After steaming across the Atlantic and following a close call with an Iranian training exercise in the Straits of Hormuz, the aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman arrived in the Persian Gulf earlier this week and began combat operations against the Islamic State.
The carrier, along with its accompanying strike group of destroyers, frigates and submarines, fills a strategic capability gap that had been left open when the carrier the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt departed the region in October.
The Truman’s strike group joins the French aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, in the Gulf where the two ships will alternate striking targets in both Syria and Iraq.
“We complement each other in that while one carrier is able to fly sorties in country to support [Operation Inherent Resolve], the other carrier can conduct maintenance and prepare for the next day,” said Capt. Fredrick Luchtman, commander of the Truman’s carrier wing in a Navy press release. “The carriers can then swap, which allows us to put more sorties in country while we partner in this operation.”
While the majority of the sorties in the region are helmed by the U.S. Air Force, the Truman brings a unique accompaniment of aircraft into the fight.
U.S.S. Harry S. Truman Carrier Wing 7 Breakdown (source: U.S. Navy):
-10 F/A-18Cs from Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-83
-10 F/A-18Es from Strike Fight Squadron VFA-25
-12 F/A-18Es from Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-143
-12 F/A-18Fs from Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-103
The F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet (E and F twin-seat variants) are the workhorse strike aircraft for the U.S. carrier fleet. Capable of hitting both targets on the ground and in the air, the Hornet can refuel in midair and conduct battlefield reconnaissance with a host of onboard sensors. In the twin-seat models, the rear-seater known as a Weapon Support Officer, or WSO (pronounced Wizz-o), can authorize the aircraft to attack ground targets without the help of nearby troops if they are trained Forward Air Controllers. The Hornet can carry a modest amount of guided and unguided bombs in addition to air-to-air missiles. All Hornet variants also sport a 20mm cannon.
The Electronic Attack
-5 EA-18G Growlers from Electronic Attack Squadron VAQ-140
While the Growler looks like an F/A-18, its mission has little to with direct combat and instead revolves around electronic warfare. The aircraft has a number of sensors and pods that allows it to detect and jam enemy communications and radar arrays such as those used by enemy surface-to-air defenses. For instance, hypothetically, if U.S. aircraft were needed to eliminate some of the more advanced air defenses used by the Russians in Syria or the Syrian military, the Growler would first attempt to neutralize them by jamming, followed by its own air-to-ground missiles.
Air Traffic Control
-4 E-2C Hawkeyes from Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron VAW-117
The E-2, while not the most attractive aircraft in the sky, is probably one of the most essential for carrier operations. Acting as a sort of air traffic control, the E-2C can detect enemy aircraft and ships at farther ranges than the fighter aircraft, such as the F/A-18s, it is designed to support. While the Hawkeye has seen various upgrades, including the newest version, the E2-D, its first flight was during the Eisenhower’s administration.
-8 MH-60S Seahawks from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron HSC-5
-11 MH-60R Seahawks from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron HSM-72
A carrier-based version of the popular UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, the Seahawk can do everything from ferrying Navy SEALs into combat, resupply operations and search and rescue at sea.
You Call, We Haul
-2 C-2 Greyhounds from Fleet Logistics Support Squadron VRC-40
The C-2 is really just the E-2 without a giant radar dish on its back. Designed for carrier operations, the C-2 is the logistical workhorse for the carrier. Flying everything in from food, to mail, to VIPs, the C-2 is a staple of flight deck operations.
Dan Lamothe contributed to this report