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Akin Pushes Gates on Fighter Gap

A key supporter of the F/A-18 E/F isn't sitting still for Defense Secretary Robert Gates' latest explanation of the ever-shrinking fighter gap. Rep. Todd Akin wrote Gates an early Valentine's Day card pressing him to buy more planes and to use multi-year authority to buy them.

The much-debated carrier fighter gap stretches about 100 planes wide in 2018, Gates told the House Armed Services Committee on Feb. 3. That is less than half of the Navy’s estimate, given to Congress last year.

The Navy has pretty much stuck with a figure of 243 aircraft or, as some lawmakers have it, 48 planes a year. OSD’s old PAE shop performed an analysis last year that concluded there was in fact no fighter gap, if you took into account capabilities beyond those planes based only on US carriers, but that study was never publicly released. Gates also told the committee that the Pentagon looked at cost savings in terms of a multi-year buy and found them lacking.

Akin rejected those arguments in his letter to Gates. He notes that the Future Years Defense Plan posits a 39 percent increase -- from 89 to 124 -- in the F/A-18 E/F/G buy over an earlier estimate compiled by Ash Carter, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. This greater quantity, Akin argues, would far exceed the 6.5 percent savings estimated by DoD for the smaller buy. "Adding 35 aircraft and an additional year of procurement could easily push the savings close to $500 million," Akin writes. As he wryly notes, "a half billion dollars here and there quickly adds up to real money." On top of that, he tells Gates that he has not heard "a compelling reason to walk away from such savings."

It seems pretty obvious that Akin will use his perch as top Republican on the House Armed Services seapower and expeditionary forces subcommittee to push for language either compelling the Pentagon to use multi-year authority or at least keep pushing Gates to buy more F/A 18 E/Fs.

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