Home » Aviation » HASC Bill Addresses Navy Fighter Shortfall, Depot and Shipyard Workforce Challenges


HASC Bill Addresses Navy Fighter Shortfall, Depot and Shipyard Workforce Challenges

 Aviation Structural Mechanic (Equipment) 2nd Class M. V. Volosko, assigned to the Pukin Dogs of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 143, places a canopy brace on an F/A-18E Super Hornet in the hangar bay of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) on June 17, 2015. US Navy photo.

Aviation Structural Mechanic (Equipment) 2nd Class M. V. Volosko, assigned to the Pukin Dogs of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 143, places a canopy brace on an F/A-18E Super Hornet in the hangar bay of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) on June 17, 2015. US Navy photo.

The Navy may get a boost in readiness through additional military construction to support aviation readiness and shipyard workforce growth, if provisions in the House Armed Services Committee’s 2017 defense bill pass, but the Marine Corps would not get any aviation readiness dollars above what the service requested in its February budget submission.

The HASC released its version of the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act this week, and while the funding tables will not be released until next week, readiness subcommittee staffers told reporters on Tuesday that HASC chose to fund military construction – cut in recent years as a bill-payer for acquisition and operations – above the Pentagon’s request. Specifically, a staffer said the Navy would receive additional support beyond the Navy’s request to help build new runways, hangars, training and maintenance facilities and more to support new aircraft – the EA-18G Growlers, F-35C Joint Strike Fighters, MQ-4C Tritons and other unmanned platforms being introduced to the fleet and fielded in numbers.

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle Howard told the committee earlier this year that the Navy has a $5.6-billion backlog of infrastructure projects, and that backlog only continues to grow. Vice Adm. Philip Cullom, deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics, said at the same hearing that the Navy cannot just buy new aircraft and ignore the infrastructure needed to support the planes. Aircraft-related military construction projects were one of the highest-priority items in the service’s budget request this year, he said, only behind overseas projects in places like Guam and Djibouti.

The subcommittee staffer said in previous years military construction funding was prioritized to support combatant commander needs – and Cullom said the Navy prioritized COCOM needs as well in its FY 2017 request – but this year the committee tried to support service needs at home as the Navy grows its fleet of Littoral Combat Ships, Marine Corps fields its F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, and more, all of which need new and unique infrastructure to support training and operating the new platforms.

The Marine Corp, whose aviation readiness appears to be in a more dire situation, will only get the funding it requested under the HASC version of the defense bill, according to a staffer.

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller told the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee earlier this year that the “CH-53 community is the most challenged” in terms of readiness, but media reports have described severe parts shortages in the Marines’ Hornet fleet as well. Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said at a hearing that Hornet readiness is so low that pilots are struggling to get their required flight hours per month, which could lead to retention problems in the Marine aviation community.

The staffer said the subcommittee is looking to fund not only spare parts but also training to support Marine Corps aviation readiness and work at depots that maintain and modernize aircraft. That funding to recover readiness in the Marine aviation community was funded at the level the service requested, the staffer said.

Sailors perform maintenance on an F/A-18E Super Hornet from the Top Hatters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 14 USS John C. Stennis' (CVN 74) hangar bay on Jan. 22, 2016. US Navy photo.

Sailors perform maintenance on an F/A-18E Super Hornet from the Top Hatters of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 14 USS John C. Stennis’ (CVN 74) hangar bay on Jan. 22, 2016. US Navy photo.

Also in the readiness subcommittee’s section of the bill, HASC supports the test and evaluation community and the four services’ shipyards, depots and arsenals through additional hiring authorities to address critical personnel needs. A staffer said these organizations will be granted direct hiring authority for two years under the HASC version of the bill, allowing them to waive many steps in the USA Jobs process so qualified personnel can be hired, trained and put to work faster. The Navy is on track in building up its shipyard work force, aiming for 33,500 fulltime-equivalent workers by this fiscal year. But it still faces problems at aviation depots, where service-life extensions on the legacy Hornet fleet have taken longer than anticipated and were complicated by hiring freezes and manpower cuts due to sequestration.

Elsewhere in the HASC’s version of the FY 2017 NDAA, the tactical air and land subcommittee chose to support the F-35 and F/A-18 programs through funding increases over the Pentagon’s request. The subcommittee staffers could not discuss how much additional money or how many aircraft were added beyond the services’ February request – that information will come out in the funding tables next week – but a staffer said the subcommittee tried to include as much of the services’ unfunded requirements list in the bill as possible. The Navy’s unfunded requirements list included $1.5 billion for 14 F/A-18E-F Super Hornets, none of which were included in the formal budget request, and two F-35Cs.

The staffer said the support for the Super Hornet program is meant to keep the Boeing production line open for another year, and that support remains regardless of any international sales.

In its section of the bill, the military personnel subcommittee chose to support higher troop levels than the Pentagon requested, including a 185,000-person Marine Corps instead of the service’s anticipated 182,000, according to a subcommittee staffer. The committee did not change the Navy’s plans for 322,900 sailors.

  • @USS_Fallujah

    HASC Authorizes and HAC-D Laughs. That said it does show priorities, and if HASC is going to push SecNav (& HAC-D) to get 11 CVNs they’ll need a ton more airframes to populate those decks…14 more F-18E/Fs helps, but the NavAir probably needs at least that many every year though 2020 just to make up for current shortfalls. Even when the F-35C is in full rate production the USN is going to continue to bleed airframes, so a longer term solution needs to be found.

    • Curtis Conway

      KC-3A Super Viking?

      • @USS_Fallujah

        I’ve heard from those close enough to NavAir to know, that bringing back the S-3s is a no go because of cost issues (not just with getting the birds flying again, but recreating the logistics train to put them back on decks) and time (also heard the airframes themselves would take significant time to restore & refit for K duty – I’m not sure what constitutes “significant” in their world, but I think they believe they’ll have MQ-XXs online almost as quickly).

        • Curtis Conway

          Can’t shove an F-35’s F135 engine in its shipping container in the back of an MQ-XX or a V-22. The V-22 carries most of the engine in a contraption that holds it in place in the cargo compartment, but that is all it will hold. A KC-3A Super Viking with an extraordinary and purpose made fuselage made by some of those ‘masters of the synthetic arts’ (Spirit AeroSystems) can devellop a compartment that could hold 463L pallets length wise similar to the C-27J. That would contain the F135 shipping container, and a whole lot more. Young warriors study tactics, while old warriors study logistics. The new COD can double as a K-version, and that is not that hard to do. The VRC Squadrons would just have to be Composite Squadrons. The US Navy Brass just doesn’t want to do it. The next administration and congress will be more than happy to help the Navy with the funding for development.

          In addition, thoughts to incorporating an operational concept that employs the F-35B on the carrier deck should be seriously considered. One does not just decide one day to bring on board the F-35B. Preparations must be made. Ask the LHA-6 community (via LHA-1 experience). Obstacles on the side of the ship, deck covering composition, painted spot & deck roll markings, goodness the list goes on, and someone should be working that list (NAVAIR?). If it has already been decide ‘we will never do that’ (which is Stupid in my opinion), then all ships with a flight deck should be considered a ‘Ready Deck of Opportunity’ for an F-35B recovery in an Emergency. That list should have already been started, and the modifications budgeted. Don’t see anything like that in the budget either.

          • While a CVN’s deck may not be suitable for the heat and thrust of a routine F-35B vertical landing, that would not prevent an emergency landing. An F-35B could simply be directed to land on a rear corner of the flight deck (anything aft of the wires and clear of an elevator would work). This would slightly damage the deck surface but would spare the aircraft. An alternative is a short roll landing in which the F-35B maintains forward motion 5-10 mph throughout the landing phase so that no part of the flight deck is subject to more than 1-2 seconds of vertical thrust.

          • Curtis Conway

            The Ford Class has that larger area forward of the Mack. I wondering if equipment can be cleared (relocated), Thermion spot laid down, and correct markings on the deck be made to facilitate simultaneous F-35B operations. Once weight is on the wheels, and the tail-cone goes aft, it’s just another F-35 on deck. Getting there is the difficulty, but with steady launch/recovery wind coming across the deck, getting on the deck for the Marines would not be that hard. It’s an eventuality that must be addressed at some point as the population of F-35Bs increases.

          • Jay

            Bring back the KA6D. The EA6B is still around. Are they still in the boneyard?

          • Curtis Conway

            Not many at the boneyard. It would need to be a new construct using modern materials, engine, and systems. Much more capable than the original.

          • E1 Kabong

            Yeah, NO….

  • b2

    Re depots for F-18 C SLEPs and PDM shortfalls and looming E/F SLEPs-
    Recommend contracting out that effort as much as possible, as soon as possible. USG infrastructure building takes decades.
    Re the Strike Fighter “shortfall”, constantly redefined/UFL-
    Buying 14 more E/Fs just buys more overhead tankers missions to keep our heads above water because CVN airwing’s numbers are minimal (65 aircraft vs 90 just 20 years ago), and they are not purpose built to match the pivot to blue/green water. Bringing back the S-3 as a dedicated overhead tanker 2011-2014 could have helped alleviate some of the pressure by this year but it wouldn’t be a 50 state solution, etc. …Only this new CBAR idea could help the issue the F-35C being what it is. However, if past results are any indications I wouldn’t invest in that either…. All I see is crisis management from blip to blip for the foreseeable future.

  • Curtis Conway

    “That funding to recover readiness in the Marine aviation community was funded at the level the service requested, the staffer said.” This is a statement by a congressional staffer who is “On a River in Egypt”. All services are making requests under the constraints of Sequestration, and the staffer knows that. How many programs do we have now that are underfunded at levels REQUESTED. What an idiotic statement!

    Operations & Maintenance budget items should all be kicked up by at least a high single digit percent, and in some cases like the Marines, and low double digit percent. They will be in the thick of it in the Pacific.