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Written in response to an article appearing in the U.S. Naval Institute's publication, Proceedings, here is a persuasive argument concerning the overwhelming capabilities offered by the modern U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier Strike Group, authored by RADM David L. Philman, USN, while he was serving on active duty as OPNAV Director of Air Warfare.  

As RADM Philman clearly states, "Carrier Strike Groups are providing offensive firepower, overwatch and humanitarian assistance around the world with a seemingly endless demand signal for more."

We are proud to note that following his retirement from active duty,  RADM Philman chose to continue to serve Naval Aviation, and is the current President of the Association of Naval Aviation.  



From RADM “Deke” Philman, Director Air Warfare, OPNAV N88 

Hello to fellow members of ANA! I hope this HOWGOZIT finds you and your families doing well and getting ready for spring. While hunkered down riding out one of the many DC blizzards recently  I was a bit surprised when I opened the January 2010 issue of U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings and read the article by CDR John Patch entitled, “Fortress at Sea? The Carrier Invulnerability Myth.” As the Navy’s Director of Air Warfare, I found CDR Patch’s article quite interesting.  In his piece, he seems intent on creating a controversy over the utility and defensive capabilities of Carrier Strike Groups, asserting that Navy senior leadership is complacent regarding defense of ships at sea.  I disagree with both his premise and observations.  After reading some recent carrier articles in Proceedings, Wings of Gold, and Naval Aviation News, I could not find the word “invulnerable” or “fortress” anywhere.  And after examining CDR Patch’s article closely, it remains unclear exactly who is accepting on “faith alone” any notion of “invulnerability”.  This is certainly not happening in our Navy today.  To start an argument one needs to establish the opposite view.  In this respect, CDR Patch comes up short on many counts.         

His first point was that too many recent articles have focused on “cost and utility” of carrier strike groups.  This is no surprise since that is how we justify any investment of taxpayer dollars here in the Pentagon.  To begin the carrier discussion, it is critical to look at what these ships and air wings are doing.  One problem is they don’t seem to “sit still” long enough to be analyzed.  Carrier Strike Groups are in action across the globe today, from the waters of the North Arabian Sea and the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea in support of Haitian Humanitarian Assistance.  NIMITZ and RONALD REAGAN (one of our oldest carriers and the newest operational aircraft carrier) have combined to execute seven deployments in the past four years demonstrating the flexibility and resilience of our nation’s 50-year capital investment.  The question before us seems to be one of value – do we believe that what aircraft carriers do is important enough to defend? Any military commander will likely answer in the strong affirmative.         

As a former intelligence officer CDR Patch does a thorough search of worldwide threats while attempting to link them to aircraft carrier defense.  None of his observations are new or particularly compelling regarding military threats to carrier strike groups.  On the asymmetric side, his concerns of terrorism, sabotage, and infiltration are not just carrier concerns, but national.  As the resource sponsor for aircraft carrier requirements, I support and participate in countless studies of ship and aircraft vulnerabilities and tactics…all of which conduct hard and penetrating analysis on asymmetric and hybrid threats.  It is in no way being ignored.  In fact, one important facet of the current QDR will be an emphasis on hybrid warfare.  These threats apply to any military unit, from Bagram Air Base to Fort Hood.  CDR Patch asserts that many admirals “discount such threats outright” or “avow carrier invulnerability”.  Having flown off carriers for 29 years, I have yet to meet one who feels that way, and certainly not the men and women who operate and lead them.  In my former command I prepared Carrier Strike Groups and Expeditionary Strike Groups for deployment.  During six months of work-ups, strike groups must earn a certification of their ability to meet and defend against multi-axis threats, symmetric or otherwise.  In training for forward carrier operations, I did not observe Patch’s assertions of “complacency” or any ship presuming to be a “fortress at sea”.  Instead, what I saw were professionals assessing their tactical situations and taking prudent and decisive action.  Our nationdeserves no less.         

In his analysis of the current battlespace, I would urge CDR Patch to project a few years forward.  While an aircraft carrier may appear the same on the outside, it’s what is inside and on the flight deck that matters most.  Reading his lament of the lack of a viable Soviet/Russian aircraft carrier, I would submit that the real weakness of historic near-peer carriers was the lack of a potent air wing with true power projection and defensive capability.  For the US Navy, the Joint Strike Fighter and Super Hornet lead the most offensive and capable mix of aircraft anywhere.  The 19 MH-60R and MH-60S helicopters provide the capability to answer asymmetric threats as they emerge, controlled by highly advanced E-2D aircraft.  By 2012 we will demonstrate a carrier-compatible unmanned air vehicle and begin the first steps into a new age of reach, persistence and lethality.          

CDR Patch feels it is “high time to renew the carrier vulnerability debate” but I would offer that we have never stopped.  Any credible military or naval analyst constantly looks for enemy vulnerabilities while minimizing his own.  While I applaud CDR Patch in underscoring the current worldwide threat situation, his decision to apply that only to aircraft carriers or assert that naval leaders are “complacent” seems a bit myopic.  The simple fact is that right now Carrier Strike Groups are providing offensive firepower, overwatch and humanitarian assistance around the world with a seemingly endless demand signal for more. 


Rear Admiral David L. "Deke" Philman
Director, Air Warfare (OPNAV N88)

Rear Admiral David L.  "Deke" PhilmanRear Admiral David L. “Deke” Philman is the director, Air Warfare Division (OPNAV N88) on the staff of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Integration of Capabilities and Resources (OPNAV N8). A native of Bell, Fla., he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science degree in Operations Analysis in June 1978. He has also attended the U.S. Air War College and the Navy Executive Business School.

Philman has completed ten major deployments at sea aboard USS Constellation (CV-64), USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63), USS Enterprise (CVN-65), USS Independence (CV-62), USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75
). His initial sea tours were as an A-7E pilot in VA-146 and VA-27. In 1990 he transitioned to the F/A-18 Hornet during his tour with VA/VFA-27. Philman commanded the F/A-18C squadron VFA-151 (Vigilantes) from February 1996 to May 1997 aboard USS Constellation. Philman commanded Carrier Air Wing 3 aboard USS Harry S. Truman from July 2001 to January 2003. From July 2000 to June 2001, he served as the deputy air wing commander.

Philman’s shore tours include advanced strike flight instructor at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas; aide to the Deputy Commander, U.S. Space Command, Colorado Springs, Colo.; executive assistant to the Director, Navy International Programs Office, Washington; head, Strike Aircraft Plans and Requirements (OPNAV Staff), Washington, and director, Navy Congressional Appropriations Liaison, Washington.

Philman’s first flag officer assignment was as deputy commander, JFCC Global Strike and Integration, U.S. Strategic Command, Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., from September 2005 to September 2007. His most recent flag officer assignment was as commander, Strike Force Training Pacific, San Diego, from September 2007 to February 2009.

Philman has logged more than 4,500 flight hours in tactical jet aircraft and has completed more than 1000 carrier arrested landings on 11 different aircraft carriers. He is entitled to wear the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (four awards), Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (two awards), Strike/Flight Air Medal (two awards), Navy Commendation Medal (three awards) and the Navy Achievement Medal.





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