THE US DEPARTMENT of Defense (DoD) plans to halve production of the US Navy's McDonnell Douglas (MDC) F-18E/F, to slightly over 500 aircraft. The cut is the most dramatic recommendation of the DoD's Quadrenniel Defense Review (QDR), which also calls for production of the US Air Force's Lockheed Martin/Boeing F-22 to be cut to 338 aircraft, from the planned 438 aircraft.
The cuts have been confirmed by a senior Congressman briefed by Pentagon officials. If accepted by Congress, the slashing of F-18E/F procurement could lead to the Navy buying more Joint Strike Fighters (JSF). The Navy had said that its "stake in the ground" going into the QDR was a minimum of 50 fighters on each carrier. This was to be made up of 38 F-18E/Fs and 12 JSFs, and the requirement was for 1,000 and 250 aircraft, respectively.
F-22 procurement is to be cut by disbanding one of the Air Force's four air-superiority wings, reducing its requirement by 99 aircraft. Although production of the air-superiority F-22 would be reduced, the Air Force is pushing for two wings of F-22 strike derivatives, to replace its Lockheed F-117s and MDCF-15Es after 2012.
The impact of the F-18E/F cut on MDC will depend on the timing and depth of the reductions. The company says that it needs to produce a minimum of 48 aircraft a year to achieve its cost projections for the upgraded F-18. The Congress may oppose such a deep cut in production, while the Navy requires an additional 120 derivative aircraft to replace its electronic-warfare Grumman EA-6Bs.
Plans for the JSF programme were expected to become clear when the QDR was unveiled on 19 May. Although the DoD reportedly considered cuts as deep as 25% in its planned procurement of almost 3,000 aircraft for the US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, the JSF is believed to have emerged as the Pentagon's chief hope for reducing the cost of modernisation.
The first flight of the F-22 is likely to be delayed from 29 May following a failure of the auxiliary power-generating system and fuel leaks during ground tests.