At the time of the Tonkin Gulf incident in August 1964, the U. S. Navy had almost 50 years of aviation experience. The aircraft carriers Ticonderoga (CVA-14) and Constellation (CVA-64), which launched retaliatory strikes against North Vietnamese PT-boat bases, were direct descendants of the USS Langley (CV-1), converted from a collier in 1922.
A half-century had brought U. S. naval aviation to a position of undisputed world leadership. Extensive combat operations in World War 11 and Korea had refined equipment and techniques to a degree of efficiency which, combined with the growing seniority among naval airmen, removed any lingering doubt that, in the latter part of the 20th century, sea power meant air power.
Although at least nine nations operated fixed-wing aircraft carriers in 1964, the United States possessed more flattops than the rest of the world’s navies combined. With 17 strike, plus antisubmarine carriers, American strategists were able to keep one or more flattops on station almost anywhere in the world, almost indefinitely.