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By John D. Morrocco
The tailhook Navy is in the midst of a balancing act—trying to find the money to develop new aircraft, fix old ones, and upgrade others to fill the gap until the uncertainties caused by the budget deficit, a changing threat, and interservice differences are resolved.
Increasing U.S. budgetary pressures and the revolutionary changes still unfolding in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe have thrown the Navy’s plans to modernize its carrier aviation forces into jeopardy.
Naval aviation faces severe shortages in a number of carrier aircraft types over the next decade. In light of this Problem, the service is developing or planning to develop three new aircraft that rely heavily on next-generation technology. But with the prospect of large-scale cuts in defense spending over the same period, the Navy’s timing c°uld not be worse. Congressional critics are questioning the high costs involved in developing sophisticated new ^eapon systems. The idea of stretching out or even shelv- lng costly high-technology programs is gaining momentum in Congress.
Projected naval aviation shortfalls are keyed, however, t0 requirements based on current and future estimates of the threat. As the threat changes, so do requirements. The rationale behind the Navy’s carrier aircraft requirements could melt away as a result of the ongoing reassessment of ht-S. military strategy and force structure in light of the declining Soviet threat and changing world conditions.
, While the Navy was spared the brunt of any major cuts ln this year’s budget, the Pentagon is looking at further reductions as it wrestles with long-range spending plans. Among them is a proposal to reduce the number of deployable carriers from 14 to 12 as a cost-saving move. Proponents of a reduction note such a move would ease the Navy’s projected carrier aircraft shortages.
The prospect of large-scale cuts in defense spending and a down-scaling of U.S. military force structure has spawned a reassessment of the traditional roles and missions performed by the military services. These factors have left the military services stepping on each other’s toes as they scramble to deflect the budget axe from their programs—while Congress seeks to cash in on the so- called “peace dividend.’’
Navy officials, tor example, have bristled at the Air' Force’s promotion of the B-2 bomber’s conventional capabilities in Third World and anti-terrorist scenarios, a role traditionally held by the Navy. They privately questioned the rationale for employing the sophisticated F-117A stealth tighter in Operation Just Cause in Panama. Critics have argued the main reason the F-l 17A was used was to bolster the Air Force’s case for the B-2 stealth bomber, which is running into mounting opposition on Capitol Hill.
Even within the Navy there has been increased jostling between the various communities as they attempt to stake out their share of a shrinking budget. If the service is forced to reduce its size, the cuts should come in the form of weapons and weapon platforms that are geared specifically against the Soviet Union, in the view of a recently retired Naval aviation flag officer.
“Why do we need to put all this money into antisubmarine warfare?,” he asked. “Who else has a submarine threat like the Soviets? We shouldn’t be buying things that we can use only against the Soviets. This is the time to take a look at continued research and development in antisubmarine warfare, rather than spending money on more systems.”
Indeed, Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney’s budget request for fiscal year 1991 reflects the beginnings of a shift in U.S. strategy from fighting a major ground war in Europe to one of employing smaller forces in Third World conflicts, anti-terrorist actions, and drug interdiction operations. While the decreased emphasis on a confrontation with the Soviets in Europe will have the greatest effect on the size of the U.S. Army and Air Force, the Navy is not
These VA-115 A-6Es over Mt. Fuji in Japan symbolize what many believe to be the best long range, all-weather strike aircraft flying today. The VAW-115 E-2C launching from the USS Midway (CV-41) represents another Navy achievement—carrier-based airborne early warning; but the A-6E and the E-2C are old aircraft and the service does not have enough of either to go around.
immune to cuts.
The service’s maritime strategy—which emphasizes forward deployment—is also in jeopardy. The rationale for the aggressive use of carriers on the northern flank of NATO and against Soviet Union bases in the northern Pacific appears even less likely than before.
In the opening round of testimony on Capitol Hill on the fiscal year 1991 defense budget, senior Navy officials took the offensive. Admiral Carlisle A.H. Trost, Chief of Naval Operations, told the House Armed Services Committee he foresaw relatively little change in the complexion of the Navy over the next decade and beyond, despite the diminished Soviet threat. He said the service would have to retain the same basic force structure and continue its modernization programs to protect U.S. interests around the globe and meet the increasingly sophisticated threat in the Third World.
Trost set out the Navy’s agenda for the 1990s in a speech before the National Security Industrial Association earlier this year. “None of the recent events in the political landscape of the world, including Glasnost, Perestroika, or ‘new thinking’ in the Soviet Union, and dramatic political transformations in Eastern Europe has in any way diminished or altered this nation’s status as a maritime nation,” he said.
Trost maintains the United States will continue to need a strong, forward-deployed Navy to protect its political and economic interests. He pointed out that the U.S imported nearly 50% of its oil during 1989, and that 25% of the remainder came by sea from the north slope of Alaska.
At the same time that the United States is becoming increasingly reliant on foreign energy sources and raw materials, there has been an erosion in overseas basing options. Negotiations are under way between the United States, Greece, and the Philippines on continued access to military bases. Trost says this trend bolstered the case for retaining the current level of carrier battle groups, calling them America’s bases for the 21st century.
“As we lose access to foreign bases, what is left but carrier air power?” asked one retired Navy official.
The increased involvement of the military in the war on drugs has placed an additional burden on the Navy. During fiscal year 1989, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft logged more than 10,000 flight hours in support of drug interdiction efforts; that is expected to increase to more than 40,000 flight hours this fiscal year.
Trost also argues that the inevitable down-sizing of the U.S. military will mean that those smaller forces will have to be more capable, more flexible, and more reliable. ‘We are going to need to keep, if not increase, our curent technological margins of superiority” in order to bridge the gaps in capability created by fewer numbers,” he said.
Trost specifically cites antisubmarine warfare, space, and low-observable (stealth) technology as key areas where the United States must maintain its edge.
According to Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III, antisubmarine warfare is still the Navy’s top wartime priority. Trost said the Soviets have continued to modernize their submarine fleet and warned against the increasing threat posed by advanced diesel submarines in the Third World. Garrett ranked carrier battle groups and air superiority as the Navy’s second priority.
Even so, naval aviation was spared any major cuts in the Pentagon’s fiscal year 1991 budget. The service is requesting $9.8 billion to buy 163 new aircraft and remanufacture another 15. This represents a drop of 20 aircraft from the Navy’s original budget plans, mainly because of a decision to stretch out two programs:
- The number of E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft to be procured in fiscal years 1991-1994 has been reduced from nine to six per year.
- Production of the T-45 Goshawk jet trainer has been halved from a planned 24 aircraft to 12 in 1991, because of problems encountered in flight testing.
In 1991, however, the Navy will buy new production versions of only two—maybe three—fixed-wing combat aircraft—the F/A-18 and the E-2, and perhaps the A-12. The service plans to continue buying F/A-18 Hornets at a rate of 66 per year. The first production night attack versions of the aircraft were delivered to the Navy last fall. They feature a forward-looking infrared sensor—Hughes Aircraft s thermal imaging navigation set—and night vision goggles.
The remainder of the service’s procurement programs involve remanufacturing or upgrading existing aircraft. Congress overrode the Pentagon’s attempt to terminate further procurement of new manufacture F-14D Tomcats in fiscal year 1990, authorizing funds for another 18 new fighters and the remanufacture of six F-14A fighters to the F-14D configuration. But Grumman must sign a termination agreement before funds for the 18 new aircraft will be | released. The agreement calls for Grumman to close the F-14 production line when the new aircraft are delivered in 1992.
The fiscal year 1991 budget includes funds for remanu- acturing 12 F-14As to the D configuration. The Navy Plans to remanufacture 24 more in 1992, 48 in 1993, and
60 in 1994.
^ The Navy has requested $350 million in the 1991 budget to begin the advanced capability EA-6B Prowler remanufacture program. Three of the electronic warfare aircraft will be upgraded in 1991, nine in 1992, and then 12 each year until the entire fleet has been modified.
In recent years, the average age of most types of carrier aircraft has increased as a natural result of the decline in Procurement rates. Early in 1989, large numbers of A-6Es and E-2Cs were grounded or flight-restricted because of Wlng fatigue problems. Both aircraft are undergoing rewinging programs.
New composite wings, built by Boeing, are to be inlines open for so few aircraft.”
Based on current requirements, the Navy will be faced with shortfalls of five types of aircraft—the A-6E, EA- 6B, E-2C, S-3, and F-14—by the mid-1990s.
Navy officials have estimated that the decision to terminate new production F-14Ds will leave the service some 56 aircraft short of its requirement by 2000. The shortage could be handled by cross-decking aircraft—transferring planes from returning carriers to those deploying—until the Navy begins receiving its version of the advanced tactical fighter.
The most pressing shortage is in A-6E medium attack aircraft. “The medium attack community is my first concern,” Navy Secretary Garrett told Congress. According to a Congressional Research Service report, which the Navy disputes, the Navy will be short 86 medium-attack
stalled on the remaining new-production A-6Es to be de- Wered to the Navy by Grumman. Grumman is scheduled to deliver 11 of these to the Navy in 1990; the last nine new-production A-6Es will roll off the line in 1991. The new composite wings will also be retrofitted onto existing ^'6Es that are being modified to the systems weapons integration program (SW1P) configuration.
The Navy had accepted delivery of five of the re- Wlnged aircraft, one new production, and four modified aircraft, as of early March. Boeing is now delivering the new wings at a rate of five per month. Flight testing of the new wing is expected to be completed this month and full •nght clearance for carrier operations is expected soon
While these and other modification programs will help alleviate qualitative shortfalls in the Navy’s inventory, the sPecter of quantitative shortages in the late 1990s remains.
* hese shortages have been aggravated by the Navy’s prac- tlce of buying small numbers of special mission aircraft at inefficient production rates.
“You are witnessing the demise of naval aviation,” one °rmer Defense Department official said. “The Navy is §°ing to reap the fruits of keeping so many production aircraft by 2000, roughly 24% of its total requirement. Garrett said he had “every confidence” that the A-12 will come on line in time to address the problem as the A-6Es begin dropping out of the inventory.
Shortfalls of A-6E aircraft will occur despite the Navy’s move to the transitional air wing configuration, which decreases the number of A-6Es in each wing, and the transfer of Marine Corps A-6Es to the Navy in exchange for two-seat F/A-18Ds. Marine All-Weather Attack Squadron | VMA(AW)]-121 was the first Marine unit to transition to the F/A-18D, and one Marine Corps squadron will transition from A-6Es to F/A-18Ds each year through fiscal year 1995.
The 86 aircraft now in a conventional Navy carrier air wing will be reduced to 80 in the new transitional air wing. The two A-6E attack squadrons, with ten aircraft each, will be pared to one squadron of 16 aircraft and the number of S-3 ASW aircraft in a squadron will drop from ten to eight.
“We believe we have sufficient assets and forces to man 14 carrier battle groups,” Garrett told Congress. But he admitted it may be difficult to maintain those levels in the years to come.
Congress has criticized the Navy for failing to develop a realistic procurement plan for carrier aircraft. The Senate Armed Services Committee’s report on the fiscal year 1990 budget said: “While the Navy has ostensibly had a long-range planning process for Navy aviation, that process has not guided annual resource allocation decisions. Major aviation decisions have been made too much in the context of immediate budget pressures. The collapse of a systematic long-range naval aviation planning and programming process has permitted substantial erosion in naval aviation with the arrival of tighter budgets.”
Navy officials counter that the process has been undermined by funding cuts and instability. Service officials are currently putting the final touches on a new long-range study of carrier aviation requirements known as the Carrier Airwing Study 2010.
For the long term, the Navy’s modernization plans place an emphasis on developing new technology at the expense of continued production of existing aircraft. The service plans to introduce three new aircraft this decade:
- The A-12 Avenger II advanced tactical aircraft to replace the A-6E Intruder for medium-attack
- A carrier version of the Air Force’s Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) to replace the F-14 Tomcat for fleet air defense
- An Advanced Tactical Support Aircraft (ATSA), a multi-mission support aircraft that will perform the functions of the EA-6B Prowler electronic warfare aircraft, the E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft, and the S-3 Viking antisubmarine warfare aircraft (the Navy requested $1.5 million in the fiscal year 1991 budget to begin concept definition studies.)
The A-12 is the Navy’s first priority, according to Vice Admiral Richard M. Dunleavy, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Air Warfare. Dunleavy cited the aircraft’s low-observable and long-range characteristics as key advantages. The first flight of the A-12 is scheduled for this fall, and the service wants to begin adding the aircraft to the inventory by 1994-95. Dunleavy said he would push for procuring more A-12s than required to replace A-6s on a one-for-one basis.
Dunleavy said it was a tough choice whether the Navy ATF (NATF) or the advanced tactical support aircraft should be the service’s second priority. But given the projected shortfalls in EA-6B, E-2, and S-3 aircraft, the support aircraft was considered more important; it is scheduled to enter service around the turn of the century. The future of the support aircraft is still in doubt, however; congress has directed the Navy to look at alternative systems that could perform its mission.
A Navy version of the ATF is Dunleavy’s third priority. He said the F-14D remanufacturing program provides some breathing room and that it could allow the service to slip the planned in-service date for an F-14 follow-on by as many as five years, until 2005. “It all depends on how we manage our assets,” he said.
The Navy will have to decide next year whether a Navy version of the ATF is feasible. Dunleavy said he liked what he saw from the two contracting teams so far, but noted the service must be prepared to find a replacement if
the NATF falls by the wayside.
Dunleavy’s remaining priorities are the F-14 remanufacturing program, upgrades to the A-6, and procurement of the new T-45 trainer. He said the service recognized the requirement for the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft but had dropped it because the Navy could not afford it.
These and other new weapons programs face tough going on Capitol Hill where lawmakers are questioning whether these costly new systems, which involve a high degree of technical risk, will be fielded in time. Many in Congess also are questioning the need for such multibillion dollar, high-technology weapons given the changing nature of the Soviet threat. Some experts estimate the cost of the A-12 aircraft to be as much as $100 million— although the official Navy maintains that the actual production costs will be far less.
A less hostile Soviet Union places more emphasis on meeting Third World contingencies. “If you look at it that way, you will need a different mix of [carrier] aircraft,” one former Pentagon offical said.
Defense Secretary Cheney has vowed not to cancel major research and development programs that will be hard to start up again should the need arise. But he has ordered a review of the Pentagon’s four major new aircraft programs, including two that concern the Navy. The aircraft are:
- The Air Force B-2 strategic bomber
- The Air Force C-17 transport
- The Air Force/Navy advanced tactical fighter (ATF/ NATF)
- The Navy A-12 Avenger II advanced tactical aircraft (ATA)
Cheney directed a thorough reassessment of the requirements for the new aircraft and an examination of possible alternatives. The review was scheduled to be completed by 31 March, and Pentagon officials say that no recommendations will be forthcoming until this month.
Congress last year also asked the Navy to reassess its rationale for developing the advanced tactical support aircraft (ATSA). Some Defense Department officials have argued that several of the missions scheduled for the new aircraft could be carried out by unmanned aerial vehicles or by satellites. The Center for Naval Analyses is conducting the independent study of the aircraft.
Within the Defense Department, the ATF is considered the most vulnerable to cancellation since it is the least mature of the four aircraft under review. One Pentagon official described the ATF as a “Central European war machine” whose requirement has diminished along with the Soviet threat.
In addition to a review of the requirements for the four aircraft, Pentagon officials are examining alternative procurement schedules, reductions in the total number of aircraft to be purchased, and other alternatives.
Among the alternatives being evaluated for the ATF are
an upgraded version of the F-15 Eagle—the F-15XX
and a less costly, single-engine version of the ATF. The latter option is geared toward transforming the ATF into a smaller, defensive air-to-air fighter with a limited air-to- ground capability. If there is a shift in Pentagon policy
This VFA-I46 F/A-18C night strike aircraft is the first to be delivered to an operational squadron. Different versions of the F/A-18 will provide the Navy and Marine Corps with versatile fighter, night strike, and all-weather attack capabilities throughout the 1990s.
■ ' ■ v
US NAvv (C ROBERTS)
Planning toward a more defensive orientation, given the rapidly eroding Soviet threat, then there might be less of a Premium on deep penetration by a new fighter.
A more defensive orientation could also see the A-12’s character changing. Possible alternatives to the current A-12 program that are under study range from retaining he present force structure to developing new derivatives of the A-6 or F/A-18. Despite the changing nature of the ^°viet threat, Dunleavy argues there is still a requirement or advanced technology aircraft such as the A-12 to meet ihird World contingencies. “I can show you integrated air defenses almost as good as [anything] the Soviet’s have,” e said, citing Syria as one example.
The A-12 also is being considered as the basis for the oew advanced tactical support aircraft, as well as the S-3 Wking. If the A-12 airframe were selected as the basis for he support aircraft, the unit cost could drop significantly.
The Pentagon’s major aircraft review threatens to urther fan the flames of inter-service rivalries. “The Navy would be happy to cancel the ATF, ’ ’ one Pentagon official said. “At the same time, the Air Force would be ”aPPy to cancel the A-12.”
Despite public pronouncements, some Navy officials ~|ave never been enthusiastic about a naval version of the ATF. Historically, it has been relatively easy for the Air force to adapt a Navy plane for its land-based operations uf the reverse—adapting an Air Force aircraft to the retirements of life on board an aircraft carrier—has proved a lot tougher. The service requested $65 million for further development of a carrier-capable version of the ATF in the ■seal year 1991 budget, only $1 million more than was aPproved for 1990.
It will require an estimated $5.5 to $6.5 billion-devel- Oprnent program to integrate ATF avionics, sensors, and Powerplants into a totally redesigned airframe suitable for Carrier operations. The aircraft is not expected to become °Perational until 2002. That would leave a 12% shortfall ln Navy fleet air defense air-superiority aircraft between "95 and 2000, according to a Congressional Research ervice study. Further slips in the ATF schedule would resuh in a much larger shortfall in fighter aircraft after the tUrn of the century, as the Navy will be forced to retire °lder F-14s faster than new NATFs can be procured to Replace them. The shortfall could be partially filled by /A-18s, although they lack the range of the F-14.
But recent aircraft development history foretells that the
NATF’s original initial operating capability date will inevitably slip to the right, leaving the Navy facing an even wider asset and capability gap around the turn of the century. Indeed, the Air Force has already extended its ATF demonstration and validation program by six months. By then Soviet advances in low-observable technology, sensors, and systems integration could place the Navy’s fleet of F-14D fighters, without further improvements, in serious jeopardy.
The Navy has also been looking at a fourth new aircraft— the Navy Air Strike Fighter (NASF). As future carrier air
wings may include only three new fixed-wing aircraft
the A-12, NATF, and ATS A—some Navy officials are concerned that future administrations would not be willing to risk losing any of these expensive aircraft in a low- intensity conflict requiring daytime strikes or support. The obvious candidate for the strike fighter is the Hornet 2000, an upgraded versions of the F/A-is. Eventually, the Navy will have to move toward an advanced short take-off/verti- cal landing (ASTOVL) aircraft, according to a number of service officials. “It’s past the time that Navy aviation went to powered lift,” said Vice Admiral Robert F. Dunn, US. Navy, (Ret.) , former Assistant Chief of Naval Operations of Air Warfare. “That technology is coming of age.”
Resistance to the move to ASTOVL aircraft comes from two quarters—those naval officers who believe it is merely part of a Marine Corps attempt to acquire more AV-8B Harriers and those who fear that it would mean the end of large-deck aircraft carriers.
Dunn maintained, however, that the advent of ASTOVL aircraft would not lessen the need for large-deck carriers. “They can carry large numbers of aircraft in all kinds of weather,” he said. There is also the question of how to provide sufficient maintenance for aircraft on smaller ships.
The concept of smaller carriers, either to replace or augment large-deck carriers, has gained some support within Navy circles. The light carrier (CVL) concept employed during World War II is being resurrected by some to supplement carrier battle groups. (See Naval Institute Proceedings, January 1990, p. 106, for more on modem light carriers.) On the other end of the spectrum, one Defense Department official has forwarded the idea of modifying container ships into light carriers that would be attached to Amphibious Groups.
Congress has already asked the Navy to study its future carrier requirements and two new studies have been launched. The National Academy of Sciences is reviewing new technologies such as electromagnetic catapults, embedded radars, and new propulsion schemes. The Center for Naval Analyses is examining ship design, including the use of ski-jump bows for STOVL aircraft and even
radical changes in the hull.
But Dunleavy said he did not want the study to evolve into yet another rehash of the big-deck versus small-deck carrier argument. Dunleavy said he did not envision any change in the basic requirement for a 90.000 ton class ship with a 1,000 foot-long, 250 foot-wide deck. Large-deck carriers are necessary to operate in heavy weather and to carry the stores required to conduct sustained operations. While small-deck carriers could be considered as a supplement to larger ships, Dunleavy said they are not feasible given the current budget environment.
Navy officials continue to argue the importance of large-deck carriers, pointing to the increasing sophistication of the threat in the Third World. They note that, in the latter part of the 1980s, a larger percentage of the Navy’s carrier strike force was dedicated to support than previously because of the increased sophistication of air defenses. “EA-6Bs with their electronic capability, EA-3s with their electronic countermeasures, and even F/A-18s firing high-speed antiradiation missiles (HARM), these are all a great big support package to enable strike aircraft to get to their target,” one Navy official said.
Others cite the possibility of using cruise missiles rather than manned aircraft to attack targets in low-intensity conflicts or terrorist situations. The biggest problem is obtaining the information necessary to pinpoint the location of targets for a cruise missile attack. Here, the use of unmanned reconnaissance and surveillance vehicles could play an important role.
The Navy continues to argue that 15 carrier battle groups is the minimum effective force and that 20 is a more realistic figure to meet U.S. requirements around the globe. While Cheney deferred any decision to reduce the number of aircraft carriers in the fiscal year 1991 budget, he noted that the issue was still an “open question.’’^He said he was reluctant to take such a move given the flexibility of carriers to respond to crises around the globe and the long lead time involved in building them.
The Navy commissioned its newest aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72), last fall. Three additional new carriers are under construction—the George Washington (CVN-73), which will replace the USS Coral Sea (CV-43); the Stennis (CVN-74), which will replace the USS Midway (CV-41) in 1997; and the United States (CVN-75), which will replace one of the Forrestal (CV- 59)-or Kitty Hawk (CV-63)-carriers in the late 1990s.
The Forrestal, USS Saratoga (CV-60), and USS Independence (CV-62) have completed their service-life extension programs, while the Kitty Hawk's is currently underway. Four more carriers are scheduled to be modernized—the USS Constellation (CV-64), USS Kennedy (CV-67), USS America (CV-66), and the USS Ranger (CV-61). Work on the Constellation is scheduled to begin in July.
The Navy intends to continue with its carrier service life extension programs, but Trost noted the service’s plans would be influenced by the ongoing debate over the budget and force strucure. “I have taken the position that it is a function of available resources,” he recently told the House Armed Services Committee. “If that means we
have to look at these issues, we will.”
Navy officials maintain retiring additional carriers would lead to reduced readiness levels, deferred maintenance, increased family separation, and decreased personnel retention rates. From 1976 until 1986, when the Navy had only 13 deployable carriers, personnel retention rates on board aircraft carriers lagged well behind other seagoing forces.
But the most telling argument raised by the Navy is the 1 Soviet Union’s continued efforts to modernize its carrier aviation forces. The Soviets began conducting flight trials of the Su-27 Flanker, MiG-29 Fulcrum, and Su-25 Frog- foot aircraft from the new, large-deck aircraft carrier Tbilisi last year.
Carrier qualification trials of the Su-25 and MiG-29 are continuing. The naval version of the Su-27 is equipped with folding wings, a drogue and hose in-flight refueling system, strengthened landing gear, movable canards, and a tailhook. The carrier-based version of the MiG-29 also featues strengthened landing gear, an in-flight refueling capability, and a tailhook.
The Tbilisi, which features an inclined ramp for take-off rather than the steam catapults used by U.S. carriers, is expected to enter operational service with the Northern Fleet this year. A second Tbilisi-class carrier, the Riga, is under construction and could become operational in 1993. The lead ship of a larger follow-on carrier, the Ulyanovsk, is also under constuction and is expected to be commissioned this decade.
Although U.S. Navy officials point to these improvements in Soviet naval forces to justify their budget requests, Congress is unlikely to spare the service from further force level reductions given projected budgetary pressures and the changing world environment. Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has already criticized the Navy for being unwilling to acknowledge the impact of the overall decline in the Soviet threat on the service while the Army and Air Force are trimming their forces accordingly.
As a result, the Navy must re-examine its long-range spending plans. One likely vehicle is the service’s Carrier Air Wing Study 2010. Dunleavy said the service is already looking at revising future aircraft procurement plans to stay within reasonable estimates of top-line spending levels. That would include lowering annual production rates and stretching out programs.
But such a gradual approach of funding everything incrementally and stretching out procurement schedules costs more in the long term. Although it may make annual budget requests more salable on Capitol Hill, the Navy will be pressed to terminate some programs so others may be funded fully and economically. Specifically, the Navy must be prepared with a viable alternative if Congress fails to support its ambitious plans to field three new aircraft in less than a decade.
John Morrocco is the senior military editor for Aviation Week and Space Technology.