U.S. Navy: Extending Old F-18s Will Reduce Fighter Gap
By JOHN REED
Published: 24 May 2010 17:33
Keeping its oldest F/A/-18 Hornets flying through 2020 is the U.S. Navy's main weapon against a decline in fighter numbers, the Navy's acting chief of air warfare told reporters May 24.
The U.S. Navy expects a shortfall of up to 177 fighter jets by 2017 unless it either keeps older F-18s flying longer or speeds production of the new F-35. (U.S. MARINE CORPS PHOTO)
The service expects a shortfall of up to 177 jets by 2017 unless it flies its old Hornets longer, buys more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets or speeds its purchase of F-35 Lightning IIs.
With the F-35 program delayed by at least one year, the Navy is "totally focused, [airplane] bureau number by bureau number" on keeping its oldest Hornets in the air while hashing through other options as it crafts its 2012 Program Objective Memorandum, said Rear Adm. Mike Manazir during a press conference at the Pentagon.
Manazir would not detail those other options.
The Navy has 1,180 tactical fighters. The oldest ones will be retired by 2012 unless they receive service life extensions.
The problem will peak in 2017; the exact number will range from 100 to 177 fighters, depending on whether the F-35 arrives on schedule, Manazir said.
Manazir said he believes the Defense Department and Lockheed Martin will have the carrier-based F-35C ready for its first carrier deployment in 2017.
Earlier this year, the sea service announced that it was pushing the F-35 Initial Operating Capability date back by two years to 2016.
The service will start training its first F-35 instructor pilots on the C-model jets at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in 2012 and stand up the first F-35 fleet replacement squadron in 2014, Manazir said.
The Navy has yet to determine how many of its 680 F-35s will be carrier variants and how many will be F-35B short-takeoff and vertical-landing (STOVL) variants for the U.S. Marine Corps.
"The Marine Corps is committed to an all-STOVL force," Manazir said. Therefore, "we are in discussions with the Marine Corps on how we would" integrate the two services' fighters on a carrier.
"The F-35C has longer range, more cargo capacity, and is optimized for carrier operations," he said. "The STOVL [model] is designed differently and so it has slightly different characteristics, so we're in discussions right now about how you put those two together."
The Marines' F-35s will replace their F/A-18 Hornets, which fly from aircraft carriers, and their AV-8B Harrier jump jets, which operate from the smaller amphibious assault ships.
The press conference was convened to underline the Navy's staunch support of the F-35 program after months of speculation that the sea service wants to buy more than the planned 515 Super Hornets, instead of F-35s. Earlier this month, the service said it would buy the remaining planned 124 F/A-18EF Super Hornets and their EA-18 Growler electronic warfare variants, and no more.
Last week, the U.S. House Armed Service Committee gave the Navy an eight extra Super Hornets on top of the 124 in the committee's markup of the 2011 defense authorization bill.
Manazir also toed the Pentagon line on the alternate engine debate, supporting Defense Secretary Robert Gates' stance that the F-35 program needs just one engine. In last week's markup, the committee ordered the Pentagon to fund the development of the GE and Rolls Royce-built F136 alternate engine for the fighter.
"No matter how many engines are procured for the airplane, the Navy will only deploy one type of engine for the F-35 that we take to sea," Manazir said. "That optimized our logistics and supply chains."