NOTE: This article, originally published March 1, was updated to correct Rep. Bruce Poliquin's party affiliation.
WASHINGTON —The US Navy is planning to request 12 more F/A-18 Super Hornets than the two it was allocated in the president's 2017 defense budget, according to a House lawmaker.
Citing overtaxed naval aviation assets, Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., and Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., asked the House Armed Services Committee to consider adding the aircraft through the 2017 defense policy bill expected to be drafted over the coming weeks. The chief of naval operations, Wagner said, will place the 12 aircraft on the service's unfunded requirement list.
"There is still a potential gap this year," said Wagner, whose district is near where Boeing assembles the aircraft in St. Louis.
"Given the critical capability that the Super Hornet provides for ongoing wartime operations, any shortfall is dangerous to the Navy's ability to project force throughout the world," Wagner said. "This unfunded requirement request helps mitigate that shortfall, anticipating the Navy will follow through on its promise to add aircraft in the next year's budget deliberations."
Bost, whose district borders St. Louis, called the procurement of added Super Hornets, "critical to meeting the anticipated needs of the United States Navy and to keeping the production lines open as the United States prepares anticipated aircraft sales to allied nations."
There are only two F-18s in the president's fiscal 2017 request, both funded in through the Overseas Contingency Operations account, with plans to buy 14 of the aircraft in 2018, reversing a decision to end US procurement of the Boeing-built aircraft. It was unclear whether Wagner was suggesting called for Congress to the Navy speed up the planned buy or add 12 aircraft to the Navy future-years defense program, an potential increase from 16 to 28.
Plans have been in the works to retire the F/A-18C Hornets in the mid-2020s, followed by the F/A-18E and F Super Hornets around 2035, but the consistently delayed development of the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter has compelled the service to push the Hornets past their planned service lives.
Other hawkish lawmakers have been vocal about a strike fighter shortfall identified by naval officials and preserving the F-18 because of its impact on the industrial base. A phase-out of the aircraft leaves the F-35 as the lone active strike-fighter production line for the whole military, and it endangers the production line for the EA-18G Growler electronic aircraft, a variant of the F/A-18F Super Hornet.
The lawmakers' requests were among several at the panel's "member day" hearings for outside-lawmaker testimony. The panel heard from colleagues who favor legislation to ease small businesses' access to federal contracts, oppose the Army's planned Aviation Restructuring Initiative and wish to block the president from giving the US's Guantanamo Bay detention camp back to the Cuban government.
Other testimony was on specific military acquisition programs.
Rep. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., spoke against a reduction in the president's budget for the Marine Corps V-22 Osprey, manufactured by Bell-Boeing in his district. Procurement of the MV-22B Osprey drops by two aircraft per year through 2020, with six aircraft per year for the Navy's new carrier onboard delivery version.
Arguing the reductions will raise unit costs and lead to staff reductions on the Ridley Park production line, Meehan requested that two aircraft be added back in the 2017 policy bill.
Rep. Bruce Poliquin, D R-Maine, argued on behalf of he committee authorizing one more DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyer than requested in the president's budget, to be produced at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, which is in Poliquin's district.
Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, expressed support for elements of the budget related to the Boeing-made B-1 bomber, which is based at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, in the congressman's district.
— With additional reporting by Meghann Myers and Christopher P. Cavas