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The Evolution Of Naval Aviation History Essay

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"This experiment and the advances which have been made in aviation seem to demonstrate that it is destined to perform some part in the naval warfare of the future." [9] 

Secretary of the US Navy,

George von Lengerke Meyer's judgment of the first takeoff by an aircraft from a ship on 14 November 1910.

1. Since the Wright brothers first took to the air in 1903, the aircraft has been developed into a highly capable, reliable workhorse in many spheres in a relatively short period. On 14 Nov 1910, Eugene Ely, a demonstration pilot working with airplane builder Glenn Curtiss, rolled down the ramp on a bi-plane from the foredeck of the cruiser USS Birmingham, and created history. [10] In the military sphere, the aircraft has made significant contributions with the delivery of highly developed weapon systems over long ranges, concentrated firepower and flexible application of such weapons. The earnest beginning of air power has evolved from aerial reconnaissance and the air support of the ground forces during World War I, which further developed during World War II with strategic bombers and air defense applications in the Battle of Britain. [11] 

Origin of Air and Space Technology

2. The initial use of airpower was mere extensions of the conventional army and naval operations in reconnaissance and detection roles. The ground and sea commanders demanded air superiority to deny aerial spies during the Great War. The disappointment with the outcomes of World War I led to the virtual starvation of the US Army, and to a lesser extent its air arm, until the mid-1930s. It was apparent that aviation would be highly useful to battleship in a direct attack role for command of the sea. [12] 

3. Origin of Naval Aviation. The doctrinal change of the United States Navy in the 1880-1900 period converted the concept from coastal defense to achieving command of the sea through the use of battle ships engaged in great sea battles with other navies. The aviation came on the tail end of a long string of major technological changes, shortly before World War I, in the wake of great doctrinal change for the United States Navy, which was then the third-ranking navy in the world behind the British and German. [13] The naval aviation experienced the initial combat in World War I, where it served only as an auxiliary to the battle line.

4. The US Navy observed the US Army's aviation activities before World War I. The aircraft lagged technical development of ordnance and precision but had stand off to take full advantage of physically raising the location of the gunnery spotters aboard ship, so as to extend their visual horizon. The first landings and takeoffs were made from ships in 1911 with a vision of an offensive role for naval aircraft. Notwithstanding the onboard aircraft operations, the serious problem faced was of non-interference with the gun power of the combatant ships along with launching and recovery, where space aboard was at premium. [14] The United States led the world in flying boat technology before World War I. Depending on shore-based planes to be overhead when needed was a shaky proposition and a dedicated aircraft carriers with landing decks was conceived.

5. Naval Aviation in World War I. Neither the Army nor Navy aviation was in any way decisive in the First World War. Curtiss flying boats did make substantial contribution in the submarine warfare. Although they possessed only limited offensive capability against the U-boats, their very presence forced the enemy vessel to remain submerged. The limitations of the U-boat's submerged speed and endurance had reduced the number of submarines that could be a threat to the sea lanes. [15] 

6. Even before World War I, growing antagonism between Japan and the United States led American naval thinkers to contemplate war against her. The inferior navy of Japan was to use land-based airpower from various islands in order to attrit the superior fleet as it strove to cross the Pacific. In the absence of such islands, the United States had to rely on carrier-based airpower to great extent. The aircraft were much smaller and penalty incurred in arresting gear and built-in strength to survive carrier landings was far greater proportion than is the case today. The notion that carrier-based airpower was inferior to the land-based counterpart led to the decision by admiral William Halsey to launch Jimmy Doolittle early as the strike force had been detected. [16] 

7. The period between the first and second world wars saw the aircraft carrier emerge as a major element of the world's leading navies. The major navies generally operated similar types of aircraft from them: fighters for air defence and bombers or torpedo carrying aircraft to attack enemy shipping. Aircraft carriers were, therefore, seen as platforms carrying aircraft for both offensive and defensive purposes. [17] 

8. Second World War. The maritime operations by land-based fixed-wing aircraft were conducted on many successful occasions before Second World War, however, the history of 1939-45 contains many important lessons. [18] The specific roles of maritime air operations on various occasions were indistinct. An anti-submarine warfare aircraft deployed to protect convoys from the attentions of German U-boats could also attack the Focke Wulf Condor aircraft, which were encountered shadowing the Allied ships or when discovering a lifeboat, may direct a friendly destroyer or merchantman to their rescue. The lack of long-range aircraft resulted in a considerable gap in the Atlantic, where eastbound convoys left behind the air cover from the USA and Canada and sailed unprotected before coming within range of the British-based aircraft. Later, the gap was plugged by the Liberator aircraft fitted with extra fuel tanks. [19] The advent of long range Liberator, the deployment of air-launched acoustic homing torpedo and inclusion in the convoy escort forces of an escort carrier, equipped with offensive aircraft, demonstrated fundamental importance of team work between Airforce and Navy, amongst other fields. [20] 

9. Sea-Air Joint Operations. The role of airpower that would play in the future wars was recognised by the navies world over earlier than many armies. While the British and Germans operated shore-based aircraft supporting their naval forces, the United States of America and Japan recognised the need for sea-borne air power as an adjunct to their fleets and built a number of aircraft carriers from which air power could be launched even when the fleet was out of reach of land bases.

10. Sea-Borne Air Operations. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour was the most notable initial use of air power in a naval campaign. A force of six aircraft carriers sailed undetected till it reached a point from where its aircraft attacked Pearl Harbour on 07 Dec 1941. In retaliation, the US air attack on 18 Apr 1942, planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle, struck the Japanese Home Islands, Honshu. In this first air raid by the US, sixteen US Army Air Forces B-25B bombers were launched from the US Navy's aircraft carrier USS Hornet, from the Western Pacific Ocean. Though conceived to boost American and allied morale, the raid generated strategic benefits that far outweighed its limited goals. [21] Between 07 and 08 May 1942, a naval battle was fought between the American and Japanese fleets in the Coral Sea. While the battle itself was not decisive, it was notable for the fact that of all naval battles fought till then, it was the first in which surface ships did not exchange a shot. All the damage on either side was caused by sea-borne air power. This battle was soon followed by the Battle of Midway Island fought between 03-05 Jun 1942, where again, no surface ships met in combat between the two fleets, but was decisive in that the Japanese lost four aircraft carriers against loss of one by the Americans, rendering Japanese unable to challenge the US Navy for the rest of the War. [22] 

11. Land-Based Air Power and Naval Warfare. In World War II, the land-based aircraft too played an equal part in the naval warfare as by the carrier-based air power. A naval campaign in which land-based aircraft played a vital role was in the Battle of the Atlantic, the name given to the battle between German U-Boats and Allied surface combatants to control the sea lanes across the Atlantic. The Germans used long-range land based aircraft operating from Norway and France to patrol the sea approaches to Britain and Russia, spot Allied convoys and then guide their U-Boats to intercept and attack these convoys. The United States and British flew air patrols from both sides of the Atlantic so as to cover most of the ocean in addition to the light aircraft carriers, the combination of these which defeated the German submarines, for the eventual assault on Europe. The close coordination between the Air Force and the Navy was the crux of operations that defeated the German U-Boats. [23] 

12. The post-war study by a joint U.S. Army and U.S. Navy assessment committee of the maritime war against Japan estimates that out of 2728 Japanese ships sunk in the Pacific Ocean, 1232 were sunk by direct or indirect air attack. In concert with other attackers, air effort sank an additional 46 ships. In all air effort accounted for 47% of Japan 's maritime losses. In both the Atlantic and Pacific theatres, the key to winning the aircraft versus ship war was the achievement of air superiority over the battle area. [24] 

Post WW II Developments

13. The post-WW II era found the US Navy groping for a strategic function to assign its battle fleet including carriers, since the adversary was now deeply embedded in the vast Russian heartland. The newly formed USAF not only claimed strategic reach but also coveted naval aviation assets. After a period of tension, the USN found a niche in the national strategy by assigning carrier-borne bombers a nuclear attack role against Soviet land targets. This brought the carriers back on centre-stage, and with the advent of the submarine launched ballistic missile the navy reclaimed its strategic mission. [25] 

14. For the duration of the Cold War, the US quest for maritime supremacy envisaged carrier battle groups being deployed to draw out the Soviet fleets and destroying them in the face of threat from land based Bears, Badgers and Blackjacks. With the end of the Cold War and disappearance of the Soviet threat, the existence of big-deck carriers became difficult to justify. But the USN adroitly responded by adopting expeditionary and littoral warfare as prime missions. A 1992 document described the new stance as "a fundamental shift away from open ocean warfare on the sea towards joint operations conducted from the sea, naval forces will concentrate on littoral warfare and manoeuvre from the sea." [26] 

15. When World War II ended, the United State's military power declined continuously through the late 1940's despite concern to contain the expanding Soviet Union. Before the end of 1945, a severe drawdown of naval aviation had begun, reducing the US naval airplanes from nearly five hundred fighters and bombers to about seventy. By the late 1940s, it was apparent that the Soviet Union was building a submarine force larger than the German's World War II U-boat fleet, threatening the United States and NATO's control of the sea. To oppose that threat, the anti submarine squadrons continued hazardous operations as they had done to destroy the German boats. The US Navy had discovered in the later part of World War II that the search-radar-equipped TBMs, the first night attack airplanes, could also detect low-flying kamikazes. Some of the ASW aircrews, therefore, began to fly what became known as airborne early warning (AEW) missions. [27] 

16. The Korean War Years. When the North Korean army stormed into south Korea on 25 Jun 1950, rapidly forcing the US and South Korean troops into the Pusan area at the tip of the Korean peninsula, pushed the United States to rebuild its armed forces. From Oct 1950, when the first Atlantic fleet carrier Leyte arrived in the Sea of Japan till end of the war on 27 Jul 1953, an average of four aircraft carriers was maintained conducting extensive air attacks. The naval aviation flew about 130,000 combat sorties during that war, but Naval Aviators could not claim the destruction of a major naval power as they could after World War II. [28] 

17. During the cold war, there was a major stress on the development of maritime reconnaissance aircraft, be they derivatives of old bombers or new specific to task designs. The role perhaps got further impetus from the Cuban missile crisis when reconnaissance aircraft were employed to locate and track the movement of Soviet shipping to Cuba. Naval patrol planes located and photographed Soviet-bloc vessels heading towards Cuba so that intelligence analysts could assess what they were carrying and, where appropriate naval vessels could be directed to intercept them. [29] 

18. An introspection of the period reveals the following:-

(a) The Japanese aircraft carriers through their attack on Pearl Harbour displayed the element of surprise to the Americans and rendered the US Pacific fleet non-existent.

(b) The joint air-sea operations of the US and British forces, with close coordination between the Air Force and the Navy resulted in the eventual defeat of the German U-Boats.

(c) The German's realised the importance of joint operations early during World War II and thereby dovetailed their air and surface plans into one, that lead to rapid victories in the early battles.

(d) The Korean War witnessed advancement of technology in the naval aviation, and influenced events over land but not much of toll on naval forces as in earlier wars.

(e) The post World War II era saw the emergence of carrier-borne AEW and land-based Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft, depicting the realisation of the importance of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).


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