Carriers for a new century.
The successes of our carriers and carrier air wing teams this past year continued to demonstrate why the nation maintains the highest confidence in your ability. This was highlighted in January 2012 by the strategic guidance issued by President Obama and Secretary Panetta. Three of the main tenets of this document (which sets the course for the Department of Defense through 2020 and beyond), are to project power, provide a stabilizing presence, and conduct humanitarian operations. Aircraft carriers, with the power of their highly integrated air wings, will be crucial to accomplishing these missions.
Every day, U.S. Navy carriers demonstrate their long-term value to defense and diplomacy with striking power, range, persistence, and flexibility. All of this is supplied without requiring permission from a foreign power. Even as Pakistan directed U.S. air forces out of the airbase at Shamsi in November 2011, our carrier strike group commanders continued their missions from the decks of aircraft carriers in international waters. USS Enterprise (CVN 65) is currently preparing for her final deployment after 50 years of honorable service, spanning an era that began in 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Both of these feats are testament to the excellence of our crews and support personnel.
"Big E's" replacement, Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78), is nearly 35 percent complete and will deliver in 2015. Improving on time-tested systems, testing of new equipment to be installed on the Ford class is on schedule--the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) has already launched Goshawks, Super Hornets, Growlers, Advanced Hawkeye, and Joint Strike Fighters. The new Advanced Arresting Gear will be catching fleet aircraft at the end of fiscal year 2013.
In addition to the drastic differences in the carriers themselves, the air wings that deploy on Gerald R. Ford will also be different and even more capable than those of Enterprise. We continue the critical work of bringing new aircraft and capabilities to our air wings. The transition of our carrier air wing and expeditionary electronic attack squadrons, from EA-6B Prowlers to EA-18G Growlers, continues at a rapid pace. The Growler has already completed combat deployments in support of Operations New Dawn, Odyssey Dawn, and Enduring Freedom. Later this year, the forward-deployed warriors of CVW-5 will welcome their first Growlers when VAQ-141 arrives in Japan. The Advanced Hawkeye has completed its operational test readiness review and a contract has been signed for five low-rate initial production aircraft. The air wing of the future will be rounded out by the Joint Strike Fighter and various unmanned platforms, all of which will bring never-before-seen capabilities to our super carriers. Great strides are also being made in the weapons and sensors used by our air wings. The Joint Standoff Weapon C-l has completed developmental testing, striking a small, fast-moving ship target from an F/A-18. The weapon also took in-flight target updates provided by a second Super Hornet. The Distributed Targeting System has entered production and will increase aircrew situational awareness in F/A-18 E/F/G and provide much greater precision in air-to-ground targeting using georegistration technology.
Other nations are also seeking the long-term value provided by aircraft carriers and highly capable air wings. The United Kingdom recently decided to regenerate its tailhook carrier capability following the decision to procure an ail-F-35C Joint Strike Fighter fleet as well as catapults and arresting gear in the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers. U.S. Naval Aviation has committed to partnering with the U.K. in this effort following the signing in January of a bilateral agreement between the two countries. In the near future, U.S. carrier air wings will have Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots "calling the ball" in a U.S. Navy jet. These pilots will bring significant knowledge and experience to the training and development of the new Royal Navy carriers.
Standing in the hangar bay of "Big E" in January, the Secretary of Defense announced that the U.S. is committed to maintaining 11 carriers, even though the department will be looking for cuts in other areas. Keeping 11 of our super carriers, he said, "is a long-term commitment that the president wants to put in place." This comes as no surprise considering the anticipated "necessity [to] rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region." Undoubtedly, naval power--centered on the aircraft carrier--will remain vital to our nation's defense as it is particularly suited for operations in the vast Pacific. In spite of the fiscal challenges we face today, the future of Naval Aviation is bright. I am confident the talent and innovation I see in the fleet today will carry on, and the vision of our pioneering Naval Aviation forefathers will continue to endure and prevail over the course of the next century. Thank you for your continued support of Naval Aviation and Naval Aviation News magazine.