The short take-off/vertical landing Joint Strike Fighter is an ideal way to support the Navy's "Sea Power 21" concept of Sea Basing by enabling the use of unconventional aircraft carriers, allowing increased sorties per mission, and decreasing host nation logistical support. Adoption of STOVL JSFs by the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force would dramatically increase aviation capability and transform the nation's carrier air power.
Force transformation is mapping the way for U.S. military forces to wage "an American way of war," as coined by leaders in the Department of Defense's Office of Force Transformation. 1 One of the transformational concepts being pursued by the Navy and Marine Corps is Sea Basing, part of the Navy's "Sea Power 21" strategy. Sea Basing generally is thought about in terms of logistics or as a managed provision of sustainment to units ashore from ships offshore. 2 These capabilities rest with the elements of the amphibious ready group, the maritime prepositioning force, and individual vessels such as the large medium-speed roll-on/roll-off ship.
Although sustainment may be an overriding aspect of how Sea Basing is perceived, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Vern Clark describes it instead as "a foundation from which offensive and defensive fires are projected—making Sea Strike and Sea Shield realities." 3 In the future, the expeditionary strike group, an amphibious ready group augmented with surface warships and submarines, will prosecute Sea Strike missions in the lower-threat environments where the carrier strike group's robust Sea Shield competencies may not be required. The Navy has acknowledged that the new platforms being developed to support the expeditionary strike groups, which include maritime prepositioned groups as part of the sea base, should be designed to realize their warfighting potential. 4 Sea Strike as the prime generator for projecting decisive combat power within the Sea Basing concept will involve a large percentage of the joint force's combat power—its air power.
Of the aforementioned expeditionary strike group elements, only the amphibious ready group can employ manned combat aviation assets; this includes all rotary-wing aircraft but only one fixed-wing strike aircraft—the vertical/short take-off and landing (V/STOL) Harrier. However, with the development of the short take-off/vertical landing Joint Strike Fighter (STOVL JSF), a new breed of robust, stealthy, supersonic fighters will be able to use unconventional aircraft carriers (ships without catapults or arresting gear) to enhance the Sea Basing concept by increasing the number of aircraft available for Sea Strike missions. The Navy states that "as operational concepts evolve, and new systems like the Joint Strike Fighter deliver to the fleet, it will be advantageous to maximize this increased aviation capability." 5 Implementing the STOVL JSF as a common triservice (Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force) aircraft means the number of ship-capable, fixed-wing combat aircraft not requiring conventional aircraft carriers would increase dramatically, thereby supporting the transformation of carrier air power as it relates to Sea Basing. With the Air Force's participation, no longer would sea-based aviation be a unilateral naval aviation affair. There are reasons to field a large joint STOVL JSF force as a means to sustain sea bases' combat power.