WASHINGTON — Judging by the number of ships, aircraft and weapons the Pentagon wants to buy in 2018, there are no significant differences between the Trump administration's proposed 2018 budget and the plan as laid out in the last Obama administration submission. The budget is in line with pronouncements by U.S. Navy officials that major acquisition changes would wait for 2019 to begin to appear.
While the base budget for the Department of the Navy — which includes the Navy and Marine Corps — is set at $71.5 billion, the money is not going into more ships and aircraft. The $19.9 billion shipbuilding request is for the same eight ships in the plan a year ago: one aircraft carrier, two Virginia-class submarines, two Arleigh Burke-class Flight III destroyers, one littoral combat ship, one salvage tug and one fleet oiler.
Aircraft and weapons accounts show the usual tweaks expected in any budget. The $15.1 billion 2018 aircraft procurement request cuts two F-35C Joint Strike Fighter carrier variants, dropping from six to four. But it retains 20 F-35B Marine Corps JSFs and holds to 14 F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet strike fighters and five E-2D Advanced Hawkeye tactical command and control aircraft.
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One additional P-8A Poseidon maritime multimission aircraft is added, for a total of seven. The Marine Corps will still get two KC-130J Hercules aerial tankers and four CH-53K heavy-lift helicopters, but five H-1 helicopters were cut for a total of 22.
The request holds to six MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, three MQ-4 Triton maritime surveillance unmanned aircraft and four RQ-21A small UAVs. The budget plan ends the procurement of MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned helicopters, zeroing out a planned buy of three of the drones, which are to operate from littoral combat ships and frigates.
The $3.4 billion weapons procurement requests shows typical year-to-year budget churn, most significantly with ship-launched Tactical Tomahawk cruise missiles. Last year’s plan forecast no new buys, but the 2018 request includes 100.
As in last year’s plan, the 2018 request includes 125 SM-6 surface-to-air missiles, but cuts the number of Rolling Airframe Missiles from 90 to 60 to invest in research and development upgrades to meet emerging threats, according to a Navy official. The request for AIM-9X air-to-air missiles rises to 185 from last year’s 150, but the number of Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles, or AMRAAM, sees a significant cut to 120 from last year’s 247. The number of Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missiles, or AARGM, was also slashed, dropping to 251 from 336.
Operating hours and depot maintenance accounts remain largely static, holding to last year’s levels with the exception of a 5 percent rise in aircraft maintenance. The plan funds ship-operating days per quarter of 58 days — the same as in 2017 — and holds to flying hour operations ratings for Navy and Marine Corps aircraft. Ship depot maintenance is funded at 100 percent, as in 2017, while aircraft maintenance is funded at 90 percent — a rise over last year’s 85 percent — but also, a Navy official said, at the capacity limit for aircraft repair depots.