Obama’s cut to Super Hornet threatens nation, jobs

This week the opening shot will be fired in the real debate over the future of our nation’s military. Starting Tuesday during the Senate hearing to determine federal funding for the Navy, the Obama administration will deploy top military leaders to defend what many view as risky spending cuts to some of our most reliable defense programs.

While our nation needs to make sacrifices in these tough economic times, we cannot afford to sacrifice our nation’s security, the health of our defense industrial base, and tens of thousands of jobs. Unfortunately, President Obama’s risky gamble with this year’s defense budget does just that. Instead of wisely investing taxpayer dollars to continue the F/A-18 Super Hornet, a model procurement program that is under budget, ahead of schedule and currently available, the president is betting blind with the unproven, long-delayed, over-budget and unavailable F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

As the mainstay of the Navy’s carrier-based strike aircraft, the F/A-18 Super Hornet is the most lethal and effective aircraft in the world. This aircraft provides our naval aviators with air-to-ground attack capabilities, increased payloads, advanced avionics and radar and extended combat range. This proven aircraft is slated to be replaced with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and by underfunding the Super Hornet, the president’s budget speeds up the timeline.

But there’s a real problem with this strategy: According to the Navy, the F-35 will not be ready in time and will result in a Navy fighter shortfall of 243 aircraft within the next decade. That amounts to five empty carrier decks without fighter aircraft — an unacceptable outcome if the United States aims to remain the world’s only superpower.  Aircraft carriers are America’s primary means for projecting power and promoting stability throughout the world. It is too dangerous to risk our ability to project U.S. power from aircraft carriers, particularly as basing rights and access to hot spots becomes more difficult.

Underfunding the Super Hornet not only threatens our ability in the near term to meet current and emerging threats, it will also damage our security in the long run by eroding our competitive domestic industrial base. At current funding levels under the president’s budget, production of the Super Hornet could end, forcing Boeing out of the tactical fighter business, and leaving our nation with only one tactical-fighter producer.  Under this scenario, there will be no incentives for competition and innovation within the defense industrial base. Our nation’s industrial base is the “arsenal of democracy” that keeps our nation competitive, prosperous, safe and secure. Ultimately, the president’s defense budget threatens our industrial base and puts our national security at risk.

In addition to bad national security policy, underfunding the Super Hornet is bad economic policy. Manufacturing jobs across the Midwest have been slowly disappearing. And for every green job President Obama intends to create, his defense budget threatens to eliminate tens of thousands of highly skilled engineering, design and production jobs. Nationwide, the Super Hornet supports more than 110,000 American jobs in 1,400 companies in 44 states. The annual economic impact of these jobs is over $4.6 billion.

These jobs help to sustain other military supplier divisions at Boeing and across America. St. Louis, for example, has long been a world center for aerospace innovation and flight since the days of Charles Lindbergh and his historic flight across the Atlantic in the Spirit of St. Louis. President Obama’s budget would atrophy and eventually destroy that rich aerospace history and brain trust.

Extending the Super Hornet production line just makes national security and economic sense. Our nation still has not recapitalized the military to make up for the procurement holiday taken during the 1990s. As a result, our military is not only facing a shortage of aircraft, but the military aircraft being flown are the oldest they have ever been, with the average airframe at least 24 years old. Many of the aircraft being flown today are older than the pilots flying them! At $49 million a plane versus $150 million a plane (current prices), we can buy three F/A-18s for every one F-35, save taxpayer dollars and ensure that our Navy‘s needs are met.

In an uncertain and dangerous world, America must have the right tools to meet current and emerging threats. Instead of preparing wisely, President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have increased funding for dead weight — the already delayed, cost overridden and unproven Joint Strike Fighter. Ironically, this decision is contrary to President Obama’s campaign message of supporting programs that are on time and on budget.

Smart investments in proven aircraft like the Super Hornet are not a partisan — or parochial — issue. It has been proven time and time again, that investing in our nation’s defense yields both economic and national security dividends. Investing in our nation’s defense increases our national security, spurs technological innovations that keep America on the cutting edge, and creates high-skilled, high-paying jobs. Which is why my colleague from Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), has joined me and others, like Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy (D), to restore funds to sustain the Navy’s most effective aircraft. In the end, it will be up to Congress to rethink the balance between the JSF and the Super Hornet programs in meeting America’s defense needs. It would be dangerous gamble to leave the Super Hornet totally out of the equation.

Bond is vice chairman of the
Senate Intelligence Committee.