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Navy puts electronic attack jets on ‘unfunded’ list

Published time: March 07, 2014 18:08
A Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet (AFP Photo / Dibyangshu Sarkar)

A Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet (AFP Photo / Dibyangshu Sarkar)

Hoping to nudge Congress into providing some extra cash in its 2015 budget, the US Navy is looking to put 22 Boeing electronic attack jets onto a list of “unfunded priorities” and send it to lawmakers.

The move comes amid reports suggesting an overhaul is in line at the Pentagon alongside budget cuts. According to the report by Reuters, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the various military branches to respond to Congress’ request for a list of unfunded priorities.

Specifically, the Navy plans to add 22 Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets or EA-18G Growlers, which lend the military electronic attack capabilities such as radar warning and jamming equipment. Production of these planes is scheduled to end in 2016 unless orders continue to trickle in.

Two U.S. Navy EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jets (Reuters / Ho New)

Additionally, the Navy will reportedly request eight P-8A reconnaissance planes, six F-35 fighter jets, and funding to continue operating the USS George Washington aircraft carrier.

In the past, senior officials attempted to prohibit these types of lists from reaching Congress, but nowadays the military believes attempts to shrink the budget will force decisions that lawmakers should be aware of.

"This is a different time,” an unnamed official said to Reuters. “We've had to make tough choices, and budgets are coming down. Part of what we want to do is demonstrate to Congress that our military has needs that are not fulfilled by sequestration.”

Still, it’s not clear the list – which has to go through the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior Pentagon officials – has the support necessary to become a difference maker. The Navy is gradually moving away from aircraft fulfilling only a single purpose, and there’s a strong willingness to dedicate resources to purchases of the F-35.

The F-35 JSF (AFP Photo)

As RT reported earlier this week, the Navy already nearly halved its purchases of F-35 jets, from 69 over the next five years to 36. The aircraft have suffered production and software obstacles, but the military has maintained confidence in the program’s ultimate success.

What’s more, lawmakers have stated that any decision to approve the $2 billion necessary to purchase 22 Growlers would likely have to be offset with reductions to other parts of the budget. The fiscal budget already saw $75 million added specifically for Growler purchases, though that money hasn’t been released just yet.

For its part, Boeing said it could slow down and maintain production if the Navy spreads out its orders over a couple of years, and pushed Congress to authorize the funds.

"The Super Hornet and Growler are the backbone of the Navy's carrier air wings today, and will be through at least 2040,” Boeing spokeswoman Karen Fincutter told Reuters. “If funding to extend production of those aircraft isn't provided, unique industrial capabilities will be lost and the U.S. will be solely dependent on one tactical aircraft manufacturer for years to come.”