In Oceana visit, Adm. Greenert hopeful for Super Hornet upgrades

By Dianna Cahn
The Virginian-Pilot


The last time the Chief of Naval Operations visited Oceana Naval Air Station, the base was eerily quiet, with grass grown so high because of sequestration budget cuts that the facility “looked like a hayfield.”

On Tuesday, Adm. Jonathan Greenert arrived under a cacophony of F/A-18 Super Hornets training in the skies.

“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” he told close to 1,000 sailors gathered in the air base auditorium.

Those Super Hornets – and the legacy Hornets that preceded them – will have to carry the air wing for much of the next decade, until the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is in full use, Greenert told the sailors during an hourlong meeting.

Extending the service life of the current fighter jets is a drumbeat the aviation sailors at Oceana have heard before. As the Hornets – and some of the Super Hornets – age, they require more maintenance.

Over the past eight months, a shortage in parts for the F/A-18s has plagued the service. The shortages were initially felt at the maintenance depot but also affect the jets in rotation, Greenert said.

The admiral said that under pressure from the Navy, contractors have sped up parts production. There are now fewer maintenance delays, and the backlog is easing within the flight line.

“Our thumbs are on their heads to get on this,” he said. “To me, it is just unconscionable that we don’t provide enough parts to keep those aircraft that are out on the tarmac or in the hangar up.”

Greenert said he was particularly disappointed the Super Hornet parts had fallen behind, given that it’s a newer aircraft. He concluded that the Navy and its contractors failed to plan for its needs.

“You’ve got to shoot ahead of the rabbit,” he said. “Well, we fell behind the rabbit, but I am comfortable where we are now.”

As the Navy’s top officer, Greenert laid out his vision for the future air wing, which will integrate unmanned aircraft with advanced manned jets.

He celebrated the E-2D Hawkeye, the Navy’s new radar and command-and-control aircraft. He called it a “game changer” that integrates with the Navy’s fire-control system to network what airplanes see to Navy personnel on ship and shore. The aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt took the model on deployment, and it is “opening our eyes in the joint force to what we can do out in the maritime field,” Greenert said.

In addition, Greenert said the Navy is now considering acquiring more Growlers – jets with state-of-the-art jamming capabilities.

“We thought, ‘Okay, we are going to buy this many Growlers,’ and then we said, ‘No, we are going to buy more,’ ” he said. “And I am still not sure that we are done buying Growlers. They are awesome.”

“We need electronic attack,” he added. “We cannot just bust our way in. We will need to suppress, and it will be a key and critical part of not just the air wing but of the entire joint force.”

The top officer spent most of the hour answering questions ranging in topic from new uniforms to new initiatives to make the Navy more family-friendly.

Among the answers he gave:

— The Navy will have lighter, cooler working uniforms and physical training uniforms by 2016.

— The Navy will not tolerate anything but dignity and respect for LGBT sailors.

— The Navy is working feverishly to hire more skilled laborers in the shipyards.

— Congressional calls to remove dual housing benefits for dual military families is “draconian.” If the intent is to give one benefit per household, then that has to be introduced slowly because sailors have financial commitments based on that dual benefit.

— Longer paternity leave? He will take that back to headquarters for discussion.

Greenert will leave his post before the end of the year. By then, Congress will either have found a way to compromise over defense spending, or another round of sequestration could take effect – meaning Oceana could once again look like a hayfield.

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