Kitty Hawk began recovering aircraft. The Tomcat-Hawkeye combination had performed magnificently, decimating Raid-1 as well as killing six Backfires from Raid-2 as they withdrew. Damage control efforts on Montcalm kept the French frigate afloat for two hours. A long enough period of time for casualties, and the surviving crewmen to be transferred to other ships. She died protecting Foch and her loss, while tragic, was deemed acceptable.
Strike Fleet Atlantic’s commander was under no illusions about what had just taken place. Task Force 21.3 dodged a major bullet. The Backfires would be back, probably soon and in greater numbers. Kitty Hawk’s two squadrons of F-14s were not enough to defend the task force from a multi-regiment long-range bomber attack. Who controlled the air over northern Norway was yet to be decided, meaning support by land-based fighters would not be guaranteed over the next forty-eight hours. With this in mind, the admiral issued new orders. TF 21.3 was to head east for the relative safety of the fjords along the Norwegian coast.
Even before the last Tomcat had trapped, the results of the first clash between Backfire bombers and a NATO carrier force were being evaluated and reviewed on both sides. A number of pre-war strategies, tactics and doctrines were either vindicated or proven to be useless. Miscalculations were made by both sides, and in some cases left unexploited. At first glance the results of the battle appeared to be decisive, however, in many respects the margins of victory and defeat were razor thin.
For the US Navy, it was clear one carrier airwing did not have enough fighters to defend a carrier group on its own. Two squadrons of Tomcats was a formidable defense, and did the job well on this particular day. The outer air battle had been won. However, under more unfavorable circumstances, the outcome would’ve been different. Especially if multiple Backfire regiments had been unleashed against Task Force 21.3. Foch’s fighters were of limited value, and as was discovered, there had almost not been enough Tomcats to go around.
For surface ships, the New Threat Upgrade had performed beyond expectations, although it was accepted that eighteen Kitchens was not a major attack. Aegis remained the preferred air defense system, but right now there was only one Aegis-equipped cruiser in the Norwegian Sea.
Soviet Naval Aviation had to reevaluate itself after D+9. Limited, piecemeal attacks against NATO carrier groups were nothing more than a waste of airframes and crews. Of the forty or so Backfires that approached the Kitty Hawk-Foch group, only half managed to get their missiles off. Of these, only one found its way to an enemy. Every aspect of the attack, from satellite support, to detection, and attack plans needed to be revised before the next strike. Most crucial was the number of bombers. Three regiments of bombers at the very least would be needed to assure at least a respectable chance of success. The multi-layered defenses of an enemy task force were formidable indeed. The interlocking web was made up of interceptors, airborne radars, long-range SAMs, jamming, and point defense weapons. Four regiments worth of bombers, roughly 120 aircraft carrying preferably two ASMs each, plus standoff ECM Badgers accompanying, and Bears out ahead was a more palatable recipe for success. And perhaps most important of all, at least two regiments of escorting fighters would also be needed, defense of the Kola be damned.