it ensured access for our coalition partners working to end the violence in Libya. Sharing the Super Hornet’s airframe brings greater efficiency through aircraft commonality and reduced operational crew size. The Growler’s first fleet deployment is scheduled later this year as part of Carrier Air Wing EIGHT with USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77).

We will also continue to rely on our F/A-18E-F Super Hornets well into the future. This multimission platform does it all – air superiority, fighter escort, reconnaissance, air defense suppressions and day or night precision strike – and it will ensure we maintain our strong TACAIR capability while transitioning to the Navy variant of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C.

The F-35C continues Naval Aviation’s reputation for innovation and technological advancements. It employs a sensor integration package that synthesizes traditional inputs from multiple sources into a single enhanced display that will change how a pilot flies and fights this fifth-generation strike fighter. The F-35C and its generational leaps in technology and capability are a key component to Naval Aviation’s future ability to deliver effects from the sea.
When the F-35C reaches the fleet, we will also welcome the next generation aircraft carrier, USS Gerald Ford (CVN 78). As construction continues, development of the advanced systems it will debut also progresses. Most notably, the Electro- magnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS) has already conducted test launches at Patuxent River. This new class of aircraft carrier will serve as the flexible base for Naval Aviation’s next century.

Unmanned systems will enhance and be complementary to our manned aircraft in the future. The development of U-CLASS (unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance systems), BAMS (broad area maritime surveillance) and Fire Scout will be key players. We are actively working on how to integrate this “family of systems” into fleet operations.

Throughout the centennial year, we recognize our entire team — brave pilots and air crew, and the legion of maintain- ers, ordnancemen, flight deck and other support personnel — military and civilian, who have ensured that the aircraft were ready and safe to launch. Our shared passion that has fueled a century of accomplishment will continue to inspire our proud legacy for the next hundred years.

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