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1966 - VFAX Naval Fighter Attack Experimental

The VFAX was intended to provide a low cost complement to the F-111B which could replace the F-4 Phantom II for the air superiority and escort missions. This multi-mission airplane was designated the VFAX [although the designation was originally applied to what became the F-14, the new VFAX was an entirely different aircraft].

In 1962 a major changed occurred in the model designation for naval aircraft. The Department of Defense consolidated the aircraft designation systems of the Navy, Army, and Air Force. A new DOD (Department of Defense) Directive was established that designated, redesignated, and named military aircraft. Under the new system the V for heavier-than-air fixed wing types was dropped completely and a single letter was used to identify the basic mission of the vehicle. The letter A is used for Attack Aircraft designed to search out, attack and destroy enemy land or sea targets using conventional or special weapons. Also used for interdiction and close air support missions. The letter F is for Fighter Aircraft designed to intercept and destroy other aircraft and/or missiles.

Early in 1966, the "Preliminary Concept for FX" was released by TAC. It was reasonably well oriented to the air-to-air problem but invited additional multipurpose capabilities for night and poor weather air-to-ground capability. Shortly thereafter, the Navy (about to escape from the TFX/F-111B commonality net) created an operational requirement for the VFAX, a deep-strike, all-weather interceptor, dual-purpose aircraft of its own.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense (DDR&E) insisted on commonality between the engine of the Air Force FX and that of the Navy VFX (initially called the VFAX). Although the Navy later abandoned its version of the engine (F401), it managed to leave an indelible mark on the Air Force F100 engine. The Navy issued a request for proposals (RFP) for a new VFX fighter in July 1968. On 24 October 1968 the Air Force officially redesignated the F-X as the ZF-15A. On January 14, 1969, the Navy announced the award of the contract for the VFX fighter, now designated F-14, to Grumman. On 23 December 1969 the Air Force selected McDonnell Aircraft as prime contractor for development and production of the F-15.

Up until 1971, DOD had intended to procure an all F-14 force for the Navy. However, this plan was altered to a limited procurement of 313 F-14A aircraft (as then indicated in the 5-year defense plan) with possible future procurement.

During this same time period, the Air Force was evaluating the concept of advanced prototyping of aircraft as a means to reduce defense costs and risks by demonstrating the feasibility of utilizing advanced technology before effecting large scale production. The Air Force intended to demonstrate and evaluate the technology for a small, high performance aircraft.

Accordingly, on January 6, 1972, the Air Force issued a request for proposals to conduct a prototype development of the lightweight fighter (LWF) aircraft. The LWF program was the predecessor to the Air Force's present ACF program, and was intended to implement the concept of a low cost and high performance aircraft, the same concept on which the NACF was based. In February 1972 five companies responded. Northrop Corporation responded with two proposals and four companies responded with one each: Boeing, General Dynamics (GD), Lockheed, and LTV. Evaluation of the six proposals was completed in March 1972, with Northrop and GD announced as the winning competitors. Lightweight fighter development contracts in the amounts of $38 million and $39.1 million for the GD YF-iG and the Northrop YF-17, respectively, were released on April 14, 1972.

While the Air Force was proceeding with the LWF program, the Navy in 1973 was evaluating various options regarding the procurement of a new aircraft. Initially, it was proposed that a prototype flyoft program between a lower cost version of the F-14 and a Naval version of the F-15 be held. This program, however, was regarded as too expensive. Ultimately it was decided to investigate a lighter weight, lower cost, multi-mission aircraft which could serve as a fighter to replace certain F-4 aircraft and also eventually replace the A-7 aircraft in the attack mission.

The VFAX aircraft was designed to replace two aircraft in the Navy's inventory, the F-4 Phantom II and the A-7 Corsair II. This program was reinstituting an old Navy policy, whereby, multimission requirements for attack and fighter, be incorporated into a single aircraft. Fighter and light attack missions had previously been assigned to various types of aircraft, particularly in the period prior to World War II and also in the 1950s. The Navy was now reverting to an old policy and designing a plane with a dual capacity as a fighter and an attack aircraft to meet new multimission requirements.

In June 1974, the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) released a presolicitation notice to the aerospace industry soliciting expressions of interest in and comments on the proposed VFAX development program. Industry responses were received in July 1974.

At this time, the VFAX program was meeting with some opposition in the Congress, in part because the VFAX was not tied to the Air Force prototype program. This led the House Armed Services Committee to recommend deletion from the 1975 DOD Appropriation Authorization Act of the entire $34 million requested by the Navy to initiate the development of the VFAX. However, the Senate Armed Services Committee recommended inclusion of the entire $34 million requested for the VFAX [S. Report No. 93-884, 93d Cong., 2d Sess. 95 (1974)]. The subsequent conference report on the bill recommended inclusion of $30 million for the VFAX, and ultimately the bill was enacted into law on August 5, 1974, as Public Law 93-365 (88 Stat. 399).

On 2 May 1975, the Navy selected a derivative of the YF-17 as the winner of the Navy's VFAX competition for a new multimission fighter attack aircraft. The selection of MDC followed a lengthy competition between MDC and LTV, in which both firms sought to modify aircraft originally designed for the Air Force under the Air Combat Fighter (ACF) program so that they would be suitable for aircraft carrier operation. While the Navy was evaluating the Naval Air Combat Fighter (NACF) designs proposed by both offerors, the Air Force selected the F-16 for its ACF.

The VFAX aircraft was initially assigned the F-18A designation. A new model designation F/A (strike fighter) was established and assigned to the aircraft in the late 1970s. The Navy accepted its first F/A-18 Hornet on 16 January 1979. The F/A designation was identified as a sub-class and listed under the VF class in the Navy's Allowances and Location of Naval Aircraft. Under the DOD model designation listing the F/A-18 designation is listed under both the A and F symbol designations as A-18 and F-18.



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