USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77), the tenth, and final Nimitz Class nuclear-powered Aircraft Carrier for the United States Navy (USN), is currently on its third deployment since entering service in 2009. On it’s return from operations with the US Navy 5th and 6th Fleets in the ongoing operation against so-called Islamic State, the ship made a short visit to the United Kingdom. Duncan Monk was aboard the USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) whilst at anchor in the Solent, to bring this report.

Named after the 41st President and former Second World War naval aviator George H.W. Bush, USS George H.W. Bush was formally accepted into United States Navy service on 11th May 2009. The July 2017 visit to the Solent came at the end of what was the ship’s second deployment in support of the operation against so-called Islamic State – the George H.W. Bush having been the first carrier deployed to the Persian Gulf back in June 2014 (the first strikes by American forces came from F/A-18F Super Hornets on board the vessel).

The aircraft carrier is to take part in Exercise Saxon Warrior 17 (SW17) during the next two weeks, during which it will have some 60 personnel from the UK’s armed forces embarked as well as the US Navy crew of some 5,000 personnel. Taking place around the British Isles, those personnel will be tasked with commanding the exercise on behalf of United States Navy Admiral Whitesell, the current Commander Carrier Strike Group 2 (CSG2).

SW17 will be a truly multinational maritime exercise involving CSG2, together with a NATO Task Force, and will be used to combine advanced war fighting techniques such as anti-submarine, anti-air and various land attack capabilities whilst continuing to ensure the interoperability between Allied nations.

Leading the British contingent on board the George H.W. Bush is UK Carrier Strike Group Commander, Commodore Andrew Betton RN, who relishes the “fantastic training opportunity” adding

“It is his task group (Admiral Whitesell) but he is letting me run the show for two weeks in preparation for running our own Queen Elizabeth (RO8) Carrier Strike group in a couple of years’ time”

The George H.W. Bush set sail from its home base in Norfolk, Virginia on January 21, 2017, just three weeks after the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) (Ed note – have a look at AeroResource’s visit to the ‘Mighty Ike’ here – Aircraft Carrier Operations and USS Dwight D Eisenhower – Operation Inherent Resolve) returned from a similar deployment encompassing the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf area of operations. Working in the US Navy 6th and 5th Fleets area of responsibilities respectively, both CVN-69 and CVN-77 conducted airstrikes whilst operating with other NATO allies in those areas against ISIS targets.

Carrier Strike Group Two

For the 2017 deployment in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, the USS George H.W. Bush is operating as part of Carrier Strike Group 2. CSG2 consists of the Flagship USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), Guided Missile Cruisers USS Hue City (CG 66) and USS Philippine Sea (CG 58), the ships of Destroyer Squadron 22 (namely Guided Missile Destroyers USS Truxton (DDG 103) and USS Laboon (DDG 58)), along with the aircraft of Carrier Air Wing 8 (CVW-8). Also assigned to CSG-2 for the duration of the cruise is Danish Frigate HDMS Peter Willemoes.

  • USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) – Nimitz Class Aircraft Carrier
  • USS Laboon (DDG-58) – Arleigh-Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyer
  • USS Truxtun (DDG-103) – Arleigh-Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyer
  • USS Philippine Sea (CG-58) – Ticonderoga Class Guided Missile Cruiser
  • USS Hue City (CG-66) – Ticonderoga Class Guided Missile Cruiser
  • HDMS Peter Willemoes (F-362) – Iver Huitfeldt Class Frigate

Carrier Air Wing Eight

Carrier Air Wing Three (CVW 8), and based out of Naval Air Station Oceana are currently assigned to the USS George H.W. Bush. CVW 8 is comprised of a total complement of nine aircraft squadrons (listed below).

  • Strike Fighter Squadron 31 (VFA-31) – ‘Tomcatters’ –  Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet
  • Strike Fighter Squadron 37 (VFA-37) – ‘Ragin Bulls’ – Boeing F/A-18C Hornet
  • Strike Fighter Squadron 87 (VFA-87) – ‘Golden Warriors’ – Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet
  • Strike Fighter Squadron 213 (VFA-213) – ‘Blacklions’ – Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet
  • Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 12 (VAW-124) – ‘Bear Aces’ – Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye
  • Electronic Attack Squadron 131 (VAQ-131) – ‘Lancers’ – Boeing EA-18G Growler
  • Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 7 (HSC-9) – ‘Tridents’ – Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawk
  • Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 74 (HSM-70) – ‘Spartans’ – Sikorsky MH-60R Seahawk
  • Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 40 (VRC-40, Detachment II) – ‘Rawhides’ – Northrop Grumman C-2A Greyhound

Whilst Detachment II of VRC-40 is assigned to CVW 8, it is just as likely to see the unit’s C-2A Greyhound aircraft off the ship, as their role involves shuttling crew and supplies from ports near to the ship’s current location. For the George H.W. Bush’s deployment in the Mediterranean, the supply location was predominantly Naval Support Activity Souda Bay, in Crete. NSA Souda Bay provides support to US, Allied and Coalition forces whilst deployed in the European Command (EUCOM), Central Command (CENTCOM) and Africa Command (AFRICOM) areas of operations, and has been one of the key facilities in support ongoing allied strikes in Operation INHERENT RESOLVE. Whilst supporting the ship in the United Kingdom, two C-2A Greyhounds have been operating from RAF Mildenhall.

Flying around the clock, aircraft from CVW-8 have been engaging ISIS under Operation Inherent resolve and other combatants whilst protecting allied and coalition forces throughout the Middle East during the current deployment.

On June 18th 2017, whilst supporting Syrian Democratic Forces aligned with the coalition headed by the US, F/A-18E Super Hornet 168912/AJ 302 belonging to VFA-87 engaged and shot down a pro President Assad Syrian Air Force Sukhoi Su-22 “Fitter” after it attacked friendly anti-Assad coalition forces. The Su-22 was engaged first with an AIM-9X Sidewinder, which was decoyed by flares from the Fitter, but followed up with an AIM-120 AMRAAM missile, which hit and downed the Fitter.

This was the first time since 1999 that a US aircraft had shot down another manned aircraft, the last taking place during NATO operations in Serbia when a United States Air Force F-16 downed a MiG-29 Fulcrum. Flown by Lieutenant Commander Michael “MOB” Tremel, the F/A-18E has been marked with a single Su-22 “kill” beneath the canopy.

Since deploying in January, the George H.W. Bush has sailed across many of the world’s Oceans and seas including the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean, Red and North Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf, whilst the ship’s company have enjoyed visits to Souda Bay twice, Haifa in Israel, Bahrain and the UAE before putting down anchor in Stokes Bay, in the Solent.

During the George H.W. Bush’s maiden deployment – setting sail on May 15, 2011 – the ship took part in that year’s Saxon Warrior and anchored in Stokes Bay for a five-day visit on May 27. The George H.W. Bush is far too large and has too deep a draft to come alongside in any of the UK’s ports so has to stay at anchor whilst visiting ‘Blighty’, with the ship’s company utilising ‘liberty boats’ to get ashore and enjoy the delights of the South Coast of England.

Whilst the George H.W. Bush and the embarked Carrier Air Wing wind their way slowly back to their home port – via Ex Saxon Warrior 2017 – Operation Inherent Resolve continues a pace with strikes against ISIS emanating from the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) which is currently deployed in the 5th Fleets area of responsibility, with Carrier Strike Wing 11 embarked.

US Naval operations show no sign of letting up, displaying the mobility, power and flexibility of USN assets around the globe. With three (recently four) of the ten nuclear powered Nimitz class aircraft carriers deployed (Nimitz, Ronald Reagan and the George H.W. Bush) presently, the US military can project its deployed forces anywhere, anytime globally.