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Last Updated: Mon Jan 27 11:18:09 UTC 2014

Carriers in the Indian

Carlo Kopp

First published in Australian Aviation
March, 1982
© 1982,  2005 Carlo Kopp
© 1982 Carlo Kopp

(© 1981 - 2010 LtCdr Dave Erickson, VF-51, Mamiya M645)

I caught my first glimpse of the USS Kitty Hawk from the open tailgate of a Grumman C-2A COD, a nylon gunner's strap being the only restraint between a group of camera brandishing journalists and the Indian Ocean, 2000 ft below. I was fortunate enough, thanks to the efforts of Australian Aviation and the co-operation of the USN, to spend a day on the USS Kitty Hawk observing flight operations, an experience which is impossible to forget.

The USS Kitty Hawk, home based in San Diego, California, was returning from a deployment in the Indian Ocean, her next port of call Fremantle, W.A. The presence of front line naval vessels in the Indian Ocean illustrates its importance in current world affairs, access to the Persian Gulf determining who would hold the upper hand in any future conflict, other than all out nuclear war. The oil-rich Gulf is the primary energy source for a large part of the Western world, that energy being essential to maintain industry and transport.

With a current world situation where the major powers hold close to balanced nuclear strike forces, no side is willing to engage in an all-out, or even limited nuclear war. This leaves the option of conventional warfare open, the side with any decisive advantage over its opponent having the opportunity to pressure its adversary into submission. Unfortunately for the Western world, the Soviet Union is in a position which will make it hardly difficult for it to generate that pressure - the Persian Gulf is conveniently placed in close striking range, and after the collapse of what was to be the Western world's protective buffer in the region, Reza Pahlavi's Iran, the door is open for anything up to a blitzkrieg.

However, a move of this kind could trigger an escalating conflict, hardly the objective of a leadership committed to the gradual assimilation of areas of interest. A far more probable move would be a shipping blockade, the objective being to cut the Western world's energy supply and bring it to its knees economically, with obvious consequences for the military. Without having to crush Europe with tanks or hit the American continent, the Russians could achieve their goal of world dominance.

The presence of United States' naval vessels in the region serves to balance this very real threat, and with the current situation it is an effective counter to Gorshkov's naval forces.

Unfortunately, things may worsen in the future, as Khomeini's anything but rational regime will eventually topple and the only remaining organised force in Iran, the leftists, will assume power, this leading eventually to a direct Soviet naval and air presence in the Gulf region. The reluctance of NATO to commit forces to the Mid-East thus leaves most of the burden to the United States.

If a naval blockade of the Gulf were to occur, the Soviet naval presence would manifest itself in three forms - a subsurface element - attack submarines; a surface element - missile equipped cruisers, and an airborne element - aircraft of the Aviatsia Voenno-Morskovo Flota (AV-MF). Flying from bases in Ethiopia or Yemen, the Badgers, Bears, Bisons and perhaps Backfires would provide the surface vessels with targeting information or even attack targets themselves.

United States Navy carriers are equipped to deal with each of these threats; hopefully, they will never have to put this capability to test. The Kitty Hawk is part of Carrier Group Five, Carrier Strike Force Seventh Fleet, under the command of Rear Admiral Hunt Hardisty. Launched May 21, 1960, the Kitty Hawk was constructed by New York Shipbuilding Corp. in New Jersey. Displacing in excess of 80,000 tonnes, she is capable of exceeding 30 kts. After commissioning, April, 1961, the Hawk cruised around South America to her current home port of San Diego. In the period ending 1972, the Kitty Hawk and Carrier Air Wing 11 completed six Viet Nam combat cruises, bagging a number of MiGs.

USS Kittyhawk steams off the West Australian coast. Both the Kittyhawk and America are roughly the same size (80,000 tonnes) and have crews in excess of 5,000 men. Each ship can muster over 200,000 horsepower from their steam turbines and can reach max. combat speeds in excess of 30 kts, though they normally operate at an economical cruise speed of 16 kts, for a maximum range of 8,000 nautical miles or an endurance of 21 days without refuelling. In normal carrier battle group formation, the carrier has a constant escort, or screen, of ASW frigates, cruisers and fleet oilers and replenishment ships. Thus a USN carrier battle group differs markedly from carriers used by other navies who, apart from the Soviets, cannot afford to provide such a screen to protect the carrier from submarine and cruise missile attack. The USN has lately also taken to the habit of deploying two carriers within a battle group to work as a back-up team, high lighting the seriousness of the threat posed by modern submarine-launched and air-launched attack missiles.

In 1976 the Hawk underwent a year long overhaul, which also involved a conversion from an attack carrier to a general purpose carrier, to enable the embarking of F-14 and S-3 air craft, both types significantly enhancing the vessel's capability. Redesignated from CVA-63 to CV-63, the Hawk and Air Wing 11 deployed in the Pacific for the last time together, as in July 1978 the carrier embarked Air Wing 15. The Kitty Hawk and Air Wing 15 have been since involved in search operations off Indochina, the Korean contingency operation and were on standby in the Arabian Sea during the Iranian hostage crisis.

The Kitty Hawk's skipper is, currently, Captain Foster S. "Tooter" Teague, a former commander of VF-51, a detachment of VF-111 and of CAW-11, among other posts he has held. Captain Teague flew 423 combat missions during the Viet Nam conflict and is credited with the kill of one NVAF MiG 17 (F-4B, VF-51, CVA-43).

Carrier Air Wing 15 began its existence in 1943, under the command of L/Cdr David McCampbell, later the leading USN ace. The Wing has ten squadrons with over 85 aircraft.

Flight Operations

Smooth flight operations are the key to the effective operation of naval airpower. Perfect organisation is required - one can only realise how difficult this may be after actually standing on a flight deck during operations. The flight deck serves three principal purposes - launches, recoveries and the parking of aircraft not currently in use. The hangar deck is not large enough to accommodate all of the aircraft at once, so each squadron keeps only several aircraft, rotated after some time, on the hangar deck, the rest remaining on the flight deck.

This accounts for the worn and dulled paint jobs, as large temperature changes and salt do little for the aircraft's appearance. The two most important systems on the flight deck are the catapults and the arresting gear. The Kitty Hawk has four cats, two at the waist catapult station and two at the bow station. Each cat can launch a fully loaded aircraft (a fully loaded F-14 weighs in at over 30 tonnes).

The flight deck on the Hawk is angled, this enables simultaneous launches (from the bow cats) and recoveries, an ability not possessed by older straight deck carriers. A crane is on standby on the deck, in the event of an aircraft crashing during recovery, it would be used to clear the deck to allow further recoveries to take place.

The flight deck is kept meticulously clean, to avoid the ingestion of foreign objects. The TF-30s of the F-14s are particularly sensitive to foreign object damage (FOD), after each recovery an FOD walkdown is staged, the deck crew combs the deck area to find any bolts or other pieces which could come loose during the 4.5 g of recovery. The flight deck is an extremely dangerous area, particularly for the unwary.

Aside from the possibility of an arrester line snapping (if one does, it can effortlessly chop a man in half), an aircraft crashing during recovery, there is the threat of fire.

Fire is a big worry on carriers, the experiences with the Forestall and the Oriskany leading to a number of changes in ordnance. Napalm is not used on carriers, unguided rockets are also out (the fire on the Oriskany occurring after a starter exhaust fired a Zuni rocket, which promptly embedded itself into one of the aircraft on the deck). All deck crew wear protective helmets (with ear protection), goggles, deck jerseys and life vests, colour coded (e.g. photographers green).

This gear is essential. The skipper told us of one event during which a man was literally blown overboard by the idle thrust of an F-14, the aircraft was turning at the edge of the deck. He was fished out by the rescue helo, and according to the skipper did not require lecturing on the hazards of the flight deck, " ... they become walking safety posters... ".

I can personally testify to the high probability of being run over by a taxiing aircraft, having been dragged out of the way of two F-14s and an A-7. The Rescue helicopter, a Sikorsky SH-3, was described as "the single most important aircraft an board", it is virtually in constant use, being in operation during every launch and recovery. The helicopter hovers abeam of the ship, about 700 ft off, ready to move in, in the event of any accident.

The status and control of all airborne aircraft, other than those directly engaged in combat operations under the control of the Combat Information Center (CIC), are the responsibility of the Carrier Air Traffic Control Center (CATCC). CATCC coordinates operations and prepares the daily Air Plan, which lists the launch times, missions, types of aircraft and fuel/ ordnance requirements for the day's operations. Launches and recoveries are the responsibility of Primary Flight Control (Pri Fly), which co-operates with CATCC.


Catapult launches are definitely the most visually (and acoustically) impressive sight on a carrier's flight deck. Aircraft designated for launch are checked, fueled and then loaded with weapons. Ammunition is loaded into the magazines of the M-61 s and loaded bomb racks are attached. Bomb racks for particular aircraft are fitted with the required ordnance below decks (e.g. 6X Mk.82 Snakeye, fitted with retarding tail assemblies, per rack, two per A-7), the racks are then attached to the aircraft in a designated area on the flight deck. About 1/2 hr prior to scheduled launch the aircraft are manned.

Grumman F-14A Tomcat (right) is the fleet's primary tool for air defence. The F-14 is progressively being updated with a Television Camera System (TCS) which allows video visual verification of hostiles many times greater than normally available, fitment of ARC-82 secure voice UHF and VHF and new Halar wiring which is much more resistant to corrosion. In the long term USN plans call for the Tomcat to be upgraded to D specs by fitting two General Electric F101 turbofans of 28,000 lb thrust, stretching the fuselage by 30 inches and adding additional fuel cells. Coupled with the Advanced Phoenix, AMRAAM and ASRAAM the F-14D will still be a formidable fleet defence fighter well into the twenty first century. USS Midway visited the Indian prior to the Kittyhawk which in turn was replaced by the America. The Midway still has active F-4S Phantoms (left) employed in the attack and defence functions in concert with F-14s.

The aircraft is then powered up and on clearance from Pri-Fly, the engine(s) are started. Aircraft such as the F-14 undergo diagnostic self checks, where the computer checks systems under the built-in-test (bit) routine, of particular importance are the engine variable intake ramps. Providing all systems are functional, the aircraft is taxied, under the control of a director, either directly to the catapult queue or into an arming area, where fused weapons are armed. If the cat is clear, the aircraft will taxi into launch position. Most carrier aircraft employ a nosewheel towbar. This is lowered into position and attached to the catapult shuttle. The Jet Blast Deflectors (JBD) are raised and the crew checks the gross weight with the catapult crew.

The deck crew then check the aircraft for any loose panels or damage while the pilot checks control surface freedom of movement. The shuttle is tensioned, the pilot raises the aircraft to military power, or in the F-14 the afterburners are lit. If a final check is O.K., the pilot salutes the cat launch officer to indicate readiness for launch and the launch officer will hit the fire button.

What occurs next can only be described as the release of an incredible amount of energy. Within a couple of seconds the aircraft leaves the end of the catapult run, accelerated at some thing in the order of 10 G.

By far the most impressive launches are those of the F-14.

The Tomcat is powered by two afterburning TF30s, each delivering around 20,000 lb of thrust on full afterburner. The noise level is high when the engine turns up on dry thrust, but once the 'burners light up, it is drowned out by something I could only describe as a roar. You no longer hear it - you feel it.

Waves of heat, carrying the smell of half burnt JP-5, emanate from the JBDs. As all of this radiated energy seems to reach its peak, the Tomcat launches. It shoots along the cat, nose down, at a seemingly incredible rate for an aircraft its size. Orange violet flares jetting from the 'burner nozzles, it leaves an enormous wave of heat in its wake. Power is the only term applicable.

One of the fourteens nearly aborted a launch, when one of the afterburners cut out during turn up, but it did relight and after another turn up to check it, it held and the aircraft was successfully launched. Another fourteen was forced to abort its launch after the final check on the cat revealed a malfunctioning airbag (the inflatable airbag seals the gap behind the swing wing), after which it was taxied away for repairs.

The S-3A is also notable for behaviour during launch, with its low wing loading it tries to get airborne two-thirds of the way down the cat.

The cats are operated from the integrated catapult control station (ICCS), a semi-recessed area next to the cats, the ICCS cover (when not in use, the station is concealed, the cover flush with the deck) shielding the cat crew from the heat radiating off the JBDs.


An arrester landing is often described as a "controlled crash landing" - observing one will probably bring you to exactly the same conclusion. Aircraft returning to the carrier usually employ INS or Omega, until in sufficient range for Tacan.

Once within the vicinity of the carrier, the aircraft enter a holding pattern, holding altitudes separated by about 1000 ft. Under fully visual conditions aircraft then descend into the landing pattern for recovery, approach visual. If weather conditions are less than ideal, the automatic carrier landing system is employed. ACLS operates in several modes, both fully automatic (all the way to touchdown), and semiautomatic (manual takeover for touchdown). On manual approach the pilot sights up the Visual Landing Aid, once sighted he reports "ball" and lines up for final approach.

The Landing Signals Officer (LSO) is responsible for the aircraft's safe touchdown, if the aircraft's attitude is incorrect he will wave it off. The arresting gear engines must be set prior to touchdown, the setting depending on the type of aircraft and its gross weight (the engines provide the retarding force necessary to decelerate the aircraft at about 4.5 g). The arrester wires are held about 20 cm above the deck by flexible steel supports. The recovering aircraft aims for number three wire, tailhooks often throwing up sparks while hitting the deck in front of the wire.

On touching the deck the pilot applies full power, whether or not the hook is caught - this is a safety measure, in case he does miss. If a pilot cannot recover after a number of attempts he is sent to a bingo field ashore; however in the middle of nowhere this is impossible, so he must refuel from a tanker and try until he succeeds. The last option is recovery in the barricade. Night recoveries, particularly under adverse weather conditions are difficult, I was told that night landings are the most dangerous routine regularly required of a naval pilot.

After recovery the aircraft is allowed to roll back, to release the wire, which is then retracted for another recovery. The aircraft will then taxi to an assigned area and shut down. Weapons are downloaded, e.g. ammunition for the M-61 or unexpended air air missiles. Throughout the recoveries, the crane and forklift, together with a fire crew, are on standby. Probably the most interesting aircraft to observe on recovery, is the RF-8G Crusader. Belonging to an older generation of aircraft, it has a surprisingly high landing speed, combine it with a fairly nose high attitude and the first impression one gets is that the F-8 is about to crash on the deck.

S-3As, on the other hand, have a very low landing speed, combined with good handling. All flight operations are conducted in 1 hr. 45 min. "cycles", from launch to recovery. The relatively short time involved, combined usually with shorter striking distances to targets, is one of the factors which led to the US Navy's lower attrition rates, during the Viet Nam conflict, as compared to the USAF.

Often aircraft which were damaged made it back to the carrier, or at least the crews had an opportunity to be picked up by friendlies after punching out.

Almost as expensive as a Hawkeye and certainly more costly than an F-14 is the Grumman EA-6B Prowler. The Prowler would accompany the strike force right to the target providing radar and communications jamming, foiling the enemy defences. Prowler carries a crew of four and is a development of the A-6 airframe. Even its pilots reckon it's as ugly as sin, yet the Grumman A-6 Intruder is a true all-weather attack aircraft that has the capability to penetrate almost any defence environment likely to confront it Note TRAM (Target Recognition Attack Multisensor) mounted in special chin turret.

Carrier Air Wing 15

A carrier's air wing is its principal offensive and defensive weapon, the vessel's only on board weapon system being the Sea Sparrow launchers, providing the last line of air defence. The air wing can cover virtually all the tasks necessary in modern naval warfare. Maritime air superiority, strike, all weather strike, electronic warfare and intelligence gathering, photo reconnaissance and antisubmarine warfare.

Maritime Air Superiority - Grumman F-14A Tomcat

VF-51 Screaming Eagles
VF-111 Sundowners

The F-14A is currently the world's most potent air superiority/defence fighter, downing even the USAF's F-15 in mock dog fights. Both of the Kitty Hawk's fighter squadrons, VF-51 and VF-111 operate this extremely effective aircraft. VF-51 is the oldest Pacific fleet squadron and the third oldest in the USN.

Originally VF-3S Striking Eagles, the squadron became VF-51 Screaming Eagles in 1948. Flying F-4Fs and F-6Fs during WW II, the squadron then led the first fighter sweeps into North Korea. VF-51 was the first unit of the USN to take jets into combat and scored the first Navy air-air kills in the war. Neil Armstrong and Jesse L. Brown were both members of the squadron. During the 1960s, the F-8Hs of VF-51 downed a number of NVAF MiG 21s, rearmed with F-4Bs, the squadron subsequently downed four MiG 17s. VF-51 transitioned to the F-14 in 1977/78.

VF-111 was commissioned in 1942, flying F-4Fs, subsequently replaced by F-6Fs. The squadron was nicknamed "Sundowners" after accounting for fifty six downed Japanese aircraft in a four month period of 1943. VF-111 scored the first USN jet kill (MiG-15) in the Korean war. During the Viet Nam conflict, VF-111 downed two MiGs (MiG-21-F-8C, MiG-17-F-4B).

The squadron was involved in the Saigon withdrawal and Mayaguez operations. VF-111 rearmed with the F-14 in 1978. The F-14s' primary roles are fleet air defence and air superiority. The F-14 was designed from Viet Nam combat experience, when it was realised that the F-111B, aside from being oversize and overweight, would not be capable of handling ACM, with its long range, IFF oriented radar guided weaponry (AWG-9/AIM-54), the aircraft was really only suited to long range air defence.

The aircraft the Navy required had to be capable of gunfighting and using short/medium range AAMs, aside from the 100 nm AWG-9/Phoenix. In order to accommodate the AWG-9 and Phoenix, the aircraft had to be large, on the other hand, a tight turning ability and low landing speed were required, dictating a swing wing. The result is the world's largest, most complex and expensive air superiority fighter. In the fleet defence role, the F-14 forms the first, and most effective line of defence. It operates in conjunction with the E-2C Hawkeye AEW aircraft. The E-2C provides radar coverage over the fleet and would detect any aircraft trying to penetrate. The F-14s can either be vectored in by voice control, or from data provided via a data link, or the E-2C can take over the control of the fourteen, using a data link to feed information into the aircraft's automatic flight control system and fly it into the optimal intercept position for killing the given target.

The AWG-9 can also relay its target information to the E-2C's APS-125 radar, effectively extending its range. The AWG-9 itself has the capacity to simultaneously track twenty four targets, simultaneously attack six targets with Phoenix and detect targets at ranges over 100 nm. Aircraft operating in the air defence role are armed principally with the AIM-54 and AIM-7 Sparrow, both missiles suited to the type of non visual IFF standoff combat involved.

The second line of defence is provided by the SAM armament of the carrier's escort vessels, the third line of defence being the carrier's own Sea Sparrow missiles. The US Navy is confident this air defence system will stop any attempts to knock out a carrier task force; however the appearance of the Tupolev 26 Backfire, with its Mach 2 dash capability and standoff missile armament is raising some speculation, as to whether the system should be upgraded with longer range SAMs for the carrier.

A Backfire tasked with destroying a carrier would cruise until in detection range of the E-2 (detect ing the E-2's radar emissions before it can detect the return from the Backfire) and then initiate an afterburning dash toward the carrier. Before the F-14s would close to kill range, the Backfire would launch its standoff missile, small, equipped with some ECM, radar absorbent materials, Mach 2+ speed and a thermonuclear warhead. The fourteens or screen vessels would probably down the missile; however there is a possibility that it could penetrate fairly close before being hit and a carrier, soft skinned, is not really equipped to handle a near miss nuclear explosion, though it can cope with fallout contamination. Air superiority is probably the most demanding task for any combat unit. Its primary purpose is knocking out the opponent's fighter aircraft or creating a situation where the adversary is not willing to launch fighter aircraft.

(Right) The first aircraft launched and the last to recover is the eyes and ears of the fleet, Grumman's effective E-2C Hawkeye AEW aircraft displays the grime and minor scrapes of a long deployment aboard the America. (Left) An A-6 is about to launch from the starboard forward cat, an F-14 is next in line (this particular aircraft suffered an afterburner flameout and was subsequently rolled aside for inspection, this is a major recurring problem with the TF30-powered F-14s) while two KA-6 tankers and two A-7 attack aircraft await a launch. Co-ordination of such a large number of aircraft, most of them armed with live weapons, in such a confined space requires precision timing not found in any other aviation environment.

The nature of air superiority operations makes it difficult to apply beyond visual range IFF tactics - there always exists a possibility that the target is a friendly with an ailing IFF transponder. Enemy aircraft must be positively identified, then engaged and destroyed. The F-14 is well equipped for close combat, being fitted with an M-61 cannon, short range IR Sidewinders and medium range radar guided Sparrows, an effective radar and a backseater to keep his eyes open. The automatically computer programmed swing wing is also very useful, however the fourteen has one disadvantage - its size. Being substantially larger than any potential opponent, the fourteen can be visually sighted at twice or more the range required for a fourteen crew to sight an airborne target, such as a MiG-21.

Though crews would prefer stand-off tactics, for obvious reasons, they do receive extensive ACM training. The Navy Fighter Training School Top Gun program gives pilots and backseaters extensive training in dissimilar ACM tactics and air combat theory, the crews receive practical experience in mock dogfights with simulated Russian aircraft.

The MiG-17 is simulated by the A-4, the 21 by the F-5 and the 23 Flogger by the F-4, which has a similar thrust to weight ratio. Primary emphasis in ACM training is placed on avoiding energy bleed during engagements, a loaded T/W ratio just below 1 not being the best if a fighter would lose its energy.

To my surprise, I found the aircraft regarded as the most difficult adversary the MiG-17 Fresco. The seventeen is small, difficult to see, turns tightly, and has substantially better energy bleed characteristics, when compared with the later MiG-21 and 23, which apparently bleed energy very rapidly.

The latest addition to the fourteen's sensory array is the Television Camera System (TCS - formerly TVSU), a stabilised TV camera system with zoom capability - a device which effectively cancels out the size difference visual range factor in favour of the F-14. However, once again there is a snag. As long as the US is up against an opponent with vastly differing equipment, e.g. MiGs or Mirages, the system functions perfectly.

However in an involved conflict in an area like the Mid East, both sides may operate identical aircraft, e.g. Libya and Egypt MiGs and Mirages, Saudi Arabia and Iran F-5s and Iran itself F-4s and F-14s. This would once again necessitate closing to visual range to identify the other aircraft's markings or identification. In general, the fighter crews are looking forward to aircraft with artificial stability and active control systems (note - the F-14 does have a direct lift control option, apparently often used to correct a too high approach). The crews feel the new AMRAAM will significantly improve the fourteen's ability in close combat. The AMRAAM will be radar guided with several active and semi-active modes, making it a fire and forget weapon with the ability to hit pursuing targets.

As a guest of VF-51, I had the unique opportunity to get a very close look at the fourteen and its systems, including a cockpit switch tour with powered up displays, HUD and telltales. The fourteen has very spacious cockpits, both fore and aft, the view from the pilot's seat, over the nose, is remarkably good. The cockpit layout, dating back to 1969 (see pic. The Modern Fighter Cockpit - March AADR), easily bears comparison with the far younger F-18. The two principal displays are the AWG-9 display, lower, and the vertical display indicator (VDI), upper. The VDI handles processed radar information, attitude information or outputs from TCS, aside from other functions. The triple mode AWG-9 display covers nav, radar and ECM functions. The calligraphically generated symbols are very sharp, in comparison with TV scan pictures. The HUD is a direct projection system, using the armour glass windshield as a combiner, the imagery is remarkably sharp, though it tends to degrade toward the edges of the FOV, which is quite large, considering the type of system used. The actual size of the HUD optics is staggering, around 30 cm, the optical louvre filter is clearly visible. What may seem a paradox in a system this complex, is the manner in which imagery colour (red/green - night/day) is changed - a mechanical handle shifts colour filters.

The control stick, aside from the trigger and other switches, carries a weapon select switch gun - Sidewinder-Sparrow Phoenix (on depression). Wing sweep control and throttles are on the left, the right hand panel mounts, among other systems, the master test panel, which also covers flight control tests. The aft cockpit is the domain of the radar intercept officer (RIO).

The station is dedicated to the operation of the AWG-9 and the aircraft's computer system/systems. Unlike other two seaters, the fourteen cannot be flown without the RIO. For instance, the computer check on the intake ramps is initiated from the back seat. The aft cockpit is dominated by three displays, the largest a circular central main display for the AWG-9, which displays either raw or filtered radar information. A short control lever below the display serves to position a cursor on a given target image (aside from other functions), depressing the trigger indicates to the computer a desired lock-on. A small rectangular display above the AWG-9 is for datalink information, e.g. relayed from an E-2C. A number of mode select switches are to the right of this display, among them the automatic acquisition mode select (the AWG-9 positions the aircraft for a kill - the RIO merely hits the shoot button). The right hand side panel also carries a small alphanumeric information display. The shoot button (recessed) is to the left of the AWG-9 display.

Circuit breaker panels are positioned aft of the seat, on both sides. Apparently the fourteen, unlike newer generation fighters which can be left in ice, snow or deserts, is sensitive to temperature extremes. Extreme cold can affect the AWG-9 and the INS, extreme heat cannot always be handled by the cooling system (not surprising, looking at the complexity of the aircraft), circuit breakers are usually extracted, putting some systems off line. Canopy demisting is provided by high temperature bleed air.

The fourteen is an extremely survivable aircraft, possessing a strong airframe and multiply redundant vital systems. I was told, by one of the crew, of an emergency landing on Guam, several months ago. The nosewheel refused to lower, so the crew landed with the nosewheel up. The aircraft was flying two days later! I was shown the particular aircraft, the panelbeating was barely discernable. The aircraft's only weaknesses are really the engines, PW TF30s, originally meant for the F-111B.

The TF30s are very sensitive to FOD, a serious problem in the early stages of F-14 operation. The 21,000 lb of afterburning thrust provide a T/W ratio just below one, which may suffice in the air defence role but isn't really adequate for ACM type engagements, particularly against newer generation fighter air craft; the retrofit with the GE F-101 DFE engine, with 29,000 lb afterburning, would remedy this, however there are doubts as to whether the DoD would agree to a costly program of this magnitude, as of yet, only tests have been funded.

The TCS does, in the opinion of crews, offset adequately any lack of extra thrust, I was told "...worth more than extra thrust. . . " The TCS enables crews to play it safe, without even letting the adversary see them. Comprising two main assemblies, TCS can be fitted to a fourteen in about two days.

The most important part of the system is the telescope/camera assembly, which mounts under the nose of the aircraft. It contains magnifying optics and two vidicons, for narrow and wide field of view. The electronics for the contrast lock and control are mounted in the aircraft's fuselage. The cameras are fully stabilised. TCS can be operated in several modes, it can be slaved to the radar or conversely, the radar may be slaved to TCS. Equipped with a contrast lock, TCS is also capable of scanning its FOV to acquire a target, employing a pre programmed scan pattern and locking on to a target. The image is displayed on the VDI, the radar boresight is indicated by crosshairs, the optics boresight by another set of crosshairs and the contrast lock by four dots around the locked in target.

A normal operation would involve the acquisition of a target on the AWG-9, once the aircraft would be in sufficient range for a TCS lock (about 14 miles), TCS, slaved to the radar would be employed to identify the target. The system can be cued manually, if the radar lock was lost for some reason, or the contrast lock broke. I was shown some very convincing videotapes (TCS has a recorder, too) of target tracking with the system. A carriage at the end of a railway train was locked onto at 10 miles. The picture quality is astonishing - a Cessna being tracked at two miles was so clear, the registration could nearly be read.

The most impressive tape involved an F-5. The aircraft was acquired by AWG-9 and the TCS was engaged at about 9 miles. At this point, the F-5 was hardly recognizable, but as the range decreased, the characteristic shape of the tail became visible, surrounded by the dots of the contrast lock. At 6 miles the target was clearly recognizable as an F-5, at 4-5 miles the camouflage stripes became clearly discernible, as the F-5 turned the intakes were visible and the glint moving across the canopy. By then the Aggressor knew he was being tracked on radar and tried to shake the lock. The afterburners lit up, clearly visible, the contrast lock resetting to different areas on the F-5, as it changed position. All of this was happening at a distance, where the F-5 could not even see the fourteen. At this instant the F-5 withdrew, having been "shot down".

I was told of another tape, where an EA-6B EW aircraft was locked on to. The Prowler instantly realised it was being tracked, the pilot began to bank sharply to each side in an effort to pick up the fighter. The Prowler was also "shot down".

Currently, only several aircraft in each squadron are equipped with TCS, however it is expected the system will become a standard fit. The fourteens carry late model AIM-7F and AIM-9L missiles for short to medium range engagements. The missiles have vastly greater reliability, in comparison with Viet Nam period weapons, the AIM-9L is capable of head on lockons. Apparently, though, a lot of the acquisition range figures published are very optimistic, taken under ideal conditions at altitude. Under real conditions, at low altitude and/or adverse weather the range may degrade down to a third of that quoted.

The AIM-54 is appropriately called the Buffalo, operating with several active or semiactive guidance modes, it is ideally suited to long range air defence missions, whereas it becomes "one thousand pounds of dead weight" on any other type of mission. The weapon is extremely accurate and with 60 kg of warhead, effective against more than one aircraft in a formation. I was told of some firing trials against BQM drones, under jamming conditions, two missiles (warheads replaced with telemetry) fired against two drones. Both drones were destroyed when the missiles scored direct hits, no mean feat for a weapon with a closing velocity around Mach 5.

The F-14, with its sensory and weapon fit, is more than a match for any current fighter aircraft, and the fitting of further systems will probably help it maintain this position for some time.

Strike/Defence Suppression - LTV A-7E Corsair II

VA-22 Fighting Redcocks

The primary role of the A-7 is strike and defence suppression. The A-7E is the last version of the A-7 to be used by the USN, the powerplant a non-afterburning Allison/Rolls Royce TF41 replacing the older non-afterburning TF30s of the earlier models, the E-model is also fitted with a FE M-61A1 gatling, replacing the two 20 mm guns carried by earlier models.

The role of defence suppression, designated Iron Hand by the USN, has much in common with the USAF's Wild Weasel, however the USN cannot afford the luxury of operating dedicated radar killing aircraft, as the F-4G.

Iron Hand A-7s would be the first aircraft to hit a target area, penetrating at extremely low altitudes. (I have been told of A-7s flying 40 ft above sea level at 400 kts), below the ground based radar's horizon, and would immediately knock out SAM sites, AAA sites and radar transmitters. The destruction or disruption of these elements of an air defence network will then enable the A-6s and strike flying A-7s to take out the actual targets of interest. The A-7 began its Iron Hand career during the Viet Nam conflict. The primary anti-radiation weapon at the time was the Shrike missile, TI AGM-45, employing a modified Sparrow airframe and a seeker head homing on to radar emissions.

The weapon was effective until the North Vietnamese learnt it could not home in without a source of radar energy - on sighting an A-7 attempting to take out a radar they promptly switched off their transmitter. Knowing an A-7 could carry only two Shrikes, after observing the launch and loss of number two missile they would switch the transmitter on, once again.

The USN noticed this and the A-7s began to carry unguided Zuni rockets. On sighting the radar site, the A-7 would launch, successively, two Zunis. The North Vietnamese, believing these were Shrikes, then powered up the transmitter, believing all was clear, only to get wiped out by a Shrike.

The replacement for the Shrike is the new Texas Instruments HARM, a weapon which is probably destined to see more service on the F-18. A number of the A-7s are fitted with FLIR pods, these enabling night and adverse weather operation. Apparently they are also used in air-air engagements.

All Weather Precision Strike - Grumman A-6E Intruder

VA-52 Knightriders

Precision strike, under all weather conditions, is a task the A-6 has proved itself in. Often described as the ugliest aircraft in the USN inventory, it was designed with performance overriding all other factors. Fitted with the DIANE nav attack system, it can penetrate at low altitudes in all weather, day or night, and with a payload of 18,000 lbs, packs quite a punch.

The A-6 apparently handles excellently and is a pleasure to fly. The aircraft carries a two man crew, a pilot and bombardier/ navigator (B/N), who operates the nav attack system. The aircraft will obviously spend quite some time in USN service, as there are no suggestions for a replacement. Currently, A-6Es are the subject of a sensor upgrading program, the fitting of the TRAM FLIR/laser turret (see Laser Guided Weapons - Sept. 1981 AADR), which will enable the unassisted delivery of laser guided weapons. The aircraft of VA-52 are not yet fitted with TRAM, however TRAM is basically a system for attacking point targets, which are only part of the work done by the A-6.

The Kitty Hawk's tanker aircraft are KA-6Ds, originally modified from A-6As. The tanker aircraft are usually last to recover, standing by for returning aircraft low on fuel. Recovering A-6s are an interesting sight, as the aircraft have fully operated split wingtip speedbrakes. The increase in drag is desirable, as the engines are then opened at higher thrust, where they respond better. The various operational versions and modifications testify to the versatility of this aircraft, which has remained in front line service for over eighteen years.

Electronic Warfare - Grumman EA-6B Prowler

VAQ-135 Black Ravens

Electronic warfare has become one of the most important tasks in modern aerial warfare. Jamming and deception of an opponent's radar or communications is an extremely cost effective way of temporarily incapacitating an air defence network.

The USN began flying EW missions during the Viet Nam period, using the EKA-3B Skywarrior and the EA-6A, the success of these aircraft led to the development of the dedicated EA-6B Prowler. VAQ-135 began operations on the EKA-3, transitioned to the EA-6B and recently again to the Improved Capability (ICAP) EA-6B.

The Prowler can operate under various conditions, it can, for instance, escort a strike force and "cloak" it from radar. The aircraft can simply jam enemy radars from a distance, or generate false formations, or make itself disappear and reappear to radar. Most ECM procedures are heavily classified, their effectiveness can be judged by the fact, that a small carrier like the Midway carries 4-5 aircraft purely for EW.

The ICAP Prowler is an upgraded version of the EA-6B and represents currently the most advanced EW aircraft in operational service. The ICAP Prowler has a four man crew, a pilot and navigator/communications jammer in the front cockpit and two operators for the ALQ-99 tac jamming system, regarded as the world's most advanced, in the rear cockpit.

The whole system is extensively automated, employing a number of computers. The systems were designed with strong emphasis on ergonomics. The aircraft has comparable flight characteristics to the A-6E. The EA-6B has five external store stations, which can carry any combination of jamming pods or fuel tanks, range with 3 pods/2 tanks is 400 miles/3 hr, however the aircraft can be refueled in flight.

The importance of EW is likely to grow, if anything, and we can expect to see more (and updated) versions of the EA-6B, in the future.

Airborne Early Warning - Grumman E-2C Hawkeye

VAW-114 Hawks

Probably the most important aircraft in a carrier's inventory, the E-2 is the primary element in a carrier's air defence network. Under operational conditions a Hawkeye would remain constantly on station over the fleet, detecting any hostile aircraft attempting to penetrate. Information on a detected target would be relayed to F-14s flying Barrier Combat Air Patrol (BarCAP), or Task Force CAP (ForCAP), which would knock out the targets using Phoenix or Sparrow missiles.

VAW-114 began its existence as detachment C, VAW-11, flying E-1B Tracers, these were replaced with E-2As in 1965. VAW-114 was commissioned in 1967, the E-2As were replaced by E-2Cs in 1978.

The principal system in the E-2C is the APS-125 radar, developed by GE and Grumman. The APS-125 is extensively automated and can detect targets in ground clutter at ranges of up to 230 miles. The system can discriminate air or surface targets, it will track over 250 targets and simultaneously control 30 intercepts. The aircraft is equipped with a Passive Detection System (PDS), which enables the detection of sources of electromagnetic radiation at ranges of up to 500 miles, the system can also classify and identify the emissions. The crew of the E-2C consists of five men.

Aside from a purely air defence role, an E-2 in a combat zone would serve as a control centre, co-ordinating operations. The PDS enables the E-2 to operate as an electronic reconnaissance aircraft. The E-2s are known as Hummers, which is very appropriate, because they do hum - it's a far more pleasant sound that the usual roar of afterburning turbofans.

Anti-Submarine Warfare - Lockheed S-3A Viking

VS-29 Vikings

With the current size and growth rate of the Soviet Navy's submarine force, one could hardly imagine a conflict where it would not play a major role. Experiments with titanium hulled vessels and the number of nuclear attack subs turned out yearly both illustrate the importance the Russians place on the submarine, as an offensive weapon. The deployment of the S-3A on USN carriers serves two purposes - protection of the fleet from a subsurface threat and keeping the Soviet SLBM force from suitable launch areas. The S-3A has the ability to launch from a carrier, travel several hundred miles, search for, detect and destroy a submarine.

An active flight deck, is filled with ear splitting noise, ever-present danger and precision timing as aircraft taxi, hold and finally launch from a space smaller than the lounges of most major airport terminals. In this photo an A-7 Corsair taxis past a KA-6 tanker which is just edging up to the catapult launch station, in less than a minute the KA-6 will be airborne. The Vought A-7 Corsair ll is the primary clear weather attack aircraft of the USN, having progressively superseded the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk in recent times. In turn the A-7 will ultimately be replaced by the F/A-18. Corsair is currently undergoing a mild avionics update which will allow it to carry a FLIR pod and the HARM anti-radiation air-to-surface missile.

VS-29 was commissioned in 1960, then flying S-2Fs. The squadron transitioned to the S-3 during the mid-seventies and currently operates ten aircraft.

The S-3A is an extremely versatile aircraft. Powered by two GE TF34s, it is equipped with a staggering array of sensor systems. Texas Instruments APS-116 high resolution radar (will detect a periscope at 25 miles), IBM AN/ALR-47 electronic surveillance equipment, FLIR, TI AN/ASQ-81 Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD - will detect a sub down to 1500 ft) and 60 passive/active sonobuoys, which operate in conjunction with an Acoustic Data Processor (APD). Outputs from these sensors are correlated by a central computer system. The aircraft can carry bombs, depth charges, torpedoes, mines in its fuselage weapons bay and mines, bombs, cluster bombs, flare dispensers or fuel tanks on its underwing pylons.

The S-3A has a four man crew, a pilot, co-pilot - navigates and operates FLIR, radar, a sensor operator - handles computer processed information from the sonobuoys and, finally, the tacco - tactical co-ordinator.

S-3 crews are very enthusiastic about the aircraft and its abilities, one crew member was nearly offended when I suggested the S-3 was less capable than RAAF P-3 Orions (he was unaware the RAAF operates the P-3C). Of systems, in general, the S-3 crews speak as "... you name it, we've got it... ". The aircraft apparently flies very well, the comparison everyone seems to make (myself also) with the S-2 Tracker is misleading - crews claim the S-3 will outturn an F-14.

I was given an inside tour of an S-3A. The aircraft is surprisingly roomy inside (one would expect less, looking at the list of systems inside). All crew members sit on zero-zero seats. The forward cockpit is quite conventional, with fighter style control sticks and two rectangular CRTs for FLIR/radar or other information. The large windscreens and side windows provide an unrestricted view. The systems operators' compartment is aft of the cockpit, separated by a bulkhead (the aircraft is accessed by a door/steps on the right hand side of the system operators' section, access to the cockpit via a door in the bulkhead), CRTs are mounted in the bulkhead itself. The systems operators' panels are hinged to the walls and fold aside for access to the seat (and presumably for ejection). The panels are remarkably simple, with several sets of backlit keys, apparently multiplexing is employed, where a key on one of the boards determines the function of the other board's keys.

The USN operates two S-3s, modified as CODs, from Diego Garcia, as the C-1s and C-2s do not have the range (6 hrs) to reach "Gonzo station", where the carrier is on station. The electronics were thrown out and seats fitted instead, mail is carried in a pod on the underwing pylon. The aircraft are named "Miss Piggy" and "Kermit", after well known characters.

In spite of its small size, the S-3A is a sub hunter comparable in abilities with the far larger P-3 Orion, and with systems updates, will remain an extremely effective ASW aircraft.

Photo Reconnaissance - Vought RF-8G Crusader

VFP-63 Detachment 1 Super Det One

Photo reconnaissance is the fleet's means of gathering pre and post-strike information on targets and potential targets. Though a lot of information may be gathered by radar mapping (SAR), electronic surveillance and satellite reconnaissance, there is no substitute for a picture taken from 150 ft above the actual target.

The RF-8s operated by VFP-63 are really unique, they are among the very few aircraft still in operational service with the fleet. The F-8, together with the RA-5C, are being replaced with TARPS pods, to be fitted to F-14s. The RF-8 is comparable in performance with the fighter F-8s, the RF versions lacking the gunpack (4 x 20 mm) of the Fs, instead carrying a set of recce cameras built in to the mid fuselage (aft of the noseleg) - the aircraft was originally configured for medium to high level photorecce (to 40 000 ft in a low threat environment). The aircraft is limited to day/clear weather operation, navaids Tacan/VMC/Doppler and Eyeball Mk.I.

The RF-8A's original scheduled lifetime was 2500 hrs, how ever modifications, particularly the conversion to G standard - replacing the A wing with a wing stripped off late model F-8L fighters - have extended the service life to 5000 hrs+. The RF-8G is limited to 6.5 G.

The main disadvantage of the aircraft is its limited range, as it cannot carry external drop tanks, it must use in flight refueling. I had the opportunity to speak to a very experienced F-8 pilot (flying them since the sixties). Recce pilots approach targets as low as possible, coming in at anything above 200 ft is regarded as suicide, as anything that can shoot at them will shoot at them. VFP-63 lost around 37 aircraft during the Viet Nam conflict, mainly to low calibre gunfire. It takes a lot of nerve to fly dead straight under these conditions.

On the question of whether a recce aircraft should be armed, I was told that a good recce pilot is interested in getting his pictures home and nothing else, shootouts are to be left to the fighter cover on the mission.

The F-14/TARPS combination, as it seems, is hardly ideal for the job involved. The TARPS pod is limited to low-level operation only, the F-14 is far too large and expensive. Its size makes it a far more likely target for AAA and its cost would make the high loss rate felt more strongly. On the other hand, though, its self defensive abilities are very good. One cannot help thinking of the RAAF's F-111C Recce force in this context, as the F-111C's air-air abilities are not worth speaking of, perhaps TFR will offset the differences.

Probably the best solution would be a recce RF-18, as the F-18 fits most of the role very nicely, particularly the HSD/nav and radar, optimised for single seat operation, reasonably small size, high reliability and fast repair/maintenance. As things are, no decisions have been made on the issue.

Rescue/Anti Submarine Warfare - Sikorsky SH-3H Sea King

HS-4 Black Knights

The Sea King helicopters fulfill two primary functions - rescue and ASW. The aircraft are more often seen in the rescue role, hovering next to the carrier during launches and recoveries. Were an aircraft to crash during a launch or recovery, the crew would be fished out in less than two minutes.

Commissioned in 1952, HS-4 was the first ASW helicopter squadron to deploy on a carrier. The squadron holds a record for rescuing 24 downed airmen in one cruise, in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Viet Nam conflict. HS-4 was the squadron responsible for the recoveries of Apollo missions 8, 10, 11, 12, 13. The version of the SH-3 currently operated by the squadron is the H, a multi-purpose aircraft fitted with new ASW equipment, advanced radar and new MAD gear.

Carrier-Onboard-Delivery - Grumman C-2A Greyhound

VCR-50 Detachment

Last, but by far not least important, is the COD. The COD provides a day by day delivery service - personnel, mail, urgent spares or material. The COD looks like an inflated E-2 without the radar. In fact, that is exactly what it is. The C-2 has common wings with powerplant, a modified tail and a new fuselage. The aircraft can be loaded by a door in the forward fuselage and a hydraulically operated tail ramp. The fuselage is fitted either for cargo or cargo and passengers, the seats facing backward, to minimize the possibility of injury during the 4.5 G of recovery.

The flight deck has a surprising amount of room, it is accessed via a door from the cargo hold. COD policy is to fly with enough fuel to bingo, if the carrier cannot recover, for whatever reason that may be. This limits the C-2 to ranges of 500 nm to and return. The aircraft uses Omega and Tacan as navigation aids. There are, currently, no plans to replace the C-2A with a modified S-3, the two aircraft in operation being only a measure for the unique situation at Diego Garcia.

Primary difference between the two types is that the S-3 can carry a small payload a long distance at jet type speeds, while the C-2 can carry a much larger, bulkier payload over a shorter range.


Under operational conditions, the callsign of an aircraft is the name of its pilot. However, if there are more than a few aircraft involved, the tasking of an aircraft would become its callsign, e.g. TarCAP would denote an F-14 flying cover for a strike force.

A large strike, against a well defended target is known as an Alpha Strike - involving 30-40 aircraft. The first aircraft to go in on an Alpha Strike would be the A-7s, tasked with strike and Iron Hand. As the SAM/AAA sites may not be in the immediate target area, Iron Hand aircraft may fly separate from the main strike, e.g. flanking it. The main strike force follows, usually well loaded A-6s, or a mix of A-6s and A-7s. These aircraft would knock out the actual target.

Nicknamed the Hoover, due to the soft purr of its GE turbofans, a Lockheed S-3A Viking ASW aircraft returns after a routine four hour mission. Lockheed are proposing a COD version of the S-3 in addition to a tanker variant. In the background is a whale or EKA-3B electronic countermeasures aircraft. The EKA-3B was better known as the Douglas A-3 Skywarrior, a nuclear-capable medium range carrier based bomber designed in the early fifties. Whales will progressively be superseded by Grumman EA-6B Prowlers.

Fighter cover would be provided by F-14s, flying TarCAP or MiGCAP. Aircraft tasked with Target CAP would usually follow the strike force, and provide top cover. F-14s assigned to MiGCAP would accompany the strike force until enemy fighters were located, after which these aircraft would detach and engage the fighters. These tactics are close to those employed in the final stages of the Viet Nam conflict.

Under combat conditions, the carrier would operate without its onboard radars and under total radio silence, aircraft being allowed to use radio only when 100 miles or so out. It would be quite easy for an opponent to locate a carrier within a few miles accuracy, by these electromagnetic emissions and the lethal distance of a thermonuclear warhead isn't that small. Radar/radio silence was employed during joint manoeuvers with the RAN and RAAF, carried out during the few days prior to the vessel's arrival in Fremantle. An RAAF F-111C did succeed in locating the Kitty Hawk, however, after being identified by an E-2C, it was subsequently "shot down" by F-14s, at a range of 155 nm from the carrier.

The United States possess a unique capability in their aircraft carrier task forces, the ability to effectively project frontline air power, anywhere on the globe. The presence of carriers in the Indian Ocean is an effective deterrent to any powers, which may feel they are entitled to more than their current share of the region.

Unless there are substantial changes in the political structure of the region, carriers will remain a stabilizing influence in this turbulent part of the world.

CV-63 USS Kitty Hawk / CVW-15 Photographic Essay APA-PE-2010-0601

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