During the deployment, two briefing papers circulated on board. The first was prepared for Vice Admiral John J. Mazach, Commander, Naval Air Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet (ComNavAirLant), to deliver at the Air Board concerning an "expectation gap" between the readiness we expect to see in the fleet and the support that the Navy buys. The second was given at a supply conference by the ComNavAirLant Force supply officer and his Pacific Fleet counterpart regarding naval aviation support.
The briefs illuminated the fiscal and logistical challenges faced by Navy supply. The expectation gap stems from the difference between the Chief of Naval Operations's proposed full-mission-capable/mission-capable (FMC/MC) aircraft rates--which vary depending on whether the squadron is in a post-cruise standdown, working up, or deployed--and the rates that operational commanders require to meet tasking.
Fleet F-14As are difficult to maintain. The aircraft remain in service because of the budgetary compromises that borrowed F-14D money to pay for other programs. Without A-6Es, and until F/A-18E/Fs and Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs) become available, adequate numbers of all three F-14 variants (A, B and D) will be critical to maintaining a full deck of capable strike-fighter aircraft. Although our F-14As required considerably more parts support than did a representative F/A-18 squadron (one of three on board), the percentage of time that Nimitz had to go off-ship with a requisition was comparable in both cases. Overall, the ship did an outstanding job of providing F-14A parts.
Enhancements such as LANTIRN and the digital imagery improvement to the Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) have made the F-14 almost indispensable. Our squadron deployed with nine LANTIRN- and five TARPS-capable aircraft. The latter were not modified to carry LANTIRN, but aircraft in either configuration remained capable of pure air-to-air missions. The LANTIRN system, with its ability to discriminate among the most difficult-to-acquire targets, made it the wing commander's choice during the weapons-of-mass-destruction impasse. The digital TARPS, the ship's only organic reconnaissance asset, proved its worth daily, especially during several large-scale simulated interdiction missions where imagery of real-world targets was relayed to the ship within minutes--and then forwarded to the desk of the Commander Joint Task Force/Southwest Asia. We also deployed with a cadre of specially trained forward air controllers (airborne).
Prior to the carrier's arrival in mid-October 1997, Iraq routinely violated the no-fly zone. It took a lot of flying to enforce the no-fly zone restrictions--although rarely can crews fly enough to fulfill all training and readiness requirements. Most F-14 and F/A-18 strike-fighter crews will agree that as proficiency increases in one warfare skill, proficiency in others declines.
Do the CNO's goals for deployed FMC/MC aircraft reflect real-world requirements? If the full mission capable goal is 55% and the percentage of aircraft utilization goal is 43%, the FMC goal appears to be more than adequate. What is not so obvious is that utilization can spike dramatically when aircraft start coming back from sorties with down gripes and spares must be launched to fill subsequent events. What looked like a schedule requiring six aircraft (out of 14--a utilization rate of 43%) rapidly turns into one requiring eight (a 57% utilization rate) plus a ready spare--which translates into nine aircraft.