Naval Air: October 9, 2002

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During the first few months of the war in Afghanistan, naval aviation found itself fighting a war they weren't expecting. But the naval aviators adapted. Naval aviation had never had to fight a war against targets so far inland. This meant a lot more in-flight refueling (mostly from British and U.S. Air Force tankers) than naval aircraft are used to. The murky and unpredictable nature of the war on the ground led to 80 percent of the naval warplane sorties taking off without a specific target. Air Force AWACS control aircraft directed the naval aircraft to where they were needed, and then air force controllers on the ground indicated the targets. Some aircraft landed at Pakistani airbases to refuel because there were not always enough tankers in the air. The navy effort was intense, with eight of the navy's twelve carriers serving off the coast of Pakistan. Bombing sorties into Afghanistan lasted 8-9 hours, which was about twice the normal length of a sortie. Most targets inside Afghanistan were about 800 kilometers from the carriers in the Indian ocean. When the fighting was most intense in late 2001, about a hundred carrier warplanes a day flew into Afghanistan. The campaign moved the navy to purchase more smart bombs (especially the new JDAMS) and increase training for operations with UAVs (unpiloted reconnaissance aircraft.) The Afghanistan campaign will have a long term effect on naval aviation, as it reinforced the lessons of the Persian Gulf war (better cooperation with U.S. and foreign air force units as well as non-marine ground troops.) But while the navy is digesting all of this, they have to deal with the coming generation of unpiloted warplanes. The U.S. Air Force is already testing the X-45 and the navy is designing one for carrier use. Such aircraft are not expected to enter service for another ten years.

 


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