Archive for the 'naval aviation' Tag

Today, the Aviation Major Command Screen Board (AMCSB) convenes in Millington, Tennessee. It is the annual gathering to determine the future of Naval Aviation’s most promising leaders, and plays a large role in setting the strategic direction of our enterprise.

As we alluded to in our August 2015 Proceedings article “On Becoming CAG,” the fates of aspiring leaders were determined years prior to this week. FITREPs, joint jobs, and other career assignments funnel COs into competitive tracks for leadership positions, including Carrier Air Wing Commander, or CAG.

However, as the current AMCSB convenes, one troubling trend remains: Naval Aviation has gone five years since a non-VFA CAG was selected.

After publishing “On Becoming CAG,” the authors received intense positive and negative feedback about our arguments. Notably, at the annual Tailhook Reunion in Reno, Nevada this year, PERS-43 addressed the debate in an open forum (you can watch it here).

He pointed out that CAGs are responsible for the mentorship of squadron COs, with the ultimate goal of cultivating leaders who are able to replace him or her as CAG.

Reflecting on the past five years, it appears as though CAGs have failed their non-VFA Commanding Officers in this essential mentoring. All else being equal, if zero COs from outside the VFA community have been selected, we arrive at one of two conclusions:

1) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs have been inadequate leaders compared to their VFA contemporaries. If this is true, it points to a huge, unspoken problem in these communities that Naval Aviation has not addressed.
2) VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC squadron COs are not viewed as equally qualified leaders by CAG when FITREP time comes. If this is true, it points to a problematic culture within our ranks that Naval Aviation has not addressed.

As thousands of junior officers and Sailors will attest, we have seen many outstanding leaders from the VAQ, VAW, HSM, and HSC communities over the past five years. Conclusion #1 would seem to offend this reality.

As such, we are left with Conclusion #2, and the problem it exposes in the process of selecting carrier aviation leadership. The culture change needed in our collective Ready Room is the realization that aviation major command is about leadership; not tactical proficiency. We expect this proficiency of our junior officers and our junior officers expect leadership—both within the Air Wing and across the joint force—from their major commanders.

The ability to fly a strike mission from an F/A-18 or execute a flawless fly-by of the carrier are impressive skills, and it is true that only one community can really experience those fully. But CAG is a leader at the operational level of warfare, and the leadership required to execute at that level is not exclusive to the aviators of a single airframe. If our process for selecting CAGs is based on tactical proficiency as a proxy for promoting certain types of officers at the expense of an equally talented pool of others, that system–and the culture that underpins it–must change.

The authors believe that increasing the diversity of perspective at the CAG level will improve combat efficiency, leadership acumen within the air wing, and interoperability with the joint force. We invite you to join in the constructive debate of these issues.

Over the coming weeks, the authors will share some of the most common feedback received from “On Becoming CAG.” The most important takeaway is that people on each side of this issue care about Naval Aviation and seek to make it better.

Recently, partnering with CSIS and USNI, Naval Aviation leadership hit the streets to talk about the future of manned and unmanned aviation. With Tailhook on the horizon, and fundamental debates happening throughout the Fleet, we need constructive writing on the course of both people and platforms in Naval Aviation.

From 14-18 September (after you’re rested from either participating in or following the Twitter feeds of Tailhook attendees), the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) will be hosting a “Future of Naval Aviation” Week. Below are the particulars, cross-posted from their NextWar blog:

Week Dates: 14-18 Sept 15
Articles Due: 9 Sept 15
Article Length: 500-1500 Words
Submit to: nextwar(at)cimsec(dot)org

Back in January, CAPT Jerry Hendrix (USN, Ret) and CDR Bryan McGrath (USN, Ret) had a stirring debate on the future of Aircraft Carriers. However, the debate quickly shifted from the carrier itself to the nature of the airwing it carried. Indeed, the carrier is nothing more than a host for the platforms provided by naval aviation – and only one of many ships that can carry aviation assets.

That discussion, driving into the world of the carrier air wing, was the inspiration for this week of discussion on naval aviation in general. From the maritime patrol aircraft deployed from the reclaimed Chinese reefs in the South China Sea, to US Army Apaches operating from amphibious assault ships, to 3-D printed drones flown off a Royal Navy offshore patrol vessel, to manned and unmanned ideas for the carrier air wing as carriers proliferate around the Pacific -we want your ideas and observations on where global naval aviation will and can go next.

How will the littoral navies of the world change with new, lower-cost unmanned aviation assets? Are carriers armed with legions of long-range unmanned drones the future for global powers – will these technologies exponentially increase the importance of smaller carriers – or is unmanned technology a limited path that may be resisted (rightfully?) by pilots and their communities? Will surface fleets embrace the potential from easily produced drone swarms deployed from ships of the line… should they? What is the future of land-based naval aviation? What innovations will be ignored, what will be embraced, and what will the air assets of future fleets around the world look like? What will the institutions, the leadership, and C2 structures that support all these assets of their varied nations look like? The topic is purposefully broad to bring forward a myriad of topics and inspire future topic weeks on more specific subjects.

Contributions should be between 500 and 1500 words in length and submitted no later than 9 September 2015. Publication reviews will also be accepted. This project will be co-edited by LT Wick Hobson (USN) and, as always, Sally DeBoer from our editorial pool.

imagesU.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officers have a Napoleon complex. The community is often described as inherently self-conscious and hyper-competitive. Though SWO’s often sell themselves short, in reality, they are in the highest demand at all levels of our service and throughout the joint world. Commanders want Surface Warfare Officers because they can be counted on to get any job done – regardless of past experiences or training. The community can be a meat grinder, and those with upward mobility possess well-earned street credibility. How do they get to that point, though? In Part 1 of this series, we compared the training pipeline, billet structure, and shipboard priorities of the Surface Warfare Officer and Royal Navy Warfare Officer communities. Now let us delve into the mysterious world of the Fleet Nugget. This piece will compare the products that the Naval Aviation, nuclear, and conventional Surface Warfare communities deliver to the Fleet on Day One.

Surface Warfare Officers and Naval Aviators – the Jets and theSharks. While there is no more fearsome combat team in the world, the communities are notorious for their sibling rivalry. Though we train fiercely to integrate our forces and work extremely well together to the detriment of the enemy, the professional blueprints of each community are oceans apart.

A T-45 Conducts Carrier Qualifications aboard RONALD REAGAN

A T-45 Conducts Carrier Qualifications aboard RONALD REAGAN

A Nugget is a first-tour Naval Aviator or flight officer, especially applicable during their first deployment. The origin of the term absolutely belongs to aviators, but it does have cross-over appeal, and its connotation paints a faithful picture of a new officer in his first unit, regardless of designator. The general insinuation of the term is that the officer has little to offer their unit and must be taken under someone’s wing – pun intended. Is an F/A-18 Nugget equal to a SWO Nugget, though? What does each community really provide to their Fleet Squadrons and ships when they deliver a new batch of officers?


Student Naval Aviators in the Advanced Strike pipeline spend approximately two years learning everything from aerodynamics and physiology to air combat maneuvering and carrier qualification. During the training pipeline, they spend nearly 250 hours in the air testing their skills on three different airframes and refine those skills over the course of 75 simulator hours. Earning one’s Wings of Gold does not spell the end of training. The new Naval Aviator’s final stop before hitting the Fleet is the Fleet Replacement Squadron, where they perfect their art in their assigned airframe, spending another 175 hours in the air and in the simulator. When a Naval Aviator executes his orders to his first fleet squadron, he has spent at least 500 hours in hands-on training scenarios.

What is expected of a new Naval Aviator? What do wings mean on Day 1? Wings only come after an officer has demonstrated that they are able to meet a well-defined standard. When seasoned pilots accept a Nugget into their ready room, they see a pilot who can safely operate their aircraft, manage their respective mission and flight administration, and serve as a competent and safe wingman.


Aviators are well-trained before reporting to the Fleet and we have established the practical meaning of wings. What is the true nature of the product, though? On Day 1, the Naval Aviator Nugget will already have demonstrated proficiency at landing aboard a carrier during day and night operations. During his initial weeks in the squadron, he could be entrusted to conduct mid-air refueling, air-to-ground strike, strafing, and close-air-support missions, carrier qualifications, or high-value air-asset escort duties. With these baseline skills, the new aviators are immediately useful to their squadrons and are able to jump into the rigorous Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor-lead curriculum.


Like aviators, Nuclear Surface Warfare Officers also use the train-to-qualify method. After they complete a conventional division officer tour, they spend 6 months at Nuclear Power School where they master advanced mathematics, chemistry, physics, and nuclear theory. This school is widely acknowledged as the most demanding academic program in the U.S. military. They continue their pipeline with an intensive 6 months of hands-on watch-standing training and examinations at one of two Nuclear Power Training Units, or Prototype. Their community’s methods are known internally as the “Gold Standard.” This standard is rigid, unquestioned, and unabashedly enforced. When an officer graduates Prototype, they report to their aircraft carrier as a proven, and more importantly, qualified watch-stander. Shortly after reporting, a SWO Nuke Nugget earns their platform endorsement and re-qualifies on their ship as a Plant Watch Officer, immediately contributing to their department’s watch organization while also leading their respective division.

Newly commissioned Surface Warfare Officer candidates notionally attend an 8-week course known as the Basic Division Officer Course, or BDOC, prior to reporting to their respective ships. Keeping with the community’s focus on generalists, BDOC covers a wide-range of topics, including: basic damage control, Navy pistol qualification, basic SWO engineering, Maintenance University, maritime warfare, division officer leadership and fundamentals, basic navigation, seamanship, and ship-handling. Students take numerous exams and are held to the community standard of a 90% passing grade on their Navigation Rules (Rules of the Road) exam. It is a demanding school and was established to rectify the absence of any such schooling that existed for nearly a decade. During their time at BDOC, the ensigns spend 24 cumulative hours in the ship-handling simulators where they get a taste for everything from pier work to harbor transits and man-overboard recoveries.


After graduating BDOC, our SWO Nuggets report to their ships and take over their first divisions. Unlike their aviator brethren, they do not wear a warfare pin when they report to the Fleet, nor do they possess any watch-standing qualifications. What then is the product that we are delivering to our ships? Our new ensigns – our Nuggets – are confident leaders and are capable of taking over the responsibility for people and gear from the get-go. They board their ships with a basic familiarization with shipboard systems, service policies, and standard commands (used to drive a ship). SWO Nuggets are not qualified to stand watch on their own, much less to lead an entire watch team, but they are prepared to step onto the bridge and take over as a Conning Officer – learning the finer details of ship handling from their fellow junior officers, enlisted specialists, and the ship’s leadership. Though they are not flying a Hornet solo over Afghanistan, they are standing tall in front of their divisions, as well as on the bridge, issuing commands to the helm and engines of their billion-dollar warships, increasing their competency and savvy exponentially during every watch.


There is no doubt that the aviation and surface warfare communities have different demands, different priorities, and nearly polar-opposite cultures. An aviator must know what he is doing when he enters the Fleet, lest he crash his aircraft on the flight deck or drop his bomb on the wrong people. The Death-and-Destruction Factor is certainly relevant and is often used as an excuse for why Surface Warfare Officers do not have a similar training mindset. In other words, the argument is that young SWO’s can afford to be inexperienced because their mistakes are far less likely to cause catastrophe and because they operate with a safety-net of sorts made up of other watch standers. While I recognize the inherent danger of Naval Aviation, I disagree with this argument as a way to justify short-changing Surface Warfare Officer training. The culture and doctrine of the aviation community would not tolerate – much less conceive of – squadron skippers in the Fleet being burdened with building an aviator from scratch, yet our service puts that same burden on our ships’ captains, taking away from their crew’s overall combat-effectiveness. We are doing the world’s most fearsome warships an injustice. Surface Warfare Nuggets should report to the Fleet with know-how and qualifications, ready to drive and fight at the pointy-end from the moment they cross the brow.

images-1After comparing the lives, methods, and priorities of Royal Navy Warfare Officers, Naval Aviators, and Surface Warfare Officers, I want to take the opportunity in the final piece of this series to analyze where the SWO community is getting it right, and where we could improve, as well as put forth two proposals that would fundamentally alter how the community trains and operates. In an era where fiscal uncertainty, regional conflict, and increasing operational tempos reign supreme, we must put our very best on the front lines – our country and our crews deserve it, and our enemies must fear it.

F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-211 "Checkmates" prepares for launch aboard USS Enterprise.

F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA-211 “Checkmates” prepares for launch aboard USS Enterprise.

This month’s Proceedings article titled Naval Aviation’s Transition Starts With Why” by LCDR Guy Snodgrass is a fantastic article laying out the upcoming “tech refresh,” so to speak, of naval aviation assets that will soon be fielded, specifically noting a unique philosophical change: the shift from fielding purpose built Cold-War era assets to procuring modular payload-based assets that allow for multi-mission capability, and the flexibility to adapt to new missions. One aspect of his article is particularly noteworthy because it hints of something bigger: the Navy will deliver effects within and across domains. This is important. With aviation principally shifting from purpose-built to multi-mission payload-centric assets, the Navy can explore new and unique ways to deliver effects that otherwise would have been very expensive to implement.

LCDR Snodgrass’ article specifically articulates why Navy’s mindset has changed, and it suggests that the old mindset of designing platforms will become irrelevant prior to using up the useful life of an asset. This shift resulted in the procurement of assets that can remain relevant throughout their entire lifecycle without major redesigns via a Payload-Centric architecture. This means that with limited redesign of systems, assets can be repurposed. This has led to multi-mission platforms that can adapt to emerging missions.

Read the rest of this entry »

(This article appeared at RealClearDefense and is cross-posted by permission.)

In previous writing about the ongoing East Asian naval race shortly after the launching of the Japanese helicopter destroyer Izumo (DDH-183), I noted that the feverish naval race may be rooted in historical grievances, fierce competition for scarce resources, and the recent sequestration cuts within the Department of Defense, which may make it more difficult for the United States to “manage its alliances and strategic partnerships in the region.”


The launching of the JDS Izumo (DDH-183) Photo: Associated Press/Kyodo

As some of my readers have pointed out, I may have appeared somewhat biased against Japan because I did not fully account for other dynamics of the regional naval competition. However, it is not my intention in any way to accuse Japan or its neighbors of espousing expansionist tendencies. I should, therefore, point out that the factors behind the ongoing naval race may be more complex than they appear at first.

Read the rest of this entry »

F/A-18 Nose
“I won’t be offended if you turn away to watch the planes flying. I do it myself all the time,” NAS Oceana commanding officer CAPT Bob “Goose” Geis tells our group as he starts his brief on the facility’s history and operations. It’s an appropriate introduction to a meeting being held in the control tower conference room, a space seven stories above the tarmac with floor-to-ceiling glass on three sides, giving a 270 degree view of everything happening on the airfield. It’s an impressive sight, and you can’t fully appreciate the scale of NAS Oceana’s aircraft operations until you see it from above.

Read the rest of this entry »

It is time for Naval Aviation to become more than interested bystanders and step up to the plate for the ballistic missile defense mission. For those who have been otherwise engaged or looking elsewhere, the cover and main article in the May 2009 issue of Proceedings is your wake-up call. Now, besides the ever-present threat posed by cruise missiles, we can add ballistic missiles to the list of concerns. And to the naysayers who point to the Aegis community and say it’s their job because they’re the archer, I say not so fast, for several reasons. Chief among these is the growing threat itself.

Since the end of the Cold War, ballistic missiles have become a growth industry, especially in the short- and medium-ranged categories (figure out to 1500km). Missiles in these categories don’t require the engineering, technology, and support structure of their larger IR/ICBM cousins and as such, lend themselves to a variety of domestic production programs using proliferated knowledge and technology, or, may be purchased wholesale from willing proliferators, such as the DPRK. These missiles lend themselves to mobile launchers which may be deployed far forward, reducing warning and engagement times, and employed in sufficient quantities as to greatly complicate planning and operations in a number of areas and conditions ranging from APOD/SPOD operations to choke point transits. The numbers may be troublesome enough on their own – add in WMD, especially where certain countries that are expanding their ballistic missile capabilities are also engaged in nuclear programs that are unsupervised by international agencies and the problem 3-5 years out grows more complicated. Factor in the addition of sophisticated technology by near-peer nations – MaRV’s based on the Pershing II missile with millimeter terminal guidance radar for example, that are deployed in significant numbers on mobile platforms well within denied territory, and planning at all levels – tactical, operational and even strategic grows more difficult as options are taken off the table. Difficult or impossible, that is, absent a robust and credible defense.

CNO has declared BMD to be a core competency for all Navy – not just Aegis BMD. To be successful in that mission area will require efforts and capabilities that cut across communities and the operational and electromagnetic spectrum, much like we have and are doing for cruise missile defense. We must be able to bring to bear the full capabilities of sea-based power, kinetic and non- as all the elements of that sea-based power can provide force multiplier roles from pre-launch to terminal intercept. Naval aviation is a major player in this effort and not just as an attempt to “get a piece of the action.”

While it is true that at present, the only active (read: hard kill) defensive capability is via the SM-3 family and SM-2 BlkIV, there are a number of near and longer term instances where naval aviation, and carrier aviation in particular, will play an increasingly important role. Emphasis in the last several years in the development of these missiles and Aegis BMD has focused on the mid-course/exo-atmospheric (SM-3) and terminal/endo-atmospheric (SM-2 BlkIV) intercept of short- and medium range ballistic missiles, along with the long-range search/track contribution of Aegis BMD as part of the BMDS designed to counter intermediate- and intercontinental ballistic missiles. However, with the recent shift in emphasis to the regional/theater fight and a renewed focus on ascent phase intercept (API), maritime forces will come to play a substantially increased role in all three areas of BMD – offensive action, passive and active defenses. How will this be possible? Through a combination of emerging/evolving platforms and capabilities teamed with core competencies already found across several NAVAIR communities. Let’s look first at the platforms.

The E-2D will provide critical capabilities for sea-based BMD.

A key requirement and necessary capability for API to be successful is persistent ISR with rapid cueing via fast, redundant network paths to the shooter(s), in this case Aegis BMD-equipped ships. CVW’s in the 3-5 year out view will see their capabilities grow in this area following planned upgrades and introduction of new platforms. Close at hand will be the wider deployment of AESA equipped F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and the EA-18G Growler. One potential vulnerability of mobile TBMs is their command and control networks, especially if there is intent to employ them in saturation raids in concert with anti-ship or land-attack cruise missiles. Identification of critical communications nodes and attack via non-kinetic means may result in disruption of attacks or even disablement of the missiles themselves. The capabilities inherent in AESA-equipped aircraft and the electronic attack capabilities in the Growler lend themselves to further investigation in this field. Netted and linked data between these platforms, passed via current E-2C’s and fused with other off-board sensors (e.g., Predators, EP-3, and other joint platforms) build a richer picture for the afloat and ashore command elements. At the far end of that 3-5 year period the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye should begin seeing fleet introduction and the addition of its networking capability and revolutionary mechanically- and electronically scanned radar, among many other new or improved capabilities will bring battle management in the missile defense realm to new levels. Tapped into CEC or one of the other links for cueing, an Aegis BMD ship should be able to fire on remote, significantly expanding the battle space for API. Farther out, the addition of BAMS, P-8 and EPX, a possible marinized-Predator/Reaper and UCAV-N grow the range of possibilities for persistent ISR and cued attack, non-kinetic and kinetic. Indeed, even today Predators and their IR tracking have been successfully used in BMD tests. The carrier version of the JSF, the F-35C, will bring additional capabilities to the fight with its integrated sensor/weapons suite. And don’t forget – Fire Scout is already out there with potential near shore/over the beach surveillance as well.

While the platforms are coming on-line, what is more important is recognition within the various NAVAIR communities, especially VAW, VAQ and VQ of these inherent BMD capabilities, that BMD is a core mission across the Navy and that their particular communities have a natural affinity for BMD. Particular skill sets are required in the areas of C4I, Battle Management, ISR, net-centric operations and data fusion, all of which are an inherent part of those communities and representative of a natural and evolving growth. Joint and combined operational experience would certainly underscore these skill sets.

Thirty years ago the VAW community, was geared to the long-range AEW/AAW fight and gave little thought to the overland ABCCC mission, for example. Yet by the time of operations in the Gulf and over former Yugoslavia it was increasingly engaged and tasked so. Those skill sets evolved from the battle management skills developed over a half-century of AEW and refined in the digital age with the introduction of the E-2C/F-14 teamed with Aegis with the assistance of organizations like the Carrier AEW Weapons School and Naval Strike Warfare Center. Today it should be no less so and with organizations like the Navy Air and Missile Defense and Naval Strike and Air Warfare Commands serving as the laboratory cum schoolhouse for such evolutionary expansion, the time to start is now.

Because the threat certainly isn’t marking time…

Vikings. Hawkeyes. CODs. Prowlers. Whales (when they were still around) — ‘Cats and dogs’ we were called…

Didn’t go fast (‘cept down hill). Didn’t do afterburner flybys. Boss and Handler generally tolerated us, barely, unless we went stiff wing in the wires, then all hell was unleashed. Usually got the back-end pick of the Ready Rooms (“Viking ready room? yeah – it’s back aft under the wires, next to the Hummers…”).

And now of course, there’s one less in the family.
Rifling through my rapidly dimming synapses pulls some fond, funny and sad memories to the fore – of time spent by a Hawkeye guy with my Viking buds… (more here)

Posted by SteelJaw in Aviation | 10 Comments
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