(Report of the National Security Committee - H.R. 1119)

June 16, 1997

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

Aircraft Procurement, Navy

The budget request contained $2,101.1 million for procurement of 20 F/A-18E/F aircraft, four fewer than the number for which advance procurement funds were requested in fiscal year 1997, and $90.5 million for advanced procurement of 30 aircraft in fiscal year 1999.

Based on the recently-released recommendations of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), the Navy's current procurement objective for the F/A-18E/F is 548 to 785 aircraft, at a maximum production rate of 48 aircraft per year, which has been decreased from the fiscal year 1998 budget request procurement plan of 1,000 aircraft at a maximum production rate of 60 aircraft per year. The committee understands that the Navy plans to determine its actual procurement objective based on the initial operational capability date of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

The committee is sensitive to the Navy's requirement to modernize its tactical aircraft fleet. Unfortunately, the Navy failed in its attempts to replace the A-6 and F-14 fleets first with the A-12 and then with the A/F-X, both of which were terminated. Consequently, the F/A-18E/F program emerged--more by default than by design--as the Navy's choice to replace the A-6 in the all-weather attack mission, replace the F-14 in the fleet air defense and tactical reconnaissance missions, and to supplement existing F/A-18C/Ds. The F/A-18E/F improves range and payload capabilities compared to the F/A-18C/D, but it will not be nearly as survivable as either the A-12 or the A/F-X would have been. Accordingly, the committee strongly supports the Navy's participation in the JSF program to meet its longer-term force structure and modernization requirements and believes that the JSF will be more cost and operationally effective than any previous Naval aircraft when it enters service with the fleet. Therefore, the committee recommends an increase of $20.0 million in PE63800N to accelerate development of the Naval variant of the JSF, as explained elsewhere in this report.

The committee notes that the budget request proposal to reduce the quantity of F/A-18E/Fs procured in fiscal years 1998 and 1999 by 10 from the 60 proposed in the fiscal year 1997 acquisition plan, together with the QDR recommendation to reduce both the total procurement objective and the maximum production rate of this aircraft, suggests that future aircraft, shipbuilding, and other weapons procurement demands on the Navy's budget are necessitating consideration of alternative F/A-18E/F production rates. Accordingly, the committee recommends $1,348.9 million for continued F/A-18E/F production, a reduction of $752.2 million. The committee believes that until the review of the QDR by the independent National Defense Panel is completed in December 1997 and assessed by the Congress, the F/A-18E/F program should proceed at a slower pace.

Navy RDT&E

The budget request contained $317.0 million in PE 24136N for the F/A-18 fleet. The committee understands that $267.5 million of this amount is for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and that funding for this program has increased $114.2 million over the amount forecast in the 1997 Future Years Defense Plan (FYDP).

The committee has expressed great concern, described in detail elsewhere in this report, over the unaffordable pace of tactical aviation (TACAIR) modernization being pursued by the Department. Of the three most costly TACAIR programs in the Department's request--the Air Force F-22 Raptor, the Navy F/A- 18E/F Super Hornet, and the Joint Strike Fighter--the Super Hornet was recently approved by the Department to enter production, even prior to final recommendations by the Quadrennial Defense Review and National Defense Panel.

The committee is unaware of any justification to support such a large increase in this year's research and development request for the Super Hornet over the recently forecast funding level identified in the 1997 FYDP. Therefore, the committee recommends $202.8 million for the F/A-18 fleet, a decrease of $114.2 million for the F/A-18E/F.

Joint Standoff Weapons Systems

The budget request contained $71.5 million in PE 64727N for the joint standoff weapon system (JSOW). JSOW is a modular design that is being developed in three variants: a submunition dispenser, an anti-armor submunition dispenser, and a unitary warhead variant which will incorporate an imaging infrared seeker, data link and 500 pound blast fragmentation warhead. The committee understands that the submunition variant has completed development and initial operational testing with a success rate of over 96 percent and has been approved for low rate initial production with initial deliveries to the Navy for use in the F/A-18 in 1998. Initial procurement of the anti- armor submunition variant is scheduled for fiscal year 1999, however, current program funding levels would delay fielding of the unitary warhead variant until 2002. The committee recommends an increase of $9.0 million to accelerate the development and fielding of the unitary warhead variant.


I am pleased that the full committee, after vigorous debate, soundly rejected efforts to procure a mix of the older- model F/A-18C/D and the new F/A-18E/F ``Super Hornet,'' and instead procure only the newer E/F. However, I must express my profound disagreement with the net result of the House National Security Committee's action, which was to reduce overall procurement funding for Super Hornets from the Navy's request of $2.1 billion for 20 low-rate initial-production aircraft to $1.348 billion, and to reduce the Navy's research and development request from $267.5 to $153.3 million. These reductions are entirely unjustified and will detract from the Navy's ability to execute its missions in the increasingly demanding threat environment of the next two decades.

The Secretary of Defense, in his June 10, 1997 letter, emphasized his ``strong support of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet program,'' stating that ``our warfighters require the most advanced technology available.'' He further added that ``the Quadrennial Defense Review clearly validated the need for the F/A-18E/F. . . . Without the E/F we would be sending our pilots into combat at the turn of the century with the 1970s technology of the F/A-18C/D.''

The Chief of Naval Operations, in his own letter to the chairman and ranking member, expressed his ``strongest possible support for the F/A-18E/F program . . . It is the cornerstone of the future of carrier aviation and the Navy's number one aviation priority.'' Further, he recently stated to Congress that ``the multi-mission F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a leap forward in both TacAir design and survivability. The Super Hornet may look like its predecessor, however it is far larger, significantly more capable, and most importantly it is a first strike, every day strike, survivable weapon system for the foreseeable future.'' The Navy states that the Super Hornet will dominate all possible threats for at least the next two decades.

The CNO's letter further states that ``the E/F has flawlessly progressed through every required milestone to include operational requirements, mission needs, cost and threat analysis, and engine development. Admiral Johnson describes the entire aircraft program as ``a model of acquisition reform and unprecedented cost performance. The F/A- 18E/F has completed significant portions of the flight rest program (over 1,100 flight hours) . . . Testing results have clearly exceeded all specific performance parameters. The program is on schedule, within budget and under specification weight.''

In terms of cost, the Under Secretary for Acquisition, Dr. Kaminski, in his recent Selective Acquisition Report, found that the Super Hornet would cost only 13 percent more than its C/D predecessor based on production figures of 1,000 aircraft per program. His report pegged C/D per-unit cost at $36.5 million and E/F per-unit cost at $41.6 million.

In terms of survivability, the Center for Naval Analysis in its recent report to Congress, reported that the Super Hornet would suffer roughly one fifth the losses of an F/A-18C/D airwing given the same threat environment and warfighter scenario. The independent Institute for Defense Analysis, in its report requested by the Joint Staff, determined that the Super Hornet's survivability characteristics, to include a radar signature only one-tenth that of the older C/D, reduces the number of targets considered as ``high risk'' to the pilot and aircraft by 75 percent over the C/D Hornet it will replace.

Finally, it is essential to point out that the E/F program is not in competition with the emerging joint strike fighter concept. The Super Hornet will replace aging F-14s, whose operational costs the Navy desperately seeks to avoid, and older Hornets, all of which have reached the limits of their technological upgradability. The most optimistic forecast for a Navy version of the JSF is 2010, and even then the service would not be able to place a meaningful number of aircraft on its carrier decks until approximately 2015. The Super Hornet is indeed a ``bridge'' from the F-14 and C/D-model Hornets to the joint strike fighter, and that bridge by any reasonable estimate appears to be about two decades in length.

I am pleased that the House National Security Committee, after careful consideration of these important issues, declared its overwhelming and bipartisan support for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet program.

See EXCERPTS - [Acquisition Programs]- House National Security Committee Report on the NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 1998

Return to "Defer Combat Aircraft"