Naval Air Forces in the Pacific

     The Pacific Command (PACOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR), which spans more than half of the earth’s surface, is home to the hallowed seas whose historic battles established the preeminence of American Naval air power.

     The Coral Sea, Midway, and the Philippine Sea … The names alone evoke images of countless carriers, swarming skies, monumental men, and turned tides.  This is where naval aviation earned its place in history and secured its spot in the forefront of military strategy.

     Even today – and especially today – naval aviation counts amongst its constituents as one of the most potent and versatile weapons that the conventional American arsenal affords the President and his Combatant Commanders … the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (CVN) and its embarked carrier air wing (CVW).  Capable of performing non-combat and combat missions across the spectrum of military operations, the CVN – first Enterprise, now Nimitz-class, soon Ford-class – has been a mainstay in oceans around the world for more than 50 years.

     Adm. Chester Nimitz first recognized the need for a consolidated organization to manage the administration of naval air forces in the Pacific, and recommended the establishment of an aviation Type Commander (TYCOM).  His recommendation was approved by the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), Adm. Ernest King, and in 1942, Commander, Naval Air Forces Pacific (COMNAVAIRPAC/CNAP) was established.

     CNAP works hand-in-hand with Commander, Naval Air Force, Atlantic (COMNAVAIRLANT/CNAL) to manage global naval air forces.  Today, the dichotomy between the commands is as much functional as it is geographical.  CNAP primarily manages training and policy; CNAL primarily manages readiness, although there are elements that each TYCOM has a role in.  Both fall under the umbrella of Commander, Naval Air Forces (COMNAVAIRFOR/CNAF).  The CNAP Commander also assumes the mantle of CNAF, and serves as the head of the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE).

     The Supply Directorate of CNAF — N41 — follows the same functional dichotomy, see Figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1

     The aviation TYCOM role is succinctly summarized in CNAF’s mission statement … “To man, train, equip, and maintain a Naval Air Force that is immediately employable, forward deployed, and engaged.  CNAF supports the fleet and Unified Commanders by delivering the right force at the right readiness at the right time with a reduced cost … today and in the future.”

     N41 is involved in all four of the man, train, equip, and maintain mission pillars, most notably in the arenas of training and equipping units for operational success.

     The Supply Management Inspection (SMI) may be the most memorable interaction many Supply Corps Officers have with TYCOM Subject Matter Experts (SME), but that event is simply a culmination of the training and preparation that comes before, a certifying event to confirm that a Supply Department is capable of performing its mission.  During the months between SMIs, the N41 staff provides units with continuous training in all areas of Supply operations; the team conducts on-site training during TYCOM Assist Visits (TAV) and Supply Management Assist Visits (SMA), offers classroom-based training in Fleet concentration areas, and provides remote assistance to resolve complex issues as well as everyday concerns.

     To equip units for success, N41 allocates funding to ensure units achieve their material readiness and stock posture goals while remaining fiscally prudent in today’s challenging budget climate.  N41 also calculates the Aviation Consolidated Allowance List (AVCAL) and Shore Consolidated Allowance List (SHORECAL) allowances, directs cross-decks of repair parts between units to achieve desired stock levels in accordance with each unit’s position in the Fleet Response Training Plan (FRTP), and funds the procurement of materiel required for the repair and renovation of habitability equipment and spaces.

     While one of N41’s primary benchmarks is unit preparedness to support operational commitments, its role does not stop when units certify the proficiency of their Supply Departments, achieve range and depth goals, meet endurance load out requirements, and depart for deployment.  In fact, another element of the TYCOM mission could be described as the responsibility to sustain forces once they are manned, trained, and equipped.

     To this end, N41 remains abreast of the operations of deployed units.  The CNAP and CNAL staffs review daily readiness reports; expedite high priority parts and materiel; review and fund port visit costs; authorize special orders for subsistence and retail items; and engage other organizations to synchronize efforts in support of unit operations.

     As our National Defense Strategy continues to emphasize a re-balance toward the Asia-Pacific region, it is not difficult to imagine continued reliance on naval aviation to help lay the foundation.  In addition to the overwhelming combat capability they bring to the battle space, CVNs are often the centerpieces of non-combat, phase zero operations.  From Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) exercises such as Talisman Saber, to Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) missions such as Operation Tomodachi, to good will port visits and community relations events (COMREL), aircraft carriers and embarked carrier air wings offer endless options to theater commanders.

     Though many aspects of military operations have changed since the epic carrier battles on the seas of the Pacific, the influence of an immediately employable, forward deployed, and engaged Naval Air Force remains as important today as it was 70 years ago.

By Lt. Sean Moody, SC, USN; Commander, Naval Air Force, Pacific N41