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The Air Force and Army have yet to release detailed budget materials describing funding profiles and adjustments to programs in the Future Years Defense Plan, but the Navy has released some material describing its plans for its portfolio of programs. A number of programs will face difficulties thanks to the current fiscal environment, with numerous programs being delayed and some being shuttered early because of a need to find billions of dollars in savings. Here are a few of the programs that stand to lose — or gain — a lot over the next few years…
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — For yet another year, the procurement profile for the F-35B has remained rock solid, but not so for the F-35C carrier variant. Last year, the Navy planned to buy 49 aircraft between fiscal 2015 and 2018. Now, they only expect to buy 20, drastically slowing the ramp and not exceeding 10 orders until fiscal 2019. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel already mentioned last week at the pre-budget briefing that because of sequestration, the Navy would have to delay orders of the F-35C by two years. As it turns out, the Navy will buy just two aircraft this year and next instead, and will slightly boost orders the three years after that.
F/A-18E/F Super Hornet / EA-18G Growler — That setback for the F-35 won’t translate into new orders for the Super Hornet or Growler, however — at least if the Navy has its say, and it may not if Congress sticks to the plan to buy aircraft this year as it laid out in last year’s budget. The Navy’s budget includes no additional orders for either aircraft, and lawmakers are likely to question that decision in upcoming hearings on Capitol Hill. With a strike fighter shortfall looming and a delay in procurement of the F-35, the Navy appears to be relying on a program to extend the service lives of legacy F/A-18A-D Hornets and hoping that the F-35 isn’t delayed further.
P-8A Poseidon — Relatively speaking, the P-8A has been a model program, and recently achieved initial operational capability on schedule. But it’s not immune to the realities of sequestration and shrinking budgets, as the Navy is opting to slash fiscal 2015 procurement in half and trim an aircraft off fiscal 2016 and fiscal 2017 orders as well. The Pentagon is likely simply shifting orders to the right rather than cutting a much-needed aircraft that will replace an aging P-3C fleet. But the move does raise the question of whether the delay will create a maritime surveillance gap as P-3s leave the service.
MH-60R — The budget climate appears to mean an early death for MH-60R buys. The Navy had planned to buy 29 Romeos this year and another 29 in fiscal 2016 before zeroing out the program. This budget, however, includes just the 29 in fiscal 2015 and nothing beyond that. It will take an intervention from Congress to change that. The MH-60S will also see the end of its buys this year with eight aircraft, but that had been planned.
MQ-8 Fire Scout — Perhaps the most unexpected change was the sudden apparent cancellation of the MQ-8B Fire Scout. The Navy had planned to buy a handful of aircraft through the duration of the FYDP last year, but the new budget zeroes out all buys of the aircraft in the future, including this year. Asked about it at the Navy budget press briefing yesterday, Rear Adm. William Lescher, the Navy’s budget officer, said that “due to affordability, the department made a decision to phase MQ-8’s procurements to the LCS,” but did not elaborate on what that meant, or what the fate was of the aircraft’s larger cousin, the MQ-8C.
CH-53K / MQ-4C — The budget situation means one-year delays for brand new programs such as the CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter and the MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft. The Navy had planned to start purchasing CH-53Ks next year, but the buy schedule, while unchanged, has been delayed a year. Under the new plan, the Navy will purchase two aircraft in fiscal 2017, four in 2018, and seven in 2019. In the meantime, the program will continue R&D work, including $573 million requested in this year’s budget. The MQ-4C, which the Navy had wanted to start buying this year, will see its purchases slip to next year. The Navy will buy four per year over the FYDP.
E-2D Advanced Hawkeye — The relatively nascent E-2D program had just started buying aircraft in recent years and had planned to ramp up to buying eight aircraft by fiscal 2015, but that plan is now out the window. Instead, the Navy will purchase on average five aircraft per year through fiscal 2019.
DDG-51 destroyer / Virginia-class submarine — Despite plenty of drama over whether the Navy could afford to continue buying much-needed Virginia-class submarines and DDG-51 destroyers at a rate of two per year, the fiscal 2015 request indicates that the Navy plans to start doing just that. Whether plans remain the same as budget pressures increase remains the question. However, both the Navy and Congress appear committed to both programs, and are likely to look elsewhere for cuts even in dire circumstances.
Littoral Combat Ship — As everyone knows at this point, the Littoral Combat Ship will lose 20 ships over the life of the program, but the question going into the budget was how that might look over the FYDP. In reality, the Pentagon will actually boost procurement of the LCS by two ships through fiscal 2018 compared to last year’s budget. The Navy had originally planned to buy four ships this year before dropping down to two per year for the foreseeable future. Now, the service will purchase three ships per year starting this year and running through fiscal 2018, and then drop down to two ships in fiscal 2019. That will bring the Navy close to the end of its 32-ship buy — what will happen after that depends on the conclusions the service reaches over the coming years as it looks into an LCS alternative.
Ohio-class replacement submarine — The budget includes significant funding for research and development for an Ohio-class replacement submarine. The Pentagon is requesting a whopping $850 million for R&D, and will need to get to work right away in order to start buying the new sub by the early 2020s. In the meantime, the Navy will have a lot of questions to answer, most importantly how to get the sub’s price tag to a level that won’t break the budget. With the R&D money, the Navy will seek to get those hard questions some equally hard answers.
AARGM / AIM-9X / SM-6 / Tomahawk — Though not as highly publicized, missile programs got hammered by the budget-trimming process. The AARGM program will lose 109 missiles between now and fiscal 2018, although it will begin to attempt making up those buys in the later years. The AIM-9X Sidewinder program, which had planned a buy of 225 missiles each year starting last year and continuing through the FYDP, will lose 105 missiles through fiscal 2018, and stay below 225 missiles in fiscal 2019. The Standard Missile-6 program will lose 101 missiles through fiscal 2018, and will peak at 125 missiles despite last year’s plans to ramp up to 174 in fiscal 2018. And you can say goodbye to the Tomahawk missile program if the Navy has its way: the service had planned to buy 196 missiles every year through the FYDP, but now plans to buy 100 this year and end the program at that.