The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H204: The Naval 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 16, 2016 - Posted by | H200, military history, Uncategorized | , , , , , ,


  1. Naval Aviation was able to establish a strong foothold as a part of the joint forces before the creation of the USAF largely due to the unique capability it provided to the established doctrine. As technology increased, the aircraft carrier became the focal point of Naval employment doctrine and has largely remained so up until today. However, the primary role of the aircraft carrier other than fleet defense has and will continue to be, power projection. The ability to project power from the sea is a strategic capability that can never be matched by the USAF simply because of operational reach. The USAF requires so much support and logistical capability to “fight tonight” that they will always be lagging the power projection capabilities of an aircraft carrier. While I do agree that the aircraft carrier should not be the sole focal point of Naval employment, it should be used as intended for power projection so that other joint forces can be freed to conduct other missions.

    Comment by Justin Reddick | January 4, 2017

  2. Justin, I agree. The navy provides a long-standing presence that cannot (and in my opinion) should not be matched by the Air Force. The navy can take an aircraft carrier and park it outside of a country as an instant deterrent. This allows the United States to maintain peace in areas without the use of violence. The Navy and the Air Force have unique roles that they can maintain. While it takes a little longer for the USAF to establish a presence in a country due to the logistics requirements once they are in place they can stay for longer stretches of time. The USAF also conducts air-to-air refueling that allows them to extend operational reach. In conclusion, there are unique roles that the Navy and Air Force hold and depending on the strategic mission set they will both be needed.

    Comment by Jeffery Hoover | January 27, 2017

  3. Justin, I agree with you this time. Naval aviation supported the US military during WWII when the US Air Force did not exist. The absence of a US Air Force helped the development of Naval Aviation during the interwar period and enabled it to be the center of naval strategy, operations, tactics and force development. The naval aviation supports the US military to date as a very unique service that enabled the US military to cover huge areas around the world. In addition, the naval aviation reduces the time, that the US military needs to take a prompt action in any area of the world. The clash between the US Air Force and Naval Aviation should be decreased. Both should make a lot of coordination, their roles and missions should be different, and also each should have an independent budget. This cooperation if happens will decrease the opportunities for another revolt of the Admirals. The core capability of Naval Aviation today is very powerful and it really worth the cost in the budget of maintaining a fleet built around aircraft carriers. US military gained and will still gain a lot of benefits from naval aviation. The aircraft carrier provides the US military with the prompt response to any crisis around the world because it can be easily located in different area of the world. The naval aviation can support the US military in executing its missions from the universal water, where there is no need to take a permission from any other countries. The naval aviation is also considered a self-sustainment and in addition, the naval aviation needs from logistics are very little amounts in comparing to the USAF. As a conclusion, as the Brigadier General Sean MacFarland said In 2010, “In a crisis, the president always asks, ‘where are the aircraft carriers?’. All of these capabilities that the naval has are the reason that makes the US Navy builds to date the aircraft carrier which seems to perform a similar role as the US Air Force rather than a unique naval capability such as the submarine. However, in my opinion, the submarine should take a similar leading position in the navy in the near future.

    Comment by mohamed ibrahim | January 30, 2017

  4. I believe the absence of the US Air Force has nothing to do with the development of naval aviation in the interwar period. The generalized prospective of the from high ranking officers and officials was that strategic bombing was too primitive to match the promises of Edgar Gorrell, Thomas Milling, William “Billy” Mitchell, and William Sherman. In contrast, during the interwar period and thanks to Capt. William Moffett, a Surface Warfare Officer, that understood the use of naval aviation as early as 1918. His views changed the culture of the sea going service and identified a capability gap that was mitigated with the employment of air assets. Regardless of how the naval aviation and the carriers became the center piece of naval doctrine, it was not until the need, based on the loss of the battleships, that the developed naval air tactics became a reality. Unfortunately, the Army’s service culture and the fact that Giulio Douhet’s ideas did not materialized as promised delayed the creation of the Air Force. Strategic bombing did not paralyze the enemy’s financial and industrial capacity and in the case of Germany they fought until the allies marched onto Berlin (the capital). Therefore, it was difficult for Army brass and law makers to see the need for the Air Force to be a separate service and for the legislative power to approved the requested budgets.
    In today’s asymmetrical environment and inadequate budgets the days of the carriers are limited. Technological advantages can provide the same capacity that the carries bring to the table with the use of forward deployed fighter squadrons for kinetic operations (non-nuclear) and submarines to deliver the nuclear option if need be. In addition, the use of UAVs have further made the carriers obsolete as their reach of military operations are greater, faster, and permanent. It takes a large budget and time to deploy a carrier into crisis area specially when one takes into consideration the number of escort ships that are attached to the air wing (5 to 6 pending on operations).

    Comment by Diego Alvarado | February 4, 2017

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