U.S. Navy TACAIR Numbers Show Improvement In Shortfall

(AVIATION WEEK 30 APR 13) … Michael Fabey

While the U.S. Navy is still predicting a shortfall in its tactical air (TACAIR) force, the gap is much less pronounced than it had been previously. The concern, though, is that sequestration could create another significant shortage.

Previous TACAIR shortfall projections had reached as high as 250 aircraft. “The TACAIR shortfall has gotten significantly better,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus testified April 25 before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It’s down to less than 20 aircraft in about 2023 now. In terms of numbers of TACAIR risk, the risk is relatively low as we’re going forward.”

Mabus says, “This is a result of a lot of things.” For example, the Navy is doing “high-flight-hour” inspections of F-18 Hornets and Super Hornets. These inspections are turning out “better than we had anticipated,” Mabus says. “The repairs will be less and we are currently planning to do the service life extension on 150 aircraft.”

Navy budget documents emphasize the backlog of engines and airframes needing repairs and work because of funding issues.

“We’re transitioning quicker to the Super Hornets from the legacy Hornets which are giving us more capability and more flight hours,” Mabus says.

He also notes, “We’re buying the extra E A-18Gs, or requesting that we buy 21 additional Gs because … the Marines are retiring their E A-6s and this would be required to make sure that we maintain that important capability of electronic attack in an expeditionary way so that we can have enough expeditionary squadrons to support electronic attack, not just for the Navy and Marine Corps, but across the joint force.”

The Growler buy, he says, should keep the F-18 line going through 2016.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the chief of naval operations, testified, “When we did the higher numbers as to what the shortfall might be a big factor was the use. How many cycles are the aircraft being used? That number has come down as we’ve operated in the Gulf. The use of the Super Hornet and the legacy Hornets, if you will, was much higher than it is now. As we do the measurements [now], we’re finding, hey, they’re not as fatigued as we originally thought. The assumptions have changed in the analysis.”

Gen. James Amos, U.S. Marine Corps commandant, says, “The shortfall has been mitigated by a large degree as a result of actually managing each bureau number of aircraft. The Naval Aviation Enterprise is actually managing each one of those aircraft by bureau number to mitigate the long term effects of a lot of flying hours. We’re actually managing the fleet and that’s what’s helping us out.”

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