U. S. naval aviation faces a remarkable number of near-term challenges and risks. Heading the list is declining defense budgets, sequestration and the likelihood of yet another Continuing Resolution. Then there is a shipbuilding program that exceeded available funding even before sequestration threatened to push procurement accounts DoD-wide off a cliff. Add to these the technical, programmatic and cost issues associated with building the first in a new class of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (CVN) the USS Gerald R. Ford, CVN 78. Finally, the Navy is in the process of investing in a host of new or modernized land- and sea-based aircraft and unmanned aerial systems.
The Navy has an ambitious program underway to enhance, even transform, carrier-based aviation for the next thirty years. The centerpiece of this transformation is the introduction of the F-35C, the carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter. This will provide the air wing with greater lethality, survivability, reach and responsiveness. Then there is the acquisition of a full complement of EA-18 Growler electronic warfare airplanes and development of the Next Generation Jammer. On top of these there is the deployment of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, critical to the ability to conduct integrated fire control. In a leap into the unknown, the Navy also is developing an unmanned carrier-launched surveillance and strike (UCLASS) system.
Now the Navy is under pressure to add yet another new platform to its already full plate. The Navy is examining its options for cargo and personnel delivery to and from the CVN, the COD mission. There are only two candidates. One is a remanufactured C-2 Greyhound which would have significant commonality in areas such as cockpits and engines with the Hawkeye. The other is the V-22 Osprey, essentially the same platform the Marine Corps is acquiring. Generally speaking, the C-2 has superior range, payload, internal volume and a pressurized cabin. The V-22 has the ability to move cargo directly to smaller ships and to operate from smaller, even expedient airfields.
In making a decision between C-2 and V-22 the Navy will certainly consider costs and relative operational effectiveness. But Navy leaders should consider one other question: do they feel lucky? The carrier air wing is already undergoing a host of changes. Overall, carrier aviation faces considerable risk. Why would the Navy want to add yet more risk to its portfolio? It makes sense to go with a proven platform, one already integrated into flight deck operations and with equal or superior performance characteristics rather than take on the additional risk associated with introducing another new platform.
The best comment on what the Navy should do was provided in a letter to Navy Times in August by a Lieutenant (jg). Responding to an article on next-generation COD, he wrote that the answer was simple: “you take the C-2 airframe, add a letter behind and start building it again.” He went on to opine that “The C-2 is a proven airframe and the taxpayers have gotten more than their money’s worth. Give it new avionics, engines and whatever else you can do to improve it and then go from there.” From a risk perspective, I couldn’t have said it better.
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