“With the ‘Swifty’ [Strike Fighter Weapons and Tactics, or SWFT] program early
on in the mid-’90s, there was reluctance of commanding officers to afford
JOs [junior officers] to drive tactics as much as they do today. In my opinion,
the single greatest source of success for naval aviation is the Swifty program. … I can take any aviator from any air wing, integrate them into CVW- 2,
and they could start flying combat operations tomorrow with us.”
What wish list of emerging technologies do you
have for a CVW?
SILKEY: It has always bothered me growing up in the
Navy that we look at what is currently available and
say, “Boy, I’d really like that.” In my opinion, the Air
Force has always been very forward-leaning in getting
the weapon-to-target pairing right and moving out
quickly with it. Their sensor capabilities have always
been somewhat ahead of the Navy. It’s harder to put on
ordnance and hang pods on carrier-based aircraft than
on land-based aircraft.
If I were King for the Day, I would like: a longer
range and a launch-and-lead capability with an air-to-air missile and an air-to-surface missile. I would like an
area denial weapon that we could put in the waterspace that allows us to attack the swarm of FACs [fast
attack craft] that may be coming at the carrier; more
self-defense capability; increased capability for full-motion video, not only from the aircraft to the battle
watch captain for the admiral, but reciprocity on that.
I would like to be able to see exactly what strike coordination and reconnaissance is seeing — we can slew
via Link 16, but to see exactly what he’s seeing — that
may be an impossible bridge and very difficult from a
What is your impression of the junior aviators
coming to the wing’s squadrons from the training units?
SILKEY: The JOs of today are absolutely remarkable,
not only professionally, but [in] personal conduct. For
an eight-month deployment, for an air wing to go and
have zero liberty- or alcohol-related incidents, an
entire strike group to go with zero incidents is remarkable. And we’re not saying zero reportable, we’re saying
From an operational level, we had two air space
violations, but that’s it. For an eight-month deployment, we had three separate periods where we were on
the line for 45 days supporting operations in
Afghanistan. That day starts out at 0630 and it didn’t
end until about 1100 at night. If you flew that day, you
came into a hot wash-up at 1030. And, so, that op
tempo is ridiculously hard to sustain and these kids
were able to do that. They deployed with 100 percent
compliance with the tactical directives outlined by
Gen. [John R.] Allen [commander, International
Security Assistance Force-Afghanistan], whose goal is
zero civilian casualties, which changed recently to
minimizing civilian casualties. [That] is a significant
responsibility for these aircrews to have to deal with
and they executed flawlessly.
Hats off to the [the training command] and the fleet
readiness squadrons. They are producing a caliber of
aviator that I could not compete with when I joined
How would you describe the importance of the
carrier air wing in the national defense strategy?
SILKEY: It’s a big cliché, isn’t it, where anytime there’s
a significant conflict, national command authority will
ask, “Where are the carriers?” The current demand signal for carrier presence in the Fifth Fleet AOR it is significant.
Look at the last 10 years of carrier [operations] and
how they’ve supported the humanitarian assistance
disaster relief mission in Japan, in Indonesia and even
at home during Hurricane Katrina. We bring tremendous capability in the medical role, certainly in command and control, and then in logistics with our heliborne force.
In counterpiracy, there is nothing more capable. The
carrier air wing, specifically, its heliborne forces in supporting [special operations forces] and other assets, is
certainly a significant force multiplier. In the struggle
against violent extremism and [interdicting] the
weapons required to do that, we have a role in that.
The carrier air wing is here to stay for quite some
time. The secretary of defense and everybody else
agrees that the force structure is probably exactly
where it needs to be. It’s just a tremendous capability
that is here for the long haul. ■