UPDATED: JSF Cut About 100 Planes, One Year Added to Schedule Word on Capitol Hill is that the Quadrennial Defense Review should result in the demise of two Navy carrier groups and the Marines' Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle. On top of that, the Joint Strike Fighter program is likely to lose a so-far uncertain number of planes and the Air Force looks to lose two air wings.
Folks on the Hill are watching the carrier cuts particularly closely. They were willing to accept the temporary loss of one carrier but two groups may just be too much for lawmakers to swallow though it would conveniently answer the hot debate about whether the Navy faces a fighter gap.
"Even if they cut two carrier strike groups (which will be an uphill battle for DOD), they still face a significant USN fighter gap," said a congressional aide following this. "The Navy seems to recognize this, but everything we've heard thus far from OSD seems to indicate that they'd rather try funny math then address a clear gap."
The 2010 defense authorization report noted carefully that Congress was willing to accept the "temporary reduction in minimum number of operational aircraft carriers" from 11 to 10 until CVN 78 is commissioned in 2015. The report also noted that "the Navy has made a long-term commitment to field 11 aircraft carriers outfitted with 10 carrier air wings composed of 44 strike-fighters in each wing." Congress, the report's authors said, is "very concerned" about "current and forecasted shortfalls in the strike-fighter inventory." Given the totemic nature of carriers for the Navy and the numbers of jobs and the money at stake for members of Congress, a battle royal over plans to permanently reduce the fleet by two carrier groups seems assured.
On the Joint Strike Fighter, one congressional aide said a cut to the F-35's overall numbers would not be surprising given the program's rising costs and the tightened budget situation the country faces for 2011. And now we have some detail about just how big those cuts may be, Our colleagues at Inside Defense are reporting that a draft Pentagon directive would result in extending, "development by at least a year, reduce production by approximately 100 aircraft and require the addition of billions of dollars to the effort through 2015."
The Marines are unlikely to sit still for the EFV kill. Reports are that Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway will come out swinging to preserve the ability to kick down the door and ensure forcible entry from the sea. Jones made his basic position on the problem-plagued EFV during a May speech at CSIS.
The larger strategy debate would seem to embrace such cuts, or at least make them easier to propose. Gen. Hoss Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in July that the venerable two major theater war strategy was dead.
“The military requirement right now is associated with the strategy that we are laying out in the QDR, and it is a departure from the two major theater war construct that we have adhered to in the past and in which this aircraft [the F-22] grew up. I mean it grew up in that construct of two major theater wars, and both of them being of a peer competitor quality,” Cartwright said.
“The strategy that we are moving towards is one that is acknowledging of the fact that we are not in that type of conflict, that the more likely conflicts are going to be the ones that we—similar to the ones that we are in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that we do need to have a capability against a major peer competitor and that we believe that the sizing construct, one, demands that we have fifth generation fighters across all three services rather than just one and that the number of those fighters probably does not need to be sufficient to take on two simultaneous peer competitors, that we don’t see that as the likely. We see that as the extreme,” Cartwright told senators then.