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CBO expects fighter/attack, rotorcraft platforms to make up bulk of future US Navy aircraft procurement

07 January 2020
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The CBO said in a new report that the USN could save about USD17 billion over the first 448 aircraft if it buys F-35Cs (pictured) to replace its Super Hornets instead of developing a new fighter. Source: US Navy

The US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) expects fighter/attack aircraft and combat rotorcraft such as helicopters and tiltrotors to make up more than 80% of the US Navy's (USN's) procurement costs from 2020 to 2050, according to a new report.

The report, The Cost of Replacing Today's Naval Aviation Fleet, released on 6 January, projects the costs the USN, including the US Marine Corps (USMC), would incur to maintain the size and composition of its aviation force through 2050. The report said although the USN and the USMC operate about 60 models of aircraft, a small number of high-performance or otherwise technologically-advanced aircraft account for a preponderance of the cost of new aircraft in CBO's projections.

Fighter/attack aircraft - such as the Lockheed Martin USMC F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) model, the USN F-35C carrier variant, and the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet - make up the most expensive category. They account for approximately half, about USD190 billion, of projected procurement costs from 2020 to 2050. The USN is in the process of replacing more than half of its fighter/attack aircraft, the Boeing F/A-18 Hornets and the McDonnell-Douglas AV-8B Harrier II+ combat aircraft, with new F-35B/Cs.

Another group of about 500 fighter/attack aircraft, the Super Hornets, are expected to reach the end of their service life beginning in the early-to-mid 2030s. According to the CBO's projections, the USN would develop a new aircraft, currently designated the FA-XX, to replace its Super Hornets. Production of that aircraft would begin in 2032 and cost USD67 billion for the first 448 aircraft purchased through 2050. That cost represents an aircraft with substantial improvements over the F-35C.

Alternatively, the USN could purchase F-35Cs as Super Hornets retired. Purchasing an additional 448 F-35Cs would cost about USD50 billion. The USN, the CBO said, would also avoid the substantial costs associated with research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) if it extended F-35C purchases rather than if it designed a new aircraft.

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