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Professional Knowledge Week 9: Naval Air Warfare

professional knowledge Oct 24, 2019

Week 9 of the Pro-Know series continues the deep dive into another of the main Naval Warfare communities. This week, the plebes are tasked with learning the intricacies of Naval Air Warfare. 

First, plebes learn about the history of airplanes as a naval weapon system, dating back to 1898 when several naval officers became members of a group tasked to investigate the military potential of new flying machines. They learn who made the first shipboard takeoff (Eugene Ely off the USS Birmingham in 1910), about the first aircraft carrier (USS Langley commissioned in 1922), and naval warfare’s importance in World War II, with the Battle of Midway solidifying the importance of naval air warfare.  That battle as well turned aircraft carriers into the center of the fleet vice the battleship.

They will also learn about the continued importance of Naval Aviation for humanitarian assistance/relief operations, various tactical support operations, and combat operations in recent conflicts, including OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM, IRAQI FREEDOM, ODYSSEY DAWN, UNIFIED PROTECTOR, and INHERENT RESOLVE. 

Then plebes learn about the roles and responsibilities of Naval Aviation personnel, including Naval Aviators (Pilot), Naval Flight Officers (NFO), Naval Aircrewmen, Flight Surgeons, and Professional Aviation Maintenance Officers. They also must identify their winged insignia.

Having a sponsor dad who is a Navy Pilot, I know there is a bit of a rivalry between pilots and NFOs, and as my NFO friends would say… pilots have a little bit of anchor jealousy, but I promise to keep this blog post as objective as possible!

Naval Aviation, at large, supports just about every warfare area, with each different platform being used for different mission areas.  Naval Aviation supports surface and undersea warfare, as well as logistics, intelligence, mine warfare, and strike warfare. There are three categories of aircraft: Fixed Wing (divided into Carrier Aviation or Maritime Aviation), Rotary Wing, and Tiltrotor. 

Plebes will also be introduced into the squadron abbreviation codes, which I will admit, I still haven’t even fully memorized, but hopefully this will help you understand the mission of a squadron based on their letter abbreviation. 

The First letter is simple: If it’s a ‘V,’ it means it’s fixed wing (plane).  If it’s a ‘H,’ it means it’s a rotary wing (helicopter).

The 2nd/3rd letter is a little more complicated, but is broken out in the following manner:

  • Q (Electronic or Reconnaissance)
  • (Logistics)
  • W (Warning)
  • P (Patrol)
  • A (Attack)
  • F (Fighter)

And below are some common squadron designations:

  • VAW (Airborne Early Warning)
  • VP (Maritime Patrol)
  • VFA (Fighter/Attack)
  • VAQ (Electronic Attack)
  • VQ (Fleet Air Reconnaissance)
  • VR (Fleet Logistics Support)
  • HSM (Helicopter Maritime Strike)
  • HSC (Helicopter Sea Combat)
  • HM (Helicopter Mine COuntermeasures)

When an Aircraft Carrier goes on deployment, a Carrier Air Wing (CVW) embarks and supports the deployment.  The commander of the Air Wing, known as the CAG, reports directly to the Carrier Strike Group Commander regarding all operations with the Air Wing.  A typical CVWis comprised of the following squadrons, which totals about 70 aircraft:

  • 4 VFA squadrons (F/A-18E/F Super Hornets)
  • 1 VAQ squadron (EA-18G Growler) 
  • 1 VAW squadron (E-2C/D Hawkeye)
  • 1 VRC detachment (C-2 Greyhound)
  • 1 HSC squadron (MH-60S Knighthawk)
  • 1 HSM squadron (MH-60R Seahawk)

Plebes must then be able to visually recognize, know the role of, the number of crew, and the responsibilities of various fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft.

They are tasked with knowing the details of: 

Fixed Wing

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

The F/A-18 is used to perform fighter and attack roles for the Carrier Air Wing.  The F/A-18E is a single seat cockpit while the F/A-18F is a two seat cockpit that includes one pilot and one NFO.

EA-18G Growler


Growlers are both carrier and land based and are integrated with the latest electronic attack technology.  With one pilot and one NFO, the crew is relied upon for the tactical employment of all electronic attack, surveillance, and High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) capabilities.

F-35C Lightning II


With just one pilot, the F-35C Lightning II is a fifth generation fighter, designed to be an improved and stealthier fighter asset with the capability to perform ground attack, reconnaissance, and air defense missions.

E-2D Hawkeye


The E-2 is a carrier based air platform designed for the mission of airborne early warning.  While it does support other missions, the E-2 mainly uses radar and other sensors to provide early warning, threat analysis against potentially hostile air and surface targets.

C-2A Greyhound


The C-2A provides long-range logistics support to Carrier Strike Groups, being able to deliver over 10,000 pounds over a distance of 1000 nautical miles.

P-8A Poseidon


The replacement to the aging (But also best aircraft ever, at least that’s what my sponsor dad says) P-3C Orion aircraft, the P-8A primarily supports the Navy’s Undersea Warfare mission.  This submarine hunter has three pilots, two NFOs, and an enlisted aircrew.

E-6B Mercury

The E-6B is a dual mission platform that primarily acts as an Airborne Command Post, fulfilling the TACAMO mission by being a message relaying platform between the National Command Authority and the nation’s nuclear forces.

Rotary Wing

MH-60R ‘Romeo’ Seahawk


The MH-60R Seahawk has many mission sets, but focuses on being an Undersea and Surface Warfare Asset.  The Seahawk has two pilots and a small enlisted Aircrew that executes all responsibilities on the aircraft.

MH-60S ‘Sierra’ Knighthawk

The MH-60 Sierra is known as the jack of all trades helicopter, supporting Logistics, search and rescue, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and special operations forces missions. The MH-60S has two pilots and a small enlisted Aircrew.

MH-53E Sea Dragon


The MH-53E is primarily an airborne mine countermeasures aircraft that also supports logistics shipboard delivery, and assault support operations.  The Sea Dragon has two pilots and a small enlisted Aircrew.

With service selection quickly approaching for the first class midshipmen, this chapter is a great first look at the Naval Aviation community that many plebes may aspire to join.