The aviation portion of the Navy fiscal year 2023 budget request is seeking $16.8 billion to procure 96 total aircraft across the Navy and Marine Corps but is still keeping the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) 6th generation fighter program budget levels classified.
According to the fixed wing portion of the Navy’s budget documents released Monday, in FY ‘23 the Navy and Marine Corps want to buy nine F-35C Joint Strike Fighters for the Navy, four F-35Cs for the Marine Corps, 15 F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing aircraft for the Marine Corps, five E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft, five KC-130J tankers for the Marine Corps, six multi-engine training systems for the Navy, and four multi-engine training systems for the Marine Corps.
Ahead of the budget release on Monday, Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Budget, told reporters during a roundtable that while the Navy previously started buying new rotary wing trainers in the TH-73A, the multi-engine training system will be the replacement for the department’s fixed-wing trainer aircraft.
The Navy request also includes 10 CH-53K King Stallion helicopters for the Navy, 21 TH-73A trainer helicopters for the Navy, five TH-73As for the Marine Corps, three MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for the Navy, four Boeing [BA] MQ-25 Stingray carrier-based unmanned tankers, and five MQ-9A Reaper UAVs.
Over the five-year Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) budget outlook, the Navy plans to buy 15 F-35Cs for the Navy annually after lowering to nine aircraft in 2023.
Gumbleton said this decrease over the planned 15 aircraft “was more about balancing than cost. So it was about balancing ship construction with aviation, weapons, R&D etc. So we would have liked to add more JSF, but that’s the balance that we could yield.”
Over the FYDP the Navy also plans to procure four F-35Cs for the Marine Corps annually until three in FY ‘27, and procure 16 F-35Bs annually starting in FY ‘24 then increasing up 17 in FY ‘27.
The Navy plans to procure no additional P-8As, E-2Ds, or E-6Bs over the FYDP The service noted it completed planned procurements of the CMV-22 and MV-22B Osprey aircraft in FY ‘22, and with these FY ‘23 numbers it is completing planned buys of E-2Ds and TH-73As.
The service noted FY ‘23 will start procurement of both the fixed-wing trainer aircraft and the MQ-25 Stingray. The Navy plans to procure four MQ-25 unmanned tankers annually through the FYDP. The Navy plans to buy 72 total Stingrays to take over tanking from some F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, freeing them up for combat operations. The Navy expects the first engineering and manufacturing model of the MQ-25 to be delivered later this year.
The Navy also continues to keep the funding levels for the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) aircraft secret.
“NGAD is a classified program and I would tell you funding increase is going up also over the FYDP, but we are choosing to keep that value classified,” Gumbleton told reporters.
During the Navy budget briefing, Gumbleton added that “although NGAD is a classified line, investments do go up over the FYDP somewhat dramatically for NGAD.”
When pressed on why NGAD remains classified and how that is justified for taxpayers, Gumbleton said “our folks on the Hill who monitor this program and approve those budgets are read into these programs and they have full access to understand what we’re requesting and what they cost.”
The Navy has not disclosed its budgeting for the NGAD since FY ‘20, when it directed $20.7 million that year and projected spending about $256 million in FY ‘22. In contrast, the Air Force keeps its NGAD program funding public. In its FY ‘23 request, the Air Force is requesting nearly $1.7 billion for NGAD in the research and development account.
In 2021, Navy officials said NGAD would likely be a manned fighter, but the service is pushing for the future airwing to ultimately be over 50 percent unmanned and the program will integrate manned-unmanned teaming capabilities.
At the time, Rear Adm. Gregory Harris, then-Director of the Air Warfare Division, said the first increment of NGAD will replace the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and the second increment will replace the EA-18G Growler (Defense Daily, March 30, 2021).
Harris also said the Navy is working closely with their Air Force counterparts on their version of NGAD and will have many similar internal mission systems, but will likely have different outer mold lines.