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Aircraft from Carrier Air Wing Two fly in formation above the USS Abraham Lincoln.

A Carrier Air Wing (abbreviated CVW) is an operational naval aviation organization composed of several aircraft squadrons and detachments of various types of fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft. Organized, equipped and trained to conduct modern US Navy carrier air operations while embarked aboard aircraft carriers, the various squadrons in an air wing have different, complementary (and sometimes overlapping) missions, and provide most of the striking power and electronic warfare capabilities of a carrier battle group (CVBG). Until 1963, Carrier air wings were known as Carrier Air Groups (CAGs). Carrier air wings are what the United States Air Force would call “composite” wings, and should not be confused with Navy Type Wings (such as Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic), which are administrative commands composed of squadrons of the same type of aircraft. Carrier air wings integrate closely with their assigned aircraft carriers, forming a "carrier/air wing team" that trains and deploys together. There are currently ten U.S. Navy air wings, five based at NAS Oceana, Virginia, four based at NAS Lemoore, California, and one forward deployed to NAF Atsugi, Japan. These air wings are occasionally reassigned to different aircraft carriers based on carrier maintenance schedules. A modern air wing consists of roughly 2,500 personnel and roughly 60-65 aircraft.


Wing aircraft composition

Carrier Air Wing Five aircraft in 2007.

The air wing composition is designed to allow for broad striking power hundreds of miles from the carrier's position, while providing defense in depth of the battle group through early warning and detection of airborne, surface and subsurface targets. No two U.S. Navy carrier air wings are identical in composition, but a typical modern air wing consists of:

Staff organization

A U.S. Navy air wing has a small staff of 16-20 officers and approximately 20 enlisted personnel. It is headed by the "CAG" (a legacy term from the earlier term for the Air Wing) who is a Navy Captain or a Marine Corps Colonel.[1] Second in command is the Deputy Commander (DCAG), also a Captain aviator, who "fleets up" to the CAG position after about 18 months. Also on the staff are an Operations Officer (typically a Commander or Lieutenant Commander), a number of warfare specialists (typically Lieutenant Commanders or Lieutenants), two Wing Landing Signal Officers, an Intelligence Officer, and a Maintenance Officer. The air wing staff is often supplemented with squadron personnel, such as the squadron intelligence officers. The CAG reports to a Rear Admiral in the position of Commander, Carrier Strike Group and is coequal in stature with the Commanding Officer of the carrier as well as the embarked Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) Commander. The CAG serves as the Strike Group's Strike Warfare Commander, responsible for all offensive strike operations (including Tomahawk Missiles). CAGs are typically qualified to fly at least two types of aircraft in the Carrier Air Wing inventory.

Active Carrier Air Wings / identification

Currently, Atlantic Fleet air wings have an "A" as the fist letter of their tailcode identification, while those of the Pacific Fleet have an "N". The "A" or "N" is followed by a letter that uniquely identifies the air wing (e.g., CVW-1 aircraft, part of the Atlantic Fleet, have a tail code of "AB"). [2]

"AG" on tail indicates it is a CVW-7 aircraft. Ship assigned is also indicated.
Airwing Insignia Tailcode Assigned Aircraft Carrier Homeport
CVW-1 CVW-1 insignia.png AB USS Enterprise (CVN-65) NAS Oceana
CVW-2 CVW-2 insignia.png NE USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) NAS Lemoore
CVW-3 CVW-3 insignia.png AC USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) NAS Oceana
CVW-5 CVW-5 insignia.png NF USS George Washington (CVN-73) NAF Atsugi
CVW-7 CVW-7 insignia.png AG USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) NAS Oceana
CVW-8 CVW-8 insignia.png AJ USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) NAS Oceana
CVW-9 CVW-9 insignia.png NG USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) NAS Lemoore
CVW-11 CVW-11 unit insignia.png NH USS Nimitz (CVN-68) NAS Lemoore
CVW-14 Cvw-14.gif NK USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) NAS Lemoore
CVW-17 Cvw-17.gif AA USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) NAS Oceana

See List of United States Navy aircraft wings.



Carrier Air Group organization, naming, and identification

The 1945 Visual Identification System.

The first Carrier Air Groups (as they were then called) were activated in 1937. Initially, the commander of the air group (known as the "CAG") was the most senior commanding officer of the embarked squadrons and was expected to personally lead all major strike operations, co-ordinating the attacks of the carrier's fighter, bomber, and torpedo planes in combat. The CAG was a department head of the ship reporting to the carrier's commanding officer. From July 1937 to mid-1942 Carrier Air Groups were permanently assigned to and identified by their parent aircraft carrier, and group squadrons were numbered according to the carrier's hull number. For example, the Enterprise Air Group, assigned to USS Enterprise (CV-6), were all numbered "6": Fighting Squadron (VF) 6, Bombing Squadron (VB) 6, etc. [3] In 1942 air groups were no longer named for their carrier but were given unique numbers according to their assigned carriers' hull number (i.e., the Enterprise Air Group became CAG-6). This numbering scheme was also soon scrapped as carrier groups (now abbreviated CVGs) frequently moved from carrier to carrier. At this point, the carrier groups simply retained their number designation regardless of the carrier assigned. The first formal system for air group identification (Visual Identification System for Naval Aircraft) was established in January 1945. This consisted of geometric symbols that identified the parent carrier, not the air group. As there were just too many carriers and the symbols were hard to remember or to describe over the radio, a single or double letter system was introduced in July 1945. The use of single letters was discontinued in 1957. On 20 December 1963, Carrier Air Groups were redesignated Attack Carrier Air Wings" (CVW – CV is the hull designation for fixed wing carriers). From 1960 to 1974 the U.S. Navy also operated Carrier Anti-Submarine Air Groups (CVSG). These typically consisted of two fixed-wing anti-submarine squadrons (VS), a helicopter squadron anti-submarine (HS), and two smaller squadrons of 3-4 aircraft for airborne early warning (VAW) and self defense (VA, VMA, VSF).[4] In 1973 the anti-submarine squadrons were integrated into the Attack Carrier Air Wings, leading to the simple designation "Carrier Air Wing".

In 1983, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman elevated the CAG to be coequal with the Captain of the ship with both officers reporting directly to the embarked Commander of the Carrier Battle Group. The CAG was then referred to as a "Super CAG" and a Deputy CAG (DCAG) position was added who "fleets up" to the CAG position. This system is still in place, although the term "Super CAG" was soon reverted back to CAG.

Air Group/Wing historical composition

Air wing composition has changed continuously and no two air wings are configured exactly the same.


A Carrier Air Group over battleships in 1940.

Typical air group composition at the beginning of World War II consisted of approximately 90 aircraft:

During the course of the war in the Pacific the compositions of the air groups changed drastically. The scouting squadrons were disestablished by early 1943 and the number of fighter planes was increased continuously. Typically in 1943 an Essex class carrier carried 36 fighter planes, 36 bombers and 18 torpedo planes.[5]

By the end of WWII, a typical Essex air group was over 100 aircraft, consisting of :


CVG-9 aboard USS Philippine Sea (CV-47), 1953.

Carrier Air Groups typically had four fighter squadrons with 58 planes and an attack squadron of 14 planes. New to the air wings were special duty squadrons of 2-4 aircraft for photographic reconnaissance (VAP/VFP, RVAH), airborne early warning (VAW), night attack and fighters, electronic countermeasures (VAQ) and helicopters.


During the Vietnam War Attack Carrier Air Wings typically consisted of approximately 70 aircraft, including two fighter squadrons and three attack squadrons, plus the special squadrons.[7]

CVG-15 aboard Coral Sea, 1963.

In 1965, a typical air wing consisted of:

By the end of the Vietnam War in 1973, a typical air wing consisted of ~90 aircraft:

  • 2 fighter squadrons (VF) flying F-4 Phantoms or F-8 Crusaders (on Essex class carriers)
  • 2 light attack squadrons (VA) flying A-7 Corsairs or A-4 Skyhawks
  • 1 medium/all weather attack squadron (VA) flying A-6 Intruders
  • 1 electronic warfare squadron (VAQ) flying EKA-3B Skywarriors
  • 3-4 E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft
  • Detachments of RA-5C Vigilante reconnaissance aircraft, SH-3s or UH-2s helicopter combat support (HC), RF-8G light photographic reconnaissance (VFP) Crusaders, and KA-3B tankers

An anti-submarine air group (CVSG) aboard the Essex-class anti-submarine carriers (CVS) operated five squadrons:

  • 2 anti-submarine squadrons (VS) flying S-2 Trackers
  • 1 helicopter anti-submarine squadron (HS) flying SH-3A Sea Kings
  • 1 early warning squadron (VAW) of 4 E-1 Tracers
  • a detachment of 4 A-4 Skyhawks for self defence from various squadrons (VSF, VA, VMA, H&MS)

1983 Invasion of Grenada

CVW-1 over USS America (CV-66) in 1983.

By the early 1980s, typical air wings were replacing F-4s with F-14 Tomcats, KA-6Ds and A-7s had replaced A-3 as tankers, and EA-6B Prowlers had largely replaced EA-3s.

  • 2 fighter squadrons (VF) of 14 F-4s or F-14As
  • 2 attack squadrons (VA) of 12-14 A-7Es
  • 1 all-weather attack squadron (VA) 10-12 A-6E (including 4 KA-6D tankers).
  • 1 early warning squadron (VAW) of 4-6 E-2Cs
  • 1 tactical electronic warfare squadron (VAQ) of 4-6 EA-6Bs
  • 1 anti-submarine squadron (VS) of 10 S-3A Vikings
  • 1 helicopter anti-submarine squadron (HS) of 6 SH-3H Sea Kings
  • detachments of EA-3B air reconnaissance and RF-8G light photographic reconnaissance aircraft

1991 Gulf War

CVW-17 aboard USS Saratoga (CV-60) in 1992.

The Gulf War marked the largest concentrated use of carrier air wings since World War II. All F-4s had been retired and A-7Es had largely been replaced with FA-18 Hornets.

  • 2 fighter squadrons (VF) of 14 F-14s, including TARPS photo reconnaissance aircraft
  • 2 strike fighter squadrons (VFA) of 12-14 FA-18 Hornets
  • 1 all-weather attack squadron (VA) 10-12 A-6Es (including 4 KA-6D tankers).
  • 1 early warning squadron (VAW) of 4-6 E-2Cs
  • 1 tactical electronic warfare squadron (VAQ) of 4-6 EA-6Bs
  • 1 anti-submarine squadron (VS) of 10 S-3A Vikings
  • 1 helicopter anti-submarine squadron (HS) of 6 SH-3H Sea Kings
  • 1 detachment of C-2A Greyhound aircraft for Carrier Onboard Delivery COD

2003 Iraq War

CVW-5 aboard USS George Washington (CVN-73), 2008.

By 2003, A-6s had been retired with their tanking duties being assumed by S-3s, ES-3s had been retired, and F-14s were being phased out.

  • 1 fighter squadron (VF) of 12 F-14A/B/D
  • 3 strike fighter squadrons (VFA) of 12 F/A-18Cs (often one of these is a USMC squadron)
  • 1 early warning squadron (VAW) of 3-4 E-2Cs
  • 1 tactical electronic warfare squadron (VAQ) of 3-4 EA-6Bs
  • 1 sea control squadron (VS) of 8 S-3Bs (primary tankers)
  • 1 helicopter anti-submarine squadron (HS) of 4 SH-60F and 2 HH-60H
  • 1 detachment of C-2A Greyhound aircraft for Carrier Onboard Delivery COD


The Navy has described an air wing for 2020 as follows:


  1. ^ Although eligible, Marine to "CAG" or "DCAG" (Deputy Commander) positions are limited to 1 to 2 Air Wings.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Swanborough, pp. 38
  4. ^ Terzibaschitsch, Luftwaffe, p. 16
  5. ^ Terzibaschitsch, Flugzeugtraeger, pp. 31
  6. ^ Terzibaschitsch, Flugzeugtraeger, pp. 31
  7. ^ Terzibaschitsch, Flugzeugtraeger, pp. 146


  • Gordon Swanborough; Peter M. Bowers: United States Navy Aircraft since 1911. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis (Maryland) 1990, ISBN 0870217925.
  • Rene Francillion: US Navy Carrier Air Groups: Pacific 1941-1945. (Osprey Airwar 16). Osprey, London 1978, ISBN 0850452910.
  • Bert Kinzey; Ray Leader: Colors and Markings of U.S. Navy and USMC CAG Aircraft. Part 1: Fighters! F-8 Crusader, F-4 Phantom, F-14 Tomcat" (Colors and Markings, Bd. 10). Airlife Publishing, Shrewsbury 1988, ISBN 185310602X.
  • Bert Kinzey; Ray Leader: Colors and Markings of U.S. Navy CAG Aircraft. Part 2: Attack Aircraft. A-6 Intruder, A-7 Corsair" (Colors and Markings, Bd. 16). Airlife Publishing, Shrewsbury 1990, ISBN 1853106232.
  • Stefan Terzibaschitsch: Die Luftwaffe der U.S. Navy und des Marine Corps. J.F. Lehmanns, Munich, Germany, 1974, ISBN 3469004668.
  • Stefan Terzibaschitsch: Flugzeugtraeger der U.S. Navy. Bernard & Graefe, 2nd edition, Munich, Germany, 1986, ISBN 3763758038.
  • Stefan Terzibaschitsch: Jahrbuch der U.S. Navy 1988/89 (Schwerpunkt: Luftwaffe der U.S. Navy und des Marine Corps). Bernard & Graefe, Munich, Germany, 1988, ISBN 3763747923.
  • Stefan Terzibaschitsch: Seemacht USA. Bd. 1. 2nd revised edition, Bechtermünz, Augsburg, Germany, 1997, ISBN 3860475762.

External links


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