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Lawmakers Press Navy on F-18s

Strong bipartisan concern about the F-18 fighter gap from the House Armed Services Committee was met with repeated Navy statements that all will be resolved during the Quadrennial Defense Review.

“I am very concerned with the current Navy and Marine Corps Strike Fighter Shortfall.  When I do the math, simple arithmetic tells me that the Navy and Marine Corps will be some 300 strike fighters short in the middle of the next decade,” Rep. Ike Skelton said in his prepared statement Wednesday and he reiterated that concern today.

The GOP echoed Skelton’s worries. “The Department of the Navy currently has a Fiscal Year 2009 strike-fighter inventory shortfall of 110 aircraft, against a resourced requirement of 390 aircraft and predicts a peak strike-fighter shortfall of 312 aircraft in fiscal year 2018. That’s eight carrier air wings worth of aircraft and it rests on the dubious assumption that the Joint Strike Fighter delivers on time. What’s more, the 390 aircraft the Navy ‘resources’ against, is less than what is required by the National Military Strategy.  Nevertheless, this budget cuts in half the procurement of the only “hot” production line we have for carrier-capable fighters,” Rep. John McHugh said.

Talking to CNO Adm. Gary Roughead, Rep. Todd Akin, said: “it seems to me you have two choices. One, you have less aircraft carriers or two, you put a lot fewer airplanes on them.”

Roughead basically reiterated the Pentagon budget proposal to buy nine F-18 E/Fs and 22 F- 18Gs, the electronic warfare version of the plane. Any other decision will have to wait for the QDR, Roughead said, when the Pentagon will analyze the entire Tac Air issue.

So, you’ve got the Pentagon saying it just doesn’t need as many planes as it used to say it needs to man a carrier. You’ve got lawmakers who wonder how the Navy can say it needs fewer planes when it still has requirements for those planes.

But there is another element at play here. The Programs, Analysis and Evaluation shop has performed an analysis that says the Navy does not need as many carrier tactical aircraft because some of those roles can be filled by other air assets.

A congressional source said today that House staff have asked the Pentagon for the analysis. Initially, they were told the data would be forthcoming once the budget came out. Now, not so much.

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