Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Scales Back JSF, Super Hornet Buys: Consolidation of Navy-Marine Tactical Aviation Eliminates 497 Aircraft

Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Scales Back JSF, Super Hornet Buys: Consolidation of Navy-Marine Tactical Aviation Eliminates 497 Aircraft

Article excerpt

Only a year ago, a flag officer described the Navy's aircraft procurement program as "our biggest challenge."

At the time, the officer showed a spending plan that funded 85 aircraft in 2004, with quantities gradually increasing through 2007, when the total aircraft buy soared to 193.

"Our goal is 180 to 210 aircraft per year," said the official.

When the same official recently presented the Navy's budget for the coming fiscal year, the aviation picture had changed dramatically. This time, there was no mention of the 180-to-210 aircraft goal. Rather, the forecast showed that tactical-aviation procurement accounts would be shrinking drastically, largely due to the consolidation of Navy and Marine Corps strike fighter units, slated to begin this year.

The decision to merge the two services' aviation units, dubbed "tac-air integration," was sealed last fall, when then-Commandant Gen. James L. Jones and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vernon Clark signed a "memorandum of agreement." Part of the deal is to transfer the base of operations for six Marine squadrons of F/A-18 strike fighters, from land to Navy aircraft carriers. The six would be added to the four Marines squadrons that already operate from carriers. Each of the 10 squadrons will be assigned to a Navy air wing. Conversely, three Navy fighter squadrons will be relocated to land-based units.

The tac-air consolidation agreement generally stipulates that, in the future, there will be a "seamless integration" of Navy and Marine squadrons, which will "train, deploy and fight side by side," said a Navy spokesman.

The Navy estimated that the integration will save $19 billion in future aircraft procurements.

The cutbacks in future buys most heavily affect the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, which will lose 409 aircraft. The F/A-18EIF Super Hornet program will have 88 fewer airplanes.

The JSF program as first conceived included 480 carrier-based aircraft for the Navy and 480 short-takeoff (STOVL) versions for the Marine Corps. The Super Hornet program is being restructured, with fewer E/Fs and the addition of up to 90 G-models, called the EA-18, for electronic warfare missions. The current five-year spending plan includes 56 EA-18s.

When all is said and done, the United States will have 59 Navy-Marine strike fighter squadrons flying 1,140 aircraft. That compares with 64 squadrons in service today, operating 1,637 aircraft.

The Navy will be decommissioning three active-duty and one reserve F/A-18 squadrons, while the Marines expect to decommission one reserve fighter squadron. The services have not yet settled on a schedule for the disbandment of those units.

Joint Strike Fighter

The sizeable drop in future JSF purchases by the U. …

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