Nobody Asked Me But . . . Bring Back the Viking

By Lieutenant Commander Colin Bernard, U.S. Navy

As a result of the extended campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, the F/A-18 fleet has been depleted. Extended deployments are continuing to place demands on a force that already is short 140 aircraft. 3 In addition to extending the range of air wing strike aircraft, using the Viking to fill the tanker role would relieve the Super Hornet and prolong its service life. Free from the responsibilities of tanker-configured Super Hornets, air wings could provide 25 percent more assets to assume the tactical roles the platform was designed to execute. More available Super Hornets would enhance the CSG’s ability to both strike the enemy and defend itself with combat air patrols against enemy aircraft.

There are challenges associated with restoring the S-3B. Reintegrating the Viking would require the Navy to restart the training pipelines, re-create the maintenance supply chain, and develop a personnel career plan. Although these tasks require a significant monetary commitment, gapping the problem until the unmanned MQ-25 reaches an operational status is not prudent. Advanced threats and depletion of the Super Hornet fleet have created an urgent need for Navy leaders to identify and implement a near-term solution. There are logistical challenges associated with the Viking’s return, but failure to bring back the platform could lead to an unacceptable risk.

The future of carrier aviation is uncertain. Although the F-35C is a highly capable strike-fighter aircraft, concerns remain about its ability to withstand an extended carrier deployment. The MQ-25 is in the infancy of development and should not be relied on to combat the threats facing the United States today.

“The Boneyard” currently is home to 87 mission-capable S-3Bs with an average available service life of approximately 8,000-9,000 hours. Restoring these aircraft would be an expeditious, cost-effective way to improve carrier capabilities and prolong the life of existing Super Hornet aircraft.

As the Navy’s focus transitions to a nonpermissive environment, it is vital for the aircraft carrier to be able to project power from an extended range. Currently, this is not possible. Restoring the S-3B will mitigate this reality and enhance the mass, range, and firepower the CSG was designed to project.


1. Dr. Jerry Hendrix, “Retreat from Range: The Rise and Fall of Carrier Aviation,” Center for a New American Security, October 2015, 58.

2. Ibid., 46.

3. Ibid., 55.

Lieutenant Commander Bernard is a naval aviator attending the Naval War College in Newport, RI.


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