I wouldn't think so due to the impracticality of VOR on a moving platform, but aircraft still need to navigate to the aircraft carrier. Would the radial shift around as the boat rocked around? The enemy could use the VOR to literally home in on the carrier as well.

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    $\begingroup$ "Apollo to Galactica. Is your autoland offline?" The reimagined series (2004) $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 21:31
  • $\begingroup$ The USN is not the only navy with aircraft carriers. $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2021 at 0:06

1 Answer 1


Aircraft carriers use a TACAN, which stands for Tactical Aid to Navigation. (The Navy is really good at making acronyms that don't follow normal conventions for abbreviation)

Functionally the TACAN is like a VOR with DME, providing bearing to and from the ship, as well as range. The system is not susceptible to rocking motion, and least not perceptibly. (and if you are already familiar with VORs, a VORTAC is a landbased co-located VOR and TACAN station.)

And true, an enemy could pick up the signal. For this reason carrier airwings need to prove themselves proficient in EMCON (Emission Controlled) launch and recovery operations before being certified ready for deployment. During an EMCON recovery crews are told where to expect the ship, what the expected recovery course will be, and will be given a marshalling lat/long.

At the appointed time, and with no radio communication, formation flights will peel off the bottom of the holding stack, drop to break altitude, head towards where the ship should be, and sequence themselves in with traffic in the pattern. It is a pretty amazing thing when it works.

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    $\begingroup$ So an EMCON landing is like landing at an uncontrolled field except that there is zero radio communication. And the field is moving. And the weather may be horrible. And many if not most of the aircraft are low on fuel. And the pilots are all mentally exhausted. Good thing they're all well trained and know what to expect. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ The Navy tends to avoid acronyms. They prefer abbreviations. You can find them in the DICNAVAB - Dictionary of Naval Abbreviations. $\endgroup$
    – Gerry
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 12:56
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    $\begingroup$ TACAN deals with the ship motion by having the antenna mounted in a gimbal so that it remains mostly level. $\endgroup$
    – Gerry
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 13:01
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    $\begingroup$ It is a pretty amazing thing when it works. - It probably is a pretty amazing thing when it doesn't work. $\endgroup$
    – Aleks G
    Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 16:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Aleks G, generally no, when EMCON is broken is it usually just a needed radio call breaking the silence, and a collective feeling of disappointment that it wasn't as clean as it might have been. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 16:25

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