Search the Site with 
to end of page

The Carrier Air Wing (CVW)

A Carrier Air Wing consists of squadrons and detachments. The squadrons consist of up to 30 aircraft (today this number is much lower) while detachments have just 2 to 6 aircraft. A today’s Air Wing is more powerful than some national Air Forces.
In 1938 the first Carrier Air Wing was formed and designated as Air Group. That was also the first time that the embarked aircraft had its own commanding officer. He was called Commander Air Group. Today the Air Group is named Air Wing but the commander is still called Commander Air Group (CAG).
Before 1938, there was nothing like an Air Group, there were just embarked squadrons.
From 1938 to 1942 the Air Groups were not numbered but carried the names of their respective carriers, for example "LEXINGTON Air Group".
The numbering of the Air Groups started in 1942 when CAG-9 was embarked aboard the USS ESSEX (CV 9). The Air Groups got the numbers of their carriers but still kept the ship’s name.

In 1944, the designations of the Air Groups changed a bit to mark the membership of an Air Group to a respective kind of carrier. Analogously to the carrier categories CVB, CV, CVL and CVE, the Air Groups were named CVBG, CVG, CVLG and CVEG.
Till the end of World War II there were also "Night Air Groups". These Air Groups or squadrons could easily be identified by the "(N)" behind the Air Group’s or squadron’s term, for example VF(N).
All these different Air Group designations were kept until September 1948, when all Air Groups were renamed Carrier Air Groups and got the desigantion CVG. At the same time, the CVG’s started rotating among the aircraft carriers marking the end of the fixed aircraft carrier/CVG relation.

In 1960/61, the Navy again created a second type of Air Group: the CVSG. These Air Groups were embarked aboard the CVS and had numbers between 50 and 60. Before 1960 the CVS used one or more VS and HS squadrons.
With the decommissioning of the last CVS the CVSGs were also retired.

All CVSGs and their respective tail-codes:


In the 1970s the Navy designated all Carrier Air Groups as Carrier Air Wing (CVW). This name is the current standard designation.

At the moment the Navy possesses 10 CVWs and 1 CVWR. The chart below shows the CVW numbers and the respective tail-codes. CVWs with an A as first letter are east-coast based and those with an N as first letter are west-coast based (including CVW-5 in Japan). The red ones are decommissioned.

N   CVW-2CVW-5CVW-9CVW-11 CVW-14CVW-15CVW-19CVW-21

Reserve Air Wings: CVWR-4 "AD"; CVWR-12 "NJ"; CVWR-20 "AF" and CVWR-30 "ND"

The Air Wing compositions from 1943 to 1998

The charts below do not reflect the exact Air Wing composition they just give an approximate view of the most common compositions.

In addition to the CVW a Fleet Tactical Support Squadron (VRC) Detachment consisting of 2 planes is embarked aboard the carrier. These detachments are not listed below.
In the "additionally" – chart lists just the most often used squadrons. These are squadrons embarked in addition to the core of the Air Wing.

The Air Group Composition aboard the ESSEX-class carriers (1943)

1 Fighter Squadron (VF)36 F4F or F6F 
1 Bomber Squadron (VB)36 SBD 
1 Torpedo Squadron (VT)18 TBM or TBF 
 Total: 90 aircraft 

The Air Group Composition aboard the ESSEX-class carriers (1945)

2 Fighter Squadrons (VF)73 F6F 
1 Bomber Squadron (VB)15 SB2C 
1 Torpedo Squadron (VT)15 TBM 
 Total: 103 aircraft 

The Air Group Composition in 1960

2 Fighter Squadrons (VF)24-28 F-8 or F-3 
3 Attack Squadrons (VA)36 A-4 
1 Heavy Attack Squadron (VAH)10-12 A-3 
 Total: ~70 aircraft 
1 Carrier Early Warning Squadron (VAW)AD-5Often but not always embarked.
1 Light Photographic Squadron (VFP)RF-8GDetachment

The Air Wing Composition in 1970

2 Fighter Squadrons (VF)24 F-4 or F-8F-8 mainly used aboard the ESSEX class carriers.
2 Attack Squadrons (VA)24 A-7 or A-4 
1 All-weather Attack Squadron (VA)A-6A/B 
1 Reconnaissance Attack Squadron (RVAH)4 RA-5CDetachment
1 Carrier Early Warning Squadron (VAW)4-6 E-2ADetachment
1 Tactical Electronic Squadron (VAQ)EKA-3BDetachment
1 Helicopter Combat Support Squadron (HC)SH-3A or UH-2CDetachment
 Total: ~90 aircraft 
1 Light Photographic Squadron (VFP)RF-8GDetachment
1 Heavy Attack Squadron (VAH)KA-3Detachment

The Air Wing Composition in 1981

2 Fighter Squadrons (VF)24 F-4 or F-14 
2 Attack Squadrons (VA)24 A-7  
1 All-weather Attack Squadron (VA)10-12 A-6E and 4 KA-6DAlso responsible for tanker operations (KA-6D).
1 Carrier Early Warning Squadron (VAW)4-6 E-2CDetachment
1 Tactical Electronic Squadron (VAQ)4-6 EA-6BDetachment
1 Air Anti-Submarine Squadron (VS)10 S-3A 
1 Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS)6 SH-3G/HDetachment
 Total: 86-92 aircraft 
1 Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron (VQ)EA-3Detachment
1 Light Photographic Squadron (VFP)3 RF-8GDetachment

The Air Wing Composition in 1998

1 Fighter Squadron (VF)12 F-14A/B/DThe F-14 aircraft will be relieved by F/A-18F planes and later by the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
Maybe the Fighter Squadron will be reduced to 10 aircraft until the F-14’s decommissioning.
Just 2 of the 10 CVWs still have 2 Fighter Squadrons.
3 Strike Fighter Squadrons (VFA)36 F/A-18C4 of the 10 CVWs possess an VMFA squadron instead of a VFA squadron. The F/A-18B and D are currently not used aboard the carriers.
1 Carrier Early Warning Squadron (VAW)4 E-2CSometimes the VAW-Detachment consists of just 3 E-2C aircraft instead of 4.
1 Tactical Electronic Squadron (VAQ)4 EA-6BSometimes the VAQ-Detachment consists of just 3 EA-6B aircraft instead of 4.
1 Air Anti-Submarine Squadron (VS)8 S-3BIn addition to their anti-submarine task the S-3B aircraft are also used for refueling operations and reconnaissance operations combined with the capability to attack surface vessels with Harpoon missiles.
1 Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS)4 SH-60F and 2 HH-60HThe SH-60F and HH-60H will be relieved by the SH-60R.
 Total: 70 aircraft 
1 Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron (VQ)2 ES-3AAfter just some years of service the 16 ES-3A aircraft have been decommissioned. Their job will be done by land-based P-3C aircraft.
The VQ-Squadrons were only embarked as detachments.

Back to last Page.