Order Code IB92115
CRS Issue Brief for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Tactical Aircraft Modernization:
Issues for Congress
Updated March 16, 2006
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
Tactical Aircraft in the U.S. Military
Major Tactical Aircraft Programs
Implications of Near-Term Decisions
Analysis: Key Issues to Consider
Service Roles and Missions
Defense Industrial Base
Modernization vs. Transformation
FY2006 Congressional Action
Tactical Aircraft Modernization: Issues for Congress
This Issue Brief examines DOD’s four
largest tactical aircraft modernization programs. The background section provides a
brief description of each program, and a discussion of how tactical aircraft fit into military
air operations: the missions they typically
perform and how they contrast to longer-range
may have important long-term implications.
The F/A-18E/F is in full-rate production. The
V-22, and the F-22 are now in transition from
research-development (R&D) to procurement
and could remain in production for decades.
The next-generation combat aircraft that are
expected to result from joint-service efforts
now getting underway through the Joint Strike
Fighter (JSF) program might be in production
through the 2020s. Decisions about the funding of these programs will influence which
U.S. aircraft manufacturers survive in the
aviation industry, and may well affect the
division of combat roles and missions among
the services in the next century.
The Analysis section examines a number
of policy issues including affordability, capability required, force structure, service roles
and missions, industrial base, and transformation. The paper concludes with a synopsis of
recent congressional action on these programs.
The Defense Department plans to buy the
F-22 fighter for the Air Force, the F/A-18E/F
fighter/attack plane for the Navy, and the V-22
tilt-rotor aircraft for the Marines and Air Force
special operations, as well as pursue a
joint-service program to develop a multirole
Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft in three
variants, some of which might be operational
Congress has questioned these tactical
aircraft modernization plans on grounds of
affordability and requirements. Because of
the lack of consensus about future threats and
defense requirements, there has been increasing skepticism about the need for some of
these aircraft programs on grounds of cost and
affordability, military requirements and force
levels, and effects on the defense industrial
base. Debate has also emerged on the need to
balance modernization needs with military
Decisions in Congress and the Defense
Department regarding these aircraft programs
Congressional Research Service
The Library of Congress
MOST RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
The Bush Administration’s FY2007 defense budget included the following requests for
tactical aircraft programs: F-22 — $2.7 billion; JSF — $5.2 billion; F/A-18E/F — $2.3
billion; EA-18G — $1.2 billion; V-22 — $2.2 billion.
BACKGROUND AND ANALYSIS
Tactical Aircraft in the U.S. Military
Tactical or theater aircraft — fighters, fighter/attack planes, and attack planes —
constitute a major component of U.S. military capability. They played a prominent role in
the 1991 Gulf War, and are expected to play a leading role in contemporary and future
military operations, particularly in situations where U.S. leaders hope to limit or avoid the
commitment of U.S. ground forces. Operation Allied Force, the 1999 war in Kosovo, may
have fueled these expectations. During this 78-day war, hundreds of coalition aircraft
attacked Serbian targets, losing only two aircraft in the process. Navy tactical combat aircraft
also played a prominent role in Operation Enduring Freedom, the war in Afghanistan.
Tactical aviation accounts for a significant part of the defense budget, counting the costs
of developing, procuring, and operating aircraft, engines, avionics, and weapon systems, and
personnel, training, and administrative costs. The U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps
had a total inventory of some 5,000 fixed-wing tactical combat aircraft in 2005. Of these,
the Air Force operated about 74% and the Navy and the Marine Corps about 26%. In
addition to these fixed-wing combat aircraft, the DOD operates about 1,300 armed
helicopters.1 This issue brief focuses on fixed-wing aircraft programs: the Air Force F-22,
the Navy F/A-18E/F, the Marine Corps V-22, and the Joint Strike Fighter.
These aircraft have been traditionally referred to as “tactical”aircraft to distinguish them
from the Air Force’s B-52, B-1, and B-2 “strategic” bombers. When applied to aircraft,
“tactical” generally refers to smaller and shorter-ranged planes, while “strategic” generally
refers to larger and longer-ranged aircraft. Both tactical and strategic types are operated by
USAF’s Air Combat Command, which in 1992 replaced Strategic Air Command (SAC) and
Tactical Air Command (TAC). Reflecting the post-Cold War demise of SAC and TAC,
tactical types are sometimes referred to as “theater aircraft.”
Fighter planes primarily engage in air-to-air combat, either at close/visual range or at
ranges requiring radar-guided missiles and stand-off munitions (including “precision-guided
munitions”/PGMs). Attack planes focus on air-to-surface combat operations such as close
air support (CAS) for friendly ground forces engaged in battle, battlefield air interdiction
(BAI) against enemy forces behind the lines, and deep interdiction (also known as “deep
strike”) against the enemy’s military, political, and industrial infrastructure. Fighter/attack
See CRS Report RL32447, Military Helicopter Modernization: Background and Issues for
Congress, by Christian Liles and Christopher Bolkcom.
planes (also known as fighter-bombers, strike fighters, or multirole fighters) perform both
air-to-air and air-to-surface missions. Long-range bombers and cruise missiles can also be
used in BAI and deep strike operations. Different air-to-air and air-to-surface missions and
different basing modes (sea- vs. land-based) give rise to different performance requirements
for combat aircraft, making use of a common aircraft for different missions and services
difficult, if not impossible, without major modifications.
Major Tactical Aircraft Programs
In response to an emerging congressional consensus and recommendations by the
Defense Department’s 1993 Bottom-Up Review (BUR) of force structure requirements, the
Clinton Administration decided in late 1993 to continue two major aircraft programs then
underway — the F-22, a low-observable-to-radar (stealthy) fighter for the Air Force; and the
F/A-18E/F version of the F/A-18 fighter/attack plane for the Navy — while also pursuing
new aviation technology initiatives through the Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST)
program, which later evolved into the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. The Clinton
Administration also supported procurement of the Marine Corps’ V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft,
which had been opposed by the first Bush Administration on grounds of affordability.
The George H. Bush Administration’s plan for modernizing U.S. tactical aircraft had
focused on four key aircraft programs: (1) the F-22, (2) the F/A-18E/F, (3) the AFX, a
stealthy attack/fighter aircraft to be developed for the Navy and Air Force, and (4) the MultiRole Fighter (MRF), either a new aircraft or an upgraded version of the F-16 fighter/attack
plane for the Air Force. Since there was no funding for the MRF and only minimal funding
for the AFX, their rejection by the BUR in 1993 was more a recognition of their demise than
the termination of viable programs.
The Defense Department’s first Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), released in May
of 1997, recommended buying fewer tactical aircraft than was then projected, with reduced
annual procurement of the F-22 and the F/A-18E/F and accelerated procurement of the V-22
tilt-rotor aircraft. Major tactical aircraft programs since the early 1990s are noted below.
F-22 Raptor, built by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, features a stealthy design,
advanced engines by Pratt and Whitney, and new avionics by Hughes and other
subcontractors. It will replace the F-15 as the Air Force’s air superiority fighter. Like the
F-15E, the F-22 will also have air-to-surface attack capabilities. The program was in
competitive prototyping from 1986 to 1991 and then entered engineering and manufacturing
development (EMD), with prototype flights beginning in 1997. On September 14, 2001 the
Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) announced its much-awaited decision that the F-22
program had successfully completed EMD and was ready to move on to low-rate initial
production. On December 15, 2005, the Air Force announced that a 12-aircraft detachment
of F-22s had achieved initial operational capability (IOC).
In recent years, the Air Force has stated a requirement for 381 Raptors. The Air Force’s
FY2007 budget request, however, presents a plan to fund the production of F-22s through
FY2010, for a total inventory of 183 aircraft. This proposed funding plan has raised concern
among many, because it proposes to incrementally fund procurement and may require
congressional waivers of statutory acquisition requirements.
F/A-18F Super Hornet
The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, built by Boeing (since its acquisition of McDonnell
Douglas in 1997) and Northrop Grumman, is a larger and more expensive version of the
current F/A-18C/D fighter/attack plane. It has more range/payload than that of existing
F/A-18s and more potential for future modernization. The E/F version will replace the
Navy’s older F/A-18s in fighter/attack missions and will eventually assume some missions
now performed by F-14 fighters and formerly by A-6 attack planes. In May 1992, the
program entered EMD, with prototypes beginning flight-tests in late 1995 and procurement
funding beginning in FY1997. In December 2003, the Navy awarded a five-year, $8.6 billion
multi-year procurement contract for 210 F/A-18E/Fs to the Boeing Company. Procurement
of 462 F/A-18E/Fs is currently projected, at a cost $43.9 billion current-year dollars (actual
past expenditures and projected future costs) as estimated in September, 2005.2 At least 90
electronic attack versions of the aircraft — the EA-18G will be procured as a replacement
for the Navy’s aging EA-6B Prowler fleet. A separate $1 billion contract was also awarded
to develop the EA-18G, which is estimated to cost a total of $8.6 billion. F/A-18E/F
squadrons from the aircraft carriers Abraham Lincoln and Nimitz participated in Operation
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) began in FY1994 as the Joint Advanced Strike
Technology (JAST) program, which emerged after cancellations of the AFX and MRF. The
JSF program seeks to design, develop, and produce a family of affordable joint-service
fighter/attack planes, with conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) aircraft for the Air
Force and Navy and short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft for the U.S. Marine
Corps and the U.K. Royal Navy. In February 2004, Air Force leaders announced that the
Air Force would also procure some number of STOVL variants to improve its ability to
prosecute the close air support (CAS) mission and reduce the potential implications of
uncertain access to forward bases.
See CRS Report RL30624, Military Aircraft, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Program: Background and
Issues for Congress, by Christopher Bolkcom.
Participation is related to the financial contributions to the program by these
governments, the British government being the major non-U.S. contributor of development
funds. Eight foreign countries have pledged funds to the JSF program. A number of other
countries are being considered for either JSF partnership or as purchasers. From1997-2001
the program was in a competitive design phase involving prototypes built by Boeing and
Lockheed Martin. On October 26, 2001, the DOD announced that Lockheed Martin won the
competition, and would move on to the production phase.
In May 2005, DOD approved a plan to revamp the JSF program to account for
developmental difficulties. The revised plan entails stretching out development efforts 16
to 22 months, adding $11.7 billion in costs and cutting the number of aircraft the Defense
Department will buy. As now projected, some 2,458 JSFs would be procured, with low rate
production starting in 2008 and operational service to begin around 2013 The JSF program
is currently estimated (September 2005) at $256.6 billion.3 As part of its FY2007 budget
request, DOD proposed to cancel the F136 alternate engine program. This program was
initiated by Congress in FY2006.
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)
The V-22 Osprey is a tilt-rotor aircraft built by Bell Helicopter Textron and Boeing
Helicopters primarily for the U.S. Marine Corps to replace their aging helicopters that
transport troops and equipment into combat zones. The Air Force also wants the V-22 for
its special forces and the Navy is considering the Osprey for search and rescue missions. The
V-22’s distinguishing characteristic is its ability to take off, land, and hover like a helicopter,
but also rotate its rotors 90 degrees and fly like a conventional airplane.
Although not part of the tactical aircraft modernization program of the early 1990s, the
V-22 is in funding competition with these programs. The first production aircraft were
procured in FY1997. In September 2005, the V-22 program was estimated by the Defense
Department to cost $50.5 billion current-year dollars for development and production of 458
aircraft. While proponents focus on what they believe to be the Osprey’s unique operational
See CRS Report RL30563, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Program: Background, Status, and
Issues, by Christopher Bolkcom.
capabilities (i.e., long range, high speed, large payload coupled with vertical take off and
landing capability) some opponents say that the aircraft’s tilt-rotor technology is not mature
and has contributed to a number of V-22 crashes over the past several years. Opponents also
challenge whether the Osprey’s operational capabilities will be as big an improvement over
modern helicopters as proponents claim. Investigations into the V-22 program, its crashes,
and allegations of malfeasance came to a head in the spring of 2001.
On May 1, 2001, a Blue Ribbon panel formed by then-Secretary of Defense William
Cohen to review all aspects of the V-22 program reported its findings and recommendations
during congressional testimony. The panel recommended cutting production to the “bare
minimum” while an array of tests were carried out to fix a long list of problems they
identified with hardware, software and performance. On July 5, 2001, it was reported that
the DOD Inspector General (IG) found evidence that the V-22 squadron at New River, NC,
falsified maintenance and readiness records, and in September 2001, three Marines were
disciplined. (See CRS Report RL31384, V-22 Osprey Tilt-Rotor Aircraft, by Christopher
Bolkcom.) After a lengthy hiatus, the V-22 resumed operational flight testing June 2, 2002.
In the fall of 2005, the V-22 program achieved some key milestones. In September
2005, DOD’s Office of Operational Test and Evaluation announced that the V-22 had
successfully completed operational testing and was effective, reliable and capable of
conducting its primary missions. Additional testing is still required, the office reported, and
additional work is needed in areas such as aircraft countermeasures. This announcement was
followed by a letter from the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition to Congress,
certifying that the Osprey was operationally fit, and on September 28, the Defense
Acquisition Board approved full rate production. DOD’s FY2007 budget request proposed
production of 16 V-22 aircraft. This is the first year since the V-22 Blue Ribbon Panel
recommendation that DOD has proposed building more Ospreys than the “minimum
Implications of Near-Term Decisions
Decisions in Congress and the Defense Department in regard to these aircraft programs
may have important long-term implications. The V-22, and the F-22 are now in transition
from research-development (R&D) to procurement and could remain in production for
decades. The next-generation combat aircraft that are expected to result from joint- service
efforts now getting underway through the JSF program might be in production through the
2020s. Decisions about the funding of these programs will influence which U.S. aircraft
manufacturers survive in the aviation industry and may well affect the division of combat
roles and missions among the services.
Congressional debate on tactical aviation has often reflected desires by the defense
committees to assess these programs from a joint and interservice perspective rather than on
a program-by-program or service-by-service basis. The JSF program is a prime example of
this concern for joint-service development and procurement of weapon systems and
equipment. In 1994, the Senate Armed Services Committee concluded that “the only
affordable long-term modernization plan must maximize commonality, where the Air Force
and the Navy procure and operate the same aircraft,” adding that “both the Air Force and the
Navy could face the same threats and operate side by side, necessitating a common
technological approach” (S.Rept. 103-282, p. 82). During an April 2005 hearing of the
Senate Airland Subcommittee, witnesses and subcommittee members discussed how DOD
might operate its tactical aviation forces in a more joint, integrated manner, and thus
potentially reduce the number of purchased aircraft, without eroding combat power.4
Some in Congress have expressed doubts about the affordability of tactical aircraft
modernization programs as currently projected, and some question the need for as many of
these aircraft as currently planned by the services. These concerns were also reflected in the
recommendations of the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review, and PBD 753, which resulted
in reductions in the projected numbers of tactical aircraft to be procured.
Analysis: Key Issues to Consider
Given probable constraints on defense spending in future years, can we afford tactical
aircraft modernization programs as currently projected?
Tactical aviation accounts for a significant share of the U.S. defense budget, although
estimates vary widely, depending on what is included and how costs are allocated. In 1996,
some Defense Department analysts estimated that over 40% of the projected cost of
developing and producing the 20 most expensive weapon systems during the FY1996FY2013 period would go to three tactical aviation programs: JSF (16.5 %), F-22 (14.5%),
and F/A-18E/F (11%). These analyses did not assess the relative military value of such
aircraft in comparison with other weapon systems, however, nor did they compare the cost
of aircraft with that of other weapon systems on an historical basis.
Since the early 1990s, Administration officials have argued that their tactical aircraft
modernization plans are designed to be affordable within the smaller procurement budgets
projected for future years. In efforts to reduce tactical aviation costs, the George H. Bush
Administration terminated several aircraft programs in 1990-92, including continued
procurement of Navy F-14D fighter/attack planes, development of a naval variant of the Air
Force F-22 stealth fighter, and development of the Navy’s A-12 attack plane. In a hearing
on tactical aircraft before the House Armed Services Committee on April 29, 1992,
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysts testified that the procurement costs of the four
tactical aircraft then in the Administration’s plan would be affordable “only under optimistic
assumptions about trends in costs and available funds.” CBO concluded that these aircraft
would probably be procured in smaller numbers than originally planned and without some
of the technological features and performance capabilities that earlier were regarded as
In a hearing on the same subject before the House National Security Committee’s R&D
and Procurement Subcommittees on June 27, 1996, CBO analysts expressed similar doubts
about the JSF, F-22, and F/A-18E/F programs, concluding that DOD is understating the costs
of these aircraft, which “may not be affordable and will probably need to be scaled back....”
“Hearing of the Airland Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee,” Federal News
Service, Apr. 6, 2005.
General Accounting Office (GAO) analysts also testified that attempting to pay for DOD’s
tactical aviation programs as planned “appears to be unrealistic” in light of probable levels
of defense spending in the 2000s.
On March 5, 1997, these programs were discussed in a Senate Armed Services
Committee hearing and later in a joint hearing of the House National Security Committee’s
R&D and procurement subcommittees, where GAO and CBO analysts and DOD officials
(Air Force General Joseph Ralston, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Dr. Paul
Kaminsky, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology) testified. Options
noted by General Ralston ranged from canceling the F- 22, F/A-18E/F, or JSF program, or
buying 25-50% fewer planes than projected, to increasing funding for these three tactical
aircraft programs — which as then projected accounted for about 10% of projected spending
for development and procurement of all weapons through FY2003 and would rise to 16%
through FY2009 and 18% through FY2015.
Representative Curt Weldon stated that since procurement of tactical aircraft in the
Administration’s FY1998 budget accounted for only about 6% of total procurement funding,
the currently projected funding levels and production schedules for these three programs —
estimated by CBO to cost over $350 billion through the 2020s — were unrealistic. Several
other Members also expressed doubts about the affordability of these programs, given current
budgetary concerns, uncertainties about future threats, and competing funding requirements
of other programs. CBO and GAO analysts expressed considerable skepticism about the
affordability and schedules of these programs as currently planned.5
These programs were also the subject of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s
Air-Land Subcommittee hearing on April 16, 1997, which focused mainly on differing
estimates of the F-22’s production cost by Defense Department and Air Force officials. (See
Foote, Sheila. Senators Raise Questions about Affordability of TACAIR. Defense Daily.
April 17, 1997: 101-102.) On July 11, 1997, during Senate debate on the FY1998 defense
authorizations bill (S. 936), an amendment by Senator Russell Feingold requiring DOD to
recommend which of three programs (JSF, F-22, or F/A- 18E/F) should be terminated if
funding were available for only two programs was defeated 79-19. (Congressional Record,
July 11, 1997: S7227-S7234.)
Similar concerns about the rising costs of these aircraft programs were voiced in 1999
during hearings by the House Armed Services Committee (March 3, 1999) and the Senate
Armed Services Committee’s Airland Subcommittee (March 10 and 17, 1999), when
projected increases in the development cost of the F-22 and the JSF were discussed at length.
CBO and GAO analysts expressed many of the same concerns about these programs that they
have noted in recent years. Concerns about the affordability of these programs played a
major role in congressional opposition to procurement funding for the F-22 program in the
FY2000 defense budget.
“Tacair Modernization on Hill: Questions, but No Decisions Yet,” Aerospace Daily, Mar. 12, 1997,
pp. 377-378 and Tony Capaccio, “GOP Defense Staff: Tac Air Problem ‘Out Of Control,’” Defense
Week, Mar. 10, 1997, pp. 1, 15.
In the spring of 2003 F-22 affordability was again at issue. During an April 11 hearing
of the House Government Reform Committee’s national security subcommittee, Defense
Department and Air Force officials estimated that rising costs and the program’s
congressionally mandated $36.8 billion production cost cap could converge to reduce the
total Air Force purchase to as few as 225 Raptors.6
In March 2005, Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee Chairman Representative
Curt Weldon began a hearing by observing that tactical aviation is “in the midst of a massive
train wreck financially.” Representative Weldon noted that the costs of the F-22 and JSF had
increased by “well over 100” and 80 percent respectively, and one impact of these increases
was reduced aircraft purchases.7
Given the demise of the Soviet Union and the apparent dominance U.S. air forces have
demonstrated in recent conflicts, and the apparent growth of low-intensity conflicts, what
capabilities are required in U.S. tactical aircraft?
The F-22 program was started in the mid-1980s, when the Soviet Union was expected
to continue producing high-performance aircraft and air-defense missiles that could pose
serious threats in the 1990s and beyond. The F-22 was then justified as an advanced aircraft
capable of performing combat missions in a high-threat environment. With the demise of
the Soviet Union and a much changed international environment, some question the need to
procure large quantities of such expensive, high-capability aircraft. Alternatives would be
to produce only limited numbers of these aircraft, while upgrading and extending the service
lives of existing aircraft such as Air Force F-15Es and F-16Cs, Navy and Marine Corps
F/A-18C/Ds, and Navy F/A-18E/Fs. Others argue that advanced combat aircraft are not the
most applicable airpower resources for counterinsurgency and anti-terrorism operations.
These observers would reduce planned combat aircraft procurement programs in favor of
increased investments in unmanned aerial vehicles, special operations helicopters, medical
evacuation aircraft, and training and equipping forward air controllers.8
Others argue that large numbers of high-capability aircraft are still necessary because
Russian aircraft and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) are available to potential adversaries of
the United States and its allies, and some European and Asian companies may soon be able
to market advanced aircraft and missiles to potential enemies. In this view, the demise of the
Soviet Union does not mean the end of potential high-threat areas requiring advanced
aircraft. Recent acquisitions of fighter aircraft and surface-to-air missiles by China, and to
a lesser degree India, have fueled some observers’ concerns that these countries may
effectively challenge U.S. airpower in the future. In recent conflicts in Iraq and Yugoslavia,
the F-117 stealth attack plane played a crucial role in destroying targets in high-threat areas.
Marc Selinger, “F-22 Production Estimate Questioned by Lawmakers,” Aerospace Daily, Apr. 28,
“Hearing of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services
Committee,” Federal News Service, Mar. 25, 2005.
See CRS Report RL32737: Military Aviation: Issues and Options for Combating Terrorism and
Counterinsurgency, by Christopher Bolkcom and Kenneth Katzman.
Having large numbers of such advanced aircraft, it is argued, will help ensure operational
success in future conflicts with well-armed adversaries.
Most of those questioning the modernization plan acknowledge that proliferation of
advanced aircraft and air-defense equipment in the Third World will require the United
States to field some new-generation high-capability aircraft. They argue, however, that the
Gulf War showed the United States has a formidable advantage in air-to-air combat, which
can be maintained by procuring a limited number of F-22s for use against those adversaries
who may be able to make effective use of modern Soviet or European aircraft. They note
that the stealthy F-117s used in the Gulf War constituted a tiny percentage of all tactical
aircraft employed against Iraq, and only a few non-stealthy planes were shot down, even in
the early days of the war. Moreover, they argue that cruise missiles and stealthy B-2 bombers
and non-stealthy B-1s equipped with adequate standoff munitions could be used against
heavily defended targets. In this view, F-22s would be procured in some smaller quantity
than the 381 planes currently desired by the Air Force and could be operated as special
“silver bullet” forces.
Others take issue with the need for any F-22s, arguing that the Air Force and Navy will
face generally the same adversary aircraft in the future, and these services now have roughly
equal capability in air-to-air combat as well as considerable air-to-surface attack capabilities
with F-15Es. Others point out that the Navy will eventually conduct its air-to-air combat
mission primarily with the F/A-18E/F. If the Navy does not need a new- generation stealth
fighter for the post-Cold War era, they ask, why is such an aircraft required for the Air
Force? Some also argue that the improved attack capability of the F/A-18E/F will be
sufficient for carrier-based attack missions against the most likely adversaries in regional
conflicts. Furthermore, it can be argued that the successful development of longer-range and
more accurate and lethal standoff munitions would significantly increase the combat
effectiveness of current-generation tactical aircraft.
The need for the V-22’s capabilities are also debated. Those in favor of the program say
the V-22 is needed to replace aging military helicopters in all the services, which are costly
to maintain and operate safely and effectively. This tilt-rotor aircraft will provide the
operational flexibility of a helicopter without the helicopter’s inherent limitations of speed,
range, and altitude. When landing on hostile shores in a third-world conflict, the V-22 would
be critical for the transport of Marines from ship to shore. In sum, it is the Marine Corps’
most important program and a key pillar supporting emerging Marine Corps warfighting
concepts such as Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare. Those who question the need for the V22’s capabilities say that ship-to-shore logistical operations can be performed by less
expensive helicopters for the kinds of landing operations in which the Marines are likely to
be involved, where the V-22’s greater speed and range would not be needed. Moreover,
Marine assault missions in an opposed landing would involve ship-to-shore movement of
troops and equipment, which would require coordination with aircraft having less speed and
range than the V-22.
How many tactical aircraft does the United States need?
The George H. Bush Administration’s proposed base force for the mid-1990s and
beyond reduced force structure to 26.5 Air Force fighter and attack wings, 13 Navy carrier
air wings, and 4 Marine Corps air wings (compared to 35, 15, and 4 air wings respectively
in FY1990). Budgetary considerations and radically altered international conditions led to
these reductions, which some argued were appropriate for the post-Cold War era, while
others viewed this force structure as excessive. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin announced
in September 1993 that the Clinton Administration projected a base force of 20 Air Force
fighter/attack wings (13 active, 7 reserve), 11 Navy carrier air wings, and 4 Marine Corps air
wings. The 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review recommended no major changes in this force
structure, although the 20 Air Force tactical wings would comprise 12 active and 8 reserve
In an attempt to save money, but maintain combat capability, the Navy-Marine Corps
Tactical Air Integration Plan, proposed in late 2002, reduced the number of Navy and Marine
Corps combat aircraft squadrons by nine.9 Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England
reportedly views this reduction as a potential model for DOD’s entire tactical aviation force.
In a March 21, 2005 interview, Mr. England noted that by better integrating Navy and Marine
Corps tactical aviation, the Defense Department was able to reduce aircraft purchases and
save $35 billion, while maintaining the same combat capabilities. Increased efficiencies that
might be realized across DOD’s tactical air enterprise might include better integration, and
more common assets, he told reporters. Mr. England advocated that DOD examine its
“whole [tactical aviation] enterprise” and search for efficiencies and savings. He predicted,
reportedly, that “the most efficient, effective way to construct our air assets” may be one of
the biggest debates in the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review.10
The question of how many wings of tactical aircraft the United States needs for the
“post-9/11” era, and how this number should be determined, is part of an ongoing debate in
the Defense Department and Congress over the proper overall size of U.S. military forces.
Decisions on this issue can affect views on the affordability and focus of plans for
modernizing tactical aircraft. A reduction in the number of air wings would lead to a
corresponding reduction in the number of aircraft to be procured. However, a reduction in
the number of air wings may lead to a decision to increase the proportions of F-22s and
F/A-18E/Fs in the force, on grounds that reduced forces need more capable equipment.
Service Roles and Missions
How should views on service roles and missions be factored into decisions on tactical
The high cost of tactical aircraft programs has renewed interest in the division of tactical
aviation roles and missions among the services. The apparent redundancy in tactical aviation
among the services — the Air Force plus air components of the Navy, Marine Corps, and
Army — has often been criticized as a duplication of efforts. In May 1995, the Commission
on Roles and Missions advocated the continuation of air components in every service, but
suggested that the overall force structure as well as the mix of capabilities and support
See CRS Report RS21488, Navy-Marine Corps Tactical Air Integration Plan: Background and
Issues for Congress, by Christopher Bolkcom and Ronald O’Rourke.
Christopher J. Castelli, “DEPSECDEF Nominee Sees Potential For DoD-Wide TACAIR
Integration,” Inside the Navy, Apr. 4, 2005.
infrastructure should be reviewed. GAO analysts concluded subsequently that DOD’s plans
for tactical aviation have not taken adequate account of overall capabilities and requirements
from a joint-service perspective.
The main roles-and-missions issue affecting current modernization plans concerns the
respective roles of the Air Force and Navy/Marine Corps in projecting U.S. air power
overseas. Most defense analysts view this as not an either-or question but a question of the
appropriate balance between these services in a shared and joint mission. Some would give
the Air Force primary responsibility for power projection overseas; others argue that
geo-political factors would require naval assets for sustained air operations in many
situations. Canceling the AFX and relying mainly on the attack capabilities of the F/A-18E/F
has been viewed by some as reducing the Navy’s role in overseas projection of air power,
which to some would call into question the value of aircraft carriers. Others would argue that
carrier-based aircraft are needed for missions other than deep-strike operations, such as
shorter-range land attack, air superiority, airborne early warning, reconnaissance, electronic
warfare, and anti-submarine warfare. Recent operations, such as the 2001 war in
Afghanistan, highlighted the importance of carrier-based aviation.
Defense Industrial Base
How should industrial-base considerations be factored into decisions on tactical aircraft
The health of the U.S. defense industrial base has been a perennial issue. A report by
the Defense Science Board published in the Spring of 2000 noted that the defense industry
is in the midst of a painful transition that is complicated by the “new economy,” which is
draining human and financial resources. Unless steps are taken now, the study concluded, the
U.S. defense industry will likely be less competitive and financially viable in 5 to 10 years
than it is today. A July 2000 study by Booz-Allen Hamilton reported that the U.S. defense
industrial base is in a state of decline and national security will be affected if current trends
go unchecked.11 A 2005 study by DOD, however, found no major problems with U.S.
Congressional decisions on tactical aviation programs have serious implications for the
aerospace sector of the U.S. industrial base, which is a major source of technological
innovations as well as export earnings. Aerospace is the nation’s leading net exporter of
manufactured goods, with exports exceeding imports in 2004 by $31 billion (including $9.5
billion in military exports), according to the Aerospace Industries Association. There is
general agreement that there were more aircraft manufacturers and subcontractors than recent
levels of defense spending could sustain. Consequently, the aerospace industry, like other
industries heavily dependent on Pentagon spending, has been undergoing a shakeout, with
some companies leaving the military aircraft business and others merging with financially
stronger competitors and downsizing production lines.
Anthony Velocci, “Industry Prognosis Flags Ominous Trends,” Aviation Week & Space
Technology, July 17, 2000.
Sharon Weinberger, “Annual Report Paints Rosy Picture of Defense Industrial Base,” Defense
Daily, Mar. 28, 2005.
Congressional decisions on which military aircraft programs to support may influence
which aircraft manufacturers and subcontractors remain in business. While the U.S.
economy as a whole regularly absorbs declines equal in magnitude to that projected for
defense aerospace, in the short- and medium-term, thousands of skilled engineering and
manufacturing jobs as well the health of local and regional economies are at stake. Some
argue that preservation of critical components of U.S. defense industry is now as important
as military requirements, which have always been matters of judgment based on threat
assumptions that are subject to change. There is no apparent consensus, however, about what
is most critical to future U.S. military requirements or how excess military industrial
capabilities can be converted to civilian production that might enhance international
competitiveness in export trade.
Several questions arise out of the industrial base issue: How many aircraft
manufacturers are needed to support U.S. military needs? To what extent should the
survivability of these firms be taken into account in deciding which aircraft programs to
pursue? Which aspects of the aerospace industry are really unique and vital to production
of tactical aircraft? How can competitiveness among U.S. defense contractors be maintained
with fewer firms, particularly regarding different design concepts and cost-reduction
innovations in the development and production of planes? Should foreign sales of U.S.
military aircraft be factored into decisions on which tactical aircraft programs to pursue?
How might decisions on tactical aircraft programs affect U.S. export earnings and
international competitiveness of the U.S. aerospace industry? There are no easy answers to
such questions and no consensus on these industrial base issues, which confront all industrial
nations in the early 2000s.
Modernization vs. Transformation13
How can tactical aircraft modernization needs be balanced with transformation goals?
Over the past several years, defense analysts and decision makers have increasingly
discussed the need for DOD to transform itself in light of rapidly changing politico-military
circumstances.14 Unlike modernization, transformation is generally viewed as discontinuous
change, or a “leap ahead” in capabilities. Transformation is thought to be fueled by a
combination of new technologies, innovative operational concepts, and codified by new
organizational schema. Modernization and transformation objectives may not be compatible.
This potential incompatibility raises several questions: What emphasis should DOD place
on tactical aviation modernization vs. transformation goals? To what degree do DOD’s
current tactical aviation modernization programs facilitate transformation? To what degree
do they conflict with transformation?
Many proponents of transformation argue that instead of pursuing the tactical aviation
programs described in this report, DOD should upgrade the F-16, F-15 and F/A-18C/Ds.
For a more detailed discussion of transformation, see CRS Report RS20859, Air Force
Transformation, by Christopher Bolkcom.
For instance: the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review; The National Security Strategy of the United
States; the Secretary of Defense’s Annual Report to the President and Congress; the 1998 National
Defense Panel; P.L. 105-261, Title IX, Subtitle A, Sec. 903.
Then, DOD would have sufficient resources to pursue more aggressive aviation technologies
such as unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) and next generation bombers, which,
transformation advocates argue, would more likely generate a “leap ahead” in aviation
capabilities. Advocates of the F-22, JSF, and Super Hornet argue that these aircraft have
capabilities that could contribute to transformation. Furthermore, they argue, DOD has
already skipped a generation of tactical aircraft modernization and can not wait for more
aggressive technologies that may or may not emerge in the distant future. They also maintain
that today’s combat aircraft are losing ground to Russian and other combat aircraft, and need
to be replaced sooner rather than later.
This section presents recent legislative activity on DOD’s four major tactical aircraft
modernization programs. It includes the Administration’s annual budget request, and annual
authorization and appropriations.
The Bush Administration’s FY2007 defense budget included the following requests for
tactical aircraft programs: F-22 — $4.8 billion; JSF — $5 billion; F/A-18E/F — $3.2 billion;
EA-18G — .75 billion; V-22 — $1.7 billion. Details of the request are summarized in Table
Table 1. FY2007 Budget Request
Sources: Procurement Programs (P-1), Department of Defense Budget for FY2005, Feb. 2004.
RDT&E Programs (R-1), Department of Defense Budget for FY2005, Feb. 2004.
Note: 0 indicates previous funding, but none for this fiscal year. Blank cell indicates never funded.
* Some of these funds would be spent on F/A-18A/C/D models as well as E/F models.
** The Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is spending procurement money to add SOF peculiar upgrades
to the two CV-22s procured by the Air Force. The two aircraft in this column are the same aircraft in the Air
FY2006 Congressional Action
In their report H.Rept. 109-89 (H.R. 1815), House authorizers generally supported the
President’s budget. House authorizers matched all funding requests for the F-22 and EA18G. They also matched all funding requests for the V-22 and the F/A-18E/F and
recommended increases of $2 million and $3.2 million respectively. While House
authorizers matched DOD’s request for JSF RDT&E, it recommended no funds for advanced
procurement (-$152 million). The committee wrote (p.92) that “the obligation of funds to
begin low-rate initial production in FY2007 is premature...” considering the recent changes
to the JSF program that postpone certain development milestones.
In report S.Rept. 109-69 (S. 1042) Senate authorizers also supported the President’s
budget. They matched all funding requests, and added $3.2 million to the F/A-18E/F RDT&E
In H.Rept. 109-119 (H.R. 2862) House appropriators matched requests for F-22
procurement and RDT&E funding. Appropriators followed House authorizors by matching
the JSF RDT&E funding request but denying the request for advance procurement, calling
it premature. Appropriators provided most of the funds requested for F/A-18E/F and EA18G, trimming $5 million from the Super Hornet’s $422.4 million request for modifications,
and $9 million from the Growler’s RDT&E request. Appropriators matched the Navy’s and
DoD’s V-22 funding requests, but cut a net of $8 million from Air Force procurement and
added $2 million to Air Force RDT&E accounts.
In S.Rept. 109-141 (H.R. 2863), Senate appropriators matched the Air Force’s request
for F-22 procurement funding, but cut the R&D request by $25 million. Appropriators
matched the Air Force’s request for JSF advanced procurement funds, but reduced the R&D
request by $270 million ($146 million from the Air Force request and $124 million from the
Navy request.) Appropriators matched the Navy’s request for EA-18G procurement and
increased the R&D request by $9 million. Procurement requests for the F/A-18 were
increased a total of $27.8 million and the Super Hornet’s R&D request was increased by $2
million. Senate appropriators matched all funding requests for the V-22 Osprey.
In H.Rept. 109-360 (H.R. 1815) authorization conferees matched all procurement and
funding requests. Conferees also increased the Navy’s F/A-18E/F procurement request by
$3.2 million for the Shared Reconnaissance Pod, and increased the Air Force’s R&D request
for V-22 by $2 million.
In H.Rept. 109-359, (H.R. 2863) appropriations conferees matched the Navy’s
procurement request for the EA-18G, but cut R&D by $9.1 million. Conferees increased
F/A-18E/F procurement funds by $4 million for the Shared Reconnaissance Pod, and
provided a net increase of $11 million in procurement funds for F/A-18 spare engines and
modules. Appropriators cut, however, the Navy’s R&D request for F/A-18 by $1.3 million.
Appropriators matched all funding requests for the V-22, and increased the Air Force’s R&D
account by $1 million. Procurement funds requested for the JSF were cut by $32.3 million,
and R&D was reduced by $99 million. Conferees matched the Air Force’s procurement
request for the F-22, but cut R&D funds by $25 million.