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Naval Aviation: F-14 Upgrades Are Not Adequately Justified (Letter Report, 10/19/94, GAO/NSIAD-95-12)

The Navy has not made a compelling case for its $2.5 billion upgrade of
the F-14 fighter plane. The upgrades offer improvements over existing
capabilities and may not be available before the F/A-18E/F, the next
generation strike fighter, is scheduled for deployment at the turn of
the century. Although the Navy argued that the F-14 upgrade was needed
to replace some capability that will be lost when it retires all A-6E
attack aircraft by fiscal year 1998, planned upgrades will not include
an air-to-ground radar for precision ground mapping that would permit
crews to locate and attack targets in bad weather and poor visibility.
In addition, no F-14s will be able to launch current or planned
precision munitions or stand-off weapons, except for laser guided bombs.
--------------------------- Indexing Terms -----------------------------
     TITLE:  Naval Aviation: F-14 Upgrades Are Not Adequately Justified
      DATE:  10/19/94
   SUBJECT:  Naval aviation
             Naval aircraft
             Defense cost control
             Defense capabilities
             Fighter aircraft
             Advanced weapons systems
             Aircraft components
             Defense economic analysis
             Air defense systems
             Military procurement
IDENTIFIER:  F-14 Aircraft
             F-14A Aircraft
             F-14D Aircraft
             Tomcat Aircraft
             F-14B Aircraft
             A-6E Aircraft
             F/A-18C Aircraft
             F/A-18E/F Aircraft
             F-15E Aircraft
             Hornet Aircraft
             Tomahawk Cruise Missile
             APG-71 Radar
             APG-73 Radar
             High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile
             Harpoon Missile
             Maverick Missile
             Walleye Guided Bomb
             Standoff Land Attack Missile
             Joint Direct Attack Weapon
             Joint Standoff Weapon
             Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile
             Strike Eagle Aircraft
             Quick Strike Aircraft
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================================================================ COVER
Report to Congressional Committees
October 1994
Naval Aviation
=============================================================== ABBREV
  AMRAAM - Advanced Medium Range Air to Air Missile
  COEA - Cost and Operational Effectiveness Analysis
  FLIR - Forward-Looking InfraRed
  HARM - High-speed Anti Radiation Missile
  JDAM - Joint Direct Attack Missile
  JSOW - Joint Stand-Off Weapon
  LGB - Laser-Guided Bomb
  SLAM - Stand-off Land Attack Missile
=============================================================== LETTER
October 19, 1994
The Honorable Robert C.  Byrd
Chairman, Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
The Honorable Sam Nunn
Chairman, Committee on Armed Services
United States Senate
The Honorable David R.  Obey
Chairman, Committee on Appropriations
House of Representatives
The Honorable Ronald V.  Dellums
Chairman, Committee on Armed Services
House of Representatives
We evaluated the implications of the Navy's decision to spend about
$2.5 billion between fiscal years 1994 and 2003 for a limited ground
attack upgrade and other modifications to about 200 F-14 Tomcat
fighters.  Subsequent to our review, the Navy removed the ground
attack upgrade from its Program Objectives Memorandum.  However, the
Navy is currently awaiting the results of an ongoing cost and
operational effectiveness analysis (COEA) of potential F-14
improvements to determine the magnitude of future modifications to
the F-14, including this upgrade.  Since this upgrade or a similar
one continues to be a possibility, we are providing this report to
assist you in ongoing deliberations of Department of Defense aviation
modernization issues at a time of declining Defense budgets and
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :1
Prior to recent congressional deliberations on the Navy's fiscal year
1995 budget, the Navy planned to spend over $2.5 billion to add
limited ground attack capability and other improvements to 210 F-14
Tomcat fighter aircraft (53 F-14Ds, 81 F-14Bs, and 76 F-14As). 
According to the Navy, the ground attack capabilities were required
to partially compensate for the loss in combat capabilities during
the period starting in 1997, when all of its A-6E Intruder attack
aircraft are scheduled to be retired, to the turn of the century when
the F/A-18E/F, the next generation strike fighter, is scheduled to
arrive.  The F-14 was to undergo two upgrades.  An initial upgrade,
commonly called the A/B upgrade, included structural modifications to
extend the F-14's fatigue life to 7,500 hours, improved defensive
capabilities and cockpit displays, and incorporation of digital
architecture and mission computers to speed data processing time and
add software capacity.  The A/B upgrade had to be incorporated into
157 F-14 aircraft before the second upgrade, called the Block I,
could be added.  Block I was to add a Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR)
pod with a built-in laser to designate targets and allow F-14s to
independently drop laser guided bombs (LGBs), a modified cockpit for
night attack operations (night vision devices and compatible
lighting), and enhanced defensive countermeasures. 
Concerned about the Navy's capability to maintain carrier-based power
projection without A-6Es and with only limited F-14 upgrades, the
Joint Conference Committee on the fiscal year 1994 Defense
Authorization Act directed the Navy to add an F-15E equivalent
capability to its F-14D aircraft, including the capability to use
modern air-to-ground stand-off weapons.  The act restricted the
obligation of fiscal year 1994 F-14 procurement funds until 30 days
after the Navy submitted a report outlining its plans to add more
robust ground attack capability.  The report, submitted on May 20,
1994, reiterated the Navy's intent to add only the A/B and Block I
During recent fiscal year 1995 deliberations, the defense
authorization act conferees eliminated funding for F-14 Block I
ground attack upgrades, authorizing funds for only the A/B structural
and survivability modifications.  In a subsequent similar action,
defense appropriation act conferees did not appropriate funds for the
Block I upgrades.  The Navy eliminated the Block I ground attack
upgrade from its Program Objectives Memorandum.  However, Navy
officials continue to believe a ground attack upgrade is necessary. 
A final decision on the extent of the upgrade depends upon the
results of a COEA and an acquisition milestone decision scheduled for
the first quarter of fiscal year 1995. 
In a related response to congressional direction to add more robust
capability to the F-14, beyond that mentioned above, the Navy
estimated it would cost $1.8 billion to add F-15E-equivalent
capability to 53 F-14Ds and another $9 billion to upgrade 198
F-14A/Bs.  According to the Navy, an upgrade of that magnitude was
not affordable. 
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :2
Although the Navy justified F-14 attack upgrades as necessary to
replace some capability that will be lost when it retires all A-6E
attack aircraft by fiscal year 1998, planned upgrades will not
include an air-to-ground radar for precision ground mapping that
would permit crews to locate, identify, and attack targets in adverse
weather and poor visibility.  In addition, no F-14s will be able to
launch current or planned precision munitions or stand-off weapons,
except for LGBs. 
Upgraded F-14s generally have greater range than the F/A-18C and
could possibly reach targets beyond the Hornet's range.  However,
this capability may not be needed with the Navy's shift to a littoral
warfare strategy.  In the Navy's revised strategy, "From The Sea,"
dated September 1992, it announced a need to concentrate on
capabilities required to operate near the world's coastlines.  The
Navy recognized that this direction represented a fundamental shift
away from open-ocean war fighting and toward joint service operations
conducted from the sea.  In defining this change of emphasis, the
Secretary of the Navy said 85 percent of the Navy's potential targets
are within 200 miles of the coast.  This is within the F/A-18C's
range.  If greater range is needed, the Navy's Tomahawk cruise
missile can attack targets up to a range of about 700 miles, and Air
Force bombers have even greater range.  Both supplement and
complement carrier aviation in striking deep within enemy territory. 
Delivery of upgraded F-14s is not scheduled to begin until after the
A-6Es are retired, even though the Navy stated they were needed to
fill a gap between A-6E retirement and the introduction of the
F/A-18E/F aircraft.  By default, carriers will deploy for several
years without either A-6Es or upgraded F-14s.  For example, the USS
Constellation will deploy later this year using its F/A-18Cs for all
attack missions, demonstrating the Navy's willingness to rely fully
on the F/A-18C for its strike capability. 
The Navy has not made a compelling case to proceed with its $2.5
billion plan because upgraded F-14s will not (1) have any capability
not available or planned for the F/A-18C, (2) replace a significant
portion of the attack capability lost with the A-6E retirement, or
(3) be available to fill any gap between the A-6E retirement and
introduction of the F/A-18E/F. 
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :3
Most F-14s, even after receiving the Block I upgrade, will lack some
important capabilities that the F/A-18C currently has or will gain in
the near future.  The absence of these capabilities could limit the
combat effectiveness and utilization of the F-14 under some adverse
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :3.1
The Block I upgrade will permit F-14s to drop LGBs, which are more
accurate than unguided gravity bombs.  But the usefulness of laser
targeting is limited when targets are obscured by clouds, smoke,
haze, and moisture that prevent laser beams from illuminating and
marking the targets and from providing a clear path for the bomb
guidance system to follow.  Thus, to assist crews in locating and
identifying targets, attack aircraft need synthetic aperture radar
with ground mapping capability. 
The F-14A/B models' AWG-9 radar is one of the most powerful U.S. 
military aircraft radars for detecting multiple air targets
approaching at long range, but it is not ideally suited to
pinpointing ground targets under some conditions.  For example, it
does not provide a ground mapping capability that permits crews to
locate and attack targets in adverse weather and poor visibility or
to precisely update the aircraft's location relative to targets
during the approach, a capability that improves bombing accuracy. 
Only the 53 F-14Ds, with their improved APG-71 synthetic aperture
ground mapping radar, will have this capability.  The 157 F-14A/Bs in
the Block I program, lacking the APG-71 radar, will not be as
effective in locating, identifying, and attacking targets, except in
daylight and clear visibility conditions.  F/A-18Cs, which have
synthetic aperture ground mapping radar with a doppler beam
sharpening mode to generate ground maps, have greater capability, and
they will get even more precise and clear radar displays when they
receive the APG-73 radar upgrade later this decade.  New production
F/A-18Cs are scheduled to receive APG-73 radars later in 1994. 
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :3.2
The Navy, in a COEA summary dated May 1992 comparing the F/A-18 to
various alternatives, wrote that "a strike fighter should be capable
of effectively employing all Navy strike and fighter weapons in the
inventory and under development." However, the Block I upgrade will
not add any weapon capability new to the F-14, except the ability to
independently drop LGBs.  No Block I F-14s will be able to launch
precision stand-off attack weapons such as the High-speed
Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), Harpoon antiship missile, Maverick
anti-armor missile, Walleye guided bomb, and Stand-off Land Attack
Missile (SLAM).  F/A-18Cs and A-6Es can.  Block I aircraft will not
be able to employ future precision stand-off weapons, including the
Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and the Joint Stand Off Weapon
(JSOW).  F/A-18Cs will.  The Navy does plan to add the capability to
launch the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) to
F-14Ds when their computer software is updated.  (AMRAAM is the
Defense Department's newest air-to-air missile.) The Navy has stated
that it cannot afford to add stand-off weapon capability to other
F-14s.  Currently, F/A-18Cs have AMRAAM capability.  Table 1 shows
the weapons carried by F-14s and F/A-18Cs. 
                           Table 1
            Variety of Weapons To Be Carried By F/
                   A-18Cs and Block I F-14s
Air-to-ground       F/A-18C       F-14A/B       F-14D
------------------  ------------  ------------  ------------
MK-82 (500 lbs.)    X             X             X
MK-83 (1,000 lbs.)  X             X             X
MK-84 (2,000 lbs.)  X             X             X
MK-20 cluster bomb  X             X             X
MK-82 LGB           X             X             X
MK-83 LGB           X             X             X
MK-84 LGB           X             X             X
HARM                X
Harpoon             X
Maverick            X
SLAM                X
Walleye             X
JDAM                X
JSOW                X
AIM-9 Sidewinder    X             X             X
AIM-7 Sparrow       X             X             X
AIM-54 Phoenix                    X             X
AIM-120 AMRAAM      X                           X
\a No new weapons added.  Block I adds the capability for F-14 crews
to independently launch LGBs without needing an external source to
mark targets with a laser designator. 
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :3.3
In defending the F-14 upgrade, Navy officials said F-14s have a
combat range and/or endurance approaching that of the A-6E, which is
considerably longer than the F/A-18.  While range (distance) and
endurance (loiter time in the target area) are important
capabilities, they are not as critical in littoral warfare, when
carriers may operate close to shore.  Operating close to the shore
decreases the distance to targets and increases the amount of loiter
time the aircraft has at or near the target.  The Secretary of the
Navy, in the 1994 Posture Statement, stated that 85 percent of the
Navy's potential targets are within 200 miles of the world's
Although the F-14 generally has greater range and endurance than the
F/A-18C, the majority of littoral targets should be within the
F/A-18C's range, even with an aircraft carrier operating 100 miles or
more offshore.  The Navy's Atlantic Fleet officials told us that
F/A-18Cs carrying four 1,000-pound bombs and external fuel tanks have
an unrefueled mission radius of about 340 miles.  Future F/A-18Es are
projected to carry the same weapon load up to 520 miles without
refueling.  While the longer range F-14s could potentially reach the
15 percent of the targets beyond 200 miles of shorelines,
alternatives are available.  The Navy's Tomahawk cruise missile can
strike fixed targets up to a range of about 700 miles.  Air Force
bombers, with mid-air refueling, have even a greater range.  If
aerial refueling is available, as should be the case with U.S. 
forces operating jointly, an aircraft's range, including the
F/A-18's, can be extended significantly. 
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :4
The Block I F-14 aircraft will not have all of the capability of the
Air Force's F-15E Strike Eagle (a long range, all-weather,
multimission strike fighter with precision weapons capability), the
Navy's own F/A-18C Hornet, or its A-6E Intruder (see table 2). 
F-14A/Bs can drop most unguided bombs, including 500-, 1,000-, and
2,000-pound gravity bombs, as well as cluster munitions.  They can
also drop LGBs if another aircraft marks the target with a laser
beam.  Block I will add the capability to independently drop LGBs
without external assistance.  F-14A/B aircraft will not have a radar
ground mapping capability to assist crews in locating, identifying,
and attacking targets when visibility is poor.  No F-14s, including
the D model, will be able to launch precision stand-off weapons, and
none will have all-weather terrain following capability. 
                           Table 2
           Selected A-6E, F/A-18C, F-15E, and F-14
                     Block I Capabilities
                            14A/   F-     A-    F/A-    F-
Capability                  B      14D    6E    18C     15E
--------------------  ----  -----  -----  ----  ------  ----
Radar detection
All-aspect                         X            X       X
Overland look-down                 X            X       X
Passive infrared                   X
Elements contributing to all-weather
Ground mapping radar               X      X     X       X
Targeting FLIR              X      X      X     X       X
Navigation FLIR                                 X       X
Terrain avoidance                         X     X       X
Targeting laser             X      X      X     X       X
Moving map display                              X
Radar reconnaissance                            X\a
Photo reconnaissance        X      X
LGBs                        X      X      X     X       X
HARM                                      X     X
Harpoon                                   X     X
Maverick                                  X     X       X
SLAM                                      X     X
Walleye                                   X     X
JDAM                                            X       X
JSOW                                            X       X
Air-to-air missiles
AIM-7 Sparrow               X      X            X       X
(medium range)
AIM-9 Sidewinder            X      X            X       X
(short range)
AIM-54 Phoenix (long        X      X
AIM-120 AMRAAM                     X            X       X
(medium range)
\a When APG-73 (Phase II) is installed. 
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :5
Although the Navy justified the F-14 upgrade as necessary to fill the
gap between A-6E retirements and delivery of F/A-18E/Fs, no F-14s,
under the original Block I plan, were scheduled to begin receiving
upgrades until fiscal year 1998, a year after the last A-6s were
retired.  The Navy plans to procure F/A-18 E/F aircraft starting in
fiscal year 1997 and expects the aircraft to enter service in the
year 2000.  In the interim, two carrier air wings have retired their
A-6Es, and these air wings will operate for 5 years, at a minimum,
before the first upgraded F-14s are delivered in 1999.  The USS
Constellation is scheduled to deploy late in 1994, without A-6Es. 
Its F-14Ds cannot drop bombs because they lack the necessary computer
The first carrier air wing equipped with Block I F-14s will not
deploy until fiscal year 1999 or 2000.  The last F-14s will not
complete the upgrade until fiscal year 2003.  By that time, if not
earlier, the Navy should start receiving squadrons of F/A-18E/Fs to
replace F-14s and older F/A-18s. 
As the Navy eliminates A-6Es from carrier air wings, it plans to add
a third squadron of F/A-18s to each wing, increasing the number of
F/A-18s in each air wing from 20 to 36.  The Navy also plans to
eliminate one F-14 squadron from each air wing, reducing the number
from 20 to 14 planes.  Two air wings, including the USS
Constellation's, will receive this modified air wing mix in fiscal
year 1994.  Two more air wings are expected to change their aircraft
mix in fiscal year 1995, with three more wings changing in fiscal
years 1996 and 1997, respectively, until the configuration of all 10
active air wings is changed. 
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :6
As noted earlier, most F-14s, even after under going the Block I
upgrade, will lack some important capabilities that the F/A-18C has
or will gain in the near future.  The absence of these capabilities
could limit the F-14's combat effectiveness and utilization under
some adverse conditions.  This view is supported by an April 1992
Navy COEA summary, which compared the F/A-18 to various alternatives,
including an upgraded F-14D called Quick Strike.  This version was to
have more capability than is planned for Block I.  The analysis
concluded that the F-14 Quick Strike was a less capable strike
aircraft than the F/A-18C. 
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :7
Because the Navy faces an uncertain budget environment and system
affordability concerns, and, since planned F-14 upgrades offer little
or no improvement over current capabilities and may not be fielded
before F/A-18E/Fs are delivered, the upgrades do not appear to be
cost-effective.  Current Navy plans will not provide F-14s with
F-15E- equivalent capabilities.  If the Congress wishes to add these
capabilities, Navy estimates show that it will cost much more. 
Therefore, the Congress may wish to defer authorizing or
appropriating additional monies for the F-14 until the Navy can
demonstrate that planned upgrades are essential when considering (1)
the current F/A-18C capabilities; (2) the net weapon capability gain
over current F-14A/B levels; (3) the absence of a ground attack radar
in 157 of the 210 aircraft; (4) the lack of precision stand-off
weapons capability in all 210 F-14 aircraft that limits the
versatility and use of these aircraft in combat; (5) the nearly
simultaneous delivery of upgraded F-14s and F/A -18E/Fs; and (6) the
Navy's willingness to deploy carriers without A-6Es or upgraded
F-14s, as evidenced by the upcoming deployment of the USS
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :8
Navy officials, commenting on a draft of this report, defended the
F-14 upgrade as necessary, even though they were aware that the Block
I ground attack upgrade capability had been eliminated from the
Navy's budget by the House and Senate defense authorization conferees
and from the Navy's 1996 Program Objectives Memorandum.  Navy
officials said the upgrade was only eliminated from the Program
Objectives Memorandum for the present.  They defended the need for
this upgrade, which is one of several possible upgrades being
considered in an ongoing COEA.  The Navy could resubmit the ground
attack upgrade in a future budget.  However, if this upgrade is
delayed, it is likely that new F/A-18E/Fs will be deployed before
upgraded F-14s enter the fleet, making a need based on capability
more questionable. 
Navy officials said the key issue discussed in our report is not
whether planned F-14 upgrades duplicate strike capabilities available
in the Navy as well as in the other services, as suggested by us, but
rather the contribution these aircraft would make to the capability
of each carrier air wing.  Commenting on the Navy's willingness to
immediately deploy carriers without A-6Es, relying completely on
F/A-18s for its strike capability, Navy officials said this decision
is a reflection of affordability constraints, not a willingness to
forgo the capability.  We agree that affordability is part of the
issue.  Affordability provided the impetus for the Navy to set
priorities.  In setting its priorities, the Navy eliminated the F-14
upgrade from its Program Objectives Memorandum, which was a clear
admission that the Navy weighed its needs and found it had more
important priorities. 
------------------------------------------------------------ Letter :9
Our data gathering and analysis focused on the Navy's decision to
upgrade 210 F-14 aircraft.  We interviewed officials and reviewed
documents from the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (Director
for Air Warfare); the Naval Air Systems Command; and Headquarters,
U.S.  Air Force, in Washington, D.C.  We also interviewed personnel
at the U.S.  Naval Air Forces, Atlantic Fleet and Pacific Fleet;
Headquarters, U.S.  Air Force Air Combat Command; the Naval Strike
Warfare Center, Naval Air Station, Fallon, Nevada; Carrier Air Wings
Two and Fifteen at Naval Air Station, North Island, California; and
Naval Air Station, Miramar, California; and Hughes Aircraft Company,
Los Angeles, California. 
We conducted our review between June 1993 and May 1994 in accordance
with generally accepted government auditing standards. 
---------------------------------------------------------- Letter :9.1
We are sending copies of this report to the Secretaries of Defense,
the Navy, and the Air Force; the Director, Office of Management and
Budget; and the Chairman, Commission on Roles and Missions of the
Armed Forces. 
Please contact me at (202) 512-3504 if you or your staff have any
questions concerning this report.  The major contributors to this
report are William C.  Meredith, Kenneth W.  Newell, and Frances W. 
Richard Davis
Director, National Security

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