Carrier Air Wing
A Carrier Air Wing (abbreviated CVW) is an operational naval aviation organization composed of several aircraft squadrons and detachments of various types of fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft. Organized, equipped and trained to conduct modern US Navy carrier air operations while embarked aboard aircraft carriers, the various squadrons in an air wing have different, complementary (and sometimes overlapping) missions, and provide most of the striking power and electronic warfare capabilities of a carrier battle group (CVBG). While the CVBG term is still used by other nations, the CVBG in US parlance in now known as a carrier strike group (CSG).
Until 1963, Carrier Air Wings were known as Carrier Air Groups (CAGs). Carrier Air Wings are what the United States Air Force would call “composite” wings, and should not be confused with U.S. Navy Type Wings (such as Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic), which are primarily administrative and training commands composed of squadrons of the same type of carrier-based aircraft when not deployed. Carrier Air Wings integrate closely with their assigned aircraft carriers, forming a "carrier/air wing team" that trains and deploys together. There are currently ten U.S. Navy Carrier Air Wings, four based at NAS Oceana, Virginia, five based at NAS Lemoore, California, and one forward deployed to NAF Atsugi, Japan. These air wings are occasionally reassigned to different aircraft carriers based on carrier maintenance schedules. A modern air wing consists of roughly 2,500 personnel and 60–65 aircraft.
The first Carrier Air Groups (as they were then called) were activated in 1937. Initially, the commander of the air group (known as the "CAG") was the most senior commanding officer of the embarked squadrons and was expected to personally lead all major strike operations, co-ordinating the attacks of the carrier's fighter, bomber, and torpedo planes in combat. The CAG was a department head of the ship reporting to the carrier's commanding officer.
From July 1937 to mid-1942 Carrier Air Groups were permanently assigned to and identified by their parent aircraft carrier, and group squadrons were numbered according to the carrier's hull number. For example, the Enterprise Air Group, assigned to USS Enterprise (CV-6), were all numbered "6": Fighting Squadron (VF) 6, Bombing Squadron (VB) 6, etc. From 1942, numerical designation of air groups began, the first being Carrier Air Group 9 (CVG-9), established on 1 March 1942. For a while, they were given unique numbers according to their assigned carriers' hull number (i.e., the Enterprise Air Group became CAG-6). This numbering scheme was also soon scrapped as carrier groups (now abbreviated CVGs) frequently moved from carrier to carrier. At this point, the carrier groups simply retained their number designation regardless of the carrier assigned.
The first formal system for air group identification (Visual Identification System for Naval Aircraft) was established in January 1945. This consisted of geometric symbols that identified the parent carrier, not the air group. As there were just too many carriers and the symbols were hard to remember or to describe over the radio, a single or double letter system was introduced in July 1945. The letters, however, still identified the carrier, not the air group. The following identifications are known:
- USS Saratoga (CV-3): CC
- USS Enterprise (CV-6): M
- USS Yorktown (CV-10): RR
- USS Hornet (CV-12): S
- USS Ticonderoga (CV-14): V
- USS Randolph (CV-15): L
- USS Lexington (CV-16): H
- USS Wasp (CV-18): X
- USS Hancock (CV-19): U
- USS Bennington (CV-20): TT
- USS Monterey (CVL-26): C
- USS Shangri-La (CV-38): Z
Shangri-La is known to have had her hull number "38" on the flight deck forward replaced by her air group identification letter "Z". Due to the ongoing combat and the end of the war, a mix of identification codes was used in late 1945. Starting in late 1946, the letters identified the carrier air group, and not the carrier. The use of single letters was discontinued in 1957.
On 15 November 1946, to correct the results of demobilization which had left squadron numbers all out of sequence, sweeping changes were made in air unit designations. Carrier Air Groups of four types were designated according to their assigned ship, as CVBG for Battle Carrier, CVG for Attack Carrier, CVLG for Light Carrier and CVEG for Escort Carrier. Two years later, on 1 September 1948, all carrier air groups became CVG regardless of their carrier affiliation.
On 20 December 1963, Carrier Air Groups were retitled Wings, and the acronym CVG became CVW. Replacement Air Groups, which were set up in 1958, became Combat Readiness Air Groups on 1 April 1963. Often known by the short titles RAG and CRAG in the respective periods, their designation throughout was RCVG. When Groups became Wings, CRAG became CRAW and RCVG became RCVW.
From 1960 to 1974 the U.S. Navy also operated Carrier Anti-Submarine Air Groups (CVSG). These typically consisted of two fixed-wing anti-submarine squadrons (VS), a helicopter squadron anti-submarine (HS), and two smaller squadrons or squadron detachments of 3-4 aircraft for airborne early warning (VAW) and self-defense (VA, VMA, VSF, VF).
Prior to 1983, CAGs were typically post-squadron command aviators in the rank of Commander who would typically promote to Captain while in command and would subsequently track to command of a deep draft support vessel followed by command of an aircraft carrier once they achieved greater seniority in the rank of Captain. In 1983, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman elevated the CAG to be coequal with the Captain of the aircraft carrier to which the air wing embarked, with both officers reporting directly to the embarked Flag Officer who was Commander of the Carrier Battle Group. The CAG was then referred to as a "Super CAG." Later a slightly junior Captain was added as the Deputy CAG (DCAG), with the DCAG assisting the CAG until he'she eventually "fleets up" to the CAG position. This system is still in place, although the term "Super CAG" soon reverted back to the traditional "CAG."
World War II
- 1 fighter squadron (VF) composed of 18 Grumman F4F Wildcats
- 1 bombing squadron (VB) composed of 18 Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers
- 1 scouting squadron (VS) composed of 18 Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bombers
- 1 torpedo squadron (VT) composed of 18 Douglas TBD Devastator, TBF or TBM torpedo bombers
During the course of the war in the Pacific the compositions of the air groups changed drastically. The scouting squadrons were disestablished by early 1943 and the number of fighter planes was increased continuously. Typically in 1943 an Essex class carrier carried 36 fighter planes, 36 bombers and 18 torpedo planes.
By the end of WWII, a typical Essex air group was over 100 aircraft, consisting of :
- 1 squadron of 18 F6F fighters
- 4 squadrons of 72 F4U fighter/bombers
- 1 squadron of 12 TBM Avenger torpedo bombers
Korea and Cold War
Carrier Air Groups typically had four fighter squadrons with 58 planes and an attack squadron of 14 planes.
- 2-3 jet fighter/fighter bomber squadrons flying the F9F Panther
- 1-2 piston fighter squadrons flying F4U Corsairs
- 1 attack squadron flying AD Skyraiders
New to the air wings in the Cold War period after Korea and just prior to Vietnam were specialized squadrons of aircraft for heavy attack/nuclear strike (VAH), photographic reconnaissance (VAP/VFP, RVAH), airborne early warning (VAW), all-weather medium attack (VA), advanced twin-seat fighters (VF), electronic countermeasures (VAQ), and helicopters (HC, HS).
During the Vietnam War Attack Carrier Air Wings typically consisted of approximately 70 aircraft, including two fighter squadrons and three attack squadrons, plus the special squadrons and detachments (VAW, VAQ, RVAH or VFP, VQ, HC or HS.
In 1965, a typical Carrier Air Wing consisted of:
- 2 fighter squadrons (VF) flying F-8 Crusaders or F-4 Phantom IIs
- 2 light attack squadrons (VA) flying A-4 Skyhawks
- 1 attack squadron (VA) flying A-1 Skyraiders or A-6 Intruders
- 1 heavy attack squadron (VAH) flying A-3 Skywarriors or A-5 Vigilantes
- 1 light photographic squadron detachment flying RF-8 Crusaders or 1 reconnaissance attack squadron flying RA-5C Vigilantes
- 2-3 carrier airborne early warning squadron detachment E-1 Tracer airborne early warning aircraft
By the end of the Vietnam War in 1973, a typical air wing consisted of ~90 aircraft:
- 2 fighter squadrons (VF) flying F-4 Phantom IIs or F-8 Crusaders (the latter on Essex class carriers)
- 2 light attack squadrons (VA) flying A-7 Corsairs or A-4 Skyhawks
- 1 medium/all weather attack squadron (VA) flying A-6 Intruders
- 1 electronic warfare squadron (VAQ) flying EKA-3B Skywarriors (also served as aerial refueling tankers) or EA-6B Prowlers
- 1 airborne early warning squadron (VAW) flying 3-4 E-2 Hawkeye aircraft
- 1 reconnaissance attack squadron (RVAH) flying 3-6 RA-5C Vigilantes on Forrestal class and larger carriers, or a detachment of RF-8G Crusaders from a light photographic reconnaissance squadron (VFP)
- Detachments of SH-3s or UH-2s from a helicopter combat support squadron (HC)
An anti-submarine air group (CVSG) aboard the Essex-class anti-submarine carriers (CVS) operated five squadrons:
- 2 anti-submarine squadrons (VS) flying S-2 Trackers
- 1 helicopter anti-submarine squadron (HS) flying SH-3A Sea Kings
- 1 early warning squadron (VAW) of 4 E-1 Tracers
- a detachment of 4 A-4 Skyhawks for self-defence from various Navy or Marine Corps squadrons (VSF, VA, VMA, H&MS)
From 1969 to 1977, a number of carrier air wings were disestablished in the post-Vietnam drawdown: Carrier Air Wing 10 on 20 November 1969, Readiness Carrier Air Wing 12 on 1 June 1970, Readiness Carrier Air Wing 4 on 1 July 1970, Carrier Air Wing 16 on 30 June 1971, Carrier Air Wing 21 on 12 December 1975, and Carrier Air Wing 19 on 30 June 1977.
1983 Invasion of Grenada
By the early 1980s, typical air wings were replacing F-4s with F-14 Tomcat on Forrestal, Kitty Hawk, Enterprise and Nimitz class clarriers and/or F/A-18 Hornets onboard Midway class carriers. A-7s were also being replaced with F/A-18s, while KA-6D tankers and A-6E bombers with aerial refueling pods had replaced A-3 as tankers, and EA-6B Prowlers had largely replaced EA-3s in the VAQ mission, although detachments of EA-3s from fleet air reconnaissance squadrons (VQ) soldiered on through the late 1980s as ELINT aircraft until replaced by the ES-3A Shadow in the carrier-based VQ mission.
- 2 fighter squadrons (VF) of 12 F-4s or F-14s or 2 strike fighter squadrons (VFA) of 12 F/A-18s
- Marine fighter attack squadrons (VMFA) with F-4s or F/A-18s could occasionally substitute for a VF or VFA squadron
- 2 attack squadrons (VA) of 12 A-7Es or 2 strike fighter squadrons of 12 F/A-18s
- 1 all-weather attack squadron (VA) 10-12 A-6E (including 4 KA-6D tankers)
- Marine medium attack - all-weather squadron (VMA(AW)) with A-6Es could occasionally substitute for a medium VA squadron
- 1 early warning squadron (VAW) of 4-6 E-2Cs
- 1 tactical electronic warfare squadron (VAQ) or Marine tactical electronic warfare squadron VMAQ) of 4 EA-6Bs
- 1 anti-submarine squadron (VS) of 10 Lockheed S-3A Vikings
- 1 helicopter anti-submarine squadron (HS) of 6 SH-3H Sea Kings
- 1 detachment of EA-3B ELINT aircraft from a fleet air reconnaissance squadron (VQ)
- 1 detachment of RF-8Gs from a light photographic reconnaissance squadron (VFP) or RF-4s from a Marine photographic reconnaissance squadron (VMFP)
- If one of the F-14 squadrons was Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod Systems (TARPS)-capable, the VFP detachment or VMFP detachment would be deleted
On 1 March 1 1984, Carrier Air Wing 13 was established. Between 1 October 1985 and 30 September 1989 the wing made three deployments aboard Coral Sea. Carrier Air Wing 10 was re-established on 1 November 1986 for eighteen months, but then disestablished again in March 1988.
1991 Gulf War
The Gulf War marked the largest concentrated use of carrier air wings since World War II. All F-4s had been retired and A-7Es had largely been replaced with F/A-18 Hornets.
- 2 fighter squadrons (VF) of 10-12 F-14 Tomcats, including TARPS photo reconnaissance aircraft, or 2 strike fighter squadrons (VFA) of 12 F/A-18 Hornets
- 2 strike fighter squadrons (VFA) of 12 FA-18 Hornets
- 1 medium attack squadron (VA) 10 A-6Es (including 4 KA-6D tankers).
- 1 early warning squadron (VAW) of 4-6 E-2Cs
- 1 tactical electronic warfare squadron (VAQ) of 4-6 EA-6Bs
- 1 anti-submarine squadron (VS) of 8 S-3A Vikings
- 1 helicopter anti-submarine squadron (HS) of 6 SH-3H Sea Kings or 4 SH-60F and 3 HH-60H Seahawks
- 1 Detachment of ES-3A Shadow ELINT aircraft from a fleet air reconnaissance squadron (VQ)
- 1 detachment of C-2A Greyhound aircraft for Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD)
From 1991 to 1995, three more carrier air wings were disestablished: the Atlantic Fleet's Carrier Air Wing 13 on 1 January 1991, followed Carrier Air Wing 6 on 1 April 1992, and the Pacific Fleet's Carrier Air Wing 15 on 31 March 1995. In addition, the U.S. Naval Reserve's Carrier Air Wing Reserve 30 (CVWR-30) was disestablished on 31 December 1994.
2003 Iraq War
By 2003, A-6s had been retired with their tanking duties being assumed by S-3s, ES-3s had been retired, and older F-14s were being phased out with the FA-18 E/F Super Hornets which was also replacing 1 squadron of F/A-18C Hornets.
- 1 fighter squadron (VF) of 10 F-14A/B/Ds or 1 strike fighter squadron (VFA) of 12 F/A-18F Super Hornets
- 1 strike fighter squadron (VFA) of 12 F/A-18C Hornets or 12 F/A-18E Super Hornets
- 2 strike fighter squadrons (VFA) or Marine fighter attack squadrons (VMFA) of 12 F/A-18C Hornets
- 1 early warning squadron (VAW) of 4 E-2Cs
- 1 tactical electronic warfare squadron (VAQ) of 4-5 EA-6Bs
- 1 sea control squadron (VS) of 8 S-3Bs (primary aerial tankers)
- 1 helicopter anti-submarine squadron (HS) of 6 SH-60F and 2 HH-60H
- 1 detachment of C-2A Greyhound aircraft for Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD)
The deactivation of Carrier Air Wing 14 was planned for 2011-12. However, a March 20, 2012 memo from the Chief of Naval Operations, ADM Jon Greenert, cancelled that decision. Yet a Navy Times article of March 28, 2012, noted that "Greenert’s decision, however, expires in a year unless a new plan takes its place. ... The Navy had planned to deactivate a carrier air wing and its squadrons in its fiscal 2012 budget to help meet required cuts in defense spending in last year’s Budget Control Act, cutting the number of carrier air wings from 10 to nine. But Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter later directed the Navy to make funds and manpower available for 10 wings." .."Navy spokeswoman, LT Katie Cerezo, said the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act directs the Navy to maintain 10 air wings, and the Navy reversed plans to deactivate CVW-14 in order to comply with the law."
A carrier air wing has a small staff of 16-20 officers and approximately 20 enlisted personnel. It is headed by the "CAG" (Commander, Air Group—a legacy term from the earlier term for the Air Wing) who is a Navy Captain or a Marine Corps Colonel with an aeronautical designation as a Naval Aviator or Naval Flight Officer. Although eligible, Marine assignments to "CAG" or "DCAG" (Deputy Commander) positions are typically limited to one Carrier Air Wing.
Second in command is the Deputy Commander (DCAG), also a Navy Captain or Marine Colonel aviator or NFO, who "fleets up" to the CAG position after about 18 months. Also on the staff are an Operations Officer (typically a Commander or Lieutenant Commander), a number of warfare specialists (typically Lieutenant Commanders or Lieutenants), two Wing Landing Signal Officers, an Intelligence Officer, and a Maintenance Officer. The air wing staff is often supplemented with squadron personnel, such as the squadron intelligence officers. The CAG reports to a Rear Admiral in the position of Commander, Carrier Strike Group and is coequal in stature with the Commanding Officer of the aircraft carrier as well as the embarked Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) Commander and the attached guided missile cruiser commanding officer. The CAG serves as the Strike Group's Strike Warfare Commander, responsible for all offensive strike operations (including Tomahawk Missiles). CAGs are typically qualified to fly at least two types of aircraft in the Carrier Air Wing inventory.
The air wing composition is designed to allow for broad striking power hundreds of miles from the carrier's position, while providing defense in depth of the battle group through early warning and detection of airborne, surface and subsurface targets. No two U.S. Navy carrier air wings are identical in composition, but typically modern air wings consists of:
- Two Strike Fighter (VFA) Squadrons with 12-14 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets;
- Two Strike Fighter (VFA) Squadrons of 10-12 F/A-18C Hornets, with one of these often provided by a U.S. Marine Corps Fighter Attack (VMFA) Squadron;
- One Electronic Attack (VAQ) Squadron of 4-6 EA-6B Prowlers or EA-18G Growlers;
- One Carrier Airborne Early Warning (VAW) Squadron of 4-6 E-2C Hawkeyes;
- A detachment from a Fleet Logistics Support (VRC) Squadron Detachment of 2 C-2 Greyhounds;
- One Helicopter Antisubmarine (HS) Squadron of 6-8 SH-60F & HH-60H Seahawks, or one Helicopter Sea Combat (HSC) Squadron of 5-6 MH-60S Seahawks, or one Helicopter Maritime Strike (HSM) Squadron of 5 MH-60R Seahawks.
Active Carrier Air Wings / identification
Atlantic Fleet air wings have an "A" as the first letter of their tailcode identification, while those of the Pacific Fleet have an "N". The "A" or "N" is followed by a letter that uniquely identifies the air wing (e.g., CVW-1 aircraft, part of the Atlantic Fleet, have a tail code of "AB").
|Airwing||Insignia||Tailcode||Assigned Aircraft Carrier||Homeport|
|CVW-1*||AB||USS Theodore Roosevelt||NAS Oceana|
|CVW-2||NE||USS Ronald Reagan||NAS Lemoore|
|CVW-3||AC||USS Harry S. Truman||NAS Oceana|
|CVW-5||NF||USS George Washington||NAF Atsugi|
|CVW-7||AG||USS Dwight D. Eisenhower||NAS Oceana|
|CVW-8||AJ||USS George H.W. Bush||NAS Oceana|
|CVW-9||NG||USS John C. Stennis||NAS Lemoore|
|CVW-11||NH||USS Nimitz||NAS Lemoore|
|CVW-17||NA||USS Carl Vinson||NAS Lemoore|
* CVW-17 transferred from Atlantic Fleet (with tail code AA) to Pacific Fleet (with tail code NA) in 2012. USS Enterprise decomissioned in December 2012; CVW-1 to be reassigned to USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2013.
1 Current law provides for 10 CVWs; of the nominally eleven active carriers (ten active carriers following decommissioning of USS Enterprise in December 2012 and until USS Gerald R. Ford is completed and commissioned), one is nearly always undergoing Refueling and Complex Overhaul and has no air wing assigned.
With the inactivation fo CVWR-30 in 1994, the single remaming U.S. Navy Reserve Carrier Air Wing was Carrier Air Wing Reserve Twenty (CVWR-20). On 1 April 2007, CVWR-20 was redesiganted as Tactical Support Wing (TSW):
|Tactical Support Wing||
||Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth||AF|
- Swanborough, pp. 38
- Roy A. Grossnick (ed.), United States Naval Aviation 1910–1995, Appendix 15, accessed May 2012
- Greer, p. 33
- File:USS Shangri-La (CV-38) underway in the pacific, 1946.jpg
- Swanborough/Bowers, p. 37
- Terzibaschitsch, Luftwaffe, p. 16
- Terzibaschitsch, Flugzeugtraeger, pp. 31
- John Roberts, Aircraft Carrier Intrepid
- Terzibaschitsch, Flugzeugtraeger, pp. 146. See also James L. Holloway III, 'Aircraft Carriers at War: A Personal Retrospective of Korea, Vietnam, and the Soviet Confrontation.'
- The original CVG 10 during the war was established on 16 Apr 1942 and disestablished 16 Nov 1945. CVG-10 was established on 1 May 1952. CVG-10 was redesignated CVW-10 on December 20, 1963. CVW 10 made one deployment aboard USS Shangri-La in the Mediterranean, and three deployments off Vietnam aboard USS Intrepid
- CVG-4 Established 1 Sep 1950; Became RCVG-4 Apr 1958; Became RCVW-4 20 December 1963; disestablished 1 Jul 1970. Roy A. Grossnick (ed.), United States Naval Aviation 1910–1995, Appendix 15, accessed May 2012
- Carrier Air Wing Nineteen made deployments on Bonne Homme Richard, Ticonderoga, USS Oriskany, and USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. Last deployment aboard Franklin D. Roosevelt was Oct.4, 1976 - Apr.21, 1977 (Med). Three of her squadrons disbanded Sept. 30, 1977. http://www.gonavy.jp/CVW-NM1f.html
- VFA-136 first deployed in September 1987 with CVW-13 on board the USS Coral Sea (CV-43).
- Joshua Stewart, Greenert reverses move to deactivate CVW-14, Navy Times, March 28, 2012
- Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian G. Reynolds, USN (August 15, 2012). "CVW-1 Conducts Aerial Change of Command". NNS120815-04. Enterprise Carrier Strike Group Public Affairs. Retrieved 2012-08-16.
- Don Greer: F4U in Action. Squadron/Signal Publications, Carrollton, Texas (USA) 1977. ISBN 0-89747-028-1
- Roy A. Grossnick (ed.), United States Naval Aviation 1910–1995, Appendix 15
- Gordon Swanborough; Peter M. Bowers: United States Navy Aircraft since 1911. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis (Maryland) 1990, ISBN 0-87021-792-5.
- John Roberts: Aircraft Carrier Intrepid (Anatomy of the Ship). Conway Maritime Press, 2004. ISBN 0-85177-966-2
- Stefan Terzibaschitsch: Flugzeugtraeger der U.S. Navy. Bernard & Graefe, 2nd edition, Munich, Germany, 1986, ISBN 3-7637-5803-8.
- Stefan Terzibaschitsch: Die Luftwaffe der U.S. Navy und des Marine Corps. J.F. Lehmanns, Munich, Germany, 1974, ISBN 3-469-00466-8.
- Rene Francillion: US Navy Carrier Air Groups: Pacific 1941-1945. (Osprey Airwar 16). Osprey, London 1978, ISBN 0-85045-291-0.
- Bert Kinzey; Ray Leader: Colors and Markings of U.S. Navy and USMC CAG Aircraft. Part 1: Fighters! F-8 Crusader, F-4 Phantom, F-14 Tomcat" (Colors and Markings, Bd. 10). Airlife Publishing, Shrewsbury 1988, ISBN 1-85310-602-X.
- Bert Kinzey; Ray Leader: Colors and Markings of U.S. Navy CAG Aircraft. Part 2: Attack Aircraft. A-6 Intruder, A-7 Corsair" (Colors and Markings, Bd. 16). Airlife Publishing, Shrewsbury 1990, ISBN 1-85310-623-2.
- Stefan Terzibaschitsch: Jahrbuch der U.S. Navy 1988/89 (Schwerpunkt: Luftwaffe der U.S. Navy und des Marine Corps). Bernard & Graefe, Munich, Germany, 1988, ISBN 3-7637-4792-3.
- Stefan Terzibaschitsch: Seemacht USA. Bd. 1. 2nd revised edition, Bechtermünz, Augsburg, Germany, 1997, ISBN 3-86047-576-2.