USAF Joins Navy in Warning of 'Fighter Gap'

April 10th, 2008  

Topic: USAF Joins Navy in Warning of 'Fighter Gap'

Why are they now just realizing this is my question?

USAF Joins Navy in Warning of 'Fighter Gap'

U.S. Air Force and Navy officials gave Congress a bleak assessment of th
Pentagon's future fighter fleet, warning lawmakers the military might be 900 fighter jets short of what it will need around 2020.

The Air Force says it will need about 380 F-22 Raptors. (Tech. Sgt. Ben Bloker / U.S. Air Force)

Senior naval officials in the last few months have talked publicly about a "fighter gap" between 2015 and 2025, during which time they say the Navy will be short of the planes they expect would be needed for the Navy to carry out possible missions. During an April 9 Senate Armed Services airland subcommittee hearing, Rear Adm. Allen Myers, director of the service's air warfare division, indicated the sea service's gap could be about 70 planes deep.
Related TopicsAs panel members were still digesting that figure, senior Air Force officials dropped their own acquisition bomb. Air Force Lt. Gen. Daniel Darnell indicated his service could face an even larger deficit of needed fighters, possibly as large as "over 800 fighters" between 2017 and 2024. Darnell is the Air Force's deputy chief of staff for air, space and information operations, plans and requirements.
Service spokeswoman Lt. Col. Jennifer Cassidy confirmed the 800 fighter figure about an hour after the hearing was gaveled closed by the panen's chairman, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.
Part of that so-called "gap" reflects senior Air Force leaders' staunch belief in the need to field about 380 Lockheed Martin-built F-22 Raptors. The Office of the Secretary of Defense, including powerful Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, has repeatedly shot down the service's intentions, holding firm to the planned buy of 183.
But even if the service eventually wins out in the ongoing F-22 debate and gets around 400 Raptors, "that won't completely make up the gap," Lt. Gen. Donald Hoffman, military deputy to the service's acquisition chief, told reporters following the hearing.
The gap "is all about the JSF production rate," he said, referring to how quickly - and how many - of Lockheed's tri-service, international F-35 Joint Strike Fighters the Air Force can buy between now and then.
Lockheed is building the multibillion-dollar fighter for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as about a dozen international partners. But while attempting to get a grasp on how it can manage its "fighter gap," Navy officials have floated the idea of delaying its version of the F-35 in favor of buying new - and upgrading older - Boeing-made F/A-18 Hornets.
However, if naval officials opt for such a plan, it would send ripple waves across the trans-Atlantic fighter program, Hoffman warned.
"We have very tight room for hiccups with the JSF schedule," he told reporters. "If one [participant] changes its schedule, that'll have adverse effects for all of us."
Officials from both services told the subcommittee they have launched a slate of reviews aimed at determining how to manage their perceived tactical aircraft gaps.
The Navy expects by the end of the summer to have sufficient data on its gap to start making decisions on how best to manage it, according to Myers and William Balderson, deputy assistant Navy secretary for air programs.
"It is our challenge" during the remainder of the 2009 budget cycle, and while building the 2010 Navy budget request, to begin figuring out how to fill the sea service's gap, Myers told a reporter.
The Air Force, meantime, already has launched its own review to determine how many legacy F-15s and F-16s it might have to try and keep operationally fit to help manage its perceived fighter deficit, Hoffman said.
The handful of panel members who attended the session were sympathetic to each service's tales of woe. Near the conclusion of the session, Lieberman said the subcommittee will do "everything within our power to stretch" federal resources so the officials could buy what they feel is needed to conduct future missions.
Hoffman also told the subcommittee a decision is needed on whether the Air Force will be granted a budget plus-up for more F-22As by November. Hoffman said a decision must come by November so the service can lock in another significant purchase - it has been buying 20 Raptors a year.
Such a move would allow the service to avoid cost growth, which he says is inevitable if no decision is made by late this year because that's when some F-22 component suppliers will cease work on their portions of the advanced fighters. Restarting such work would cost more than keeping those production facilities humming at current speeds, Hoffman said.


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