Marine tactical aircraft such as this VMFA-251 F/A-18 in afterburner launching from the Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) have flown hundreds of sorties in integrated carrier air wings in the war on terrorism over Afghanistan. But there is a limit to how many squadrons the Marine Corps can feed the carriers before support to ground commanders is threatened.
When the Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) returned in March from her latest deployment, she did so in the tradition of many aircraft carriers of the past, with a Marine squadron on board. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA)-251 deployed with the Theodore Roosevelt's air wing and played a crucial role in the war on terrorism. During Operation Enduring Freedom, VMFA-251 flew more than 690 sorties, accumulated more than 3,500 hours of flight time, and dropped more than 444,900 pounds of ordnance, closing another chapter in the book of successful integration of Marine tactical aviation (TacAir) into Navy air wings. 1 This integration, however, comes at a price. What happens when Marine TacAir is unable to respond to a Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF) commander because of Navy commitments?
In 1994, the Commandant of the Marine Corps and the Chief of Naval Operations developed a plan for integrating Marine TacAir (specifically F/A-18) squadrons into Navy carrier air wings. This memorandum of agreement placed all Department of the Navy TacAir under central management in an effort to meet forward presence and personnel tempo requirements—while operating within the limited resources of the early 1990s. 2 Carrier-integrated squadrons deploy with battle groups; while doing so they essentially are Navy squadrons. The Marine Corps reaps many benefits from integration, such as better training and experience with joint operations and interoperability.