Today, Chairman Mike Turner (OH-10) of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces made the following opening remarks as prepared for delivery during a hearing about the shortfalls in military aviation modernization that will result from President Donald Trump’s budget for fiscal year 2018:
"The subcommittee meets today to review the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force aviation investment and modernization budget requests for fiscal year 2018.
I would like to welcome our distinguished panel of witnesses:
• Vice Admiral Paul Grosklags, Commander of the Naval Air Systems Command;
• Rear Admiral 'Chip' Miller, Director of the Navy’s Air Warfare Division;
• Lieutenant General Arnold Bunch, Military Deputy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition;
• Lieutenant General Jerry Harris, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans, Programs, and Requirements; and,
• Lieutenant General Jon Davis, Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation.
I understand this will be General Davis’s final appearance before the committee because he will be retiring next month. General Davis, we thank you for your 37 years of distinguished service to the Marine Corps and our Nation, and wish you the best in your future plans.
I thank all of you for your service and look forward to your testimony today.
As I have stated at previous hearings, I support the President’s commitment to rebuilding the capacity and capability of our military. However, I am concerned that the current budget request of $603 billion for the Department of Defense will not achieve that goal in the timeline desired and needed.
For example, at Congress’ request, the military services submitted their unfunded requirements lists to the congressional defense committees last week. The total amount was over $30.0 billion dollars. A significant portion of these requests were related to modernization needs.
Of particular note, the Air Force included an additional 14 F-35A aircraft, and the Navy and Marine Corps included 20 additional aircraft comprised of F-18 Super Hornets, F-35Bs and F-35Cs.
I suspect all of our witnesses today will support the President’s budget request. However, Members of this subcommittee need to better understand what additional capabilities are required above the President’s budget request, and why it is imperative we work to fully resource these unfunded requirements to accelerate the restoration of full-spectrum readiness.
I continue to support Chairman Thornberry and Chairman McCain who believe that a $640 billion dollar budget in fiscal year 2018 is required to build the capability needed for today’s complex and dangerous world. The military services unfunded requirements also validate a higher topline funding level.
Today the subcommittee will review a broad portfolio of tactical aviation modernization programs and associated acquisition strategies.
The witnesses have been asked to identify their top five modernization requirements and briefly summarize how the budget request addresses them.
The aviation budgets for the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force appear to be placing a higher priority on current readiness—and rightfully so.
Earlier this year, we heard the Vice Chief of Naval Operations report that over 60 percent of F-18s are out of service due to backlogs in depot repair. This budget fully funds depot capacity. This budget also robustly funds preferred aviation munitions such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition, Small Diameter Bombs, and Hellfire missiles—a much needed increase especially for the on-going combat operations in the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility.
However, the Navy continues to absorb significant risk in its management of the strike fighter inventory. The Navy is challenged to replace legacy F-18C, D, and AV-8B aircraft that have reached the end of their service-life before they can be replaced by new F-35s or new F-18 Super Hornet aircraft. Each year, the Navy flies about 180,000 flying hours in its F-18 fleet which equates to the entire fleet expending 24 to 36 aircraft worth of service-life per year.
The Navy’s fiscal year 2018 budget request includes the procurement of 38 F-18 Super Hornets and F-35s, so the Navy is only slightly above its annual expenditure of fighter aircraft life. There are two less Navy F-35Cs in the budget request than were projected last year, and the future years defense program for fiscal year 2018 reduces the planned F-35C procurement by seven aircraft.
The Air Force currently has a fleet of 55 combat-coded fighter squadrons, significantly smaller than the Desert Storm force of 134 fighter squadrons.
We have heard testimony from senior Air Force leaders that with the current demand for rotational fighter presence, 55 combat fighter squadrons does not allow sufficient time to train pilots or maintain aircraft, which contributes to degraded full spectrum readiness.
The 55 combat squadron level meets the minimum requirements set forth in current Defense Planning Guidance, but the Air Force considers it to be high risk in more challenging scenarios.
The Air Force has stated that in order to meet current steady-state demands and maintain readiness to meet most surge requirements, the Air Force needs to grow to at least 60 combat fighter squadrons, invest in munitions, modernize existing platforms, and increase participation in advanced training opportunities.
The fiscal year 2018 budget request includes 46 F-35As for the Air Force and that number is two more than planned last year for this budget request. However, I would also note that two years ago, the Air Force planned to procure 60 F-35As in fiscal year 2018. In testimony before this committee last July, Air Force General 'Hawk' Carlisle, the former Commander of Air Combat Command, testified that to address the Air Force’s capability and capacity shortfalls, the desired production rate is 60 F-35s per year.
The committee is also pleased to see the Air Force reverse its decision to retire the U-2 in 2019 and provide funding to maintain both the U-2 and Global Hawk platforms to meet high-altitude airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance demands of our combatant commanders. However, all of the services represented today need to take a hard look at their investment strategies in airborne ISR capacity because a significant portion of combatant commander’s requirements are still unmet in many of the intelligence disciplines.
As the committee continues its deliberation on the fiscal year 2018 budget request, we will look for opportunities to further address the Services’ most pressing modernization requirements."