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House Seapower Ranking Member Courtney Opening Remarks for Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Hearing on Carrier Air Wing and the Future of Naval Aviation

February 11, 2016
Press Release
(as prepared for delivery)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Mr. Chairman, thank you for calling today’s hearing on the Navy’s carrier air wing and the future of Naval Aviation. I also want to thank our panel for agreeing to be here today to share their thoughts on the topic.

The aircraft carrier is the preeminent source of America’s power projection capability. Over the years, this subcommittee has routinely held hearings on the relevance and future of the aircraft carrier, but as we all know, the carrier is nothing without the air wing it employs. The anti-access area denial (A2/AD) environment has led some to question whether the carrier can operate in those contested areas or if the aircraft will have the range needed to be effective. As new missiles and technologies continue to be developed by potential adversaries that threaten access, it is imperative that the United States keep pace and field systems that will allow the carrier and its air wing to project power and deter aggression anywhere in the world.

Over the years, we have seen the carrier air wing evolve from one with a large mix of aircraft to one composed of multi-mission aircraft capable of performing a variety of missions. Looking ahead, it is clear that the air wing will be remain a key part of our nation’s security and ability to project power well into the future – but only if we make the right investments in its composition, capabilities and reach.

The 2017 budget request submitted to Congress this week makes a number of proposals relevant to our discussion today. For instance, the budget makes investments in air-launched munitions like the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, as well as expanding the capabilities of the SM-6 and the Tomahawk – all worthy advances in the offensive capabilities of our fleet and our carrier air wing.

The budget also requests support for purchases of the F-35 and FA-18 strike fighters, both critical components of our air wing. While I am concerned that the 2017 rate proposed for the F-35C variant for the Navy may be below optimal levels for efficient production and for meeting our looming fight generation strike fighter needs, I am pleased that the Navy has accelerated purchases of this critical aircraft within the five year future years defense plan. The advanced capabilities of the F-35 will make a significant contribution to the future of the air wing.

Additionally, the budget also moves us forward on a new stage in the evolution in the carrier air wing with the possible introduction of an unmanned aircraft. This subcommittee has been very active in ensuring that the new aircraft’s requirements have been fully vetted and are balanced with all of the other capabilities across the entire Department of Defense. The Navy is proposing new plan for an unmanned carrier aircraft with an initial tanking mission, and potential for future growth into new mission areas in the future. I look forward to examining the details of this new proposal, and I am very interested in hearing any comments the witnesses would like to share on how they believe unmanned aircraft should best be incorporated into the air wing.

Just as the aircraft carrier cannot be thought of singularly without the air wing, the capabilities of the air wing should not be discussed without taking into account the entire strike group. The cruisers and destroyers that make up the carrier strike group bring a significant amount of combat power that directly contributes to the effectiveness of the air wing. Arguably, the best example of this is the Naval Integrated Fire Control (NIFCA) concept, where the air wing’s E-2D links the rest of the combat aircraft with the cruisers and destroyers. This concept dramatically increases the range and effectiveness of the overall strike group.

The combat reach of the aircraft carrier is often questioned due to the threat of certain missiles. However, the capabilities brought by the surface assets within the strike group are what enable these threats to be countered. It is possible that with the development of new offensive weapons, the reach and effectiveness of the carrier air wing could be further enhanced. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses on what new technologies they believe could be incorporated into the overall strike group that could potentially expand the reach of the carrier air wing.

I want to thank the Chairman for holding this hearing today and to the witnesses for appearing here today. I look forward to their comments.