Ahead of future fight, US reworks carrier air wing formation – Defence Connect

As peer competitors increasingly challenge the supremacy of the aircraft carrier, the US Navy is responding with a range of modernisation and development plans that will reshape the carrier air wing to better support allied operations and power projection in the Indo-Pacific.

Many in the strategic policy and defence analysis communities around the world have questioned the continued survivability and relevance of the world’s premier, maritime-based power projection platform: the aircraft carrier. 

The advent of advanced and integrated anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) systems, like China’s DF-21, DF-26 and other related anti-ship ballistic missile systems, combined with peer competitor aircraft carriers and land-based aircraft, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, have emerged as the key catalysts for the transition, pushing the limits of current carrier-based aircraft. 

Further complicating the matter is the growing success of Russian and Chinese fifth-generation fighter aircraft like the Su-57, J-20 and JF-31, the US has kicked off a suite of development programs to replace the ageing F-15 Eagle and fifth-generation F-22 Raptor airframes and the evolving F/A-18E/F Super Hornets operated by the US Navy beginning in the 2030s.  

The US Air Force has actively progressed its plans to acquire a next-generation air combat capability to replace the Raptor, as outlined in the 2016 ‘Air Superiority 2030’ study conducted by the US Air Force, which sought to identify the capabilities of the ‘Next Generation Tactical Aircraft’ air superiority/dominance fighter jet expected to enter service in the 2030s.