The Navy wants to increase flying hours and spend an additional $1.4 billion on air operations in the next year, according to the fiscal 2023 budget request released Monday.
The Navy slated $10.1 billion for air operations for FY23 — up from the $8.7 billion that was enacted for FY22 — to “maximize readiness and lethality” in naval aviation.
If the service gets its way, that money will go toward an additional 38,000 flying hours for Fleet operations and an additional 19,000 training command flight hours for student aviators for strike fighter pilot production recovery.
“This critical investment will support increased student-pilot throughput, supporting the recovery of our tactical aircraft pilot shortfall,” Rear Adm. John Gumbleton, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, told reporters Monday.
The Navy said in 2020 it was facing a shortage of approximately 90 strike fighter pilots in the Fleet, stemming from issues such as aircraft readiness and engine problems. As a result, the training pipeline for fighter pilots has expanded from approximately three years to nearly four years, naval air training chief Rear Adm. Robert Westendorff said at a virtual Tailhook symposium in September 2020.
Westendorff said at the time it would take roughly three years to recover from the shortage. The Navy did not respond to a request for comment for an updated fighter pilot shortage number.
At the same time, the Navy is also tackling a fighter jet shortage. The service said it hopes to offset a shortage of approximately 49 aircraft by adding to its fighter inventory and tacking on 4,000 additional flight hours of service life to F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. Leaders are also counting on fielding the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter as a way to help.
Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, the commander of Naval Air Forces, told Defense News in February the service anticipates it will eliminate the fighter shortage by 2025, but must stay on schedule developing the Next Generation Air Dominance program’s F/A-XX manned fighter to prevent another shortage down the line.
Meanwhile, the Navy’s FY23 budget request asks for 96 aircraft, including nine F-35Cs and five E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes. It also asks for four F-35Cs, 15 F-35Bs, five KC-130Js and 10 CH-53K King Stallions for the Marine Corps. The Navy did not request any F/A-18 Super Hornets this year.
The Department of the Navy requested $230.8 billion for FY23 — $9.1 billion more than last year’s enacted budget.