The Navy is working on a new 10-year effort to revitalize its aviation infrastructure, the service’s top officer told Congress on Tuesday.
The service is pursuing what it’s calling the Naval Aviation Fleet Infrastructure Optimization Plan (FIOP) to revamp the aviation maintenance facilities so they can better maintain aircraft, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday told the Senate Armed Services Committee in written testimony.
“We are also recapitalizing our aviation depot infrastructure. Through our Naval Aviation Fleet Infrastructure Optimization Plan (FIOP), we are developing a 10-year master plan that provides our aviation depots the capacity to sustain and modernize our aircraft, engines, components, and support equipment,” Gilday wrote. “Meanwhile, we are also transforming our Navy enterprise shore network infrastructure into a secure, resilient digital platform.”
During today’s hearing, Gilday told Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) that he would provide the lawmaker with possible timelines for the FIOP initiative and more information as to how it will fit into the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget planning. Gilday compared the FIOP to the Navy’s ongoing Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Plan (SIOP), a $21 billion effort to upgrade the aging infrastructure in the four public yards.
“Similar to the SIOP for shipyards, we have the FIOP for fleet repair facilities,” Gilday told lawmakers during the hearing. “And we just started that effort and we’re prioritizing those projects.”
Tillis, whose state includes Fleet Readiness Center East, described the depots as “antiquated.”
“It’s like a Rubik’s Cube when you’re moving equipment around to actually do servicing, and so much so that I think Lockheed Martin’s talking about, or considering, their own depot maintenance facility,” Tillis said.
While the SIOP and FIOP are both focused on updating infrastructure, the Navy also had two separate initiatives focused on sustainment and increasing readiness by developing best practices and processes for work in the aviation depots and shipyards. The service modeled its Naval Sustainment System-Shipyards effort after its Naval Sustainment System-Aviation initiative.
During an exchange with Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Gilday also made the case for the Navy’s plans to expand the Fallon Range Training Complex in Nevada.
“We haven’t done so since the mid-80s,” Gilday said of modernizing the range.
“We’re two generations behind with respect to aircrafts. We’re facing a problem now where if we don’t modernize this range, the first time F-35s will be able to employ their full capability will be in combat,” he added. “We’re building wind farms off the California coast that again cut into out training ranges. And so we’re running out of space to train. But we’re using for some years now precision weapons, GPS-guided weapons with longer ranges with sophisticated aircraft and we can’t train our pilots and our air crews to their full capability.”
The Navy first announced plans to expand and modernize the training ranges at Fallon in 2016, USNI News reported at the time.
“The speed and scale of a potential fight for control of the seas has changed. The size of our premier Carrier Air Wing and SEAL training center – the Fallon Range Training Complex (FRTC) – is no longer sufficient. Within existing capacity, our Sailors cannot sufficiently train with longer-range weapons or practice the tactics and techniques they will need to employ against a near-peer threat,” Gilday told the committee in written testimony today. “We will continue to work with Congress, tribal leadership, local communities, and key stakeholders in the year ahead to modernize the FRTC and ensure our Sailors have the infrastructure they need to train to win in combat.”
Much of the land the Navy wants to use is federally managed. In accordance with a provision in the FY 2021 defense policy bill, the service is participating in an Inter-Government Executive Committee (IEC) process meant to gather input from various stakeholders about the potential expansion.