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Tactics 101: Naval Formations - Part 3


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In Part 2 of this discussion on naval formations, we added the ships and submarines of the Reagan carrier strike group (CSG).


Now, in Part 3, we'll move to the task of adding the CSG's aviation assets, namely, its fixed wing and rotary wing (helicopters) aircraft.


When it comes to adding shipboard aviation to the mix, assembling the formation is much the same as it was with ships and submarines. However, the aircraft we are now hoping to add must firstly be added to (or associated with) a particular ship that is already part of the formation.


This is because that aircraft will be based aboard and operate from that ship, departing from it to undertake a patrol inside the formation (or a mission outside it) and then returning to that ship to refuel and/or rearm.




1. The Carrier Air Wing


The keystone of our example formation, the USS Ronald Reagan, is also the principal operator of most of the formation's aircraft, and in this instance, houses all of the formation's fixed wing aircraft. It is, after all, the "bird farm". Let's borrow from real life to flesh out what aircraft should be assigned to our carrier ...


In real life, Carrier Air Wing 14 is (CVW-14) presently attached to the Reagan. The bulk of the offensive firepower of CVW-14 is held in four US Navy strike fighter squadrons:


Strike Fighter Squadron 22 (VFA-22), the "Fighting Redcocks", a F/A-18F Super Hornet squadron with 12 aircraft

Strike Fighter Squadron 25 (VFA-25), the "Fist of the Fleet", a F/A-18C Hornet squadron with 12 aircraft

Strike Fighter Squadron 113 (VFA-113), the "Stingers", a F/A-18C Hornet squadron with 12 aircraft

Strike Fighter Squadron 115 (VFA-115), the "Eagles", a F/A-18E Super Hornet squadron with 12 aircraft


F/A-18E Super Hornets stand ready on the deck of the Reagan


Photo credit: DefenseLink, US DoD.


CVW-14 is also comprised of several support squadrons, including:


Electronic Attack Squadron 139 (VAQ-139), the "Cougars", flying four EA-6B Prowler ICAP III

Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 113 (VAW-113), the "Black Eagles", flying four E-2C Hawkeye 2000

Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 30 (VRC-30), the "Providers", Detachment 1 "Hustlers", flying four C-2A Greyhound

Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Four (HS-4), the "Black Nights", operating four SH-60F Oceanhawk and two HH-60H Rescue Hawk helicopters


So let's assume you've already edited your group to add all the relevant aircraft from the above list. (It would be very unlikely, by the way, to find four C-2A Greyhound COD (carrier onboard delivery) aircraft aboard the carrier at any one time. In fact, its more likely to find none at all in most HCE scenarios, which I suppose is a reflection of both their role: shuttling back and forth between shore and the carrier; and the fact that they're aren't terribly exciting).


2. Other Aircraft of the Formation


The US Navy operates a number of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Light (HSL) Squadrons that deploy small detachments of helicopters onboard cruisers, destroyers, and frigates in a carrier strike group, expeditionary strike group, or with surface ship units deploying independently. (With the advent of the new MH-60R Seahawk, these HSL squadrons will become Helicopter Maritime Strike (or HSM) Squadrons).


It is important to note, for the sake of realism (if you're into that sort of thing), that although some ships are equipped to embark helicopters (i.e. they have a helicopter landing pad) and HCE will permit you to add them (up to the capacity of the pad), embarking an aircraft and actually operating (and maintaining) one is a very different thing in practise.


Take for example, the Arleigh Burke Flight I and Flight IIA ships. The Flight I vessels, like our USS Hopper, have a helicopter pad but no hangar, while the Flight IIA ships, like our USS Oscar Austin, have hangar space for a pair of Seahawks.


The rather cluttered stern of the USS Hopper ...



Photo source: Navy.mil 071112-N-0455L-002.jpg


... as compared to the clearly visible hangars aboard the USS Oscar Austin.



Photo credit: NavSource Naval History.


So, once we've added all the relevant aircraft to the warship escorts in our screen, these aircraft will show as follows:


Bunker Hill (Aegis) class guided missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf, operating two SH-60B Seahawks.

Arleigh Burke Flight IIA (Aegis) class guided missile destroyer USS Oscar Austin, operating two SH-60B Seahawks.

Arleigh Burke Flight I (Aegis) class guided missile destroyer USS Hopper, operating no aircraft (though it has a helipad).

Oliver Hazard Perry class guided missile frigate USS Ingraham, operating two SH-60B Seahawks.


Those are not all the aircraft available to our formation, however. The fast combat support ship USNS Arctic has in the past typically operated with a pair of CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters for vertical replenishment (VERTREP) duties. These are being replaced by the MH-60S type, and come from the US Navy's Helicopter Combat Support (HC) Squadrons.


Let's add those helicopters to the Arctic, so that we now have:


Supply class fast combat support ship USNS Arctic, operating two MH-60S Seahawks.


After adding all the units of the carrier air wing CVW-14 and the "eggbeaters" from the various US Navy helicopter squadrons, we have a total force of over 70 aircraft, a powerful and useful tool. Here's how they look in our Order of Battle:




These aircraft will be even more useful once we have "readied" (fueled and armed) them for combat. The current status of the carrier air wing, before arming, is shown as follows:






Although once added to the carrier and the other ships of the formation, our aircraft are already equipped with a default loadout, we'll need to tailor their loadouts to suit the threats we face and the missions which we have been tasked with achieving.


Remember the hypothetical threats we discussed in Part 2? We had three threat axes: (1) Air, along the axis of the perceived air threat; (2) ASW, along the formation's course; and (3) Surface. Those threat axes were, in turn, represented by:


Air: potential Tu-22M Backfire bomber raids coming out of airfields on the Kola Peninsula.

ASW: a reported Oscar (Project 949) class SSGN laying in wait for our CSG somewhere along its line of advance.

Surface: a newly detected Russian surface action group (SAG) operating to the West of our CSG.


1. Anti-Air Warfare (AAW): Meeting the Air Threat


The threat of a raid by Russian Backfire bombers against our carrier group is nothing to sneeze at, as I'm sure many Harpoon players are well aware. It is an imposing aircraft, so much so that when it first appeared, the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) assessed it as posing a strategic threat to the continental United States. While that has since proved inaccurate, the Backfire is still a versatile "theater" strike aircraft, capable of delivering a fearsome blow over a long range, thanks to powerful engines, impressive speed and endurance, in-flight refueling capability, and a nasty air-to-surface missile armament.



Photo credit: Max Bryansky, Russian AviaPhoto Team


In keeping with the long held (and sensible) US Navy philosophy of "shoot the archers, not the arrows", we're going to want to meet the Backfire threat as far from our naval formation as possible. And, in keeping with Soviet/Russian doctrine, those enemy bombers are going to be relying heavily on other assets (like the very long ranged Bear D maritime reconnaissance aircraft) to help detect and precisely locate our carrier group before they commit to an attack. Lastly, Backfires don't hunt alone. What does this mean for our carrier air wing?


The fighter element of CVW-14 is equipped entirely with variants of the F/A-18 Hornet, 48 of them in all. I know, many of you are lamenting this fact, flipping through old photo albums and mumbling something about the good ole days. So let me cut that short, and acknowledge straight away that the F-14 Tomcat was the best Backfire bomber killer of all time, bar none. (There, happy now? :P ) Yes, the Hornet is notoriously short ranged (and yes, it has a few other flaws, too), but fortunately half of our force is outfitted with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The "Superbug" has longer legs and, even better, can carry late model versions of the excellent AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile and serve as an armed in-flight refueling tanker for our entire force.


It would seem to make sense, then, to focus a large portion of our two Super Hornet squadrons for the air-to-air (i.e. Backfire hunting) role. Let's do that for all 12 of our single-seat F/A-18E jets, readying them with the Intercept loadout, since ripple firing AAMs at hordes of incoming enemy bombers isn't particularly challenging for a one-man crew. However, some other missions may be, so let's reserve the 12 twin-seat F/A-18F jets for those roles: six for the tanker mission, and the remainder for the strike mission. We'll return to the latter group later.




This leaves 30 Hornets for other missions, but since we have no pressing ground attack missions, and the Backfire threat is a critical one, let's build a hedge into our anti-air warfare (AAW) force. We'll ready another six F/A-18C Hornets for the Intercept mission. They may have shorter range, but their impressive missile load of six AMRAAMs apiece cannot be discounted. If things don't work out the way we hope, and the Backfires reach missile range (which can be as far out as 270 nm!), or we meet some as-yet unknown airborne threat, we may sorely need the extra defensive firepower.


To recap, then, this approach gives us 12 F/A-18E Super Hornets and six F/A-18C Hornets with the Intercept loadout, and six F/A-18F Super Hornets with the Tanker loadout, for a total of 24 aircraft. This will provide our carrier strike group with the means to set up long range patrols and offensive counter-air groups, hopefully intercepting those Backfires long before they reach missile range (which can be as far out as 270 nm!).


And, importantly, for the purposes of our discussion, we'll assign a few of these aircraft to formation patrols.


2. Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), aka Sub Hunting


The known submarine threat to our carrier strike group is comprised by a reported Oscar (Project 949) class SSGN somewhere "out there", ahead of us, waiting, lurking, listening.



Photo credit: US DoD


Just as important, however, is the unknown submarine threat. All of our CSG's firepower, embodied in its Aegis shield, its AEW&C radars, its multi-role fighters, and its cruise missiles, could come very quickly to a watery end if just one hostile submarine breaches the formation and gets into torpedo range of the Reagan or her escorts.


The Oscar cruise missile submarine can be thought of as a sort of stealthy, underwater bomber. Its heavy P-700 Granit (SS-N-19 Shipwreck) missile armament threatens our CSG in much the same way as do the Backfires. We must therefore strive to find, fix and destroy the Oscar at standoff range, before it can come into missile range (300 nm) of our formation.


Unfortunately for us, this will be a very daunting task indeed. The phased withdrawal of the S-3 Viking ASW mission, followed by the aircraft themselves, has meant that the ASW mission has taken a backseat aboard the modern day aircraft carrier. (This has been a much lamented topic, unsurprisingly).


CVW-14 can call upon only four SH-60F helicopters to perform ASW, and with no sonobuoys and a limited range (like all helicopters), they are ill equipped to trek out far ahead of the CSG to search for an enemy submarine in a very big ocean. Given that sending our SH-60F helicopters out on long range patrols would be akin to searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack, we better stick to keeping them on formation patrols.


Considering our potential target (the tough, double hulled Oscar) and the fact that if we detect a submarine close to (or, God forbid, inside) our formation, we're going to want to kill it yesterday, so let's go with the ASW loadout for our SH-60Fs that gives them a pair of very capable Mk 50 Barracuda lightweight torpedoes.


Our remaining airborne ASW capability lies with the six SH-60B Seahawks, two each aboard the Leyte Gulf, Oscar Austin, and Ingraham. The SH-60B has a respectable sonobuoy load, but as with the SH-60F, lacks the endurance to go on long range patrols looking for an Oscar SSGN or some other submarine threat laying in our path.


For this reason, and under these circumstances, the SH-60B is also a tool better employed on formation patrols. We'll further maximize their endurance by readying our Seahawks with the ASW-LR loadout, carrying a single Mk 46 lightweight torpedo and a fuel tank.


It is important to note that helicopters that carry sonobuoys but no dipping sonar may run out of buoys before they run out of fuel. They will not automatically to be rearmed, but rather will continue patrolling until fuel runs out. You may therefore need to keep an eye on their sonobuoy status, in order to maximize the buoy coverage at all times.


3. Bruiser! Anti-surface Warfare (ASuW)


The known surface threat is a Russian surface action group (SAG) operating to the West of our CSG. Since its presence was only recently determined, we do not yet know the composition of the enemy group, its speed or course, or its specific intentions. Its probably safe to say, however, that as a Russian SAG, its probably bristling with weaponry and its continued survival is not conducive to our interests.


We've 24 Hornets left to work with, including a half dozen F/A-18F Super Hornets and 18 F/A-18C variants. A Russian SAG can be a tough nut to crack, and let's assume for the moment that this one is no different. We're going to need a few tools for the job, namely:


(1) Anti-radiation missiles (ARMs): a weapon designed to detect and home in on enemy electronic emissions (typically radars) and destroy the emitters. Our (and the most common) example is the American AGM-88 HARM (High speed Anti-Radiation Missile), which we will use to knock out or destroy the radars aboard enemy ships, both blinding them and neutralizing their radar guided defensive weapons.


The Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) mission is perhaps one of the most demanding tasks a fighter pilot could be called upon to carry out. Let's equip our six remaining two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornets for this particular job. The SEAD-LR loadout will give each of them a pair of HARMs while maintaining good range/endurance (so we don't have to call on any tankers).




(2) Decoys: It doesn't make much sense to expend valuable (and expensive) weaponry in a direct confrontation with an enemy who is equipped to shoot back with greater numbers of his own defensive missiles, some of which are capable of shooting down your missiles before they ever reach him. Decoys are therefore a useful force multiplier in the SEAD and ASuW missions, because your enemy will shoot at your decoys just as readily as he would the real weapons. It is, in many respects, a numbers game, so let's equip six of our F/A-18Cs with the Decoy-LR loadout. The decoy used here, the ADM-141C ITALD (Improved Tactical Air Launched Decoy), will permit the F/A-18C to shoot at long standoff range, again saving fuel and keeping from having to call on tanker support.




Photo credit: Israel Military Industries (IMI)


(3) Jamming: You will find that a SEAD or ASuW mission will be more effective if you employ ample amounts of offensive electronic warfare (EW), colloquially known as "jamming", to the effort. For this role, the EA-6B Prowler is king. (Or, at least, will be until the arrival of the EA-18G Growler ... we'll see).


The benefit of having an offensive jamming platform like the Prowler accompany your strike package is three-fold: it can help "shield" other friendly aircraft from detection when flying in close formation; it can reduce the effective range of enemy radar systems; and its electronic surveillance measures (ESM) gear can help precisely locate and identify enemy assets by their electronic emissions.


The Prowler has three potential loadout choices for the offensive jamming mission: the Patrol loadout, in which case the Prowler carries only its ALQ-99 jamming pods; the Decoy loadout, in which caseit can carry both decoys and jamming pods (to further boost the number of decoys you can throw at the enemy); or the SEAD loadout, where the jet carries the HARM anti-radar missile and jamming pods (to increase the number of missiles you can shoot at enemy radars). Any one of these would no doubt prove useful to you.


Because we have a limited number of available Prowlers (only four), and they are so valuable, it is unlikely that we would want to devote all four of them to the attack on the Russian SAG. Two of them would complement each other and improve the jamming mission, while retaining two (with the standard Patrol loadout) for the defense of the carrier strike group in their absence.


Let's ready two Prowlers for the jamming mission, and let's choose the SEAD loadout to add offensive firepower.


EA-6B Prowler with the AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missile


Photo credit: airforce-technology.com


(4) Anti-ship strike: We've now tackled the assigning aircraft to the task of suppressing, jamming, fooling or destroying the enemy SAG's means of detecting us or defending itself. We now need to actually sink some ships, and once again we turn to the F/A-18C Hornet for the job. There are numerous weapons and loadouts available to the Hornet for the anti-ship mission.


There are several laser guided bomb (LGB) loadout options that are very accurate, pack a serious wallop, and would certainly sink ships, but their engagement range is quite limited. It would probably be foolhardy to expect that our SEAD and jamming efforts would be so successful that our jets could waltz into LGB range without worry.


The ASuW loadout is obviously suitable, given the AGM-65F Maverick was specifically developed for the role, but again its effective range is a bit short and the warhead a bit small. Some Russian naval SAM systems, like the SA-N-6 Grumble, for example, would eat our lunch if we tried to fly into their envelope to try and shoot Mavericks. The AGM-65F might be very useful for a follow up attack, or if the Russian SAG is determined to be less scary than we feared.


So let's look for something a little heavier and longer ranged. The classic choice, of course, is the AGM-84 Harpoon. But let's consider, for a moment, something a little newer.


The Precis-LR loadout packs two AGM-84K SLAM-ER (Standoff Land Attack Missile - Expanded Response) cruise missiles, which are stealthy, have a very long range, and a warhead and hit probability comparable to that of Harpoon. And, although they're quite capable of striking ship targets, they're very useful in the land attack mission. We don't (yet) have a logistics model in HCE, but if we did, the SLAM-ER would be the kind of weapon you'd want to hold in reserve until you absolutely need it. We might need, for example, to hit those Kola airfields at some point in future.


SLAM-ER training round


Photo credit: Boeing


So we're back to our game's namesake: the AGM-84 Harpoon. The F/A-18C carries two examples of the AGM-84G variant in its ASuW-LR loadout, which will give us the reach and killing power that we're looking for. And, being a little lighter in weight than the SLAM-ER, this Harpoon loadout will give our short legged Hornets an extra boost in combat range.


One or two hits by Harpoon is enough to severely disable or sink a destroyer sized target, but we must, of course, account for misses, jammed or decoyed missiles, shootdowns, and (shudder) Hornets that never make it to launch range, so we're going to want a lot of Harpoons. We have 12 F/A-18C Hornets left available to make ready, so let's prepare all 12 of them for the ASuW-LR anti-ship mission.


Results of a Harpoon missile hit


Photo credit: US Navy, from Air Power Australia.


(If you're wondering, by the way, "bruiser" is the military brevity code word for an air launched anti-ship missile. ;) )


Our planned answer to the surface threat, then, can be summarised as follows:


Six F/A-18F Super Hornets, with the SEAD-LR loadout (with 2 x HARM each, 12 in all)

Six F/A-18C Hornets, with the Decoy-LR loadout (4 x ITALD each, 24 in all)

Two EA-6B Prowler ICAP III, with the SEAD loadout (2 x HARM each, 4 in all)

Twelve F/A-18C Hornets, with the ASuW-LR loadout (2 x Harpoon each, 24 in all)


4. Readying other Support Aircraft


The Reagan's air wing and the Arctic each have other aviation assets that aren't directly committed to addressing either of the three threats (Air, Sub, and Surface) that our naval formation may face, but are nevertheless important supporting tools of warfare in their own right.


(1) Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C)


One of the most important assets in the entire carrier air wing are the E-2C Hawkeye 2000 AEW&C aircraft. This version is the fifth iteration and the definitive Group II version of the venerable Hawkeye platform, whose role is to provide the carrier strike group with early warning of aircraft, missiles and maritime traffic out to distances exceeding 300 nm, as well as command and control for friendly air traffic.


Our Hawkeye squadron, the VAW-113 "Black Eagles", fly four examples of the Hawkeye 2000. Typically, one or two of these extremely useful aircraft will be aloft over the CSG at all times. Their only loadout option is the Patrol mission.


We could potentially send one or more Hawkeyes to accompany a strike mission, or to act as some distant picket, but it is critically important to remember that these aircraft are unarmed, relatively slow, and slow to maneuver, and attract enemy fighters like flies to ***, so you never ever want to put them in harm's way without plenty of support, preferably a very capable fighter escort.




(2) Search and Rescue (SAR)


As previously stated, HCE does not yet incorporate a search and rescue (SAR) model, but our carrier air wing is nevertheless equipped for this very important mission (especially for those pilots that do end up in the drink), as well as other varied roles, including medical evacuation (medevac), vertical replenishment (VERTREP), and "naval special warfare support" (i.e. being a taxi for Navy SEALs). HS-4 Squadron, the "Black Knights", operates two HH-60H helicopters in this capacity.


If our carrier strike group were operating in littoral or confined waters, such as the Gulf of Aden or the Persian Gulf, where the threat of small boat attacks (e.g. Somali pirates or Iranian Boghammars) was a possibility, we might want to arm one of our HH-60s for the ASuW mission (armed with Hellfire missiles and machine guns) or for delivering Navy SEALs with the Precis loadout.


In either case, with carrier flight operations and accidents being by their very nature a constant reality, it would be prudent to equip at least one HH-60 for the SAR or medevac mission (with the Patrol loadout) and have it stand by if needed.


(3) Logistics


As with SAR, a logistics model has not yet been introduced into HCE. We nevertheless simulate the tools of that trade, and more particularly, they are represented here by the C-2 Greyhound aircraft and the MH-60S helicopter.


As earlier stated, it is unlikely that we would find more than a single C-2 operating aboard the carrier at any given time. It is much more likely that only two of the detachment's four aircraft would forward deploy with a carrier air wing during a normal deployment, and that those aircraft would spend much of their time on the 'beach' (at a friendly airfield onshore) rather than aboard ship.


Derived from the same aircraft that created the E-2C Hawkeye, the mission of the C-2 Greyhound is carrier onboard delivery (COD). This is a somewhat complex of saying that the C-2's job is to deliver urgently required items to the carrier while the carrier is operating at sea. These items are usually in the nature of spare parts and personnel, rather than consumables, which are ordinarily supplied from the oiler (our USNS Arctic) via RAS (Replenishment At Sea) or VERTREP (Vertical Replenishment). The C-2 crews do get some unusual taskings, however, such as the time they delivered a pygmy sperm whale to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland. (Don't underestimate their dedication! :D )


Our only loadout option for the C-2 Greyhound is Cargo.


Our other aviation asset that's ordinarily dedicated to the logistics mission are the two MH-60S helicopters operating aboard the fast combat support ship Arctic. As discussed, VERTREP is their primary mission, but since they are based on the versatile S-70 Seahawk platform, they can be readily equipped for other missions. If they were attached to a US Marine Corps Expeditionary Strike Group, for example, and operating from an amphibious ship (a "phib"), our MH-60S helos would just as likely be performing the Assault or mine sweeping roles.


For VERTREP, we will ready them with the Cargo loadout, lugging such things as food and ammo from the Arctic to the Reagan.


MH-60S performing VERTREP


Photo credit: US DoD, DefenseLink


Now that we've readied all of our aircraft, we're ready to move on to the task of actually adding aircraft patrols to our naval formation.




Our carrier strike group isn't going to be effectively exploiting its best asset - the carrier air wing (larger and more powerful than many countries' air forces) - without assigning at least few of those aircraft to a patrol inside the naval formation (a "formation patrol").


As has been by now hopefully well established by our discussion in Parts 1 and 2, the components of a naval formation comprise the main body and the screen. Within HCE's formation editor, the screen is further broken down into the AAW (Anti-Air Warfare) Ring, the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Ring, and the Picket Ring. We will add aircraft patrols to those rings just as we do with ships and submarines. The primary difference between them, however, is that aircraft assigned to formation patrols will cycle in and out of the assigned patrol sector(s) as they reach the limits of their fuel and endurance, or until you split them off from the formation to pursue some other mission.


Creating a formation patrol, using the Formation Editor in either of the Scenario Editor (SE) or while actually playing the game, is largely the same. Within the SE, the Formation Editor provides a small map showing the formation's rings, whereas within the Game Engine (GE), the map you will use to place formation patrols is the actual Group Map. In either case, when we open the Formation Editor, all of the ships and submarines of the naval formation will be listed, and immediately following them, a list of all the available aircraft.


Formation Editor and list of available aircraft, as shown in the SE



The missions of our aircraft formation patrols will in large part be very similar to those performed by the ships and submarines of our naval formation, that is, dedicated to anti-air warfare (AAW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), and the "picket" or early warning mission.


1. Adding Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) Formation Patrols


An AAW formation patrol is perhaps more properly called a Combat Air Patrol (CAP), entailing fighter aircraft flying a patrol over a critical asset (in this case, our carrier strike group) for the purpose of watching for, intercepting and destroying hostile aircraft before they reach their target. (The terminology is not terribly important, but hey, what's one more acronym to learn?)


We already readied 12 F/A-18E Super Hornets and six F/A-18C Hornets for the air-to-air (Intercept) mission, and now we'll put them to good use. Our CAP, by definition, will stay attached to the formation and patrol overhead until such time as it is needed.


As we discussed earlier, the Superbugs have the longer legs, better sensors, and more potent missile armament, so we may want to keep those for the long range missions beyond the confines of the formation. So let's instead use our half dozen F/A-18Cs for the formation's CAP, where rotating a "two-ship" (2x F/A-18C) patrol from a group of six available jets should leave two in the air at all times, two on the flight deck being readied for the next mission, and two held in reserve.


To choose two F/A-18Cs for our intended CAP, find the aircraft in the list (their loadout and the ship to which they belong will be displayed) and then select the 'Set Air Patrol' key. The aircraft symbol will appear over the main body of the formation and you can then assign them to a patrol sector(s) in the same manner as we did with ships and submarines.


The newly created formation patrol will now be shown as '2 AAW Patrol' in the list of all ships, submarines and aircraft, and our group of six F/A-18Cs will accordingly decrease by two.


We are not constrained by the ordinary usage of the Main Body, AAW Ring, ASW Ring, or Picket Ring. We can place our two Hornets in any of those rings and the jets will carry on a normal combat air patrol. Let's choose the two Picket Ring sectors that lie in the direction of the anticipated air threat (those Backfires out of the Kola).




These two F/A-18C jets will launch and carry out their CAP mission within their assigned sectors of the formation until they are replaced in due course (when they run low on fuel) by two fresh aircraft, or until we split them from the formation or delete the formation patrol.


2. Adding Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Formation Patrols


As you may recall, the loss of the S-3 Viking from the modern carrier air wing has left us relying entirely on our helicopter force to carry out the ASW mission. Their limited endurance and payload makes them unsuitable for long range patrols that otherwise scan ahead of our naval formation for enemy submarines lurking in our path. Instead, we are all but compelled to use them in formation patrols. Fortunately, we have a decent number of capable helicopters to call upon.


The Reagan's HS-4 squadron puts four SH-60F Oceanhawks at our disposal. We've already readied these for the ASW mission, carrying a pair of Mk 50 Barracuda lightweight torpedoes and the AQS-13F dipping sonar. Since they do not carry sonobuoys that could provide useful subsurface surveillance information to us at a distance and for an extended period of time (one hour in HCE), the SH-60F is perhaps best utilised in a formation patrol that is closer to the ships we are attempting to screen.


Let's put two of them on patrol in the AAW Ring, spanning 8 to 16 nautical miles from the formation center, and in the sectors that cover the 270 to 045 degrees (northwest) and the 090 to 225 degrees (southeast) directions.




The SH-60B Seahawks deployed aboard three of our warship escorts (the Leyte Gulf, Oscar Austin and Ingraham), meanwhile, are outfitted somewhat differently than the SH-60F. They do carry sonobuoys, 36 of them aboard each helicopter, together with a single torpedo and a fuel tank. Their sensors and endurance therefore make them better equipped for the more distant formation patrols, where they can lay sonobuoy fields ahead of the advancing carrier strike group.


Let's place three SH-60Bs on ASW patrols in the sectors that are closest to their host ships (for even better endurance), and in the Picket Ring of our formation, spanning 24 to 48 nautical miles. (Keeping in mind that each sector is still a rather huge chunk of ocean to have to patrol, roughly 1,000 sq.nm. That's only one sonobuoy per 27 sq.nm! Thanks VitP)




You might have noticed that we've nothing in the way of ASW assets (or anything else, for that matter) in the rear area of our formation and that its looking a little exposed. Well, that's true, but its also likely that, firstly, any submarine we encounter will attempt to engage from the side or front (because trying to chase down a carrier strike group is really tiring and most often an exercise in futility); that, secondly, we've probably sanitized the waters directly behind us (because we just came that way); and, thirdly, we can't really afford to cover that area because the Pentagon (in all its wisdom) decided to neuter the carrier air wing's ASW capability.


3. Adding Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) Formation Patrols


Following the examples shown for the AAW and ASW formation patrols, we could easily add a formation patrol dedicated to the ASuW mission.


However, since the closest enemy ships are some distance to the West, and we've already readied a large strike package to deal with that Russian SAG in due course, we'll forego adding a dedicated ASuW patrol to our formation for now.


4. Adding Electronic Warfare (EW) Formation Patrols


We've only a handful (four, to be exact) of dedicated EW aircraft, our EA-6B Prowlers. We've already prepared two of them for the SEAD strike mission as part of the package that will eventually attack the Russian SAG to the West. The remaining two are held in defense of the carrier strike group, and we can place one of those on a formation patrol.


The advantage of having an EA-6B on formation patrol is that it can gather (passively) ESM information to identify any emitting aircraft or ship (or, in the rare instance, a submarine with an active radar) that approaches the carrier strike group. It can also, if necessary, energize its powerful jammers (actively) to both shield friendly forces and reduce the effective range of enemy radars that might probe the formation in an attempt to determine its location and composition.


Let's put one EA-6B on patrol in the Picket Ring directly ahead and in the path of our formation.




5. Adding Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) Formation Patrols


While our patrolling EA-6B Prowler is "listening" for the enemy's electronic emissions, having a Hawkeye 2000 on patrol over our formation will give it a powerful set of "eyes". (Although, notably, the Hawkeye also has great ESM).


One Hawkeye on patrol at a time usually provides plenty of coverage, and leaves one or more aircraft available for other, more adventurous "excursions" (as discussed earlier), with ample amounts of capable fighter escort, of course.


For now, let's put one E-2C in a formation patrol in the AAW Ring, just ahead of the main body, where it isn't too exposed to the possibility of an intruding enemy fighter attack.




There is one drawback to putting an E-2C Hawkeye on patrol over the formation. If that Hawkeye is actively radiating (i.e. using its radar), any enemy forces that detect the Hawkeye (and any decent ESM set will be able to detect it for quite a considerable range, well beyond the range of the Hawkeye's own radar) will be able to determine the general location and speed of the carrier strike group as a whole. For this reason, I personally do not often place an E-2C in a formation patrol (or, at least, not an actively radiating Hawkeye). Rather, it is my usual practice to place the E-2C on a patrol mission outside and not too far away from the formation.




Aircraft operating in formation patrols do not automatically use their active sensors of their own accord. In other words, your Hawkeye won't be actively radiating its APS-145 radar, the Prowler won't actively jamming with its ALQ-99 electronic warfare system, and the F/A-18C Hornets won't be scanning the airspace with their APG-73 radars, unless you tell them to.


The exception to this general rule is that your ASW assets - here, the SH-60F and SH-60B helicopters - will actively deploy their dipping sonars and drop sonobuoys.


You can direct any aircraft on a formation patrol to activate its sensors by clicking on that aircraft in the Unit Map, and then selecting 'Sensors' on the top task bar.




It is possible to add entirely independent, non-shipboard aircraft to the naval formation.


For example, you can add a P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft to the formation using the 'Join Group' command and then assign it to a patrol sector just as you would any other aircraft. A P-3 would provide a major boost in ASW protection for the carrier strike group.


You must note, however, that an independent aircraft that has been added to the formation will not rotate out of patrol once it begins to run low on fuel. If you don't keep a careful eye on it, it may not have enough fuel to return to a safe airfield and will crash.


Source references:

1. Air Forces Monthly, October 2004 issue.

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I'm finding conflicting info on different sites as regards the presence of S-3's in CVW-14. I notice you didn't include them. Does this mean they're not presently being deployed?



As you know, the Sea Control Squadrons (VS) are being disestablished right across the Fleet. CVW-14's own website indicates that the S-3 Viking is no longer in its Order of Battle:


"Currently, Carrier Air Wing 14 is comprised of: VFA-25 and VFA-113 flying the F/A-18C Hornet, VFA-22 and VFA-115 flying the FA-18E Super Hornet, VAW-113 flying the E-2C Hawkeye, VAQ-139 flying the EA-6B Prowler, HS-4 flying the H-60 Seahawk and VRC-30 Det 1 flying the C-2A Greyhound."



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I'm finding conflicting info on different sites as regards the presence of S-3's in CVW-14. I notice you didn't include them. Does this mean they're not presently being deployed?



As you know, the Sea Control Squadrons (VS) are being disestablished right across the Fleet. CVW-14's own website indicates that the S-3 Viking is no longer in its Order of Battle:


"Currently, Carrier Air Wing 14 is comprised of: VFA-25 and VFA-113 flying the F/A-18C Hornet, VFA-22 and VFA-115 flying the FA-18E Super Hornet, VAW-113 flying the E-2C Hawkeye, VAQ-139 flying the EA-6B Prowler, HS-4 flying the H-60 Seahawk and VRC-30 Det 1 flying the C-2A Greyhound."




I got my info here: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/agency/navy/cvw14.htm


I didn't find the wings own site, which is probably alot more accurate.


Too bad. I think phasing out the S-3 is a mistake.



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I didn't find the wings own site, which is probably alot more accurate.


Too bad. I think phasing out the S-3 is a mistake.




Pretty sure everyone but the suits and chiefs of staff who made that decision agree with you.

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An observation about helos for ASW patrols: I find that their supply of sonobuoys is often expended well before they run out of fuel on patrols. This can mean that you have gaps in your coverage even though there is a bird on station ... :( ... It's still better than nothing, of course, but it's something to be aware of. And if you have a choice, choose a loadout that gives you ACTIVE sonar on the buoys; a first-line modern sub can sometimes creep right through the passive ones!

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An observation about helos for ASW patrols: I find that their supply of sonobuoys is often expended well before they run out of fuel on patrols. This can mean that you have gaps in your coverage even though there is a bird on station ... :( ... It's still better than nothing, of course, but it's something to be aware of.


A very good point, thank you. I've added it to the article.


And if you have a choice, choose a loadout that gives you ACTIVE sonar on the buoys; a first-line modern sub can sometimes creep right through the passive ones!


Yes, and the active DICASS sonobuoys do have better range than the passive DIFAR buoys. This is something I intend to tackle in a later article.

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This is EXCELLENT!!!! It really is Tactics 101! Is there a scenario file for this so we can play about with what your describing? Thanks!



Glad you like it. :)


I hadn't really intended to introduce a scenario for this discussion, as it really just focuses on the functional aspects of the formation editor in the SE/GE and why it is set up that way.


We'll start introducing scenarios with the discussion on ASW, the first part of which has been posted here.

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This is EXCELLENT!!!! It really is Tactics 101! Is there a scenario file for this so we can play about with what your describing? Thanks!



Glad you like it. :)


I hadn't really intended to introduce a scenario for this discussion, as it really just focuses on the functional aspects of the formation editor in the SE/GE and why it is set up that way.


We'll start introducing scenarios with the discussion on ASW, the first part of which has been posted here.


Thanks, for the reply, i'll move onto the ASW one in that case!


Great stuff.

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