Recent discussions concerning the relevance of the supercarrier in the face of emerging long-range anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) systems have focused on the absence of a deep-strike, persistent combat presence within the carrier air wing. By choosing to rely on traditional manned platforms such as the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the forthcoming F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, and by relegating the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program to a refueling role (first renamed the Carrier-Based Aerial Refueling System, or CBARS; now termed the MQ-25A Stingray), the Navy has affirmed its preference for traditional manned assets within the carrier air wing, at least for the immediate future. As the life cycle of the Super Hornet is extended to meet operational demands, realistically, by 2030, the F-35 will be the sole stealth platform in the air wing. The ensuing combat range limitation of this future air wing faced with such threats calls into question the very relevance of the carrier itself.
'Flying Trucks'? No. Strike Assets? Yes!
The Navy should fully integrate manned and unmanned aviation assets, particularly within the carrier air wing, and pursue the strike capability of unmanned platforms as aggressively as possible to meet the growing threats of an increasingly contested maritime environment.
By Lieutenant Commander Daniel M. Marzluff, U.S. Navy