The United States Navy is absolutely confident in the ability of its aircraft carriers and carrier air wings to fly and fight within zones defended by so-called anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) weapons. Both Russia and China—and to a lesser extent Iran—have been developing layered anti-ship and anti-aircraft defenses that would make it more difficult for the U.S. Navy to operate closer to their shores.
The Navy has improved the performance of the air wing to the development of new technologies such as improved targeting pods, new long-range stand-off weapons and the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) battle network. Essentially, the NIFC-CA construct—the first iterations of which are already being fielded—allows any component of the strike group to act as a sensor or shooter for another component of the unit. Thus a Boeing EA-18G Growler airborne electronic attack aircraft could pass on targeting data concerning a threat to a Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet—which could then launch a weapon to destroy the target.
Richardson was clear that China’s purported capabilities were only speculations.
“What you see often is a display of, ‘Here’s this launcher. Here’s a circle with a radius of 700 miles, and it’s solid-color black inside’ … And that’s just not the reality of the situation,” he said.
“You’ve got this highly maneuverable force that has a suite of capabilities that the force can bring to bear to inject uncertainty,” Richardson continued.