I honestly can't get worked up about a slow erosion of our carrier numbers, but I don't like losing Navy air wings:
By the end of 2016 the U.S. Navy will disband one of its ten carrier air groups. This will mean the remaining nine carrier air groups will spend more time at sea and away from their home bases. The military term for this is “less dwell time” (with family and largely ashore). This is bad for morale but if the carriers spend less time at sea they will be less prepared for war.
A carrier air wing has about 2,500 personnel and 60-65 aircraft and helicopters. The elimination of a carrier air group is the result of the 2011 decision to disband one of its ten Carrier Strike Groups (SCGs), leaving only nine of them for the eleven aircraft carriers in service.
There are several pieces here when considering how we forward deploy carriers.
One, the number of aircraft carriers: 11.
Two, the number of carrier strike group (CSG) units, which are comprised of a carrier, a carrier air wing, and supporting warships and submarines plus support ships: 9.
Three, the number of carrier air wings: 9.
Because a certain percentage of aircraft carriers are out of the rotation because they are undergoing lengthy maintenance, we have fewer carrier air wings than carriers.
And since we organize fewer CSGs--that are based on a carrier--than we have actual aircraft carriers, we don't see the need to have an "excess" carrier air wing.
One problem with having fewer CSGs in the deployment rotation is that if we want to keep a carrier forward deployed in both CENTCOM and the western Pacific, we need to keep the CSGs at sea for a longer period of time. It's simple math. With more CSGs in the rotation, the CSGs could maintain two forward CSGs with less time on station.
What I don't get is why we forget that a CSG is the means to project an air wing forward and not the end.
In both the Persian Gulf and western Pacific, we have plenty of access to land-based airfields. So it is technically not necessary to have a CSG to project Navy air power into those regions.
Why not maintain more carrier air wings than carriers so the air wing rotation cycle keeps more of them ready to deploy?
If we did that, we could try deploying a carrier air wing without a carrier into the rotation to maintain Navy air power forward deployed without straining the morale of CSG crews by keeping them on station too long.
We want Navy air power forward. Why do we insist it must only be on a floating airfield when we have plenty of land airfields available?