Determining The Future Of Naval Aviation: An Institutional Perspective
AUTHOR LCDR William B. Stedman, USN
SUBJECT AREA Aviation
Determining the Future Of Naval Aviation:
An Institutional Perspective
Naval Aviation is increasingly facing a future in which it will have to operate aircraft with diminished margins of capability over potential adversaries or face force structure reductions below the DOD Base Force in order to field a modernized force. Naval aircraft modernization plans have been complicated by a wide range of mission requirements, acquisition failures, and new post Cold War budget constraints.
However complicated these problems are, the root cause of naval
aviation's looming modernization crisis is the failure to develop institutional
consensus on a rational strategy for the future within the uniformed elements of
naval aviation, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV), and the
Department of the Navy (DON). The lack of consensus and cohesion have
undercut naval aviation's ability to function in the DOD and Congressional
budget battlegrounds. The result is that the OPNAV and the DON have forfeited
the ability to set the future agenda of naval aviation.
The subdivision of naval aviation into separate platform based
communities is the chief institutional factor that prevents naval aviation from
speaking with one voice. Marine Corps aviation presents other institutional
problems. The changing institutional environment in OPNAV, the DON and
DOD have also contributed to the disarray which places naval aviation's future
at risk. The most dramatic changes have been the decline in power and
influence of the platform "barons" and the rise of an independent acquisition
corps directly under the SECNAV's authority.
The genesis of the F/A-18 E/F program is used to demonstrate the
weakness of the present institutional arrangements within OPNAV and the DON.
The conclusion discusses why strong warfare area representation is essential to
managing the diverse elements of the Navy and for developing and articulating
naval modernization strategies. A return of the platform sponsors to DCNO
status is recommended.
Determining the Future of Naval Aviation:
An Institutional Perspective
THESIS: The nations future defense strategy based upon forward
presence, crisis response, and power projection seems to provide an ideal
environment for Naval Aviation to continue to flourish. However, the failure to
develop institutional consensus within the uniformed elements of naval aviation,
the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and the Department of the Navy have
undercut naval aviation's ability articulate a sound strategy for the future, thus
placing the future at risk.
I. Background and Problem
II. Visible Causes
III. Determinate Cause - Failure to Develop Consensus and
IV. The Fractured State of Naval Aviation
a. Division by Communities
b. The Challenge of Integrating Marine Corps Aviation
V. Changing Institutional Environment in OPNAV, the DON
a. The Decline of the Platform Barons
b. The Focus on Acquisition
c. The OSD Prescription
VI. Why the Navy Should be Organized Differently
VIII. The Challenge for Leadership
Determining the Future of Naval Aviation:
An Institutional Perspective
Operation Desert Storm demonstrated the capabilities U. S. military
forces built-up during the 1980's. This was particularly true for airpower. While
the day may never come when airpower alone can achieve total victory in a
conventional war, it did prove to be the decisive factor in enabling an
operational commander to reduce an enemy's capability and to shape the
battlefield to ensure victory.
However, for the proponents of naval air power, the results of Desert
Storm look less appealing. Although Navy and Marine Corps aviators
performed ably and professionally in all assigned missions, the Gulf War
pointed to some glaring weaknesses in naval aviation. Rear Admiral R. D.
Mixson, Commander Carrier Group Two during Desert Storm, detailed several
specific areas in which naval aviation is presently weak and needs improving.
These areas include insufficient organic air-to-air refueling capability, lack of
precision-guided bunker-busting weapons, failure to provide for media
requirements, and the failure to impact the joint (CINC) deliberative
While these problems are real and need solutions, they are only part of
much larger modernization problems threatening naval aviation's future.
Desert Storm demonstrated a much more serious weakness in naval aviation
than those which RADM Mixson mentioned: The advanced age and limited
capability/survivability of many naval aircraft (F -14A, A-6E) prevented them
from playing as useful a role as their more modern Air Force counterparts. Yet
even under the most optimistic circumstances, naval aviation will have to keep
operating many of these aircraft until the year 2010, and still not have enough
aircraft to fill carrier decks, if present projected force structure requirements and
aircraft procurement plans remain as forecast. (21:0) Naval aviation is
increasingly looking at a future in which it will have to operate aircraft with
diminished margins of capability when facing potential adversaries or face
severe force structure cuts to field a modernized force.
Present Department of Defense (DOD) Base Force plans recognize the
forward-based power projection capabilities carrier air forces provide to the
national defense strategy and calls for maintaining a robust aircraft carrier force
of 13 (12 active and one training) carriers. (4:76) New replacement carrier
construction is scheduled to continue. The problem is that to maintain a 13
carrier and carrier air wing (CVW) force, three active Marine Corps airwings and
required numbers of patrol aircraft and fleet helicopters, naval aviation should
be buying approximately 200-210 new aircraft per year. (16:9) But, the Future
Year Defense Plan (FYDP),reflecting the FY-93 Presidents Budget Request
(Table 1), shows significant nearterm deficits in procurement, and while the
outyears look better, they are extremely fluid and subject to continuing negative
budget review pressures of the Planning Programming and Budgeting System
In ten years the F/A-18 series aircraft, originally bought as a low-cost
inventory filler, will comprise naval aviation's primary TACAIR capability. It will
have to replace both earlier model F/A-18s, a portion of retiring F-14As and
substitute for deficits in the medium attack or A-6E inventory. The A-6E,
originally bought during the 1970's as an updated version of the 1960's vintage
A-6A will not begin to be replaced until the AX enters service in the 2003/4
timeframe. Other carrier based aircraft such as the E-2C and EA-6B have no
future replacements in view or only have minor upgrade programs planned.
The land-based ASW and patrol force appears to have little future with the
cancellation of the P-7/ LRACCA program and the perception that the Russian
(former Soviet) submarine threat has all but dissipated. The only bright spot,
with the exception of a replacement for the aged H-46, appears to be naval
helicopter programs based on the AH-1, H-60 and H-53E aircraft series.
Certainly, naval aircraft modernization plans are complicated by several
* a wide range of mission requirements, requiring many different types of
specialized and expensive aircraft,
* many different types of aircraft are becoming obsolete at roughly
the same time,
* procurement failures such as the A-12 and P-7,
* difficulty handingly the new budget realities of the post Cold War era.
However complicated any one of these problems happen to be, they are
not the root cause of naval aviation's looming modernization crisis. The
determinate cause of what is ailing naval aviation is institutional. The failure to
develop institutional consensus within the uniformed elements of naval aviation,
the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) and the Department of the
Navy (DON) on a rational strategy for the future has undercut naval aviation's
ability to function on the OSD and Congressional budget battleground (15:107)
and allowed various other elements of the national defense establishment to
attempt to set the future agenda for naval aviation. What are these elements?
Generally they are Congress, the civilian leadership in the DOD and military
aircraft and systems manufacturers.
More so than at any time in the last 40 years, these elements are divided
and internally fractured on what the future defense strategy of the nation should
be, what capabilities should the naval services retain or change, and therefore,
what form and strength should naval aviation take. While the need to articulate
a naval strategy, and a naval aviation strategy, is more critical today than when
the Cold War was on, the Navy seems unable to do so. Further complicating
naval aviation's future is the rising influence of the Joint Staff and CINCs vs. the
military departments in setting military requirements, the new autonomy of
acquisition decision making process, a Planning Programming and Budgeting
System (PPBS) overcome by rapidly changing world and national events.
Part of the problem in articulating a strategy for the future of naval
aviation is the structure of organization within naval aviation itself. Years ago
naval aviation organized itself by subdividing into various "communities" based
upon different aircraft models and their missions. Once an officer is associated
with a particular community he remains there until achieving a senior grade.
This "stovepiping" develops pride and operational expertise in a specific areas
necessary to win in combat. Careers are built,in large part, based on mentor
relationships with senior aviators within each community and community loyalty.
Transition to another platform and community is the career kiss of death. In
comparison with surface, submarine and staff officers in the Navy, there has
been little emphasis on post-graduate education at the junior officer level, or
other broadening experiences like duty in major Washington, D.C. or CINC
staffs. (15:107) Consequently, most naval aviators view their own status and
career aspirations with that of their community.
When arriving for duty in the Washington, D.C. arena as generally senior
officers, naval aviators do so as advocates for their community - not naval
aviation or the Navy. In the very place where the need for broad based team
play is essential, naval aviation is fuedalized, with each subdivision pushing its
own agenda with little consequence to the larger concerns of naval or naval
aviation strategy. VADM R. M. Dunleavy, Assistant Chief of Naval Operations,
Air Warfare (OP-05) recognizes the problems caused by community
parochialism. In an effort to overcome the "rice bowl" syndrome and tone down
the emotionalism caused by successive cancellations of new aircraft programs
he has stated that naval aviation needs to come together, boldly face a future of
change and speak with one voice. (7:0) This is nothing more than the clear
recognition that there is not enough money to fund every communities "wish list"
and to succeed in having any future, naval aviation needs to stop sending
confusing mixed signals to OSD and Capitol Hill. Naval aviation needs to
support what is acceptable to the of rest of the uniformed Navy, and the civilian
leadership in the DON and Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). Thus the
focus of the present strategy for naval aviation future are the politically
acceptable (to OSD) F/A-18E/F and AX programs.
But the status quo never changes easily. The F-14 community has not
taken the cancellation of the aircraft that were to guarantee their future, the
F-14D and Naval Advanced Tactical Fighter (NATF), lying down. In strongly
worded letters to Proceedings during the last year, fighter community
proponents bitterly complained that the Navy and DOD leadership was
completely out of touch with the requirements of the fleet and that they did not
know what they were doing by canceling the F-14D. This was largely based
upon the assertion that the F-14D was a much more capable aircraft than the
F/A-18 E/F could hope to be. (30:16) There were also complaints that the F-14D
cancellation was driven by internal DOD lobbying of the "single-seat mafia"
(8:70) or strike-fighter (F/A-18) community to gain OSD, and eventual Navy,
endorsement for an improved version of the F/A-18 and simultaneously kill the
F-14D and NATF programs. Without passing any judgment on what the F/A-18
community did or didn't do in this case - the methodology is similar to what other
community in naval aviation has done for years - promoting their own interest
through networks in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV), Naval
Air Systems Command (NEVER), Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV), OSD,
contractors and Congressional staffs. Infact, as soon as the F-14D cancellation
was announced, F-14D proponents, in and out of uniform, vowed to storm
Capitol Hill to overturn the decision. For community advocates this is merely
superior staff work through "networking," not "end runs" around established
positions by OP-05,the CNO and the SECNAV. Power and influence are
diffused among many voices, causing confusion, inconsistency and
undercutting the ability of the of any naval leader to articulate a holistic vision of
what naval aviation should look like in the future.
Another community within naval aviation presents other difficulties in
forming and articulating a rationale strategy for the future: Marine Corps
Aviation. The Marines are not so difficult to get along with because they put
platform community loyalty ahead of marine aviation. It is their elevated sense
of service loyalty, their unique requirements and their ability to access their own
service chief, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, that present naval aviation
with difficult force planning and integration problems. While marine aviation is
programmed and budgeted with Navy funding, so-called "blue in support of
green" through the OP-05, and there are Marines on the OP-05 staff to address
and coordinate Marine Corps requirements with those of the Navy, there
remains some friction and gaps. A primary source of communication problems
originate simply from the location of the Deputy Chief of Staff (DC/S), Aviation of
the Marine Corps offices. Despite also being a senior member of the OP-05
staff, DC/S, Aviation offices remain at the Headquarters Marine Corps building
instead of being co-located with OPNAV offices in the Pentagon. Informal, day
in and day out, contact between the Navy and Marine Corps flag and general
officers is infrequent. When frequent contact is made, time is short, due to
PPBS milestone deadlines, funding options are scarce, due to other
programmatic commitments, and the issues are couched in inflexible "yes or no"
In terms of technological development the Marines are much more
interested in emphasizing advanced STOVAL and rotorcraft technologies than
the Navy. The Marines are the only U.S. service to employ the Harrier "jump-
jet" and want a future replacement. And despite the fact that SECDEF
canceled the HV-22 program back in 1989, the program still remains alive
largely through the active lobbying of retired Marine Corps loyalists and
contractors. The Marines also have different operational priorities than the
Navy. The Navy has been more directed toward deep air interdiction, air
superiority and ASW missions while the Marines emphasize operations in
support of ground schemes of maneuver. Assault support and close air support
(CAS) of ground troops are top priorities.(13:0)
Developing the consensus required for articulating, implementing and
managing naval aviation strategy for the future, is not only complicated by the
internal divisions in naval aviation. The changing institutional environment of
OPNAV, SECNAV and OSD have also contributed to the disarray which places
the future of naval aviation at risk. The shifting scope and emphasis of the
power and influence exercised both within and between these senior
organizations has a critical effect on how robust a future naval aviation will
During the last decade, the most dramatic shift in power and influence in
the DON and OPNAV has been from the former "barons" or platform sponsors
for air, surface and submarine warfare to the programming, budgeting and
acquisition staffs of the CNO and SECNAV.
The shift was due to four main factors: organizational changes that
would support development of a naval /maritime strategy by CNO ADM Thomas
Hayward; the energy and audacity of the Reagan Administration's first
SECNAV, John Lehman; the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of
1986; and the implementation of the Defense Management Review (DMR)
Hayward understood that the two most important functions of OPNAV,
the programming, or resource allocation process, and the setting of
requirements for new systems were dominated by the then Deputy CNOs
(DCNOs) for air, surface, and submarine warfare. A CNO could intervene in the
programming process but he usually lacked the time and staff to overcome
positions and influence that had already been set by the DCNOs and
coordinated with the Systems Commands. To exert his own authority Hayward,
then CNO ADM James Watkins, substantially strengthened their own
programming directorate (then OP-090, now OP-8O) and greatly expanded the
focus of what was then OP-095 from just ASW to coordination of all functional
areas of naval warfare. (20:110-112) The present DCNO for Naval Warfare
(OP-07) organization is the result.
SECNAV Lehman implemented several changes in the DON and
OPNAV to increase his personal influence, provide additional overall policy
direction and further overcome the influence of the platform DCNOs within
OPNAV. Ignoring the traditional separation of the SECNAV's acquisition
authority and the CNO's programming duties he took on a much larger role in
controlling the programming process through the establishment of DON
Program Strategy Boards. By effectively, utilizing his influence on Capitol Hill,
authority over acquisition and continuously threatening programmatic or
acquisition related action, Lehman kept the DCNO's off balance and
responding to his initiatives, not theirs. (20:116-117) For naval aviation, this
meant OP-05 had less and less influence over the direction of aviation
modernization strategy and over acquisition related program direction at Naval
Air Systems Command.
The Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 officially ended the era of the platform
"barons by limiting the number of DCNOs OPNAV could have to five. CNO ADM
Carlisle Trost appointed his functionally oriented staff (programming, logistics,
personnel, naval warfare, and operations) as DCNOs and demoted the
platform sponsors to Assistant CNOs (ACNOs). (20:125) Goldwater-Nichols
further reduced the influence of the OPNAV platform sponsors by strengthening
the SECNAV's acquisition authority over the systems commands and
mandating the management of acquisition programs by officers wholly
dedicated to the defense acquisition (Material Professionals). The purpose
was to curtail acquisition management from the influence OPNAV, and achieve
more streamlined and business-like management.
Finally, there is the influence of the DMR. For OPNAV this has meant a
complete transfer of all functions supervisory functions related to research,
development and acquisition to SECNAV. All major acquisition programs are
directly managed through a new Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research,
Development and Acquisition (ASN, RD&A) through either a Program Executive
Officer (PEO) or Direct Reporting Program Manager (DRPM).
The result of all these institutional changes has further eroded the ability
of any one bureaucracy in OPNAV or the DON to set the agenda for naval
aviation or any other warfare area. OP-05, as an ACNO, still has the power to
sign Tentative Operational Requirements (TOR) documents but, only with the
concurrence of OP-07. OP-05 still has programming authority over naval
aviation but it is increasingly overshadowed by a more powerful OP-80. The
focus of ASN (RD & A) is the politically sensitive area of executing approved
acquisition programs. But it is not organized or staffed to develop requirements
or engage in the resource allocation process of programming. (32:0)
The CNO is constrained in setting an agenda for naval aviation also. He
must balance the advice he receives from all his DCNOs and ACNOs in many
different warfare areas, as well as coordinating with the the Joint Staff, the
warfighting CINCs, SECNAV, and the ASNs for financial and acquisition
management. Has back-to-back submariner CNOs hurt naval aviation? There
is no direct evidence that it has. No one can blame any of the major program
cancellations on any of the CNOs. The NATF cancellation originated in OP-05
in an effort to focus declining resources on the A-12 and reduce R &D overhead
costs. The A-12 and P-7 cancellations were acquisition related, caused by poor
contractor performance and, in the case of the A-12, poor monitoring by the
acquisition system. The F-14D cancellations, first the new aircraft and then the
remanufactured version, were OSD decisions, based primarily on
affordability. (32:0) How important is it to naval aviation for an aviator to be one
of the next two CNOs? VADM Dunleavy believes it is critical. But his reasoning
is based more on the motivational needs of officers in all major warfare areas to
have the opportunity to compete for the top job (7:0) rather than on the need to
have an aviator CNO focus on the needs of naval aviation.
Perhaps a better measure of the effect back-to-back submariner CNOs
have had on naval aviation is the percentage of aircraft procurement (APN)
funding relative to total DON spending. It stands to reason that if the Navy
wants a viable aviation force to support the SECDEF/CJCS Base Force, it
would devote the appropriate level of resources. But this is not being done.
The percentage of APN-1 (new aircraft) funding to total DON funding has been
in a downward slide since fiscal year 1986 (FY-86), reaching an historical low in
of 4.2 percent in FY-91. This compares to historic APN-1 funding levels of
approximately 7.2 percent of total DON funding. (22:0) Yet despite all the
concern about the future of naval aviation, APN-1 funding remains low; in FY-93
only amounting to 4.6 percent of total DON funding. (5:0) Naval aviation is not
only feeling the effect the post Cold War reduction in overall DON spending, but
a reduction in its percentage of DON funding, as well. (22:0) Yet analysts in OP-
80 insist it is unrealistic for naval aviation to receive any additional funding in
future budget projections. This possibly suggests a policy of "benign neglect"
with respect to naval aviation on the part of the Navy hierarchy, aimed not
specifically aimed at ruining naval aviation, but toward preserving other "rice
bowls" in the service.
The diffusion of power and lack of consensus on what constitutes a
realistic future for naval aviation within the DON and OPNAV has allowed the
OSD staff to move in and set the agenda. In late 1990, as the final plans were
being reviewed for DOD's FY-92/93 budget, analysts in OSD's office of Program
Analysis and & Evaluation (PA & E) felt that internal Navy politics had lead to
such a morass of confusion, that the service could no longer be trusted to
realistically program a future for naval aviation. (9:0) The Navy was busy trying
to save the the A-12 program, continue procurement funding for the F/A-18 C/D,
the remanufactured version of the F-14D and restart new F-14D production in
exchange for cancellation of the NATF which was viewed as unaffordable.
For many years, critics of naval aviation had urged the Navy to reduce
the number of different types of aircraft it was buying at relatively uneconomic
production rates to achieve less costly and more efficient production of a single,
multi-mission, model. The Navy had never recommended this approach
because it ran counter to the institutional requirements of the three (four
counting the Marines) separate TACAIR communities in naval aviation. But for
the program analysts and budgeteers in OSD, the end of the Cold War provided
the opportunity to force the Navy to jettison the requirement to buy expensive,
single purpose, aircraft and rely on a less expensive (and possibly less
capable) multi-mission that could procured in large numbers. McDonnell
Douglas had proposed that it could build an larger, upgraded version of the
F/A-18 that could be developed (for 3.3 billion dollars) and ready for production
by FY-96. (1:0) Thus the F/A-18 E/F program was born - not only as an upgrade
for the growth limited F/A-18 C/D aircraft, but as a replacements for the more
expensive F-14D and its designated replacement, the NATF.
The initiation of the F/A-18 E/F and the cancellation of the A-12 programs
not only demonstrated the institutional weakness of OPNAV and the DON; it
also demonstrated the increased willingness of OSD to step in, ignore the
advise of a service chief and secretary, and perform radical surgery on an
service's plan for the future. OSD had not just slowed or canceled a service
program, or rebuted a service proposal.
The civilians in OSD had completely rearranged the Navy's TACAIR
modernization strategy. Could the same thing happen to the Air Force or the
Army? Possibly, but not probably. Only the DON, and Navy inparticular, has so
many mission areas to concern itself with. (32:0) While the Army can focus its
attention on the nuances of land warfare and the Air Force can do the same with
air delivered tactical and strategic warfare, naval warfare requires expertise in,
land, air, ocean surface, subsurface and strategic warfare areas. Naval warfare
also requires the integration of these warfare areas. Air warfare platforms
performing ASW and surface warfare vessels performing strategic strikes with
TOMAHAWK cruise missile are examples. Such a broad span of warfare areas
for any one organization inevitably leads to competition between the
proponents of these warfare areas.
The competition can be constructive or destructive depending upon how
the organization is structured, and how power and influence is systematized to
achieve the goals of the organization. The present organization and focus of
naval aviation, OPNAV and the DON is not conducive to setting and achieving
strategic goals. The functionally organized DCNO staffs in OPNAV are not
capable of interacting with the fleet and coordinating every complex program in
Navy. ASN (RD &A) and the systems commands are organized to provide the
managerial and technical expertise to execute acquisition programs, not
choose between requirements. The former platform "barons" no longer have
the clout necessary to plan, organize, lead and control - manage - a portion
of the Navy with the concurrence of the CNO and SECNAV. Who is setting the
strategy for the future of naval aviation? Everybody - that's the problem. (32:0)
The challenge for the senior uniformed leadership of naval aviation is to
find ways of developing the consensus within the present organization of
OPNAV and the DON to develop and support a realistic strategy for naval
aviation's future. The Naval Aviation Liaison Group (NALG) is an adhoc group
that is presently provides a forum for the discussion issues facing naval aviation
is a step in the right direction. More importantly, naval aviation needs to take
steps to reduce the influence of community advocacy within OPNAV, Naval Air
Systems Command and the acquisition program offices. Don't allow program
managers to manage aircraft programs vital to the communities they are
associated with. The uniformed leadership must also demonstrate the
willingness to live within constrained funding levels and constructively manage
acquisition programs. This means no longer endorsing high cost and high risk
technology developments, achieving greater cooperation with the Air Force (as
with the AX program), and keeping programs on schedule and on cost.
Finally, OPNAV should review its organizational structure. The
emphasis on functional staffs may be fine for the Air Force or for the Army, but
the Navy is too complex. (32:0) Every major warfare area needs someone who
has the power and influence, accountability and authority to set an holistic
agenda for the future. A return of the platform sponsors to DCNO status would
partially achieve this, without diluting the authority and responsibility of the CNO
Click here to view image
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