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U.S. Navy Aircraft 101

SINCE THE SECOND WORLD WAR, aircraft have played a vital role in the mission of the United States Navy. Today, with 4,012 total aircraft, the Navy has a larger air force than the United States Air Force.1 Their diverse mission sets include combat, airborne early warning command and control, electronic warfare, maritime patrol, transportation and surveillance.

Unmanned Air Vehicles

The unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) of the United States Navy serve a range of missions providing a greater level of efficiency, range and risk mitigation than typical manned aircraft.


The role of the combat aircraft in the U.S. Navy is to fight the enemy in air-to-air combat and provide close air support. Combat aircraft in the Navy are equipped with special landing gear which allows them to land and take off from aircraft carriers. With their speed, stealth, and weapon capability the combat aircraft lead the Navy’s forward deployed forces.

Airborne Early Warning Command and Control

These aircraft are the Navy’s “eyes in the sky.” They use advanced radar and communications systems to command the battle space, directing aircraft to their targets and alerting friendly forces of enemies nearby. They also act as air traffic control centers for aircraft carriers and as an extension of the carrier’s Command Information Centers (CICs).

Electronic Warfare

Electronic warfare aircraft are equipped with the technology employ electronic warfare tactics such as jamming and deception to reduce the effectiveness of the enemy’s radar or communication systems.

Maritime Patrol

These aircraft are designed for long-term over ocean operations where they use special radars, sonobuoys, cameras and other equipment to conduct reconnaissance, hunt down submarines and surface vessels or complete search and rescue operations.


Transport aircraft are used to move people, equipment, supplies or weapons through a variety of environments. Some also retain secondary roles as support aircraft for missile ranges.


Rotorcraft in the Navy serve a variety of purposes including transportation, anti-submarine warfare, minesweeping and search and rescue. Their ability to take off and land vertically makes them compatible for deployment with multiple types of surface ships.

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