Magazine article National Defense

Future Flight Decks: More Helos and 'Hummers'

Magazine article National Defense

Future Flight Decks: More Helos and 'Hummers'

Article excerpt

Within the Navy's higher circles, it's called "Nathman's vision." Vice Adm. John B. Nathman is the commander of naval air forces for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, headquartered in San Diego. He formerly was director of naval air warfare and oversaw aviation programs in Washington, D.C.

Nathman's vision, like that of many of his fellow senior officers, is that of a Navy with 15 aircraft carriers, which is three more that the current fleet. But, in addition to building more carriers, he believes the Navy should have aviation carrier wings with fewer fighter jets and more "helos and hummers."

The helos are the new H-60s (CH-60S and SH-60R), which the Navy is buying to replace aging support aircraft and to take over various warfare missions. The "hummers" are the E-2 Hawkeye early-warning aircraft, whose nickname refers to the sound of its turboprop engines.

During a conference of Navy three-star admirals, nearly two years ago, the decision was made to redesign the carrier air wing, Nathman told the 2000 Tailhook Association's annual convention, in Reno, Nev. "Those were controversial decisions," he said, because they were bound to upset some aviation communities. But they were necessary moves, said Nathman, in order to make the Navy a competitive force in the 21st century. "Our focus is on time-critical strike against mobile targets, on shaping deep attack." More helicopters would assist in littoral-based operations, he said. "We are studying those trends and forces for the carrier flight deck."

Instead of having four Hawkeyes per wing, Nathman would like to see six. The S-3 Viking anti-submarine platform and tactical refueling plane, which averages 23 years of age, would be phased out. And instead of six H-60 helos, he would put 10. "We need to use helicopters as a true total-force answer," he said.

The strike forces also would change. The current four EA-6B Prowler radar-jamming aircraft per wing would be replaced by six F/A-18G "Growlers," a jammer configuration of the F/A- 18E/F Super Hornet. Instead of 26 E/Fs, there would be 24. The 24 Hornets (F/A-18C/Ds) would be replaced by 20 Joint Strike Fighters, which are scheduled to enter service in 10 to 15 years.

The three-star panel's decision to endorse the F/A-18G as an electronic attack platform has yet to be approved by the Pentagon, which wants jammer aircraft to be "purple," rather than service unique and currently is conducting a study on electronic warfare options to replace the Prowler.

Designing an air wing with 50 fighters, down from 54, was controversial, said Nathman. "We can use that money [that would be saved by deploying fewer fighters] to buy other things we need to buy." An even more provocative discussion among the three-star admiral group was on the future of support aircraft: the Hawkeye, the C-2 transport and the S-3.

During the past several years, the Navy had promoted its plan to develop a "common support aircraft" (CSA) to replace those three legacy platforms. The CSA was going to do aerial refueling, airborne early warning, anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare. But trying to pack so many requirements into one aircraft doomed the project. "It was really hard for me to figure our, as a resource sponsor, what that airplane was going to look like, let alone how to build it," Nathman said. …

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