NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Navy leaders this week argued strongly against buying additional F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as aircraft that are not needed and questioned their utility against future generations of opponents in the 2050s.
Speaking here during the Navy League’s annual 2021 Sea Air Space exposition on Aug. 2, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said reviews and documents like the China Task Force, ongoing Global Posture Review and Joint Warfighting Concept will help the Navy determine what it buys and invests in for the future.
However, he chastised industry for lobbying current systems to Congress that he viewed as not as useful in the future.
“Although it’s in industry’s best interest – and I just saw your second quarter reports and I know it’s a happy audience out there for the most part, building the ships that you want to build, lagging on repairs to ships and to submarines – lobbying Congress to buy aircraft that we don’t need that are excess to need – it’s not helpful. It really isn’t in a budget-constrained environment,” Gilday said.
Last month, the House Appropriations Committee approved its version of the FY ’22 defense spending bill. The committee added $889 million and 12 F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet aircraft more than the Navy requested (Defense Daily, July 13).
In May, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Budget Rear Adm. John Gumbleton said he Navy appreciates the strong congressional support of its aviation program in FY ’21 that added 23 aircraft above the request, but the department has a lower FY ’22 funding request due to completing planned buys of the Super Hornet, P-8A Poseidon, and VH-92 presidential helicopter (Defense Daily, June 1).
Gilday said industry can help the Navy by being more agile in pivoting to new technologies and platforms.
“So it’s not the 90s anymore. You go to the Tri-Service Strategy and we really try to punctuate the sense of urgency that we feel every day against China. To move the needle in a bureaucracy that’s really not designed to move very fast.”
The CNO added government owes industry “a set of headlights in terms of what we need.”
“Everybody in this audience is affected by this competition, not just us in uniform and you know that too well. This is about the prosperity of this country, the economic security of this country, the national security of this company. And for this audience, it’s going to take a new approach, I think, in terms of what we build, how we build it and the timelines on which we deliver have to change. And I know we have to do it together and I know that there’s a lot of blame and we have to get beyond the blame and look forward in terms of how we’re going to do this better.”
Speaking at another panel on Tuesday, Rear Adm. Andrew Loiselle, Director of Air Warfare Division (N98) clarified Gilday’s aircraft comments did refer to the Super Hornet issue.
Loiselle said they see that as taking away from funds he could otherwise direct into additional Service Life Modernization (SLM) updates to current Super Hornets.
Under the SLM program, aircraft producer Boeing [BA] takes Block II Super Hornets nearing the end of their 6,000-hour service lives and upgrades them to the new Block III configuration. The Block III aircraft add conformal fuel tanks that add another 100-120 nautical miles in range, boost it to a 10,000-hour lifespan, reduced radar signature, enhanced network capabilities, and upgrades to other systems.
“More Super Hornets at this point in time, that’s a 30-year timeframe with 10,000 hours, so that takes us out to 2055 and there isn’t a lot of analysis out there that support fourth generation viability against any threat in that timeframe,” Loiselle said.
He argued the Navy can buy three SLM upgrades of existing aircraft for the cost of a single new Super Hornet and the SLM aircraft provide the needed capability and service life the service needs.
Loiselle noted he can dial up the amount of current Super Hornets getting the SLM upgrade, if necessary, rather than buying more F/A-18E/Fs.
He said his top priorities are capability and lethality over numbers as the capacity.
“So when I look above that in my capability priority, that’s where I want to assign less risk and so given a limited funding environment, the choice was made to put that money against increases of lethality in the weapons and RDT&E needed to ensure that the viability of the fifth generation, fourth-fifth generation mix and the weapons need to be fully capable as a fifth-generation moving into sixth-generation capabilities,” Loiselle said.
He said this means he has the ability to add some Block II Super Hornets not currently scheduled to go through the SLM process to the production line as needed, “should my capacity numbers change in the future.”