Naval Air: January 10, 2002


: The Navy is reviewing the lessons it has learned from the Afghan War. While a formal document may never be released, some aspects have been noted in public:

@ The Navy needs to spend more money on improved communications, improved sensors, and long-endurance unmanned recon drones.

@ The F-18C is short-legged and requires too much tanker support for deep attack missions like Afghanistan; the new F-18E should solve this problem.

@ The F-18E has longer range and a bigger payload, but is not quite as agile in air-to-air battles.

@ While the F-14 is the Navy's best bomber, it is old and worn out, and costs a fortune to fly. Rebuilding them would cost hundreds of millions and would still produce only a decade of life. 

Faced with this, the Navy is considering the idea of buying its FA-35 Joint Strike Fighters at a more rapid rate than current schedules would call for.

@ Something has got to be done, and soon, about a stand-off jammer aircraft to replace the EA-6B. The Navy was stunned when many of these aircraft were grounded by structural cracks in the wing boxes. The aircraft are flying more often than designed and wearing out faster than expected. The Clinton Administration's move to save money by dumping the EF-111As was arguably the worst decision it ever made.

@ Seeking "persistence of vision", the Navy wants to buy a long-range long-endurance recon drone based on the Global Hawk airframe and operate it from carriers. This would allow broad areas to be watched for extended periods.

@ The Navy has invested a lot of time and money in the helicopter-based Fire Scout drone, but has now decided that this is the wrong aircraft and stopped funding it. The Fire Scout is too slow and lacks the range needed, its payload (designed to spot ships at sea) is too small, and its rotor blades are a huge radar target.

@ Money spent improving the surface-search capabilities of the P-3 Orion anti-submarine plane have paid off by accidentally producing a long-range high-endurance aircraft capable of conducting extended recon missions over Afghanistan or the Balkans. --Stephen V Cole


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