UPDATED: With Latest CRS Analysis Doubling the Navy's Projected Shortfall
The Pentagon's top weapons analysts are reportedly arguing that the Navy does not face a fighter gap, something Boeing and various lawmakers have argued is a pressing problem the country must fix.
A congressional source tells us that "apparently PA&E is convinced that there isn’t actually a strike fighter shortfall, while the Navy is convinced they’ll be 240-plus planes short of Naval strike fighters… We’re trying to figure out how PA&E can possibly come to this conclusion, but we’re not getting many answers."
Several senior OSD sources told me that PA&E is making this argument, based on a range of capabilities offered by the Air Force.
"PA&E’s contention is that we have excess Air Force strike fighter capacity, so the Navy shortfall doesn’t affect us strategically… But I don’t think the Air Force can land their fighters on a carrier," our congressional source said wryly.
The fighter numbers were summarized recently in a study by the Congressional Research Service’s naval analyst, Ron O’Rourke. “The Navy projects that a current strike-fighter shortfall of about 15 aircraft will grow to about 30 aircraft in FY2009, to more than 50 aircraft in FY2016, and to more than 90 aircraft in FY2017-FY2020, before declining to more than 50 aircraft in FY2021 and to roughly zero aircraft by FY2025. At its peak in FY2017, the Navy states, the Dept. of Navy projected strike-fighter shortfall will be 125 aircraft, of which 69 will be Navy strike-fighters,” O’Rourke wrote.
[Since writing the above, I received the newest CRS analysis. It doubles the estimated shortfall. This is what the report, by Christopher Bolkcom, says: "The Navy projects that if no additional action is taken, a DON strike-fighter shortfall of about 15 aircraft in FY2009, to 50 aircraft in FY2010, and to a peak of 243 aircraft in FY2018. The projected strike-fighter shortfall is hoped to decrease after FY2018, but the DON will still have a gap of over 50 strike fighters in 2025. At its peak in FY2018, the projected DON strike-fighter shortfall will be 129 Navy strike-fighters and 114 Marine Corps strike-fighters.
"This projected strike-fighter shortfall is twice as big as the Navy’s earlier projected shortfall of 125 aircraft. 9 (See Figure 1, below) The earlier estimate was the Navy’s, “most optimistic” projection because it assumed, among other things, that the service lives of Hornets could be extended from the current planning figure of 8,000 flight hours to 10,000 flight hours." You can read it here.]
We're trying to get more information from Boeing here at the Navy League conference.
Boeing has been making a valiant effort to convince the Pentagon and the public that the Navy’s fighter gap should be closed using F-18 E/Fs. These planes are cheaper than F-35s, are already available in production models and they meet the service’s current operational requirements, the company has argued.