Today U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill continued her longstanding effort to support two major defense programs, the F/A-18 and C-17 aircraft programs, which are crucial to the St. Louis community, in a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
The letter stressed the critically needed capability these aircraft provide to the military in this time of heightened counterinsurgency warfare and global engagement. Both aircraft are built, in part, by Boeing and support thousands of jobs in the St. Louis area.
Both aircraft, which provide much needed, affordable and high value capabilities for the warfighters of today and tomorrow, are currently being heavily relied upon in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as elsewhere around the globe. McCaskill stressed that both programs are model programs delivered on time and at or below cost, a point she has made repeatedly in letters and at hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which she is a member. McCaskill called upon the administration to prioritize their continued production in the federal budget for this year.
In her work on the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCaskill has long been supportive of these programs and has fought for them since her arrival in Washington.
McCaskill signed a letter advocating for increased purchases of F/A-18s to Secretary Gates in December (12/11/08)
She introduced and fought to include an amendment in the defense authorization bill for FY2009 to specifically address the need to buy more F/A-18s (04/30/08).
McCaskill drafted two letters in December of 2007, one to Department of Defense, the other to Office of Management and Budget - pushing for C-17s to be in the budget for FY2009 (12/13/07)
A provision sponsored and authored by McCaskill along with Senators Bond, Biden and Kennedy that required a Strategic Airlift Study to study the mix of C-5 and C-17 aircraft and the need for more aircraft given increasing global demands was included in the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization, along with other McCaskill provisions. (12/07/07)
She asked military commanders, in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, about the over use of C-17s and the need to put the requests for more C-17 funding in the actual budget so that we know how much we're designating. (03/17/09)
McCaskill questioned witnesses about the need to procure more F/A-18 aircraft in a hearing at the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding the Secretary of Defense's budget commendations for FY2010 (04/30/09).
McCaskill has repeatedly raised concerns with underfunding of the C-17 and F/A-18 programs, consistent with the two most recent examples cited above, and has often made the case for purchasing more of these aircraft to meet current and future war threats during her questioning at Senate Armed Services Committee hearings.
A copy of McCaskill's letter is below:
May 6, 2009
The Hon. Barack H. Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Dear President Obama,
I am writing both to express my concern about recent Department of Defense (DoD) budgetary recommendations negatively impacting continued production of the C-17 Globemaster and the F/A-18 Super Hornet, two aircraft that are critical contributors to U.S. national security. The Secretary of Defense indicated on April 6 that the C-17 line will end production following the final procurements of Fiscal Year (FY) 2009. The Secretary's comments further suggest that procurement of the F/A-18 be reduced and then brought to an end. As a matter of national security and fiscal policy, I disagree with these recommendations. I urge you to fully consider the implications of these decisions the Department of Defense (DoD) is currently pursuing and I look forward to a robust debate as the Congress reviews the imminent submittal of the DoD budget.
The F/A-18 program has performed on time and on budget and has provided a capability highly respected by today's Navy. Even as the Navy prepares to transition to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, it has established long term plans to sustain a mixture of the F/A-18 and the F-35C in its carrier fleet. This decision of the Navy's leadership reflects the capability and cost effectiveness of the F/A-18, which is performing laudably in today's combat theaters.
It has become readily apparent that the Navy will also soon face a substantial shortfall in carrier strike aircraft even under current procurement plans for the F/A-18 and the F-35C. In the Navy's latest evaluation, even with achievable extensions of F/A-18s currently in the fleet, the Navy is projected to experience a carrier strike aircraft shortfall of 129 aircraft at its peak in 2018, with a shortfall of over 50 aircraft by 2013. It is possible that four of our nation's greatest strategic assets -- a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier -- will be without dedicated aircraft. Such a scenario is highly risky to our national security. Furthermore, should the Joint Strike Fighter program continue to experience major production challenges, extreme cost growth and other delays, the shortfall could balloon much further.
The Navy was expected to propose addressing the carrier strike aircraft shortfall with the purchase of increased numbers of F/A-18 Super Hornets. Such a purchase was expected to take place in a cost-saving multi-year procurement (MYP). There have been two MYPs of F/A-18s since 2000, which have saved the taxpayer an estimated $1.7 billion. A third MYP could save taxpayers an additional $1.1 billion. I firmly believe, as I have stated in the past, that DoD should fully consider entering into a third multi-year procurement of F/A-18s to address the carrier strike aircraft shortfall, to provide modern, superior warfighting capability to Navy pilots and to provide substantial savings to American taxpayers in the aircraft procurement.
It must also be noted that an end to production of the F/A-18 will leave our nation with a single fighter jet producer. This is a strategic risk as well as a major risk to our national security industrial base.
The C-17 similarly deserves a new, hard look by the Administration in light of current and expected future military demands. The C-17 has proven itself a "national treasure," as described by retired General Barry McCaffrey. The aircraft is currently being flown at 159% of its initially projected use. I have stated on numerous occasions that we are literally flying the wings off these planes. The C-17 has proven the most versatile and most reliable strategic airlifter in the world and has performed critical missions from medical evacuation, to humanitarian support, to covert insertions of special operations forces in hostile areas. This is not the time to end its production, especially in light of projected global mission sets for the U.S. military.
As with the F/A-18, C-17 production also implicates important industrial base policy issues. If the C-17 line were to shut down now, the U.S. would not have a single strategic military aircraft line open. This is a risk we must closely scrutinize before taking.
The United States' vital national security interests, fiscal prudence, and pragmatism dictate that there needs be a vigorous debate of planning for the future of F/A-18 and C-17 aircraft. I urge you to reevaluate the proposals you have put forward and to sustain production of the F/A-18 and the C-17.
United States Senator
CC: Secretary Robert Gates