Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), is on station off the coast of Gaza with its entire Carrier Strike Group, including four strike-fighter aircraft squadrons, a guided missile cruiser, and four guided missile destroyers, among other military assets
We have been documenting events in Israel here at Legal Insurrection around the clock since Hamas starting slaughtering innocent Israeli citizens and citizens of other countries, including the United States. For me, the most gripping (and horrifying) updates have been Professor Jacobson’s posts about the atrocities at several Israeli towns, or Kibbutzim, in southern Israel:
- Kibbutz Kfar Aza: Hamas Murdered 40 Babies, Many Decapitated
- Kibbutz Nir Oz: Hamas Murdered A Grandmother, Then Posted The Murder On Her Facebook Page
- Hamas Goal In Capturing Jewish Women, Children, and Babies Was To “Dirty Them, To Rape Them”, Admits Terrorist
Please read them, and the other updates the team here has posted. They are worthy of your attention.
Now, as the Legal Insurrection resident naval/military expert, I thought I would update you on the U.S. Navy and other military happenings in the area, so you have a clear picture of that going forward.
It so happens that I have a great deal of experience in this area, because in addition to my at-sea attack submarine tours, I served as the submarine liaison officer attached to the staff of Carrier Group Six from 1991 – 1993, and during that time I deployed to the eastern Mediterranean aboard USS Forrestal (CV-59). There, from May to December 1991, we conducted armed reconnaissance into northern Iraq in support of Operation Provide Comfort. If you recall, this was the effort to prevent Saddam Hussein from committing genocide against the Kurdish population in northern Iraq following the Persian Gulf War, and the operation was largely successful. Tactically, we spent over three months in an operating area west of Syria flying daily armed missions into northern Iraq with naval F-14 Tomcat and F-18 Hornet fighter jets and A-6 Intruder attack aircraft (bombers), among others. Though I was a submarine officer, I qualified for, and stood watch as, the Admiral’s Tactical Action Officer, supervising operations in the carrier group command center on Forrestal. It was quite the experience. Once things quieted down, we got to spend two port calls in Haifa, Israel, which was totally awesome.
Later, after my submarine command tour, from 2001 – 2003, I transferred, again as submarine liaison officer, to the Navy’s Sixth Fleet in Italy, which has responsibility for the entire Mediterranean, among other areas. During that time, specifically in March 2003, I embarked on the Sixth Fleet flagship, USS LaSalle (AGF-3), and we supervised two aircraft carriers, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) and USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75), flying round-the-clock airstrikes into Iraq for the initial “shock and awe” phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. We also had several Navy surface ships who fired Tomahawk cruise missiles into Iraq from the Mediterranean at that time.
Notably, I had qualified as one of the Admiral’s “Battle Watch Captains” prior to this, and was selected to stand the midwatch from midnight to 8 a.m. every day during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and therefore was on watch during the early morning shock and awe strike kickoff on March 21, 2003, which our carrier aircraft squadrons participated in. I remember standing in the Sixth Fleet command center aboard LaSalle, top secret strike order in one hand and the TV clicker in the other, watching Fox News as the bombs started exploding in Baghdad at the exact time-on-target called for in the strike order. It was an eye-opener, for sure.
The Big Picture
Anyway, to provide this update of the current scene, I start from the top down, with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s statement concerning Hamas’ attacks on Israel, because it reveals the force strategy big picture. From the October 8 DOD press release:
My thoughts continue to be with the people of Israel and the many families who have lost loved ones as a result of the abhorrent terrorist attack by Hamas. Today, in response to this Hamas attack on Israel, and following detailed discussions with President Biden, I have directed several steps to strengthen Department of Defense posture in the region to bolster regional deterrence efforts.
I have directed the movement of the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the Eastern Mediterranean. This includes the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60), as well as the Arleigh-Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116), USS Ramage (DDG 61), USS Carney (DDG 64), and USS Roosevelt (DDG 80). We have also taken steps to augment U.S. Air Force F-35, F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter aircraft squadrons in the region. The U.S. maintains ready forces globally to further reinforce this deterrence posture if required.
In addition, the United States government will be rapidly providing the Israel Defense Forces with additional equipment and resources, including munitions. The first security assistance will begin moving today and arriving in the coming days.
Strengthening our joint force posture, in addition to the materiel support that we will rapidly provide to Israel, underscores the United States’ ironclad support for the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli people. My team and I will continue to be in close contact with our Israeli counterparts to ensure they have what they need to protect their citizens and defend themselves against these heinous terrorist attacks.
Naval Forces Near Gaza
USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group
USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)
USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) is the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, and is the first to employ an electromagnetic, rather than steam powered, aircraft catapult launching system. Here is a very brief video of the Gerald Ford:
Tactically, however, the strength of the aircraft carrier is not its launching system nor its own self-defense weapons systems, of which there are several, but the carrier’s air wing.
Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8)
Carrier Air Wing Eight consists of four squadrons of F-18 Super Hornet fighter-attack aircraft, which are capable of air-to-air combat (fighter) missions and air-to-ground attack (bomber) missions. The four squadrons of tactical aircraft in Carrier Air Wing 8 are the “Ragin’ Bulls” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 37, the “Blacklions” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 213, the “Golden Warriors” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 87, and the “Tomcatters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 31. The Air Wing also has other aircraft, including early warning (i.e. Navy AWACS) aircraft, dedicated electronic warfare aircraft (jammers), and multi-mission capable helicopters.
F/A-18 Super Hornet
The F/A-18 Super Hornet, used in all four squadrons aboard the Gerald Ford, is a very capable aircraft and can carry laser-guided precision bombs and various other land-target attack weapons.
Each of the four squadrons in Carrier Air Wing 8 will have over a dozen F/A-18 Super Hornets. Here is an F/A-18 Super Hornet taking off from USS Nimitz in the Pacific Ocean in June of this year. Notice the engines in afterburner for launch and the items carried under-wing, which might be bombs or extra fuel tanks for long-range missions or refueling other aircraft.
Here is a good, and short, video of two F/A-18s launching. Notice the little things the crew does to get the jets aloft safely, like walking the deck to ensure no foreign objects are present, checking 360 degrees before launch with all hands to make sure everything is safe, testing the aircraft’s control surfaces before launch, and ensuring the jet is in full afterburner for launch:
USS Normandy (CG-60)
USS Normandy is a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, and most notably employs two guided missile vertical launch stations capable of carrying combined total of over 120 guided missiles. They also have two 5-inch guns that can be used for a variety of missions. The mission of the cruiser is usually air defense of the aircraft carrier, i.e. protecting the aircraft carrier which the cruiser is operating with from a long-range missile strike. It does this with a long-range flat-panel phased-array radar and long range anti-air missiles. It can also be used for ballistic missile defense and can attack land targets with Tomahawk missiles. What the vertical launch missile mix is depends on various factors and is known only to those with the need to know, but most likely the ship has a couple dozen Tomahawk land attack missiles onboard ready to go. Here is a 5-minute video of Normandy’s sister ship, USS Princeton (CG-59), showing the weapons and bridge. It’s pretty good:
Arleigh Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyers
These surface ships are really the workhorses of the Navy’s surface fleet, and like the Ticonderoga-class cruisers employ vertical launch missiles, but carry 90 missiles instead of 120+, and they have one 5-inch gun instead of two. The video below is probably more than you need to know, but it does have some really good detail on these ships (keep an eye out for the missile vertical launch systems, the helicopter landing pad, and other weapons systems):
One final point on the Ford Carrier Strike Group. When aircraft carriers are underway, especially while deployed, they fly every day, with rare exception, usually for 8 hours or more and often including night-time ops. The Ford deployed on May 2, 2023, they have been flying continuously for almost six months, which means that Carrier Air Wing 8 is at its absolute peak of flying and warfighting effectiveness.
As Secretary Austin said in his statement, there are numerous U.S. Air Force assets, such as F-35, F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter squadrons in the area, which are being augmented for possible action. The U.S. Air Force has bases at “RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall in the United Kingdom; Ramstein and Spangdahlem Air Bases in Germany; Aviano Air Base [in] Italy; Lajes Field in the Azores; and Incirlik Air Base [in] Turkey.” This makes it quite probable that more land strike assets, courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, could be brought to bear quickly, if needed.
Other Navy Assets
A report from Business Insider reveals that The US is thinking about sending another aircraft carrier into waters near Israel, possibly to back up the Ford strike group: reports:
After sending its newest and most advanced aircraft carrier and the accompanying warships in its strike group to the eastern Mediterranean in a show of strength and support for Israel amid its war with Hamas, the US is said to be considering sending a second aircraft carrier into the area.
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its escorts could join the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group in waters near Israel in the coming weeks, US defense officials told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. ABC News also reported the discussions.
The Eisenhower is already set to head to the Middle East this week for a deployment that was planned months ago, but officials are now apparently debating whether the carrier should join the Ford or replace it. The Ford, which has been operating in the Mediterranean as part of its first full deployment, arrived in the eastern part of the waterway Tuesday.
“The arrival of these highly capable forces to the region is a strong signal of deterrence should any actor hostile to Israel consider trying to take advantage of this situation,” said Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, the commander of US Central Command.
Note: U.S. Central Command is based in Tampa, Florida, but Central Command’s Area of Responsibility covers the middle east, including Israel (although not the Mediterranean).
Two full carrier strike groups operating off of Gaza would be an enormous amount of firepower.
I have seen no news reporting of any activity of any special forces, but my completely uninformed (except for past experience) opinion is that the Navy Seals and the other special forces communities are probably working overtime to develop possible options for use in hostage rescue missions. The most recent reporting I have seen, from the New York Times, puts the number of missing Americans at twenty or more, in addition to the 14 confirmed dead in Hamas’ attack.
There is now a great deal of U.S. combat power in the vicinity of Gaza. My own opinion is that the Biden Administration should be doing everything it can to extract the U.S. hostages from Gaza, and the most difficult part (again, totally my opinion) will probably be getting actionable intelligence on where the U.S. hostages are located and who and what is defending against their rescue. We have the military means to extract them; the key is do we have the intelligence to support such a mission, and do we have the will to employ U.S. forces in Gaza in what would likely be a very risky mission, perhaps especially for the hostages themselves.
I also think that the administration should be doing everything it can to prevent people who have participated in the pro-Hamas love-fests around the U.S. from replicating what Hamas did in Israel here at home.DONATE
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