The United States Navy relies on a diverse and technologically advanced fleet of aircraft to fulfill its mission across the world's oceans. With a legacy dating back to the pioneering days of naval aviation, the U.S. Navy aircraft inventory has evolved into a cutting-edge force that ensures dominance in both peacetime and conflict scenarios.

In this article, we’ll explore the US naval aircraft inventory in detail, taking an in-depth look at: 

  1. Why does the U.S. Navy require aircraft?
  2. What are the main types of Naval aircraft?
  3. The most common craft in the U.S. Navy aircraft inventory
  4. U.S. Navy aircraft sustainment
  5. Greenwood Aerospace’s military aircraft services

With over 40 years of aviation industry experience, Greenwood Aerospace is a leader in government procurement for fixed-wing aircraft and parts. We provide reliable, timely procurement services to keep your aircraft in the air and your aviation programs on schedule.  

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Does the U.S. Navy Have Aircraft?

The United States Navy, as one of the world's most formidable naval forces, boasts a vast and diverse fleet of aircraft that play a critical role in maintaining its maritime superiority. These aerial assets extend the Navy's reach far beyond the confines of the ocean and provide the military branch with an edge in national defense and global operations.

What Does the Navy Use Aircraft For?

The U.S. Navy employs its aircraft for many vital purposes, including:

  • Power projection: Carrier-based aircraft serve as potent instruments of power projection, allowing the Navy to extend its influence and capabilities across vast distances. These aircraft provide crucial air support, strike capabilities, and aerial reconnaissance.
  • Aerial combat: Fighter aircraft play a pivotal role in securing airspace superiority during naval operations. High-performance jets engage in air-to-air combat, defending carrier strike groups, and neutralizing enemy threats before they can endanger naval assets.
  • Reconnaissance and surveillance: Patrol aircraft, such as maritime patrol planes and reconnaissance drones, undertake critical intelligence-gathering missions. From monitoring sea traffic and tracking potential adversaries to conducting search-and-rescue operations, these aircraft contribute to situational awareness and ensure maritime security.
  • Anti-submarine warfare (ASW): The Navy's ASW aircraft are specially equipped to detect, track, and neutralize enemy submarines, safeguarding its own submarines and surface vessels from potential threats beneath the waves.
  • Logistics and transport: Cargo aircraft and aerial refueling tankers facilitate the transportation of personnel, equipment, and supplies, supporting naval deployments and enhancing operational readiness across the globe.

A Brief History of Naval Aircraft 

The U.S. Navy's interest in aviation began in the 1910s, with experiments involving seaplanes launched from and recovered onto ships. The breakthrough came in 1922 when the USS Langley (CV-1), originally an aircraft carrier converted from a collier ship, conducted the world's first successful takeoff and landing of a fixed-wing aircraft. This milestone marked the birth of carrier-based aviation, transforming naval warfare forever.

Over the years, naval aircraft evolved significantly in terms of technology, capabilities, and mission diversity. The introduction of jet-powered aircraft in the post-war era and the subsequent development of aircraft with advanced sensors, stealth capabilities, and long-range strike potential further elevated the U.S. Navy's aerial prowess. Today, the U.S. Navy continues to push the boundaries of aviation technology, integrating unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and advanced fighters into its inventory. 

What are the Main Types of Naval Aircraft?

The U.S. Navy's vast aircraft inventory encompasses a diverse range of platforms, each meticulously designed and tailored to fulfill specific roles within the maritime domain. The main types of craft in the U.S. Navy aircraft inventory include: 

  1. U.S. Navy combat aircraft
  2. Airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft
  3. Radar jamming aircraft
  4. U.S. Navy transport planes
  5. VIP transport aircraft
  6. Unmanned aerial systems (UAS)

These cutting-edge aerial assets contribute to the Navy's unrivaled global reach, ensuring it remains at the forefront of naval warfare and international security. In this section, we’ll explore the main categories of naval aircraft and their respective contributions to the Navy's mission.

U.S. Navy Combat Aircraft

At the heart of the Navy's airborne might are its combat planes, which consist of formidable fighter jets and strike aircraft. Carrier-based fighters, such as the F/A-18 Hornet and its successor, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, serve as the Navy's primary aerial defenders, engaging enemy aircraft in dogfights and providing close air support to ground forces. Additionally, strike aircraft like the EA-18G Growler, equipped with advanced electronic warfare capabilities, play a critical role in suppressing enemy air defenses and protecting friendly forces during missions.

Airborne Early Warning (AEW) Aircraft

AEW aircraft act as airborne command and control centers, providing the Navy with an extended radar horizon and enhanced surveillance capabilities. The E-2 Hawkeye, with its iconic rotating radar dome, is the Navy's primary AEW platform. These aircraft serve as "eyes in the sky," detecting potential threats, monitoring airspace, and coordinating naval operations with a comprehensive view of the battlespace.

Radar Jamming Aircraft

To counter and disrupt enemy radar and communications systems, the U.S. Navy employs dedicated radar jamming aircraft. The EA-18G Growler, a variant of the F/A-18 Super Hornet, is the Navy's premier electronic warfare aircraft. Its sophisticated electronic attack systems can actively jam enemy radars, deceive adversaries with electronic countermeasures, and provide crucial support in suppressing hostile air defenses.

U.S. Navy Transport Aircraft

Vital to sustaining naval operations worldwide, transport aircraft are responsible for the efficient movement of personnel, equipment, and supplies. The C-2 Greyhound serves as the Navy's primary carrier onboard delivery (COD) aircraft, shuttling personnel and critical cargo between aircraft carriers and shore bases. Additionally, the Navy relies on the versatile C-130 Hercules for medium-range transport and aerial resupply missions.

VIP Transport Aircraft

When it comes to high-priority personnel transport, the Navy employs VIP transport aircraft designed to accommodate senior military officials, government leaders, and dignitaries. The Gulfstream C-37, based on the Gulfstream V business jet, serves as the Navy's premier VIP transport aircraft, offering comfort, speed, and long-range capabilities for executive travel needs. The C-40 Clipper, a military version of the Boeing 373 Next Generation, is also used as a VIP transport aircraft for the U.S. Navy. 

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)

As the field of unmanned aerial systems has evolved, the U.S. Navy has integrated various unmanned platforms into its operations. Unmanned aircraft, such as the MQ-4C Triton and MQ-8 Fire Scout, support intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, providing persistent coverage and reducing risks to manned aircraft during certain operations. The MQ-4C Triton was developed under the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program and is intended to: 

The MQ-8 Fire Scout is an unmanned autonomous helicopter that provides aerial fire support and precision targeting support for ground, air and sea forces.

Most Common Craft in the U.S. Navy Aircraft Inventory

Within the diverse fleet of the U.S. Navy's aircraft inventory, certain platforms stand out as the workhorses that execute critical missions. These aircraft, carefully selected and designed to fulfill specific roles, are the backbone of naval aviation. In this section, we delve into the most common and prominent aircraft in the U.S. Navy's aircraft inventory:

  1. F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
  2. MH-60 Seahawk
  3. T-6 Texan II
  4. T-45C Goshawk
  5. EA-18G Growler
  6. F-35C Lightning II
  7. C-130T Hercules
  8. E-2 Hawkeye

We’ll explain the contributions these aircraft make to the U.S. Navy and discuss the future plans for key aircraft in the U.S. Navy’s aircraft inventory. 

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

The Boeing F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet are supersonic twin-engine, carrier-capable, multirole fighter aircraft variants derived from the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet series. The Super Hornet has an internal 20mm M61A2 rotary cannon and can carry air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface, and a variety of other weapons. Additional fuel can be carried in up to five external fuel tanks and the aircraft can be configured as an airborne tanker by adding an external air-to-air refueling system.

The Super Hornet first flew in 1995 and entered fleet service with the U.S. Navy in 1999, replacing the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, which was retired in 2006. In February 2023, Boeing announced plans to end production of the Super Hornet by 2025. The U.S. Navy has eventual plans to replace its fleet of Super Hornets, and has also sought funding to give existing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets an additional 4,000 flying hours of service life.

A U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet launching from an aircraft carrier flight deck
Image Source

MH-60 Seahawk

The Sikorsky MH-60 Seahawk is a versatile helicopter that serves as the Navy's primary rotorcraft for anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue, vertical replenishment, and special operations support. Operating from both surface ships and aircraft carriers, the Seahawk's adaptability and advanced sensor suite make it an invaluable asset for maritime operations, ensuring the safety of naval assets and personnel.

Just as the U.S. Army is looking to replace its fleet of Blackhawk helicopters, the U.S. Navy is seeking an eventual replacement for the MH-60 Seahawk, which will likely be phased out during the 2030s. The effort is part of the larger Future Vertical Lift program, a U.S. Army-led initiative that aims to acquire replacements for various helicopter fleets, as well as others across the U.S. military. 

T-6 Texan II

As the U.S. Navy's primary trainer aircraft, the Beechcraft T-6 Texan II plays a pivotal role in shaping the next generation of naval aviators. This tandem-seat turboprop aircraft is used for primary flight training, introducing aspiring pilots to essential flight maneuvers, navigation, and instrument flying before advancing to more complex platforms. 

With no apparent plans to replace the T-6 Texan II, which first entered the U.S. Air Force aircraft inventory in 2001, The U.S. Air Force is searching for contractors to develop, deliver and integrate a comprehensive avionics system replacement for the T-6 Texan II. The current avionics system is comprised of analog and first-generation digital components, which is now leading to decreased component reliability, declining aircraft availability rates, and increased life cycle sustainment costs.

T-45C Goshawk

The T-45C Goshawk is the advanced jet trainer that follows the T-6 Texan II in the U.S. Navy's pilot training pipeline. Tailored for carrier operations, the Goshawk hones pilots' skills in aircraft carrier takeoffs and landings, precision navigation, and tactical flying. It prepares aviators for the challenges of carrier-based aviation, ensuring they can safely and effectively operate from aircraft carriers.

The U.S. Navy announced in 2020 that it was looking for a replacement for the T-45, which will not be carrier-capable, representing part of a larger shift in how the service expects to train tactical jet pilots in the future. Boeing, Leonardo, and Lockheed Martin are all in the running for the Navy’s new Undergraduate Jet Training System (UJTS). 

EA-18G Growler

As a specialized electronic warfare aircraft, the EA-18G Growler provides vital capabilities in disrupting enemy radar and communications systems, thus protecting friendly forces and gaining a tactical advantage. Derived from the F/A-18F Super Hornet, the Growler's advanced electronic attack systems make it a pivotal asset in suppressing enemy air defenses and ensuring the success of naval and joint operations.

The U.S. Navy used the EA-18G as a replacement for the Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowlers. The EA-18G began production in 2007 and entered operational service with the US Navy in late 2009. Early in 2023, the U.S. Navy outlined plans to retire its current EA-18G fleet and focus on other priorities but experienced pushback from Congress surrounding this plan. Currently, the future of the EA-18G within the U.S. Navy aircraft inventory remains unclear. 

F-35C Lightning II

The Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II represents the Navy's next-generation carrier-based stealth fighter. Equipped with advanced sensors, unmatched situational awareness, and precise strike capabilities, the F-35C enhances the Navy's air dominance and strike capabilities. Its ability to operate from aircraft carriers extends the Navy's reach and influence in any theater of operation.

The F-35 first flew in 2006 and entered service with the U.S. Navy in 2019. The United States plans to buy 2,456 F-35s through 2044, which will represent the majority of the manned tactical aviation of the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps for several decades. The aircraft is also planned to be a cornerstone of NATO and U.S.-allied air power and to operate until 2070.

C-130T Hercules

The C-130T Hercules is the Navy's medium-range transport aircraft, responsible for delivering personnel, supplies, and equipment to various locations worldwide. Its versatility in conducting humanitarian aid, troop transport, and cargo delivery missions makes it a crucial asset in supporting naval deployments and global operations. 

Over 40 variants of the Hercules, including the civilian Lockheed L-100, operate in more than 60 nations. The C-130T is a specialized version of the C-130 designed for the U.S. Navy and introduced into the U.S. Navy aircraft inventory in 1956. The defining features of the C-130T are underwing external fuel tanks and additional avionics improvements. 

A U.S. Navy C-130T Hercules on an airstrip
Image Source

E-2 Hawkeye

As the Navy's premier airborne early warning (AEW) platform, the Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye provides crucial command and control capabilities by extending the fleet's radar horizon. The distinctive radar dome on top of this aircraft enables real-time surveillance, detection, and coordination of airborne and surface targets, enhancing situational awareness and bolstering naval operations.

First developed in the 1950s, the E-2 Hawkeye has since been upgraded with the E-2B and E-2C versions, where most of the changes were made to the radar and radio communications due to advances in electronic integrated circuits and other electronics. The fourth major version of the Hawkeye is the E-2D, which first flew in 2007 and features entirely new avionics. 

U.S. Navy Aircraft Sustainment

Sustaining the U.S. Navy’s fleet of aircraft is a multifaceted endeavor that goes beyond the initial acquisition and deployment stages. The U.S. Navy must maintain operational readiness, extend aircraft lifespans, and continuously adapt to technological advancements. Many different factors are involved in aircraft sustainment for the U.S. Navy, including: 

  • Aircraft maintenance and overhaul
  • Modernization and upgrades
  • Structural integrity and safety assessments
  • Supply chain management
  • Personnel training
  • Simulation and testing
  • Predictive maintenance 
  • Collaboration with industry to access cutting-edge technologies 

U.S. Navy aircraft sustainment is a complex orchestration that preserves and enhances the operational capabilities of naval aircraft, allowing the U.S. Navy to continuously evolve its aircraft fleet.

Aircraft Sustainment Services at Greenwood

Greenwood Aerospace is a leader in procuring original and post-purchase parts, coupled with comprehensive aircraft ground support, kitting and logistics solutions, and proficient supply chain management. Our combination of skills and 40+ years of industry experience enables us to deliver quality aircraft sustainment through parts procurement and logistical support, ensuring your flight program remains operational and on time.

To discuss aircraft sustainment or other services from Greenwood Aerospace, contact us here.

Greenwood Aerospace’s Military Aircraft Services

As well as aircraft sustainment, our team offers a diverse range of military aircraft services, including: 

Reach out to Greenwood Aerospace today for a quote or to discuss your specific service needs.

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