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HASC Presses Gates on Fighter Gap

The top leaders of the House Armed Services Committee have criticized Defense Secretary Robert Gates for the Pentagon's fabulously shrinking estimate of the carrier fighter gap, saying that it is based on "optimistic assumptions."

Reps. Ike Skelton, HASC chairman, Buck McKeon, top HASC Republican, and the chairman and ranking member of the HASC seapower and expeditionary forces subcommittee, signed the letter. They say they were briefed by the Navy, the Marines and an OSD official about the assumptions underlying the Pentagon's estimate. Gates amended the size of the fighter gap in recent testimony before the HASC, saying it had shrunk to 100 planes by 2018, down from the Navy's estimate of 243 planes.

"Of great concern is the fact that the shortfall number you mentioned is contingent on actions that are not included in either the 2011 budget request or the future years defense program," the lawmakers tell Gates. One key shortfall is the budgetary absence of an estimated $3.5 billion for the Service Life Extension Program of 150 Hornets. On top of that, the HASC members say they were told that the "reduction in authorized aircraft for the expeditionary squadrons cannot be done until demand in Iraq and Afghanistan decreases. Plus, the Pentagon's estimate of the fighter gap is dependent on "on-time delivery of all Navy and Marine Corps variants of the JSF between now and 2015."

Boil it all down and the House lawmakers just don't believe the Pentagon's estimates. "When combined, these assumptions and unfunded management levers mean that the true shortfall facing the Department of the Navy is likely to be significant greater than 100 aircraft," they write.

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