Navy Aviation:

F/A-18E/F will Provide Marginal Operational Improvement at High Cost

NSIAD-96-98: Published: Jun 18, 1996. Publicly Released: Jun 18, 1996.

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GAO reviewed the Navy's plan to procure with F/A-18E/F aircraft, focusing on: (1) whether operational deficiencies in the F/A-18C/D cited by the Navy to justify the need for the F/A-18E/F have materialized and, if they have, the extent to which the F/A-18E/F would correct them; (2) whether the F/A-18E/F will provide an appreciable increase in operational capability over the F/A-18C/D; and (3) the reliability of the cost estimates for the F/A-18E/F and a comparison of those estimates with the costs of potential alternatives.

GAO found that: (1) the F/A-18C/D could achieve strike ranges greater than required by the F/A-18E/F system specifications; (2) F/A-18C/D aircraft in service in Bosnian operations have achieved a carrier recovery payload capacity greater than the Navy's predicted carrier recovery payload capacity; (3) while the F/A-18E/F is predicted to have improved survivability over the F/A-18C/D, the F/A-18E/F was not justified on the basis that it was needed to counter a particular military threat that could not be met with current capabilities, and planned F/A-18E/F survivability might be better attained at less cost with the next-generation strike fighter; (4) despite the Navy's prediction, the F/A-18C/D has the additional space required for new avionics systems; (5) F/A-18E/F payload capability may not occur until air flow problems are corrected; (6) the next-generation Joint Strike Fighter is projected to cost less per aircraft, and be more capable than the F/A-18E/F; (7) reducing the total number of F/A-18E/F aircraft to be bought and the annual production rate to levels tat are more realistic than the Navy estimated will result in the F/A-18E/F costing about $9.6 million more per aircraft than originally estimated; and (8) the Navy would save $17 billion in recurring flyaway costs if it procured F/A-18C/D aircraft rather than F/A-18E/F aircraft.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The 104th Congress funded the procurement of the F/A-18E/F program.

    Matter: Congress may wish to direct that no funds may be obligated for procurement of the F/A-18E/F until the Department of Defense (DOD) has fully examined the alternatives to the E/F program. In that regard, the House National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997 (H.R. 3230, Sec. 220) directed such an examination, and a DOD deep-strike study is expected to be completed by the end of 1996. Delaying the authority to begin procuring the E/F would allow DOD to complete its study and time for Congress to assess the results of the DOD study and the information in this report as it decides whether DOD should be provided funding to proceed with the F/A-18E/F program.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its response to the final report, DOD strongly disagreed with GAO's evaluation of the capabilities of the F/A-18E/F relative to the F/A-18C/D and did not concur with the recommendation that the Secretary of Defense reconsider the decision to procure the E/F and instead buy additional C/D aircraft. DOD's position is that the rationale for developing the F/A-18E/F remains valid, and the development program is proceeding as planned. However, it was recently reported that the Under Secretary of Defense, Acquisition and Technology, has some reservations about the long-term status of the E/F program. He is reported to have stated that he believes GAO neglected to note that "having an F/A-18E/F program in production as we ramp up the Joint Strike Fighter program gives us some options." One of those options was to "terminate earlier the E/F program if the Joint Strike Fighter program is on track and doing well."

    Recommendation: Given the cost and the marginal improvements in operational capabilities that the F/A-18E/F would provide, the Secretary of Defense should reconsider the decision to produce the F/A-18E/F aircraft and, instead, consider procuring additional F/A-18C/Ds. The number of F/A-18C/Ds that the Navy would ultimately need to procure would depend upon when the next-generation strike fighter achieves operational capability and the number of those aircraft the Navy decides to buy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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