Video Above: Patriot Interceptor Missiles & F-35s Could Defend NATOs Eastern Flank Together
The Navy continues to struggle with a concerning strike fighter deficit due to decreased arrivals of new F-35Bs and upgraded F/A-18 Super Hornets, creating some concern that the service may be ill equipped for the possibility of great power warfare.
F-35Bs and F/A-18 Super Hornets
Certainly any major engagement against China, for instance, would require the service to project and “mass” combat air power across a wide envelope or operational area. Aerial nodes will also be in great demand when it comes to surveillance, targeting an dwell time over high-value target areas.
“The Navy and the Corps have reduced their request for F-35s and the Navy is not requesting additional F-18s,” Rep. Kay Granger, Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, told senior leaders at a Navy 2023 budget hearing.
“We have a strike fighter shortfall we are hoping to close. Our goal was to close it by 2025, but now we will not close it until 2031,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday told lawmakers.
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Part of the solution to this, Gilday explained, is to expedite ongoing upgrades to the existing fleet of Super Hornets, which have already gone through a number of Service Life Extension Programs to ensure the 1980s-era aircraft can fly into future years and reach as many as 10,000 flying hours.
The demand for extra F/A-18s has always been high going back many years, and the service has been working intensely with industry partners to offer a series of upgrades to the aircraft. Initially, the hope was to extend F/A-18 flight hours from 6,000 hours up to 8,000 hours, however operational demand and the success of the upgrade effort has led to the current effort to reach 10,000 hours.
“Performing a service life extension to F-18s to get them to 10,000 combat hours is better than investing in new 4th generation aircraft,” Gilday told lawmakers.
Much has been done to the 1980s-era jet in recent years, to include new avionics, Infrared Search and Track target radar, quasi-stealthy conformal fuel tanks and even a special glide-slope flight enhancing software called “Magic Carpet” intend to help pilots optimize approaches onto a carrier deck.
The F/A-18 also received a A Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System, or JHMCS, is a technology upgrade which engineers a viewing module proving 20-degree field of view visor. Additional technologies for Super Hornets include Digital Communication System Radio, MIDS - Joint Tactical Radio System, Digital Memory Device, Distributed Targeting System, Infrared Search and Track (IRST) and continued advancement of the APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar, Navy officials told Warrior.
Budget requests as far back as 10-years ago from the Navy regularly asked for much greater numbers of F/A-18s to fill a deficit caused by F-14 retirement and waiting for the arrival of the F-35C. The Navy’s 2017 budget request, for example, asked for 21 new Super Hornets to be added through 2021 and put 14 more Super Hornets on the “unfunded requirements” list to Congress, as part of a clear effort to “bridge a gap” until the F-35C arrived.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.