NEWTOWN, Conn. - The U.S. Navy is requesting $16.1 billion for aircraft in FY16, which is about $485 million more than the service projected in the previous year's budget plan. The Navy is increasing procurement of a number of aircraft in FY16, while simultaneously reducing overall procurement rates through the Future Years Defense Program. The FY16 request includes four F-35Cs (two more than planned), 16 P-8As (one more than planned), and two KC-130Js (one more than planned). However, the service will buy 16 fewer F-35Cs over the FYDP compared to the FY15 request, and two fewer E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes.
The F-35C currently remains on track for reaching Initial Operational Capability in FY19, while P-8A procurement will wrap up in FY19. The Navy originally planned to buy a total of 117 P-8As, though eight aircraft were removed from the FY15 request due to budget cuts. The service included those eight aircraft on its list of unfunded priorities for FY15, though Congress only added funding for one additional aircraft. The Navy has cut one aircraft in each of FY17 and FY18 to offset the aircraft added in FY15 and FY16, leaving total planned procurement at 109. It remains to be seen if additional P-8As will make it onto the Navy's future list of unfunded priorities.
The FY15 unfunded priorities list also included 22 EA-18G Growlers, and lawmakers ultimately funded 15 aircraft in the final appropriations bill. The FY16 request does not include additional EA-18Gs. Advance procurement of the CH-53K helicopter for the Marine Corps begins in FY16, with low-rate initial production beginning in FY17. The new executive helicopter is also on track for a Milestone C production decision in FY19.
The Navy has selected the V-22 as its C-2 carrier onboard delivery replacement, and the FY16 FYDP contains the first 24 of 44 planned aircraft. All 24 V-22s programmed between FY18 and FY20 are Navy variants. Initial operational capability for the Navy variant is expected in FY21.
Low-rate initial production of the MQ-4C Triton begins in FY16, with the Navy asking for $494.3 million for three aircraft. MQ-4C procurement was reduced by one aircraft in each of FY16 and FY17 due to fiscal constraints. In FY18, procurement will continue at a rate of four aircraft per year. Procurement of MQ-8C Fire Scouts continues at a rate of two-per-year through the FYDP. The budget plan funds a restructured Fire Scout program that includes 70 air vehicles (61 procurement and nine RDT&E) comprised of MQ-8B and larger MQ-8C variants. RQ-21A Blackjack production was increased by three systems in FY16, funded in the Overseas Contingency Operations Account.
The Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program has been pushed back to give the Navy time to complete a "comprehensive review of requirements." Lawmakers have recently questioned whether the UCLASS program has focused too much on ISR capabilities, and not enough on the ability to penetrate enemy air defenses to strike a target. A Request for Proposals has been pushed back to FY16, and early operational capability is now expected in the 2022/2023 timeframe.
Elsewhere, the Navy's budget request buys 1,000 fewer weapons over the FYDP compared to previous plans, including 750 fewer small diameter bombs. The Navy has also ended procurement of the Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW). In the FY15 plan, the service expected to buy another 200 JSOWs in FY16.
The Navy plans to buy its last 100 Tomahawk missiles in FY16. The service initially planned to end procurement in FY15, though lawmakers added funding for additional missiles to keep production running. The service says that those additional missiles, as well as the 100 included in the FY16 request, will sustain production through FY18. A Tomahawk recertification is expected to begin in FY19, extending the life of some 3,790 missiles by 15 years.
An analysis of alternatives for a next-generation land attack weapon to replace the Tomahawk will commence in 2015. The Navy plans to study both anti-ship and land-attack mission areas in its analysis, with the goal of maximizing commonality between missile types and reducing overall development costs. Lawmakers have expressed concern about ending Tomahawk production without a replacement ready. The FY16 request also includes $1.1 billion for Trident II modifications, $192.9 million for 167 AMRAAMs, $96.4 million for 167 AIM-9X Sidewinders, and $435.4 million for 113 SM-6 missiles. The AIM-9X Block II will achieve initial operational capability in FY15 or FY16, though the Navy has removed funding for Block III development. The Navy will also begin buying Longbow Hellfire missiles in FY17 for use on the Littoral Combat Ship surface warfare module.