The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H204: The Navy’s Air Force

During the years 1919 to 1941 Naval Aviation carved out a place for itself in the Navy by being a member of the battleship team. Naval aviation supported the battleship-centric fleet by finding the enemy fleet, fixing and harassing the enemy fleet through air attack, and defending the fleet from enemy air. WWII forced navies around the world to recognize that airpower at sea had become the dominant capability of naval forces. As a result, the aircraft carrier became the center of naval strategy, operations, tactics and force development. However, the rise of the aircraft carrier in the US miltiary during WWII occured in an enviroment in which a US Air Force did not exist. How did the absence of a US Air Force help the development of Naval Aviation in the US in the interwar years?

The first clash between the US Air Force and Naval Aviation over roles, missions, and most importantly, budget, occured after the draw-down of the US miltiary after WWII and was known as the “Revolt of the Admirals.” Are we destined for another revolt of the Admirals? What is the core capability of Naval Aviation today and is it worth the cost in the budget of maintaining a fleet built around aircraft carriers? What does the aircraft carrier provide the US military that is unique and different from what the Air Force is capable of? Should todays US Navy be built around a unique naval capability such as the submarine, rather than the aircraft carrier which seems to perform a similar role as the US Air Force?


December 14, 2015 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. The absence of a US Air Force allowed divergent doctrine and airpower capabilities to manifest for the US Navy. While this divergent doctrine potentially padlocked upon the conventional battleship on battleship approach to warfare, the lack of the US Air Force enabled the independent development of aircraft carrier technology ultimately enabling the rise of US Naval dominance in modern warfare.

    I do not think that the US is destined for another revolt of the Admirals. While the prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shaped combat effectiveness, they have also taught the Air Force and Navy the importance of shared resources and objective accomplishment. The Navy has effectively quantified fleet defense requirements and offered the air component available resources. I think this shared approach to mission success will continue in future conflicts therein preventing another revolt of the Admirals.

    The core capability of Naval Aviation still rests in fleet defense while also serving effectively as a force projection platform. Naval aviation has also carved the niche in electronic warfare and other mission sets required by the US Air Force through force integration. Naval aviation remains a vibrant and powerful strategic tool for the United States and should be preserved under the auspices of the Navy. The strategic capabilities of an aircraft carrier are not easily replicated by the US Air Force and the US should not abandon the carriers.

    Today’s Navy should be focused on submarine warfare … and aircraft carriers … and surface warfare and all of the other current mission sets. Our current Navy is powerful and a strong deterrent to potential enemies while simultaneously enabling humanitarian projection worldwide with the wide range of Naval capabilities.

    Comment by Matt Wunderlich, 19A | December 15, 2015

  2. I agree with Matt that Naval Aviation has a viable mission and should retain its independence from the Air Force. Although the Air Force is capable of reaching anywhere in the world, it isn’t expeditionary. Force projection is a mission that the Navy can do better than the Air Force and Army because of its large, self-sufficient ships. Naval aviation is part of that package. It is key for force projection as much as it is for fleet protection.
    I do not think that the Navy should refocus its doctrine to another platform. As the cyber and space domains are added to the battlefield, the need to support surface, subsurface and air continues. Doctrine focused on the carrier strike groups ensures the 360-plus battlefield can remain covered.

    Comment by Laura Proffit, 19C | January 5, 2016

  3. The absence of a US Air Force helped the development of naval aviation as it avoided the possibility of inter-service rivalry. Naval aviation did not have to compete with another service for resources to develop its aircraft. The Navy was also more likely to invest in naval aviation capabilities because there was no risk that naval aviation capabilities that were developed would be transferred to another service.

    This was in contrast to the inter-service rivalry between the Admiralty and the Air Service, which impeded the development of British naval aviation. Both services competed for finite resources with the Royal Air Force believing that the expansion of the Royal Navy’s air arm would threaten its growth. Both services were also competing and preoccupied with a struggle to gain control of the Fleet Air Arm, which resulted in the neglect of the future role of naval aviation in Britain.

    The aircraft carrier provides a critical capability from the Air Force. It allows the projection of air power over large distances and is effective as a tool for deterrence. Some level of redundancy in a complex system like the military is also necessary as it ensures the system is robust and resilient.

    Comment by Luke Goh, SG19B | January 20, 2016

  4. The absence of a US Air Force helped the development of Naval Aviation in the US in the interwar years by not being a head-to-head competition for resources. The air force was not looking at protecting the naval fleet; rather it was looking at strategic bombing. This allowed naval aviation to dedicate its research and development towards ways of protecting the fleet. Each service had its own agenda.

    The core capability of Naval Aviation today is worth the cost in the budget of maintaining a fleet built around aircraft carriers. The Navy has the ability to conduct amphibious assaults, on order to do so preparation needs to be accomplished. Having the carriers allows the Navy to conduct air strikes at or near a beachhead, which will attrit enemy forces allowing for an amphibious assault. Additionally, the carrier provides protection to the navy fleet as it postures for a variety of missions. One such mission is the humanitarian mission. The carrier is virtually self-sufficient, and when used in time of humanitarian relief it has the ability to provide medical treatment.

    Today’s Navy should continue to embrace the carrier, but not abandon the submarine. In terms of contingency operations, the carrier and its associated support package can position itself anywhere on the water surface of the world to provide a show of force (and as needed, force) while being able to sustain itself. The air force cannot do this, because they do not have the staying ability the Navy has. Although the submarine can sustain itself for a prolonged period, it does not have the ability to sustain an attack. The submarine perhaps is best at protecting territorial waters to provide early warning. Additionally, the submarine is critical in reconnaissance in areas of strategic importance. It can remain undetected while gathering intelligence that may help provide situational awareness.

    Comment by Neil Hogie, SG 19B | February 9, 2016

  5. The absence of the Air Force during the interwar period aided the development of Naval aviation in that the forces were not framed by thinking that all aviation power needed to be projected by the Air Force. The Navy was able to create a capability required at the time. As the military transitions its focus to joint operations, I think it is essential that the Navy maintains its aviation capability with the carrier. This capability within a joint force should broaden the scope of the Army and Air Force capabilities as well. Each service should maintain its core capabilities while enabling others to broaden their scope and range. The Navy offers a unique core capability to navigate the world via maritime systems and the joint force can benefit greatly from this core capability.

    Major Laura Pangallo, 19A

    Comment by MAJ Pangallo | February 10, 2016

  6. I believe the navy is fighting today to maintain their aviation role. I think it is unnecessary to maintain naval aviation and can be accomplished with just the Air Force. The use of carriers are an outdated concept and the navy should transition to using stealth vessels and submarine development. With the US ability to rapidly project force from many locations, the cost of maintaining carriers are irrelevant.

    Comment by James Stall | February 11, 2016

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