Defense Acquisitions:

F/A-18E/F Aircraft Does Not Meet All Criteria for Multiyear Procurement

NSIAD-00-158: Published: May 26, 2000. Publicly Released: May 26, 2000.

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Jack L. Brock, Jr
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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO reviewed the Navy's F/A-18E/F aircraft program, focusing on whether the operational tests: (1) validated the Department of Defense's (DOD) statements that the F/A-18E/F will provide performance capabilities that are superior to existing F/A-18 aircraft; and (2) raised issues that could impact aircraft cost or the upcoming decision on whether the Navy should award a multiyear procurement contract for full-rate production of the aircraft.

GAO noted that: (1) although the F/A-18E/F met its key performance parameters, the operational testers' comparisons of the F/A-18E/F to the existing F/A-18C showed that the F/A-18E/F did not demonstrate superior operational performance over the existing F/A-18C aircraft; (2) the testers compared the operational effectiveness of the F/A-18C to the F/A-18E/F in 18 operational mission areas such as interdiction, fighter escort, combat air patrol, air combat maneuvering, and air-to-air weapons; (3) using a numerical scale, the testers rated the F/A-18E/F's operational effectiveness essentially the same as the F/A-18C's; (4) deficiencies identified by the operational testers will be costly to correct and raise questions about whether the Navy should enter into a multiyear procurement contract for full-rate production of the aircraft; (5) the major deficiency was the aircraft's weak aerodynamic performance, which reduces the aircraft's ability to accelerate, climb and turn, and causes it to have a low top speed; (6) these deficiencies reduce the aircraft's ability to: (a) maneuver during air-to-air combat with adversary aircraft; (b) quickly exit a combat area so as to not get caught from behind; (c) protect the carrier battle group by sprinting out to engage enemy aircraft; and (d) integrate into operations with the better performing F/A-18C aircraft; (7) correcting these deficiencies would require a costly program to develop and acquire a new engine and retrofit it on already produced aircraft; (8) the Navy does not plan to develop a new engine for the F/A-18E/F to correct these deficiencies because it believes that future upgrades to the aircraft will provide capabilities that will make the speed and maneuverability of the aircraft less critical in close-in aerial combat; (9) however, the upgrades are still under development and testing; (10) the F/A-18E/F also has a noise and vibration deficiency that damages the air-to-air and some air-to-ground weapons carried by the aircraft; (11) as a result, during operational testing limits were imposed on the number of hours the weapons could be carried on the aircraft before they needed to be replaced, and more frequent weapons inspections were imposed; (12) the operational testers concluded that the time limits and the more frequent inspections would not be acceptable for fleet operations and, therefore, rated the F/A-18E/F unsatisfactory in the air-to-air weapons area; and (13) the Navy's approach to mitigating this problem is to strengthen the weapons, rather than make costly changes to the aircraft.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In response to the final report, DOD did not change its position on GAO's recommendation to defer award of a multi-user contract until testing related to the F/A-18E/F noise and vibration problem has been completed and corrections of the deficiency have been made, tested, and funded. DOD's position is that a panel of experts reviewing the problem has not concluded that the problem will require a wing redesign. The final response states that the F/A-18E/F has proceeded into a multi-user procurement contract.

    Matter: To avoid costly retrofitting and redesign of the F/A-18E/F's wing because of the noise and vibration problem, Congress may wish to consider directing the Navy to defer awarding a multiyear contract for full-rate production of the F/A-18E/F until testing related to the noise and vibration problem has been completed and corrections of the deficiency have been made, tested, and funded.


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