Navy Budget Churning Continues

In late February the US Navy released an amended budget for the period 2007 – 2013. Likely as a result of the continuing war on terrorism, the Navy’s budget reflects less demand for aircraft and more for ships. And there are a few surprise winners and losers.

In the next six years the Navy is now budgeting for two CVN-21 aircraft carriers, eight Virginia-class subs, five DDG-1000 guided missile destroyers, two CG-X guided missile cruisers, and 32 littoral combat ships (despite the program in deep trouble already with 100%+ cost over-runs on the first four ships and the Navy’s halting further construction).

On the air side, there are cuts in the F-35, F-18G, V-22, MH-60S, and T-6A programs, with a surprising surge in construction of the P-8, the P-3C replacement. Fourteen P-8As are now budgeted for 2010-2011 with a total of 37 to be completed by 2013, several years earlier than previously announced. The domestic production run of 108 is to be completed by 2019. In fact, there remains serious doubt that 108 will be built, with a more realistic total of 60 to be built for the US Navy (Boeing still hopes for foreign participation in the build, followed by foreign orders, although there are currently no such partners). Twelve Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UCAV – probably the MARINER-B – are also now budgeted by 2013, these to augment and be controlled from the P-8s in open ocean surveillance/attack. A total of 50 is to be built.

This surge in P-8 production against the backdrop of decreased aircraft production overall suggests that the P-3 fleet is becoming unairworthy at a faster rate than predicted even a year ago. The Navy maintains that it is reemphasizing the lost anti-submarine warfare expertise squandered after the fall of the USSR as P-3s were tasked instead with overland ISR and land attack, and says that the P-8’s main mission will be ASW. It remains to be seen if the P-8 will indeed be constructed at an accelerated rate, how many will actually be built by 2019, and whether the Navy can maintain superiority over the ever growing number of air-independent propulsion submarines being purchased by countries hostile to the U.S. This writer still expects a total of four P-8 squadrons split between NAS JACKSONVILLE, FL, and NAS WHIDBEY ISLAND, WA, with a detachment to MCAS KANEOHE BAY, HI, and the Fleet Replacement Squadron (VP-30) with its own dozen or so aircraft.

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