STATEMENT OF JOHN B. NATHMAN, REAR ADMIRAL
DIRECTOR, AIR WARFARE DIVISION
March 3, 1999
Mr. Chairmen and Members of the Committee:
Thank you for this opportunity to appear before you to discuss Naval Aviations modernization plan. In my opening remarks I will lay out for you Naval Aviations plan to modernize our major aircraft programs. A more detailed description of each individual platform can be found in the annex.
There is no doubt that Americas forward expeditionary forces are increasingly being called upon to respond and protect Americas interests, and to ensure stability in a still dangerous and uncertain world. Whether it is Iraq or Kosovo, expeditionary forces centered on the aircraft carrier provide the only totally unencumbered air power. To keep Americas carriers capable and relevant we must ensure the "main battery", the carrier air wing, has strike-fighter and support aircraft that can respond to the threats of the 21st century.
Maintaining the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) validated force structure in todays fiscal environment is not without its challenges. As numerous airframes near the end of their service lives, decisions must be made concerning the most cost-effective methods of maintaining the combat capability of the force. There is a wide range of options available; the Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) extends the time a platform can safely remain active in the fleet by repairing critical airframe discrepancies resulting from age and use: re-manufacturing a platform will return it to its original "like new" condition but carries with it the penalty of old technology and system design as well as the increased cost of ownership that accompany them; and finally, designing and manufacturing a new state-of-the-art aircraft is always an option, provided the necessary funding to design, build and test the platform are both available and not better spent on other programs. We are currently studying all these options in determining the most effective path to follow in the case of the EA-6B, P-3C, C-2A, S-3B and E-2C. Combat capability, cost, and available funding will all play in our final decision. Until a decision is made on these legacy platforms we will continue to ensure their combat superiority through airframe and system upgrades. Block 89A and ICAP III improvements will ensure the EA-6B remains ahead of the projected threat while AIP, critical avionics upgrades, and the Radar Modernization Program will ensure the continued viability of the P-3, S-3B, and E-2C respectively. The hard-edge of aviations fighting force will remain our strike-fighter inventory. Modernization efforts focused on ensuring the F-14s precision combat capability were recently validated during Operation Desert Fox. Incorporation of the ALR-67 and digital flight control system will serve as a bridge from the F-14 to the F/A-18F.
With regard to our Helo Master Plan, the combination of new production CH-60s and re-manufactured SH-60Rs will replace all seven aging rotary wing aircraft presently in the navy inventory with modern, combat capable and more affordable platforms. Armed helos are positioned to assume an expanded role in sea control operations as well as organic mine countermeasures in the near future.
Key to our strategy of increasing combat capability at an affordable cost is the procurement of the F/A-18E/F. The Super Hornet program clearly provides the right aircraft at the right time and is perfectly positioned to replace the aging F-14 inventory as well as early lot F/A-18s. The aircraft incorporates a 40% range improvement over the F/A-18C while at the same time doubling the weapons load when in the close air support configuration. An order of magnitude reduction in radar cross section, coupled with countermeasures and standoff weapons, will result in the F/A-18E/F being up to five times more survivable than its predecessor. Volume, power and cooling for continued system growth will ensure the F/A-18E/F out paces the threat. Additionally, increased bring back capability for fuel and unexpended advanced weapons will provide expanded flexibility to the force commander. As a former test pilot I had the opportunity to fly one of the new production lot aircraft last week and found its performance and handling qualities to be superb. The program continues to proceed on time, remain below cost, and meet every key performance parameter.
Essential to our ability to continue to fund critical aviation programs is the $710 million savings generated by approval of the proposed multi-year contract for the F/A-18E/F which would begin in FY00 and support the QDR procurement profile of 36, 42, 48, 48, 48 between FY00 and FY04. This procurement profile was identified by the QDR as the minimum procurement required to meet Navys inventory and warfighting requirements. The F/A-18E/F program meets all of the requirements for a multi-year procurement by providing substantial savings, a stable requirement, funding stability, a stable design, realistic cost estimate, and national security. The F/A-18E/F has completed its first fatigue life testing at 6,000 hours with no significant anomalies noted; and seven aircraft in the flight test have achieved approximately 3,000 flights and 4,000 flight hours providing proof of the stability of the F/A-18E/F design. In addition, OPEVAL will have been completed, 11 of 12 LRIP I production aircraft will have been delivered and 3 production lots will have been procured prior to award of the multi-year contract. Approval of multi-year procurement for the F/A-18E/F is my highest priority.
Right now, we have aviators at risk flying in the not so friendly skies of Iraq and the Balkans. They take off and fly missions from the decks of Americas aircraft carriers. We must keep faith with them by providing the best possible equipment for the execution of their missions. I am committed to doing just that ensuring they have what they need to prevail when they go in harms way. Our country and our Naval Forces deserve no less.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here today to discuss aircraft modernization. I look forward to working with Members of this committee to ensure Naval Aviation is ready to respond, whenever and wherever America calls on us.