Navy vs Air Force

It’s the zumies versus the squids. The United States Air Force vs. The US Navy, two of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, forces on earth. In a head to head matchup to determine just which branch is the best at their primary purpose, killing bad guys and breaking their stuff. For the sake of this thought exercise, we’re going to ignore the normal realities of warfare and focus solely on firepower and assets.

After all, in a realistic war scenario, the US Navy could do something the US Air force could never do. Blockade ports and stop the shipments of supplies. So we’re going to be pitting man and machine in a straight up death match and find out which of the two services come out on top. Despite their close partnership with the US Navy for this fight, the Marines are out. Sorry, sailors, but you’re fighting this one on your own.

Likewise, U. S. Army forces, which typically help provide ground security for the air force assets, are also out, leaving the zumies to fend for themselves. Most of this war will naturally happen in the air, though without the support of their sister services. The US Air force does have one advantage that the navy doesn’t.

The ability to deploy a moderate ground force against Navy targets. The navy, after all, isn’t just about ships. There’s a long link of repair and resupply centers that are vital for keeping America’s fleets out at sea. US Air Force security forces personnel are, traditionally speaking, military police, no different than their counterparts in the other branches. However, during the Vietnam War, the air force realized that it couldn’t always rely on the other services for protection of its airfields in hostile territory, and quickly established a training program to convert their military police personnel into small but competent infantry forces.

Today, security forces personnel are all trained in airbased defense and receive qualification training with heavy squad weapons, such as the 50 caliber machine gun and the Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher. Some of these personnel are even qualified for air assault operations. Numbers are hard to pin down, but there’s an estimated 25,000 US Air Force security forces personnel currently on active duty, given the Air Force a sizable ground assault element that the navy can’t match. While US Navy masters at arms are trained in protecting ships and shore installations, their focus and training isn’t as exhaustive in ground combat roles as air force security forces personnel. With the focus shifting from protecting airfields, from unsophisticated terror and insurgent threats, to a potential showdown against regular chinese or russian infantry units, US Air Force security forces personnel have recently begun a program to seriously upgrade their standards, training, and equipment to meet these near peer competitor threats.

The stated goal of the US Air Force is to produce a force comparable to U. S. Army light infantry, powerful enough to repel a coordinated attack from near peer competitors. This means new tools such as anti tank and anti air manned portable weapon systems and fire support platforms such as mortars, as well as a stronger emphasis on assault and defense operations on the ground. It’s clear that the air force has a serious advantage, being able to deploy a sizable force to seize vital US Navy ground installations and repel any assaults against its facilities.

But the primary combatants in this showdown are going to be aircraft and ships. So how do they measure up, and what can they add to this fight? The first step in this battle between the services will be establishing air superiority, as the primary armament of both services is going to be its aircraft. In the navy’s corner, we have the FA 18 Super Hornet, an aircraft developed to counter advances in soviet fighter design. Turns out the Navy completely overcompensated and created one of the most formidable fighter aircraft ever built.

Responding to the Navy’s Super Hornet threat is going to be the F 15 Strike Eagle, another development created in response to the advancements made in soviet fighter design. Both aircraft come from the same manufacturer, meaning they share many of the same strengths, making this a difficult matchup to determine. The f 15 is an air superiority fighter, but it’s primarily geared for ground attack role. The Hornet is instead a jack of all trades, doing everything from air superiority to suppression of enemy air defenses, recon, and even aerial refueling. That versatility gives the Navy greater flexibility and makes sense for a service which has limited space on its aircraft carriers.

The better buy for your money is the aircraft that can do multiple things well rather than a single specialized task. But in this fight, which is better? The F 15 is powered by dual Pratt and Whitney f 100 turbofan engines, producing 29,000 pounds of thrust at full afterburner versus the Hornet’s General Electric f 414 engines, putting out 22,000 pounds of thrust at full afterburner. This gives the f 15 a speed advantage of a whopping 700 clocking in at 1875 mph versus the f 18 at 190. Going to get to the fight first every time, and if they get in trouble, they’ll easily outrun any pursuing f 18s, leaving them in the dust.

By comparison, f 18s trying to flee from the Air Force’s strike eagles are going to wind up getting splashed. The eagle also has greater fuel and weapons capacity than the Hornet, with the f 15 carrying up to 23,000 pounds of fuel and weapons versus the f 1817 759 pounds more fuel and more missiles means the Air Force’s fighter can stay in the fight longer and shoot more, and gives the f 15 nearly double the range of the Navy’s f 18. However, the Navy’s f 18 can carry the AGM 88 high speed antiradiation missile, giving it a robust capability in destroying enemy ground and even airborne radar, while the f 15 cannot. Conversely, the f 15 can carry the GBU 28 bunker buster bomb, while the f 18 can. The f 18 is slightly more agile than the f 15, however, which would give it the advantage in close quarters dogfighting, although, as many enemy combatants around the world have found out, the f 15 is an absolutely terrifying dogfighter itself.

Targeting and tracking systems on both aircraft are nearly identical, given that both aircraft operate for the same country. When it comes to long range detection, the APG 82 radar has greater capabilities than the APG 79 radar used by the Hornet, although just how much greater capabilities is a mystery as the data is a closely guarded secret. What’s clear is that the air Force strike eagles will get to the fight first, see their targets first, and fire first, putting the Navy’s super Hornet at a disadvantage. However, the f 18 is equipped with infrared search and tracking capabilities, giving it a chance to take on stealth aircraft at close range. With 769 hornets versus the Air Force’s 454 eagles, the number advantage may seem to be in favor of the Navy, except the 769 hornets the Navy possesses represents the entirety of its air attack and air superiority forces.

By comparison, the US Air Force can call on an additional 1017 f 16 Fighting Falcons and 229 operational f 35 Lightnings, the Navy’s own f, used for training. However, the absolute silver bullet in the sky for the air Force is its fleet of f 22 Raptors, numbering at 186. While low in number, the Raptor is, without comparison, the world’s most advanced air superiority fighter, featuring a radar cross section the size of a marvel. Its armament may be limited as it’s forced to carry its weapons internally, but its powerful radar allows it to detect enemy aircraft and engage them at beyond visual range. While the Air force initially wanted a fleet of almost a thousand of these incredible aircraft, the extreme price tag, upwards of $220,000,000 per aircraft, as well as a lack of a realistic threat to face off against by any other nation, shelved the original production run and limited it to the number the air force currently operates.

Simply put, in an air battle, the US Navy is going to come out losing badly. Not only is it completely dwarfed by the numbers of the Air Force Air superiority fighters, the air Force’s f 22 presents a threat that an f 18 pilot is unlikely to survive. Luckily, the number of these airborne assassins is relatively low. However, the Navy can call upon support from its large fleet of warships, who, thanks to modern battle networks, can add their firepower to an air battle. While its fleet of dozens of attack submarines may seem like an OD fish out in this fight, many of them are capable of taking on land attack roles thanks to the addition of cruise missiles to their magazines.

With a range of 1550 miles, Navy subs could deliver crippling blows to US air Force installations with little if any warning. Likewise, its fleet of 91 destroyers and 19 corvettes could all strike at Air Force airfields. A fast inventory of antiair missiles such as the RIM 174 and the RIM 162 evolved Sea Sparrow can project serious antiaircraft firepower into a fight, leaving us air force planes at risk in any air battle within range of US Navy ships. The US Air Force is not the primary service for neutralizing an enemy fleet. That task falls on the US Navy, but it is still very well equipped to deal with hostile vessels.

The AGM 158 Jassum and the AGM 86 are both extremely long range standoff attack air launched cruise missiles packing 1000 pound warhead capable of sinking enemy ships. The AGM 158 C is the latest iteration of these antiship missiles and features greatly improved technology, allowing it to locate, track, and target hostile vessels independently while ignoring civilian shipping. These missiles are all low observable, making them difficult to spot on radar, and are programmed to fly extremely close to the ocean’s surface, which makes them even more difficult to spot and target by a ship’s antimissile defense systems. However, none of these weapons are supersonic, as the US is currently coming far behind Russia and China in developing supersonic weapons. This means the individual success rate of each missile is dramatically lowered when pitted up against the navy’s sophisticated antimissile defense systems.

Though the AGM 158 C is capable of coordinating with other missiles to conduct swarm attacks, approaching a target from multiple directions in overwhelming numbers. Increasingly, this fight is turning bad for the US Navy. With an air superiority fleet that’s less than half the size of the US air Force, and with aircraft outmatched technologically by the air force, the Navy will never be able to establish air superiority. Even more importantly, though, the navy’s hornets will never be able to establish air superiority at the standoff attack distances required to stop air Force bomber aircraft from launching anti ship attacks. While Navy fleet defenses are likely capable of chewing up most of the air Force’s surface attack aircraft, the air Force’s ability to attack with long range precision weapons means their vulnerable bomber aircraft can target and fire from well outside of the air defense envelope of the Navy.

One way the Navy plans on protecting its surface fleets from this threat against a near peer competitor such as China or Russia is to simply establish combat air patrols at greatly extended ranges using f tanker mode or new tanker drones to refuel f 18s assigned to long range air patrols. However, no other nation can bring to bear against the US Navy the sheer number and capabilities of the US Air Force. And in a real world situation, the Navy would always rely on air Force health to protect its ships. Air power will determine this battle, and the navy loses in that arena. While navy ships would be able to launch attacks against air force airfields and ground installations, they won’t last long against coordinated air force attacks by fleets of b one lancers and B 52s, equipped with standoff long range munitions and protected by fleets of f planes, would always be able to redeploy to civilian or even improvised airfields.

But Navy fighters will find that their only safe landing site, their aircraft carriers, will very quickly end up at the bottom of the sea with complete and total air superiority. The US Air Force is without a doubt the victor of this conflict, though in reality this conclusion is no surprise. Air power has long been the single most important weapon in modern war since World War II, leaving any foe without suitable air power at the absolute mercy of even an inferior army that is supported by a competent air force. However, it’s also a matter of different mission sets that sees the air force declared a winner. The US Navy is indeed tasked with air superiority, but its vessels are also designed for a wide range of different responsibilities, from surface warfare to subsurface warfare and the escort and deployment of ground combat troops to beaches around the world.

The air force, however, has a far more limited scope of missions, air superiority, recon, and ground attack, and its equipment is thus far more capable in these arenas than the navy’s. In truth, neither service could win a war without the other, and the two are equal and vital partners in ensuring the US military remains the most powerful on earth. But squids would totally get their butt kicked by zumies any day of the week. Now for how the navy would fare against a competitor like China. Go watch.

US Navy must do this to defeat China in a war. Or if you’re ready for a change of pace, click this other video instead.

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