A new Congressional Budget Office report estimates that the Navy would need to spend about $380 billion in 2018 dollars to maintain the current size of its aviation fleet between 2020 and 2050, or about $12.7 billion per year.
Today, the Navy has a fleet of around 4,000 aircraft — 1,400 fixed-wing fighters, 1,350 helicopters/tiltrotors, 750 training aircraft, and about 500 surveillance, communication, cargo, or utility aircraft.
“The projections are based on the assumption that the department will implement its currently planned aircraft procurement programs and replace aircraft for which it has not yet specified plans at the end of their typical service life,” the report states. “The projections do not take into account the costs of development, operation and maintenance, modifications, or personnel associated with aircraft.”
Costs would start at around $11 billion per year through 2030, after which there would be a temporary dip as several large programs — including the MV-22 tiltrotor, CH-53K helicopter, and F-35B/C fighter — start coming off the books. Costs would shoot up again in the mid-2030s after the Navy starts buying a fighter to replace the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and a platform to replace early-production MV-22Bs, which the CBO estimates would result in an average of $14 billion per year from 2034 through 2050.
The replacement of fighter aircraft alone would make up half of the projected $380 billion bill over the 30-year period.
The report notes that there is still a great deal of uncertainty with this projection, however.
“As with any 30-year budget projections, CBO’s estimates are subject to several sources of uncertainty,” the report states. “In particular, the size and composition of the naval aviation force may change in unanticipated ways as a result of advances in technology, budgetary constraints, or changes in the national security environment.
“Even at the individual aircraft level, paths different from those projected by CBO could be adopted,” the report continues. “For example, specific plans for replacing the F/A-18E/F fighters, MV-22B tiltrotors, and eventually, the F-35B/C fighters in production today have not yet been developed. Policymakers could decide to replace those aircraft with more or less expensive options than CBO assumed or to not replace them at all.”