No Navy Fighter Gap: PAE

No Navy Fighter Gap: PAE

UPDATED: With Latest CRS Analysis Doubling the Navy’s Projected Shortfall

The Pentagon’s top weapons analysts are reportedly arguing that the Navy does not face a fighter gap, something Boeing and various lawmakers have argued is a pressing problem the country must fix.

A congressional source tells us that “apparently PA&E is convinced that there isn’t actually a strike fighter shortfall, while the Navy is convinced they’ll be 240-plus planes short of Naval strike fighters… We’re trying to figure out how PA&E can possibly come to this conclusion, but we’re not getting many answers.”

Several senior OSD sources told me that PA&E is making this argument, based on a range of capabilities offered by the Air Force.

“PA&E’s contention is that we have excess Air Force strike fighter capacity, so the Navy shortfall doesn’t affect us strategically… But I don’t think the Air Force can land their fighters on a carrier,” our congressional source said wryly.

The fighter numbers were summarized recently in a study by the Congressional Research Service’s naval analyst, Ron O’Rourke. “The Navy projects that a current strike-fighter shortfall of about 15 aircraft will grow to about 30 aircraft in FY2009, to more than 50 aircraft in FY2016, and to more than 90 aircraft in FY2017-FY2020, before declining to more than 50 aircraft in FY2021 and to roughly zero aircraft by FY2025. At its peak in FY2017, the Navy states, the Dept. of Navy projected strike-fighter shortfall will be 125 aircraft, of which 69 will be Navy strike-fighters,” O’Rourke wrote.

[Since writing the above, I received the newest CRS analysis. It doubles the estimated shortfall. This is what the report, by Christopher Bolkcom, says:
“The Navy projects that if no additional action is taken, a DON strike-fighter shortfall of about 15 aircraft in FY2009, to 50 aircraft in FY2010, and to a peak of 243 aircraft in FY2018. The projected strike-fighter shortfall is hoped to decrease after FY2018, but the DON will still have a gap of over 50 strike fighters in 2025. At its peak in FY2018, the projected DON strike-fighter shortfall will be 129 Navy strike-fighters and 114 Marine Corps strike-fighters.

“This projected strike-fighter shortfall is twice as big as the Navy’s earlier projected shortfall of 125 aircraft. 9 (See Figure 1, below) The earlier estimate was the Navy’s, “most optimistic” projection because it assumed, among other things, that the service lives of Hornets could be extended from the current planning figure of 8,000 flight hours to 10,000 flight hours.” You can read it here.]

We’re trying to get more information from Boeing here at the Navy League conference.

Boeing has been making a valiant effort to convince the Pentagon and the public that the Navy’s fighter gap should be closed using F-18 E/Fs. These planes are cheaper than F-35s, are already available in production models and they meet the service’s current operational requirements, the company has argued.

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The answer seems simple. If there are more than enough fighters in the USAF, but not enough in the Navy and the USMC, then simply reprogram some pending purchases of F-35As to F-35Bs and Cs. Say that the F-35As, Bs, and Cs cost A, B, and C, respectively. The net cost to the Defense Department would be 69*(C-A) + 56*(B-A), plus some amount for additional tooling, if Lockheed and its suppliers couldn’t manage the change in model-specific production rates on what they had planned. Before working through the numbers, this doesn’t seem crazy. Can anyone else comment?

James you raise an interesting question, Shouldnt Lockheed have been prepared for reprograming the numbers in each stream for the F-35, once each Aircraft stream(A,B,C) comes on line​.to accellerate bringing a product stream on line will be more expensive and disrupt the planning on long term lead items like the fans. Hopefully Lockheed is using a toolless construction that will enable the mixing products on the line not like our automotive companies in most of America.

Stating the Air Force can take up the slack for a short fall in US Navy strike capability is naive. The Air Force typically is not forward deployed and requires land bases to operate. The US Navy can make due with the aircraft they have and supplementing that capability with missiles, but missiles don’t have bring back capability. The only solution is to build carrier capable fighters for the US Navy.
The F-18E/F is a stop gap measure and should not be considered a supplement for the F-35.
I was at Pax River during the F-18E/F Tech Eval and the comments about the aircraft weren’t expressly positive..

So tony you are saying we should develop a whole new platform? Do you know how long that takes nowadays? That would make this whole thing worse if they are really short.

Has anyone considered the possibility that PA&E is basing fighter requirements on number of carrier decks they intend to keep in operation? Hence, they can drop a few carriers from the fleet, and the fighter gap suddenly goes away… Poof!

That was considered by the Obama transition team and they decided to let things go until the QDR.

r with Colin’s input is probably on to something..if you listened to the Obama campaign rhetoric, if you listened to President Obama’s words on his trips to Europe and Latin America, then you might wonder if the considerable capability that CVBGs provide will be a part of the Obama change scheme for foreign policy. We will know soon enough.

In my humble opinion, the pentagon should not be investing in ANY aircraft (with some exception — MAYBE) that cannot be re-tasked, or retrofited by the manufacturer for the requirements of any branch of service. That way, these aircraft can be re-tasked, as needed during their servicable lifetime.

Duh! The F-35 was originally designed as a jump jet for the Navy. I don’t believe all the clap trap that it was a “mud fighter”.

Just as James Hasik says — modify the design slightly, as a already what it really is — a Short Take Off (or) Vertical Lift platform. I say design for both; Oh! wait a minute! It has weight problems! I guess it was already provided the extra conversion capability in the original airframe? Duh! I say again ***********

Are these analysts Obama appointees?


I am only condoning what SecDef Gates has publically stated, accelerate the F-35 development. The F-35 is the intended fighter for the US Navy to replace the aging F-18C/D models. The US Navy accepted the F-18E/F as a stop gap measure to retire the F-14B/D models. The F-18E/F are not in the same performance category as the F-14B/D nor is it stealthy. The F-18E/F looks like the F-18C/D, but is larger and not as maneuverable. It works as a bomb truck and missile platform. I haven’t heard good things about it as a fighter.

epic fail they should idle a couple carriers that was smart of that feller to say.

i just wanna see how the littoral combat ships do i rememberthem briefing me about it in nrotc

The first thing to consider (unfortunately), is the fact that our nations’ aviation products that are designed to protect us against all possibilities are tied up btween the real patriotic thinkers in the Military Aviation Branches, those few civilian companies that really care about the end product and the money mongers that could care less. Those that want nothing but profit may find nothing but disaster. We are at a time when evrybody that believes in our Nation is willing to give a little to get a little — to include the biggies in the front office!!! If they don’t bite the bullet in the exact manner that they expect their workers to do, they should be run out of town in feathers. I don’t think that is necessary with most of the Aviation Corporations still in business. They must look at the big picture — if the combined efforts of the various Aircraft Companies don’t stay ahead of the opposition, their market will disappear overnight. As we did often in WW11 — put aside profit and put the Nation as first priority. Semper Fi!!!


No the F-35 was NOT originally designed as a jump jet for the Navy. It is the result of an accumulation of three projects. A F-16 replacement for the USAF, a F/A-18C/D replacement for the USN & a A/V-8B replacement for the USMC. It is quite clear form the results that the USAF (F-35A) varient was THE primary design point & that the USN (F-35C) & USMC (F-35B) varients started from the USAF (F-35A) varient & were modified to USN & USMC requirements.

The PRIMARY reason for the weight problem was the “call down on high” that cost was the highest priority & thus less costly but heavier materials were utilized where ever possible.

Yea, the “call down on high”. Come on. Every component (piece part) has an engineering budget for weight. You meet weight budget or you get permission not to. If they gave up on holding weight in order to stay within cost, then why is the program 300% over cost? Seems to me, we should have a nice heavy but on-cost program. Not quite the case, is it? Put down the kool-aide.

In 1983 the Australian government used the same b*ll s*it excuse. They got rid of our only carrier and said the Airforce could give the Navy fighter protection. Don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes!!

Isn’t the F-35 supposed to eventually replace, or supplement Navy F/A-18’s? The USMC variant replacing the Harrier? Thats quite a jump in tech. and capability.

Your comment implies that you don’t understand the difference between an aircraft that can land on a carrier and one that lands on runway of considerable more length than a flight deck. Some commonality is possible but not the amount you desire or think possible.

As a former aerospace type who worked for 4 different major companies during my day let me say the all were operating the same way. In one case a top level decision was made to ship a system full of bugs rather than miss the target ship date. This required dozens of engineers and techs to travel across the country to fix the bugs and cost the Navy about 20 times what it would have cost to fix the problem at the plant. Also the USE it OR LOSE it budget spending at the end of the year. Budget negotiations these days are primarily concerned with CYA particularly with scheduling. This country still has great engineers and designers but they are frequently thwarted by the MBA’s and bean counters not to mention the butt kissers aka YES MEN. The industry, the military and the politicians each have their share of these types all competing for glory , position and dollars. But then what do you expect when DC is a town full of clowns and idiots that have power.


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