Navy Wants F-35C, Maybe More Super Hornets

Although the biggest problem facing U.S. Navy aviation is the looming shortage of strike fighters, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Gary Roughead says he is not tempted to sacrifice the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter – specialized for carrier operations – which congressional researchers say is running into projected cost increases and schedule delays.

“The issue I deal with… is the shortfall I’m going to face in 2016,” Roughead said Tuesday morning in Washington. “It begins to set in then as some of the earlier Hornets age out. We predict for the Navy [that it] will bottom at about 69 aircraft. That’s something we’re going to have to look at in the fiscal 2010 budget.”

But the CNO says he won’t sacrifice the carrier-version of the JSF even if it is delayed.

“How do we mitigate that [strike fighter shortage]? I don’t see a skip over F-35C,” Roughead says. The option, proposed by Boeing, of buying more, additionally upgraded F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to fill the gap “is something we’ll just have to take a look at. Those are things that we’re going to have to focus on [in the next budget].”

But aerospace industry officials contend the Navy’s current figures for the strike fighter shortfall are only about one-third of the actual numbers that will be released in a new report due out in June. They contend the real shortage will be about 200 aircraft (Aerospace DAILY, March 19).

“There are a couple of numbers,” Roughead agrees. “When I say 69, that’s the Navy shortfall. When we bring the Marines in, that goes up. If 200 or so has been predicted, I’ve not seen that number. Right now, the information I have is 69.”

Roughead is adamant about not providing his new EA-18G Growlers to add airborne electronic attack capabilities to the Expeditionary Air Forces once his elderly EA-6B are withdrawn from that U.S. Air Force mission in 2012.

“We’ve sized the Growler purchase to provide for our carrier air wings. The Air Force is to pick up the standoff jammer. I think that is the plan that has to be pursued.”

But Air Force officials, failing twice to produce a B-52 Stand Off Jammer program, acknowledge they will not meet the deadline.

“The Navy is going to be out of the EA-6B business,” says Navy Capt. Steve Kochman, manager of the EA-6B program. “There are ways the [Air Force need] can be filled, [but] I’m not endorsing any of them.” So, for now the program of record has the Navy stepping out of the Air Force mission with no replacement in sight. “Something will have to be worked out,” he says.

“If you begin to pull Growlers off carriers, that means you are leaving an electronic attack capability gap for our air wings. Our program has us buying to the carrier requirement and I look to the Air Force to build the standoff jamming capability.

“I tend to be an effects guy, so however you can suppress and negate an adversary’s capability [including the use of unmanned aircraft], I’m open [to that],” he says. “But what I’m providing for is the electronic attack associated with my carrier airplanes.”

In fact, Navy plans already include more unmanned aircraft.

“I believe as we look to monitor the maritime environment, unmanned aircraft are well suited for broad area surveillance working in conjunction with our new P-8A aircraft,” Roughead says. “That’s a combination I find very attractive.”

It also may help meet another Navy shortage. “Another issue we’re facing in the current operational environment is the fact that we’ve had to ground a significant number of P-3s because of some cracking.”

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