Navy Aviation: F-14 Modernization Initiatives Should Enhance the Aircraft's Operational Performance

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-08-14.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)


          United States
          General Accounting Office
          Washington, D.C. 20548

          National Security and
          International Affairs Division


          August 14, 1997

          The Honorable William S. Cohen
          The Secretary of Defense

          Subject:    Navy Aviation: F-14 Modernization Initiatives Should Enhance the
                      Aircraft’s Operational Performance

          Dear Mr. Secretary:

          This letter is to inform you that we have completed our review of the Navy’s
          efforts to modernize the F-14 fleet. This letter discusses the Navy’s
          modernization initiatives. We found that in making these modifications, the
          F-14 community used effective acquisition initiatives. Therefore, we are making
          no recommendations.


          The F-14 Tomcat has been the Navy’s premier air defense fighter for over 20
          years. In May 1994, in response to a requirement contained in the Fiscal Year
           1994 Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 103-106, section 128) the Navy advised the
          congressional defense committees that the F-14 fleet would be retained to 2010.
          At that time, the Navy would begin to retire the F-14s and replace them with the
          next generation fighter, the Joint Strike Fighter. Under the Navy’s 1994 plan,
          which was reiterated in the Department of Defense’s March 1996 Annual Report
          to the President and the Congress, retirement of the F-14 would be completed
          in 2016.

          The Navy has altered its plan, and it now intends to begin retiring the F-14s in
          2001 and replacing them with F/A-18E/Fs rather than waiting to replace them
          with the Joint Strike Fighter. Under the current plan, according to F-14
          program officials, retirement of the F-14s will be completed in 2007 instead of
          in 2016.


          The Navy has upgraded the multirole capabilities of the F-14 by providing it
          with a precision-strike capability (LANTIRN), a digital flight control system, and
          an enhanced reconnaissance capability.

                                                   GAO/NSIAD-97-233R F-14 Modernization


In providing the F-14 with a precision-strike capability, the Navy adapted
off-the-shelf technology by using the Air Force’s Low Altitude Navigation and
Targeting Infrared for Night (LANTIRN) system targeting pod. This system
provides laser targeting for precision-guided weapons. It is a stand-alone
system, which reduces the need for, and avoids the costs of, software
modifications and extensive flight testing. According to F-14 program officials,
using the LANTIRN system reduced acquisition costs by almost $200 million and
resulted in providing the F-14 with precision-strike capability about 2 years
earlier than would have otherwise been possible. Aircrews flying LANTIRN-
equipped F-14s during their first carrier deployment (aboard the U.S.S.
Enternrise, June-December 1996) reported that the system was able to detect
targets at longer ranges and operated at higher altitudes than the F/A-18C
equipped with its current targeting forward looking infrared (FLIR) system.
Since April 1997, carrier battle groups have deployed with LANTIRN-equipped

Digital Flight Control Svstem

Current F-14s, equipped with an analog flight control system, have
demonstrated undesirable flying characteristics that have contributed to
numerous out-of-control flight incidents and aircraft losses. The F-14’s
operational advisory group, representing the fleet operators, identified the flight
control system as a safety-of-flight priority. The Navy’s F-14 community is
adapting an off-the-shelf Digital Flight Control System (DFCS) in the aircraft.
According to the Navy, DFCS, built by GEC-Marconi Avionics Ltd. of the United
Kingdom, is expected to correct the current flight control system’s deficiencies
by limiting the pilot from flying the aircraft in a manner that makes it unstable
or that will cause the engine to stall. If the aircraft does enter into a spin, the
system is designed to send commands to the aircraft’s controls that will help
the pilot recover from the spin. According to the F-14 program office, DFCS
will also improve the F-14’s flying characteristics during carrier landings. The
Navy, according to F-14 program officials, plans to procure about 200 DFCSs for
F-14s at a total cost of around $84 million, and to install the systems from June
1998 through October 2000.

Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod Svstem

The F-14 uses the Tactical Air Reconnaissance Pod System (TARPS) to perform
its reconnaissance missions. The Navy is improving TARPS to include a digital
imaging (DI) system that can be inserted in place of the pod’s forward-looking
photographic camera. This commercial, off-the-shelf digital system is used to

2                                         GAO/NSIAD-97-233R F-14 Modernization

transmit near-real-time imagery, via secure UHF radio, to the battlefield
commander. Since May 1997, carrier battle groups have deployed with F-14s
that have TARPS-D1 capability. According to the F-14 program office, the total
estimated cost of this program is $8.6 million.

We appreciate the assistance provided to our staff during this review. The F-14
program office reviewed a draft of this letter and we have incorporated its
comments as appropriate.

We are sending a copy of this letter to the Secretary of the Navy and to the
cognizant congressional committees. We wilI make copies available to others
on request.

Please contact me at (202) 5124841 if you or your staff have any questions
concerning this letter.

Sincerely yours,

Director, Defense Acquisitions Issues

3                                       GAO/NSIAD-97-233RF-14 Modernization
     -1   ,.

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