Originally, Rear Adm. Paul Sohl said, the Navy "had an acquisition strategy to replace old F/A-18s with newer ones, and replace those with F-35s," but the strategy "got messed up."
The Marine Corps, by contrast, requested six F-35Bs and the Air Force requested 26 F-35As, bringing their totals to 66 and 130, respectively.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert has cautioned that against a yet to be designed future carrier-based fighter to include stealth — a key selling point of the F-35. echoed that sentiment in remarks at the Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo in February, saying that while the next generation fighter must have a spectrum of weapons, "stealth might be overrated."
For his part, Shoemaker, however, said he is eager to introduce F-35s. The Navy's fiscal year 2016 budget proposal doesn't include any more Super Hornets, though it does fund the legacy version's life extension.
"I am very excited about introducing the Lightning II into the fleet. I would like to do it sooner rather than later," said Shoemaker, an F/A-18C Hornet pilot. "I mean, this is not my choice to extend legacy Hornets. We are there because ... there have been some Navy-wide decisions on the procurement rate of JSF."
Budget constraints have limited the Navy's orders of both F-35s and Super Hornets, he added, prompting the Hornet overhauls to bridge the gapforcing the life extensions.
"But now we want to keep the current buy rates, and if there is a possibility to increase those a little bit, we will do that," he said.
Like a 'classic car'
The Hornet and Super Hornet, introduced to the fleet in the early 80s and mid-90s, respectively, can theoretically fly past their 10,000-hour life extension, but it's unlikely to happen, an FRCSW spokesman said.
"They were originally designed for 6,000 hours, they tested them for 12[,000], so going past 10,000 is probably not something they're going to do," Mike Furlano said.
FRCSW's commanding officer, Capt. Tim Pfannenstein, described the life extensions as inventory management, to make sure the Navy has enough strike fighters online to get it through the next two decades as F-35s trickle in.
"There's a requirement on the flight line," he told Navy Times on Feb. 25. "So if some aren't coming on time, we need to keep others in service."
"You can compare it to a classic car," he said.
Once engineers open up the hood, so to speak, each repair needs a custom solution.
One jet, Furlano said, had a crack in one of its bulkheads. Rather than manufacture an entirely new panel and spend the time taking the aircraft apart to install it, he said, the engineers created a brace in-house to cover the crack and support the structure.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.