The United States Navy (USN) is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. It was estimated to be larger than the next 13 largest navies combined in terms of battle fleet tonnage in 2009. The U.S. Navy also has the world's largest carrier fleet, with 10 in service, 2 under construction, 8 more planned, and two in active reserve. The service has 317,054 personnel on active duty and 109,671 in the Navy Reserve. It operates 289 ships in active service and more than 3,700 aircraft.
The U.S. Navy traces its origins to the Continental Navy, which was established during the American Revolutionary War and was essentially disbanded as a separate entity shortly thereafter. It played a major role in the American Civil War by blockading the Confederacy and seizing control of its rivers. It played the central role in the World War II defeat of Japan. The 21st century U.S. Navy maintains a sizable global presence, deploying in such areas as East Asia, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East. It is a blue-water navy with the ability to project force onto the littoral regions of the world, engage in forward areas during peacetime, and rapidly respond to regional crises, making it an active player in U.S. foreign and defense policy.
The preparation of naval forces necessary for the effective prosecution of war
The maintenance of naval aviation, including land-based naval aviation, air transport essential for naval operations and all air weapons and air techniques involved in the operations and activities of the Navy
The development of aircraft, weapons, tactics, technique, organization, and equipment of naval combat and service elements.
U.S. Navy training manuals state that the mission of the U.S. Armed Forces is "to prepare and conduct prompt and sustained combat operations in support of the national interest." As part of that establishment, the U.S. Navy's functions comprise sea control, power projection and nuclear deterrence, in addition to "sealift" duties.
The Navy was rooted in the American seafaring tradition, which produced a large community of sailors, captains and shipbuilders in the colonial era. In the early stages of the American Revolutionary War, Massachusetts had its own navy. The establishment of a national navy was an issue of debate among the members of the Continental Congress. Supporters argued that a navy would protect shipping, defend the coast, and make it easier to seek out support from foreign countries. Detractors countered that challenging the British Royal Navy, then the world's preeminent naval power, was a foolish undertaking. Commander in Chief George Washington resolved the debate when he commissioned seven ocean-going cruisers to interdict British supply ships, and reported the captures to the Congress.
The Continental Navy achieved mixed results; it was successful in a number of engagements and raided many British merchant vessels, but it lost 24 of its vessels and at one point was reduced to two in active service. The navy was disbanded at war's end.
The United States would be without a navy for nearly a decade—a state of affairs that exposed its merchant ships to a series of attacks by Barbary pirates. The sole armed maritime presence between 1790 and the launching of the U.S. Navy's first warships in 1797 was the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service (USRCS), the primary predecessor of the U.S. Coast Guard. Although USRCS Cutters conducted operations against these pirates, the depredations far outstripped the abilities of the USRCS and Congress ordered the construction and manning of six frigates on 27 March 1794; three years later the first three were welcomed into service: USS United States, USS Constellation, and USS Constitution. In 1798-99 the Navy was involved in an undeclared Quasi-War with France.
President Thomas Jefferson and his Republican party opposed a strong navy, arguing that small gunboats in the major harbors were all the nation needed to defend itself. They proved useless in wartime.
The U.S. Navy saw substantial action in the War of 1812, where it was victorious in eleven single-ship duels with the Royal Navy. The navy drove all significant British forces off Lake Erie and Lake Champlain and prevented them from becoming British controlled zones of conflict. The result was a major defeat for the British invasion of New York state, and the defeat of the military threat from the Indian allies of the British. Despite this, the U.S. Navy was unable to prevent the British from blockading American ports and landing troops on American soil. After the war, the U.S. Navy again focused its attention on protecting American shipping assets, sending squadrons to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, South America, Africa, and the Pacific. From 1819 to the outbreak of the Civil War the Africa Squadron operated to suppress the slave trade, seizing 36 slave ships, although its contribution was smaller than that of the much larger British Royal Navy.
During the Mexican-American War the U.S. Navy contributed by instituting blockades of Mexican ports, capturing or burning the Mexican fleet in the Gulf of California and capturing all major cities in Baja California peninsula—later returned. In 1846–1848 the navy successfully used the Pacific Squadron under Commodore (Rear Admiral) Robert Stockton and its marines and blue-jackets to facilitate the capture of California with large scale land operations coordinated with the local militia organized in the California Battalion. The navy conducted the U.S. military's first large-scale amphibious joint operation by successfully landing 12,000 army troops with their equipment in one day at Veracruz, Mexico. When larger guns were needed to bombard Veracruz, navy volunteers landed large navy guns and manned them in the successful bombardment and capture of the city. This successful landing and capture of Veracruz opened the way for the capture of Mexico City and the end of the war. The United States Navy established itself as a player in American foreign policy through the actions of CommodoreMatthew Perry in Japan, which resulted in the Convention of Kanagawa in 1854.
Naval power would play a significant role during the American Civil War, where the Union had a distinct advantage over the Confederacy on the seas. A Union blockade on all major ports shut down exports and the coastal trade, but blockade runners (mostly owned and operated by British companies) provided a thin lifeline. The brown-water Navy's control of the river systems made internal travel difficult for Confederates and easy for the Union. The war saw ironclad warships in combat for the first time at the Battle of Hampton Roads in 1862, which pitted USS Monitor against CSS Virginia.[page needed] For two decades after the war, however, the U.S. Navy's fleet was neglected and became technologically obsolete.
A modernization program beginning in the 1880s with the first steel hulled warships stimulated the American steel industry and "the new steel navy" was born. This rapid expansion of the U.S. Navy and its easy victory over the Spanish Navy in 1898 brought a new respect for American technical quality. Rapid building of at first pre-dreadnoughts, then dreadnoughts brought the U.S. in line with the navies of countries such as Britain and Germany. In 1907, most of the Navy's battleships, with several support vessels, dubbed the Great White Fleet, were showcased in a 14-month circumnavigation of the world. Ordered by President Theodore Roosevelt, it was a mission designed to demonstrate the Navy's capability to extend to the global theater. By 1911, the U.S. had begun building the super-dreadnoughts at a pace to eventually become competitive with Britain.
Columbia, personification of the United States, wearing a warship bearing the words "World Power" as her "Easter bonnet" on the cover of Puck, 6 April 1901.
World War I and interwar years
The navy saw little action during World War I. It concentrated on mine laying operations against German U-Boats. Hesitation by the senior command meant that naval forces were not contributed until late 1917. Battleship Division Nine was dispatched to Britain and served as the Sixth Battle Squadron of the British Grand Fleet. Its presence allowed the British to decommission some older ships and reuse the crews on smaller vessels. Destroyers and U.S. Naval Air Force units contributed to the anti-submarine operations. The strength of the United States Navy grew under an ambitious ship building program associated with the Naval Act of 1916.
Naval construction, especially of battleships was limited by the Washington Naval Conference of 1921–22. The aircraft carriers USS Saratoga (CV-3) and USS Lexington (CV-2) were built on the hulls of partially built battle cruisers that had been canceled by the treaty. The New Deal used Public Works Administration funds to build warships, such as USS Yorktown (CV-5) and USS Enterprise (CV-6). By 1936, with the completion of USS Wasp (CV-7), the U.S. Navy possessed a carrier fleet of 165,000 tonnes displacement, although this figure was nominally recorded as 135,000 tonnes to comply with treaty limitations. President Franklin Roosevelt, the number two official in the Navy Department during World War I, appreciated the Navy and gave it strong support. In return, senior leaders were eager for innovation and experimented with new technologies, such as magnetic torpedoes, and developed a strategy called War Plan Orange for victory in the Pacific in a hypothetical war with Japan.
The U.S. Navy grew into a formidable force in the years prior to World War II, with battleship production being restarted in 1937, commencing with the USS North Carolina (BB-55). Though ultimately unsuccessful, Japan attempted to neutralize this strategic threat with the 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Following American entry into the war, the U.S. Navy grew tremendously as the United States was faced with a two-front war on the seas. It achieved notable acclaim in the Pacific Theater, where it was instrumental to the Allies' successful "island hopping" campaign. The U.S. Navy participated in many significant battles, including the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Battle of Midway, the Solomon Islands Campaign, the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and the Battle of Okinawa. By 1943, the navy's size was larger than the combined fleets of all the other combatant nations in World War II. By war's end in 1945, the United States Navy had added hundreds of new ships, including 18 aircraft carriers and 8 battleships, and had over 70% of the world's total numbers and total tonnage of naval vessels of 1,000 tons or greater. At its peak, the U.S. Navy was operating 6,768 ships on V-J Day in August 1945.
Doctrine had significantly shifted by the end of the war. The United States Navy had followed in the footsteps of the navies of Great Britain and Germany which favored concentrated groups of battleships as their main offensive naval weapons. The development of the aircraft carrier and its devastating utilization by the Japanese against the U.S. at Pearl Harbor however shifted U.S. thinking. The Pearl Harbor attack destroyed or took out of action a significant number of U.S. Navy battleships. This placed much of the burden of retaliating against the Japanese on the small number of aircraft carriers.
The potential for armed conflict with the Soviet Union during the Cold War pushed the U.S. Navy to continue its technological advancement by developing new weapons systems, ships, and aircraft. United States naval strategy changed to that of forward deployment in support of U.S. allies with an emphasis on carrier battle groups.
The U.S. Navy has also been involved in search and rescue/search and salvage operations, sometimes in conjunction with vessels of other countries as well as with U.S. Coast Guard ships. Two examples are the 1966 Palomares B-52 crash incident and search for the nuclear bombs, and Task Force 71 of the Seventh Fleet operation in search for Korean Air Lines Flight 007 shot down by the Soviets on 1 September 1983.
The United States Navy continues to be a major support to U.S. interests in the 21st century. Since the end of the Cold War, it has shifted its focus from preparations for large-scale war with the Soviet Union to special operations and strike missions in regional conflicts. The navy participated in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and is a major participant in the ongoing War on Terror, largely in this capacity. Development continues on new ships and weapons, including the Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier and the Littoral combat ship. Because of its size, weapons technology, and ability to project force far from U.S. shores, the current U.S. Navy remains a potent asset for the United States.
In 2007, the U.S. Navy joined with the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard to adopt a new maritime strategy called A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower that raises the notion of prevention of war to the same philosophical level as the conduct of war. The strategy was presented by the Chief of Naval Operations, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and Commandant of the Coast Guard at the International Sea Power Symposium in Newport, R.I. on 17 October 2007. The strategy recognized the economic links of the global system and how any disruption due to regional crises—man made or natural—can adversely impact the U.S. economy and quality of life. This new strategy charts a course for the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps to work collectively with each other and international partners to prevent these crises from occurring or reacting quickly should one occur to prevent negative impacts on the United States.
During the George W. Bush administration, the fleet dropped to a total number of ships that was smaller than any time since 1917.
In 2010, Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Gary Roughead, noted that demands on the Navy have grown as the fleet has shrunk and that in the face of declining budgets in the future, the U.S. Navy must rely even more on international partnerships.
In its 2013 budget request, the navy focused on retaining all eleven big deck carriers, at the expense of cutting numbers of smaller ships and delaying the SSBN replacement.
The US Navy currently has a three-step plan to boost the fleets' firepower: in the near-term, develop the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile to create a surface-launched, over-the-horizon cruise missile with greater coverage than the 75 mi (121 km)-ranged Harpoon anti-ship missile to have the capability that was lost with the retirement of the Tomahawk Anti-Ship Missile; in the mid-term, replace defensive missile systems with laser weapon systems; and in the long-term, equip ships with electromagnetic railguns for over-the-horizon bombardment. Lasers like the Laser Weapon System in testing are currently for defense of ships and would allow missile compartments to be freed up for offensive system, while the laser could run as long as the ship has power. They may only be relegated to short-range defensive work, as they cannot fire over the horizon or out of line-of-sight. Railguns will be offensive and fire projectiles at Mach 7 out to 125 mi (201 km). They will serve as a complement to cruise missiles, as they have less range, components wear out fast, and currently only Zumwalt-class destroyers can generate enough electrical power for desired performance.
The United States Navy has six active numbered fleets – Third, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh Fleet and Tenth Fleets are each led by a three-star vice admiral, and the Fourth Fleet is led by a rear admiral. These six fleets are further grouped under Fleet Forces Command (the former Atlantic Fleet), Pacific Fleet, Naval Forces Europe-Africa, and Naval Forces Central Command, whose commander also doubles as Commander Fifth Fleet; the first three commands being led by four-star admirals. The United States First Fleet existed after the Second World War from 1947, but it was redesignated Third Fleet in early 1973. In early 2008, the navy reactivated the United States Fourth Fleet to control operations in the area controlled by Southern Command, which consists of US assets in and around Central and South America.
In 1834, the United States Marine Corps came under the Department of the Navy. Historically, the Navy has had a unique relationship with the USMC, partly because they both specialize in seaborne operations. Together the Navy and Marine Corps form the Department of the Navy and report to the secretary of the navy. However, the Marine Corps is a distinct, separate service branch with its own uniformed service chief – the Commandant of the Marine Corps, a four-star general.
The Marine Corps depends on the Navy for medical support (dentists, doctors, nurses, medical technicians known as corpsmen) and religious support (chaplains). Thus Navy officers and enlisted sailors fulfill these roles. When attached to Marine Corps units deployed to an operational environment they generally wear marine camouflage uniforms, but otherwise they wear Navy dress uniforms unless they opt to conform to Marine Corps grooming standards.
In the operational environment, as an expeditionary force specializing in amphibious operations, Marines often embark on Navy ships in order to conduct operations from beyond territorial waters. Marine units deploying as part of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) operate under the command of the existing Marine chain of command. Although Marine units routinely operate from amphibious assault ships the relationship has evolved over the years much as the Commander of the Carrier Air Group/Wing (CAG) does not work for the carrier commanding officer, but coordinates with the ship's CO and staff. Some Marine aviation squadrons, usually fixed-wing assigned to carrier air wings train and operate alongside Navy squadrons, flying similar missions and often flying sorties together under the cognizance of the CAG. Aviation is where the Navy and Marines share the most common ground, since aircrews are guided in their use of aircraft by standard procedures outlined in series of publications known as NATOPS manuals.
United States Coast Guard
A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter prepares to land on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD-1).
The United States Coast Guard, in its peacetime role with the Department of Homeland Security, fulfills its law enforcement role in the maritime environment. It provides Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDETs) to Navy vessels, where they perform arrests and other law enforcement duties during naval boarding and interdiction missions. In times of war, the Coast Guard operates as a service in the Navy. At other times, Coast Guard port security units are sent overseas to guard the security of ports and other assets. The Coast Guard also jointly staffs the Navy's naval coastal warfare groups and squadrons (the latter of which were known as harbor defense commands until late-2004), which oversee defense efforts in foreign littoral combat and inshore areas.
Sailors prove they have mastered skills and deserve responsibilities by completing Personnel Qualification Standards (PQS) tasks and examinations. Among the most important is the "warfare qualification", which denotes a journeyman level of capability in Surface Warfare, Aviation Warfare, Information Dominance Warfare, Naval Aircrew, Special Warfare, Seabee Warfare, Submarine Warfare or Expeditionary Warfare. Many qualifications are denoted on a sailor's uniform with U.S. Navy badges and insignia.
The size, complexity, and international presence of the United States Navy requires a large number of navy installations to support its operations. While the majority of bases are located inside the United States itself, the navy maintains a significant number of facilities abroad, either in U.S.-controlled territories or in foreign countries under a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).
The navy's largest complex is China Lake, California, which covers 1.1 million acres (4,500 km2) of land, or approximately 1/3 of the United States Navy's total land holdings.
Naval Base San Diego, California, is the main homeport of the Pacific Fleet (although its headquarters is located in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii). NAS North Island is located on the north side of Coronado, and is home to Headquarters for Naval Air Forces and Naval Air Force Pacific, the bulk of the Pacific Fleet's helicopter squadrons, and part of the West Coast aircraft carrier fleet. Naval Amphibious Base Coronado is located on the southern end of the Coronado Island and is home to the navy's west coast SEAL teams and special boat units. Naval Amphibious Base Coronado is also home to the Naval Special Warfare Center, the primary training center for SEALs.
Guam, an island strategically located in the Western Pacific Ocean, maintains a sizable U.S. Navy presence, including Naval Base Guam. The westernmost U.S. territory, it contains a natural deep water harbor capable of harboring aircraft carriers in emergencies. Its naval air station was deactivated in 1995 and its flight activities transferred to nearby Andersen Air Force Base.
As of 2013, the navy operates 283 ships, 3,659 aircraft, 50,000 non-combat vehicles and owns 75,200 buildings on 3,300,000 acres (13,000 km2). In addition, the Navy has 122 ships operated by the Military Sealift Command (USNS) crewed by a combination of civilian contractors and a small number of uniformed Naval personnel.
The names of commissioned ships of the U.S. Navy are prefixed with the letters "USS", designating "United States Ship". Non-commissioned, civilian-manned vessels of the navy have names that begin with "USNS", standing for "United States Naval Ship" The names of ships are officially selected by the secretary of the navy, often to honor important people or places. Additionally, each ship is given a letter-based hull classification symbol (for example, CVN or DDG) to indicate the vessel's type and number. All ships in the navy inventory are placed in the Naval Vessel Register, which is part of "the Navy List" (required by article 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).[dubious– discuss] The register tracks data such as the current status of a ship, the date of its commissioning, and the date of its decommissioning. Vessels that are removed from the register prior to disposal are said to be stricken from the register. The navy also maintains a reserve fleet of inactive vessels that are maintained for reactivation in times of need.
The U.S. Navy was one of the first to install nuclear reactors aboard naval vessels; today, nuclear energy powers all active U.S. aircraft carriers and submarines. In the case of the Nimitz-class carrier, two naval reactors give the ship almost unlimited range and provide enough electrical energy to power a city of 100,000 people. The U.S. Navy previously operated nuclear-powered cruisers, but all have been decommissioned.
The U.S. Navy has identified a need for 313 combat ships, but under the current plans will only be able to afford 232 to 243. In March 2014, the Navy is considering counting deployable ships such as minesweepers, patrol craft, and hospital ships in the "battle fleet" in order to reach a count of 291, and also ships that have been put in "shrink wrap".
The navy had established a minimum requirement for 11 aircraft carriers, but dropped to 10 when Enterprise retired in December 2012, before Gerald R. Ford enters service.
A carrier is typically deployed along with a host of additional vessels, forming a carrier strike group. The supporting ships, which usually include three or four Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers, a frigate, and two attack submarines, are tasked with protecting the carrier from air, missile, sea, and undersea threats as well as providing additional strike capabilities themselves. Ready logistics support for the group is provided by a combined ammunition, oiler, and supply ship.
Amphibious assault ships are the centerpieces of US amphibious warfare and fulfill the same power projection role as aircraft carriers except that their striking force centers on land forces instead of aircraft. They deliver, command, coordinate, and fully support all elements of a 2200-strong marine amphibious unit in an amphibious assault using both air and amphibious vehicles. Resembling small aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships are capable of V/STOL, STOVL, VTOL, tiltrotor, and rotary wing aircraft operations. They also contain a well deck to support the use of Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) and other amphibious assault watercraft. Recently, amphibious assault ships have begun to be deployed as the core of an expeditionary strike group, which usually consists of an additional amphibious transport dock and dock landing ship for amphibious warfare and an Aegis-equipped cruiser and destroyer, frigate, and attack submarine for group defense. Amphibious assault ships are typically named after World War II aircraft carriers.
Amphibious transport docks are warships that embark, transport, and land Marines, supplies, and equipment in a supporting role during amphibious warfare missions. With a landing platform, amphibious transport docks also have the capability to serve as secondary aviation support for an expeditionary group. All amphibious transport docks can operate helicopters, LCACs, and other conventional amphibious vehicles while the newer San Antonio class of ships has been explicitly designed to operate all three elements of the marines' "mobility triad": Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles (EFVs), the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, and LCACs. Amphibious transport docks are named for cities, except for USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19), named for Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, and three San Antonio class ships named in memory of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The dock landing ship is a medium amphibious transport that is designed specifically to support and operate LCACs, though it is able to operate other amphibious assault vehicles in the United States inventory as well. Dock landing ships are normally deployed as a component of an expeditionary strike group's amphibious assault contingent, operating as a secondary launch platform for LCACs. All dock landing ships are named after locations in the United States.
Cruisers are large surface combat vessels that conduct anti-air/anti-missile warfare, surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and strike operations independently or as members of a larger task force. Modern guided missile cruisers were developed out of a need to counter the anti-ship missile threat facing the United States Navy. This led to the development of the AN/SPY-1 phased array radar and the Standard missile with the Aegis combat system coordinating the two. Ticonderoga-class cruisers were the first to be equipped with Aegis and were put to use primarily as anti-air and anti-missile defense in a battle force protection role. Later developments of vertical launch systems and the Tomahawk missile gave cruisers additional long-range land and sea strike capability, making them capable of both offensive and defensive battle operations. All cruisers since CG-47 have been named for famous battles with USS Thomas S. Gates (CG-51) as the only exception. Previously, cruisers were either named for cities (until CG-12), former important navy figures (CG-15 to CG-35), or states (CGN-36 to CGN-41).
Destroyers are multi-mission medium surface ships capable of sustained performance in anti-air, anti-submarine, anti-ship, and offensive strike operations. Like cruisers, guided missile destroyers are primarily focused on surface strikes using Tomahawk missiles and fleet defense through Aegis and the Standard missile. Destroyers additionally specialize in anti-submarine warfare and are equipped with VLA rockets and LAMPS Mk III Sea Hawk helicopters to deal with underwater threats. When deployed with a carrier strike group or expeditionary strike group, destroyers and their fellow Aegis-equipped cruisers are primarily tasked with defending the fleet while providing secondary strike capabilities. Destroyers have been named for important navy personnel and heroes since USS Bainbridge (DD-1).
Zumwalt class – 1 completed but not yet in commission, 2 under construction
Modern U.S. frigates mainly perform anti-submarine warfare for carrier strike groups and amphibious expeditionary groups and provide armed escort for supply convoys and merchant shipping. They are designed to protect friendly ships against hostile submarines in low to medium threat environments, using torpedoes and LAMPS helicopters. Independently, frigates are able to conduct counterdrug missions and other maritime interception operations. The U.S. Navy expects to retire and replace its current class of frigates by 2020 as the Littoral Combat Ships are introduced into operation. As in the case of destroyers, frigates are named after naval heroes.
In addition, USS Constitution, commissioned in 1797 and one of the original six frigates of the United States Navy, remains in commission at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. She serves as a tribute to the heritage of the Navy, and occasionally sails for commemorative events such as Independence Day and various victories during the War of 1812. Constitution is currently the oldest commissioned warship afloat. HMS Victory is older, and in commission, but is in permanent drydock.
The primary missions of submarines in the U.S. Navy are peacetime engagement, surveillance and intelligence, special operations, precision strikes, battlegroup operations, and control of the seas. The U.S. Navy operates three types: ballistic missile submarines, guided missile submarines, and attack submarines. Ballistic missile submarines have only one mission: to carry and launch the Trident missile. Four Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines were converted to guided missile submarines, which have a primary mission of attacking targets on land. Attack submarines have several tactical missions, including sinking ships and other subs, launching cruise missiles, gathering intelligence, and assisting in special operations. Earlier attack submarines, such as the Los Angeles class, are typically named for cities while Ohio class and later attack submarines are typically named for states. Attack submarines prior to the Los Angeles class were named for denizens of the deep, while pre-Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines were named for famous Americans (including foreigners with notable connections to the United States).
Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines – 18 in commission, with 4 converted into guided missile submarines
Los Angeles-class attack submarines – 41 in commission (1 of which to be decommissioned in Sep 2014), 2 in reserve
Carrier-based aircraft are able to strike air, sea, and land targets far from a carrier strike group while protecting friendly forces from enemy aircraft, ships, and submarines. In peacetime, aircraft's ability to project the threat of sustained attack from a mobile platform on the seas gives United States leaders significant diplomatic and crisis-management options. Aircraft additionally provide logistics support to maintain the navy's readiness and, through helicopters, supply platforms with which to conduct search and rescue, special operations, anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and anti-surface warfare (ASuW).
The U.S. Navy began to research the use of aircraft at sea in the 1910s, with Lieutenant Theodore G. "Spuds" Ellyson becoming the first naval aviator on 28 January 1911, and commissioned its first aircraft carrier, USS Langley (CV-1), in 1922. United States naval aviation fully came of age in World War II, when it became clear following the Attack on Pearl Harbor, the Battle of the Coral Sea, and the Battle of Midway that aircraft carriers and the planes that they carried had replaced the battleship as the greatest weapon on the seas. Leading navy aircraft in World War II included the Grumman F4F Wildcat, the Grumman F6F Hellcat, the Chance Vought F4U Corsair, the Douglas SBD Dauntless, and the Grumman TBF Avenger. Navy aircraft also played a significant role in conflicts during the following Cold War years, with the F-4 Phantom II and the F-14 Tomcat becoming military icons of the era. The navy's current primary fighter and attack airplanes are the multi-mission F/A-18C/D Hornet and its newer cousin, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The F-35 Lightning II is presently under development and was scheduled to replace the C and D versions of the Hornet beginning in 2012. Initial operational capability of the F-35C is now expected to be February 2019. The Navy is also looking to eventually replace its F/A-18E/F Super Hornets with the F/A-XX program.
The Aircraft Investment Plan sees naval aviation growing from 30 percent of current aviation forces to half of all procurement funding over the next three decades.
Current U.S. Navy shipboard weapons systems are almost entirely focused on missiles, both as a weapon and as a threat. In an offensive role, missiles are intended to strike targets at long distances with accuracy and precision. Because they are unmanned weapons, missiles allow for attacks on heavily defended targets without risk to human pilots. Land strikes are the domain of the BGM-109 Tomahawk, which was first deployed in the 1980s and is continually being updated to increase its capabilities. For anti-ship strikes, the navy's dedicated missile is the Harpoon Missile. To defend against enemy missile attack, the navy operates a number of systems that are all coordinated by the Aegis combat system. Medium-long range defense is provided by the Standard Missile 2, which has been deployed since the 1980s. The Standard missile doubles as the primary shipboard anti-aircraft weapon and is undergoing development for use in theater ballistic missile defense. Short range defense against missiles is provided by the Phalanx CIWS and the more recently developed RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile. In addition to missiles, the navy employs Mark 46 and Mark 50 torpedoes and various types of naval mines.
Naval fixed-wing aircraft employ much of the same weapons as the United States Air Force for both air-to-air and air-to-surface combat. Air engagements are handled by the heat-seeking Sidewinder and the radar guided AMRAAM missiles along with the M61 Vulcan cannon for close range dogfighting. For surface strikes, navy aircraft utilize a combination of missiles, smart bombs, and dumb bombs. On the list of available missiles are the Maverick, SLAM-ER and JSOW. Smart bombs include the GPS-guided JDAM and the laser-guided Paveway series. Unguided munitions such as dumb bombs and cluster bombs make up the rest of the weapons deployed by fixed-wing aircraft.
Rotary aircraft weapons are focused on anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and light to medium surface engagements. To combat submarines, helicopters use Mark 46 and Mark 50 torpedoes. Against small watercraft, they utilize Hellfire and Penguin air to surface missiles. Helicopters also employ various types of mounted anti-personnel machine guns, including the M60, M240, GAU-16/A, and GAU-17/A.
Nuclear weapons in the U.S. Navy arsenal are deployed through ballistic missile submarines and aircraft. The Ohio-class submarine carries the latest iteration of the Trident missile, a three stage, submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) with MIRV capability; the current Trident II (D5) version is expected to be in service past 2020. The navy's other nuclear weapon is the air-deployed B61 nuclear bomb. The B61 is a thermonuclear device that can be dropped by strike aircraft such as the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet at high speed from a large range of altitudes. It can be released through free-fall or parachute and can be set to detonate in the air or on the ground.
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