Image 1: F-35Cs onboard the USS George Washington. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin & taken by Todd R. McQueen.
Future Threat Environment & the Role of Carrier Based Fighters
Current CVW Sea Control
The fighter contingent of the current CVW consists of one to two squadrons of F/A-18C/Ds Hornets and two to three squadrons of more capable F/A-18E/Fs Super Hornets for a total of 44 fighter aircraft. Both the legacy Hornet and Super Hornet are reliable and versatile strike fighters, but they are severely constrained by their relatively short combat radius of approximately 290 nm for the legacy Hornet and 390 nm to 410 nm for the Super Hornet depending upon the flight profile and configuration of external stores. With the retirement of the S-3 Viking in 2009, between five to six F/A-18E/Fs are used in the buddy tanking role to extend the reach and endurance of the remaining Hornets which further erodes the effective strength of the CVW.
Image 6: Pair of J-20 fighters on display at Zhuhai 2016. Note the Luneburg lens radar reflectors mounted on the underside of the aircraft to mask the J-20's real RCS. The J-20 program continues to make steady progress as shown by design refinements made between the initial J-20 prototypes and the low rate initial production (LRIP) aircraft. The DoD estimates the J-20 will reach initial operational capacity (IOC) around 2018. A production run of a few hundred airframes is plausible and the design will only become more formidable as Chengdu engineers thoroughly examine the PLAAF's new Su-35s.
Image 7: Super Hornet configured for ASuW with four AGM-84D Harpoon missiles. Image Credit: USN.