A carrier battle group (CVBG) consists of an aircraft carrier (CV) and its escorts.
The CVBG was first used in World War II
, primarily in conflicts between the United States and Japan
in the Pacific
. CVBGs at the time consisted of a far larger number of ships than current CVBGs, and this marked the only time CVBGs have fought each other, notably at the Battle of Coral Sea
for the first time and then at the epic Battle of Midway
one month later. In the Pacific theater, the carrier replaced the battleship
as the measure of power projection and relative strength. The U.S. eventually put over 100 carriers of varying sizes to sea and employed the carrier battle groups in large formations under its 3rd and 5th Fleets.
During the Cold War, the main role of the CVBG in case of conflict with the Soviet Union would have been to protect Atlantic supply routes between the United States and Europe, while the role of the Soviet Navy would have been to interrupt these sea lanes, a fundamentally easier task. Because the Soviet Union had no large carriers of its own, a situation of dueling aircraft carriers would have been unlikely. However, a primary mission of the Soviet Navy's attack submarines was to shadow every CVBG and, on the outbreak of hostilities, sink the carriers. Understanding this threat, the CVBG expended enormous resources in its own anti-submarine warfare mission.
Carrier battle groups in crises
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, most of the uses of CVBGs by the United States as well as that of other nations have been in situations in which their use has been uncontested by other comparable forces.
The main scenario involving carriers coming under fire which is of interest to naval strategists has been a conflict between the United States and the People's Republic of China
over the Taiwan Straits. Carrier battle groups have been involved in the disputes related to the Taiwan Strait
since President Truman sent the Seventh Fleet through the Strait as a "neutralization" move at the beginning of the Korean War in 1950 . There is a consensus among observers that most of the military effort expended by the People's Liberation Army Navy
since the 1990s has been to at least complicate the deployment of a CVBG in a Taiwan Strait conflict.
Carriers in the 1956 Suez Crisis
British and French carrier battle groups were involved in the 1956 Suez Crisis
Carriers in the Falklands War
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the main scenario of interest would be an attack against a CVBG using large number of anti-ship cruise missiles
. The first attempted use of anti-ship missiles against a carrier group was part of Argentina
's efforts against Britain
in the Falklands War
. Interestingly, this was the last conflict in which both sides possessed aircraft carriers.
The United States Sixth Fleet
assembled a force of three carrier battle groups and a battleship
during the Lebanese Civil War
in 1983. Daily reconnaissance flights were flown over the Bekaa Valley
and a strike was flown against targets in the area resulting in loss of an A-6 Intruder
and an A-7 Corsair
Gulf of Sidra
Carrier battle groups routinely operated in the Gulf of Sidra
inside the "Line of Death
" proclaimed by Libya
resulting in aerial engagements in 1981, 1986 and 1989 between U.S. Navy Tomcats and Libyan Su-22
aircraft , SA-5
surface-to-air missiles and MiG-23
fighters. During the 1986 clashes, three carrier battle groups deployed to the Gulf of Sidra and ultimately two of them conducted strikes against Libya in Operation El Dorado Canyon
The U.S. Navy carrier strike group
The traditional term of carrier battle group
(CVBG or CARBATGRU
) has been replaced by carrier strike group
) in the U.S. Navy. A CSG is a group of ships centered around an aircraft carrier
and usually commanded by a one star rear admiral. The United States Navy
maintains 11 carrier strike groups, 10 of which are based in the United States and one that is forward deployed in Japan (George Washington CSG ). The fleet response plan
requires that six of these groups be deployed or ready for deployment within 30 days at any given time, while two additional groups must be ready for deployment within 90 days. Their existence is an important part of the power projection
capability of the United States
in that they provide the ability to strike quickly almost anywhere in the world. The U.S. Navy provides a regular CSG deployment rotation of deployments typically lasting six months based on the needs of combatant commands
(COCOMs) that request presence of a carrier in their respective area of responsibility
The large number of CSGs used by the United States reflects, in part, a division of roles and missions allotted during the Cold War, in which the United States assumed primary responsibility for blue water operations and for safeguarding supply lines between the United States and Europe, while the NATO allies assumed responsibility for brown and green water operations.
While an aircraft carrier has the ability to project a large amount of air power, it is vulnerable to attack from aircraft, submarines, and other surface ships. The primary role of the other ships in the battle group is to help protect the carrier from enemy air, surface, and submarine threats. The primary role of the carrier and its air wing is to provide the offensive firepower. These roles are not exclusive. Other ships in the battle group sometimes undertake offensive operations (launching cruise missiles, for instance) and the carrier's air wing contributes to the battle group's defense (through combat air patrols and airborne anti-submarine efforts).
CSGs are not restricted to a specific composition and can be modified depending on expected threats, roles, or missions expected during a deployment, and one may be different from another. However, they are all composed of similar types of ships, and a U.S. Navy carrier strike group typically includes:
- A supercarrier commanded by an aviation community captain (O-6) who reports directly to the commander of the CSG. The carrier provides a wide range of options to the U.S. government, ranging from simply showing the flag, to attacks on airborne, afloat and ashore targets. Because carriers operate in international waters, their aircraft do not need to secure landing rights on foreign soil. These ships also engage in sustained operations in support of other forces. The carrier is the flagship of the battle group, with the commanding rear admiral on board, making use of the advanced combat direction center and communications suite.
- A carrier air wing (CVW) commanded by an aviation community captain (O-6) (or colonel in case of Marine serving as CAG) who reports directly to the commander of the CSG and is known as the "Commander, Air Group" (CAG). The carrier air wing typically has up to nine squadrons commanded by a commander (O-5) (or lieutenant colonel if a Marine squadron). The CAG and CO of the carrier are equal in status under the Commander of the CSG (historically, before 1983, the CAG was a department head under the Captain of the ship, but Secretary of the Navy John Lehman created and instituted the concept of a "Super CAG" with the same seniority as the CO of the carrier).
- A destroyer squadron (DESRON) commanded by a surface community captain (O-6) who reports to the CSG commander and commands the escort ships.
- One to two Aegis guided missile cruisers (CG), of the Ticonderoga class—a multi-mission surface combatant, equipped with Tomahawk missiles for long-range strike capability.
- Two to three guided missile destroyers (DDG), of the Arleigh Burke class—a multi-mission surface combatant, used primarily for anti-air warfare (AAW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW), but it also carries Tomahawk missiles for long-range strike capability.
- Up to two attack submarines, usually of the Los Angeles class; in a direct support role seeking out and destroying hostile surface ships and submarines. More frequently, however, the submarines will try to maximize their advantages in stealth by operating independently in support of the battle group.
- A combined ammunition, oiler and supply ship (AOE/AOR), usually supply (T-AOE); provides logistic support enabling the Navy's forward presence: on station, ready to respond.
The carrier strike group (CSG) could be employed in a variety of roles, most of which would involve the gaining and maintenance of sea control:
- Protection of economic and/or military shipping.
- Protection of a U.S. Marine Corps amphibious force while en route to, and upon arrival in, an amphibious objective area.
- Establishing air superiority or supremacy in an area in combination with land-based aircraft.
- Establishing a naval presence in support of national interests.
- Power projection.
Expeditionary strike group
The U.S. Navy renamed its amphibious ready group
(ARG) as expeditionary strike groups
in concert with the CSG concept and provided the traditional three ship ARG with additional escorts similar to the CSG.
Battleship battle group
During the period when the American navy recommissioned all four of its Iowa class
battleships, it sometimes used a similar formation centered around a battleship
, referred to as a battleship battle group
Other carrier battle groups
British carrier battle groups
The Royal Navy maintains two task forces concurrently (one based around an aircraft carrier and one based around an Amphibious Command Ship). At least one task group is deployed at any one time. There are currently two Invincible class aircraft carriers in operation with the Royal Navy, with a further one in reserve. The Royal Navy also utilises the Ocean Class LPH as well as the two Albion Class LPDs as Amphibious Command Ships at the centre of a task group.
The Queen Elizabeth class is currently planned to deliver two much larger carriers, operating the F-35, replacing the ageing Invincible class in 2014 and 2016 respectively.
French carrier battle groups
The only serving French carrier is the Charles de Gaulle, which also serves as the flagship of the Marine Nationale.
The Carrier Battle Group (Groupe Aéronaval, GAN, in French) is usually composed, in addition to the aircraft carrier, of :
This group is commanded by a rear admiral (Contre-amiral, in French) onboard the aircraft carrier. The commanding officer of the air group (usually a Capitaine de Frégate - equivalent to commander) is subordinate to the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier, a senior captain. The escort destroyers (called frigates in the French denomination) are commanded by more junior captains.
Spanish carrier battle group
The Spanish Navy currently operates one carrier, the Principe de Asturias. It will soon be joined by the Buque de Proyección Estratégica, designed as a multi-purpose warship that can be used as a second carrier.
The group includes two escort squadrons: the 41st, with ASW Santa Maria class frigates, and the 31st, with AEGIS Álvaro de Bazán class AAW frigates.
Italian carrier battle group
The CVS–ASW (Aircraft Carrier with Anti-Submarine Warfare) Giuseppe Garibaldi is Italy's only carrier. She will shortly be joined by the Cavour, which is designed for a greater range of operations.
Indian carrier battle group
The Indian carrier battle group currently uses the INS Viraat, an updated Centaur class light carrier originally built for the Royal Navy as HMS Hermes, which was laid down in 1944 and commissioned in 1959. It was purchased by India in 1986. India will commission a second aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, in 2008 and will follow this with a third carrier, INS Vikrant, in 2012. Whilst INS Vikramaditya is a former Soviet Kiev class carrier, the Admiral Gorshkov, the Vikrant will be the first indigenous Indian aircraft carrier.
Soviet and Russian carrier battle groups
The sole former Soviet and now Russian carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov is rarely out to sea. Of the few sorties the carrier has conducted, most have been solo missions and without a large escort. However, the Kuznetsov has been observed sailing together with a Kirov class cruisers (CGN), Slava class CG, Sovremenny class DDG (ASuW), Udaloy class DDG (ASW) and Krivak I/II FFG (ASW). These escorts, especially the heavily armed Kirov class cruiser, use advanced sensors and carry a variety of weaponry. However, ships like the Kirov would likely be used in offensive operations rather than fleet escort in the event of war. Carrier escort would then be conducted by smaller vessels such as a Slava class accompanied by several Sovremenny, Udaloy and Krivak vessels.
The Admiral Kuznetsov is designed specifically to sail alone and carries greater firepower than its US counterparts. This includes 12x SS-N-19 'Shipwreck' (long range, high speed, sea-skimming) SSMs, 24x VLS units loaded with 192 SA-N-9 'Gauntlet' SAMs, and 8x Kashtan CIWS with dual 30 mm guns, and 8x AK-630 CIWS. Compared to the 4x Phalanx CIWS and 4x Sea Sparrow launchers, each with 6 missiles carried by the Nimitz class, the Kuznetsov is well armed for both air-defence and offensive operations against hostile shipping.
Brazilian carrier battle group
The NAe São Paulo forms Brazil's only carrier battle group. It is an old Clemenceau class aircraft carrier, a design used by the French Navy until 1997.
Thai carrier battle group
HTMS Chakri Naruebet is Thailand's only aircraft carrier, and is based upon the Principe de Asturias of the Spanish Navy.
Japanese carrier battle group
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force is currently building the Hyūga class helicopter destroyer, which will resemble a small aircraft carrier. Its role will be similar to the Royal Navy's Invincible class carriers, being ASW warfare. The unusual naming is principally due to the fact that full sized aircraft carriers are viewed as expensive, and therefore politically dangerous.
Since its origins, the viability of the carrier battle group has been dependent on its ability to remain at sea for extended periods. Specialized ships were developed to provide underway replenishment of fuel (for the carrier and its aircraft), ordnance, and other supplies necessary to sustain operations. Carrier battle groups devote a great deal of planning to efficiently conduct underway replenishment
to minimize the time spent conducting replenishment. The carrier can also provide replenishment on a limited basis to its escorts, but typically a replenishment ship such as a fast combat support ship
(AOE) or replenishment oiler
(AOR) pulls alongside a carrier and conducts simultaneous operations with the carrier on its port side and one of the escorts on its starboard side. The advent of the helicopter provides the ability to speed replenishment by lifting supplies at the same time that fuelling hoses and lines are delivering other goods.
Debate on future viability
There is debate in naval warfare circles as to the viability of carrier battle groups in 21st century naval warfare. Proponents of the CVBG argue that it provides unmatched fire power and force projection capabilities. Opponents argue that CVBGs are increasingly vulnerable to arsenal ships
and cruise missiles
, especially those with supersonic
flight and the ability to perform radical trajectory changes to avoid anti-missile systems. It is also noted that that CVBGs were designed for Cold War
scenarios, and are less useful in establishing control of areas close to shore. It is argued however that such missiles and arsenal ships pose no serious threat as they would be eliminated due to increasing improvement in ship defenses such as CEC (cooperative engagement capability
), DEW technology and missile technology.
However, carriers have been called upon to be first responders even when conventional land based aircraft were employed. During Desert Shield, the U.S. Navy sortied additional carriers to augment the on station assets eventually maintaining six carriers for Desert Storm. Although the U.S. Air Force sent fighters such as the F-16 to theater in Desert Shield, they had to carry bombs with them as no stores were in place for sustained operations whereas the carriers arrived on scene with full magazines and had support ships to allow them to conduct strikes indefinitely.
The Global War on Terror (GWOT) has shown the flexibility and responsiveness of the carrier on multiple occasions when land based air was not feasible or able to respond in a timely fashion. After the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US, carriers immediately headed to the Arabian Sea to support Operation Enduring Freedom and took up station, building to a force of three carriers. Their steaming location was closer to the targets in Afghanistan than any land based assets and thereby more responsive. The USS Kitty Hawk was adapted to be a support base for special operations helicopters. Carriers were used again in Operation Iraqi Freedom and even provided aircraft to be based ashore on occasion and have done so periodically when special capabilities are needed. This precedent was established during World War II in the Battle of Guadalcanal and still remains viable today.
Regardless of the debate over viability, the United States has made a major investment in the development of a new carrier class - the Ford class carriers (formerly designated CVN-X, or the X Carrier) - to replace the existing Nimitz class carriers. The new Ford class carriers are designed to be modular and are easily adaptable as technology and equipment needed on board changes.