Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) is the Bible of naval aviation. When an officer declares, “NATOPS says!” it is often to end a debate. NATOPS is sometimes invoked to require a strike group to give up one of its warships for night time plane guard duty. More often than not, in the absence of specific guidance from NATOPS, the warship will be stationed 170 degrees relative to the carrier on a 4,000-yard leash.
The aircraft carrier (CV) NATOPS manual only mentions plane guard ships in one place—the caption of Figure 4-4, that sets minimum search-and-rescue requirements for fixed wing flight operations. The designated plane guard helicopter is “on station” operating within 20 nautical miles (nm) (daytime) or 10 nm (night) of the carrier. For surface-ship stationing, the reference is vague, leaving the arrangement to impulse.