About Capitol Hill opens door for Super Hornets
|June 15th, 2009||#1|
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Capitol Hill opens door for Super Hornets info
By Andrew Tilghman - Staff writer
Posted : Saturday Jun 13, 2009 13:01:37 EDT
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill might force the Navy to buy more Boeing-made F/A-18 Super Hornets, a move that would override the Defense Department’s formal budget request in an effort to fill the Navy’s so-called “fighter gap.”
As the annual defense authorization bill begins to make its way through Congress, Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) on Friday inserted into the bill a clause — known as a “mark” — that gives the Navy permission to enter into a new multi-year contract with Boeing.
“The mark recognizes, even if the secretary of defense does not, that the Navy is facing an acute shortage of strike fighters to fill air wings of our carriers in the coming decade,” Taylor said at a meeting of the seapower subcommittee.
“This mark clearly indicates that the Navy should build more of these planes instead of trying to extend the life of the older and less capable F/A18A thru D Hornets. It makes absolutely no sense to me that the department would pay $26 million to extend the flying life of an older plane by just 1,500 hours, when for $50 million they could buy a brand new, more capable plane that is good for 8,000 hours,” Taylor said in a statement.
The Navy is facing a projected shortfall in fighter jets as the older F/A-18 Hornets wear out faster than the new F-35 Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter is arriving to replace them.
The Defense Department formally requested to lower the number of Super Hornets purchased in fiscal year 2010, and Navy officials have officially voiced strong support for the F-35C, which is scheduled to join the fleet in 2015.
A Navy spokesman on Friday declined to comment on the move, which could significantly reshape the fighter fleet over the next decade.
The Navy’s estimate last year put the fighter jet shortfall at about 125 planes — or about 10 percent of the fighter fleet — around 2017. But this year Navy estimates suggest that gap could reach 243 — or more than 20 percent of the fleet — and come several years earlier.
Some 38 F/A-18 Hornets have begun the 8,000th flight hour inspection. So far nine have completed it and been approved to fly an additional 600 flight hours, or to reach a total of about 8,600 total lifetime flight hours, said Rear Adm. Allen Myers, the Navy’s director of warfare integration.
Inspectors have found about 60 new “hot spots” — or areas of concern that need close inspection — in addition to the 159 they had originally planned for, Myers told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Air-Land subcommittee.
As a result, those inspections are taking much longer than expected, Myers said.
Initially estimated to take less than six months, the inspections are now expected to take upwards of 11 months. And instead of the projected 1,100 man hours, the inspections need closer to 2,400 man hours to be completed, Myers said.
Boeing is eager to secure one more Super Hornet contract because it would allow the company to keep its fighter jet production line open for several more years.
“Everybody is debating how the size of the shortfall — is the shortfall 70 aircraft or 250? But nobody is talking about not having a shortfall,” Bob Gower, Boeing’s vice president of F/A-18 programs.
“We believe Congress understands the gravity of the situation,” Gower said in an interview. “We really believe that the Navy will eventually come forward and say, ‘We need more aircraft.’ And because of that the logical way to do that is through a multi-year contract.”
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