Carrier aircraft during this time were capable of very long-range missions even when relying only on the fuel they carried. The A-6E could fly 1,000 nautical miles from the carrier without being refueled while carrying up to 18,000 pounds of ordnance, and the F-14 could loiter on a combat air patrol almost 800 miles from the carrier. The S-3 could operate for nearly six hours before needing fuel, as it patrolled the waters surrounding the carrier battle group, identifying surface contacts and searching for submarines.This is a pretty in-depth article that discusses what happens when shorter range, lack of air tanker capability, and longer range (1000 mile) anti-ship weaponry collide. Given that a complete carrier Battle Group costs around $20B, this is a big problem.
For the carrier air wing the Hornet was an opportunity to replace the aging A-7 with a more modern, less maintenance intensive aircraft. However, the more modern Hornet would prove during testing that it could not match up with the 608 nautical mile combat range of the A-7, being able to only fly 370 nautical miles with the same weapons load before having to turn back to return to the carrier.
Navy test pilots recognized the Hornet’s short range for what it was: a significant decrease in the ability of the air wing to conduct long-range missions while keeping the carrier far enough away from potential threats.
Thursday, July 20, 2017
The slow death of the carrier Air Wing
An Aircraft Carrier is a delivery platform, it's Air Wing is what it delivers. The last 25 years has seen a big reduction in the capabilities of the Air Wing: