This html article is produced from an uncorrected text file through optical character recognition. Prior to 1940 articles all text has been corrected, but from 1940 to the present most still remain uncorrected. Artifacts of the scans are misspellings, out-of-context footnotes and sidebars, and other inconsistencies. Adjacent to each text file is a PDF of the article, which accurately and fully conveys the content as it appeared in the issue. The uncorrected text files have been included to enhance the searchability of our content, on our site and in search engines, for our membership, the research community and media organizations. We are working now to provide clean text files for the entire collection.
By Commander Daniel R. Donoghue, U.S. Navy
The challenges facing naval aviation are formidable. After Jen years of declining budgets 0r aircraft procurement, virtu- aI|y every aircraft-type on board °Ur carriers needs replacement S|multaneously. Most critical, w'th inventory shortages upon us now, is the A-6.
One bright spot is the development of the A-12 to alleviate me crisis in medium attack. Nevertheless, there is no doubt nbout the trend for available dol- ,ars to rebuild carrier aviation: it >s downward.
Leading the procession to the brink of extinction is our fighter rorce. Congress included a Poison-pill clause in the fiscal Year 1990 funding bill, stating that 24 F-14Ds will be funded— '8 new, 6 re-manufactured from b-14As—but those will be the ast of the new Tomcats, and the assembly line must be closed "'hen they are completed. This move will result in an inventory shortfall in the late 1990s that Wlll become unmanageable after lhe turn of the century. The condition is alleviated little by reductions in the numbers of air wings, currently 13 active and 2 reserve. Such force reductions lower the inventory requirement for fighter aircraft by approximately 30 per air wing but this “savings” is absorbed by the precipitous drop in available F-14 airframes beginning in 2002, when more than 40 aircraft per year will reach their fatigue life and be retired.
. The combination of F-14 attri- t'on (five to seven per year) and mtirement increases pressure for (he acquisition of the Navy Advanced Tactical Fighter (NATF).
The various technologies embodied in the NATF program dearly define the future of lighter aviation. Its price tag, however, may be its greatest
weakness: the cost of achieving this level of superiority will be significant.
This leads to the paradox that Navy leaders now face regarding the future of fighter aviation: can we afford to buy a new fighter now in sufficient numbers? Can we afford not to buy the NATF to avert a crisis in fighter inventory—not to mention capability—such as we have today with the A-6?
Options exist, but clearly a course must be chosen soon. If we decide to do it right, and continue a commitment to a next-generation fighter, then it must be given proper funding priority.
Maintaining the status quo would be a second option. That would keep the F-14D line funded, and procure sufficient numbers to bridge the gap until the time arrives when we can afford a next-generation fighter. This make-do strategy has the advantage of creating some breathing room in the budget by avoiding the simultaneous outlay of research, development, and procurement dollars that would occur if two new aircraft were to be procured concurrently.
This decoupling would allow development of an Advanced Tactical Surveillance Aircraft (ATSA) to replace the E-2, the EA-6B, and S-3. The new fighter would then be funded in sequence.
Staggered funding of new starts could alleviate the inventory falloff through 2005, but what of the performance of the F-14 vis-a-vis the threat? If anything other than a hollow force is to be planned, this issue must not be ignored. The F-14D has significant growth potential to remain a front-line fighter through 2005. If the course of maintaining the F-14 inventory
is chosen, the full potential of performance improvement options must be explored to meet the threat then.
One option that appears lucrative, but must be avoided, is the temptation to fill projected fighter inventory shortfalls with less expensive F/A-18Cs. Not only does the F/A-18 inventory experience large numbers of airframe retirements at approximately the same time as the F-14 (potentially creating its own inventory shortfall), but the Hornet was never designed to shoulder the full range of performance requirements for a Navy fighter.
If naval aviation is to preserve its ability to maintain air superiority past the turn of the century, both in outer-air-battle and power-projection scenarios, then a course for fighter aircraft must be chosen in the near term. The state of affairs in the planning, programming, and procurement arenas today is such that it takes well over ten years to deliver a new aircraft to the fleet. If the NATF is kept on schedule, and is bought in relatively large numbers, a manageable fighter inventory will evolve. If higher priority new-start aircraft programs are chosen, then we must act quickly to augment F-14D inventory with continued new- airframe construction, to avert a severe fighter shortfall post- 2000, and we should place a high priority upon continued evolution of the F-14D capability. Either way, we should decide soon, to avoid the demise of fighter aviation.
Commander Daniel R. Donoghue, U.S. Navy, directs Fighter Programs in the office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Naval Warfare).
Proceedings / June 1990