(Source: U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist Seaman David Danals)
The Navy has less fighter jets scheduled for production next year

Defense Secretary Robert Gates' new budget, including cutting the F-22 Raptor fighter jet program, could cause a growing fighter gap with less F/A-18s being produced in the future.

The Navy is expected to purchase 31 F/A-18 fighter jets next year including the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growlers -- both have Boeing-made airframes, but the Growler has additional electronic warfare measures included.  In last year's budget, the Navy planned to purchase 40 F/A-18s in 2010, but won't be able to do so due to budget issues.

The main problem is that the aging F/A-18 Hornets are being decommissioned at a faster rate than private contractors can build the F-35C Lighting II fighter jets.  It's possible Gates and the Pentagon will try to accelerate the F-35's development, as it's not scheduled to be ready until 2015.

"If anything, things have gotten worse," according to Robert Dun, retired vice admiral and Association of Naval Aviation president.  The "aircraft are being over-utilized" in the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there are "ongoing attacks in the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill."

"At the current rate, given no further procurement, the Navy will be as many as 150, perhaps as many as 200, strike fighters short of what's needed within five years, and that's with the most optimistic projection  of JSF production," Dunn said before Gates' original announcement.

The US Air Force recently defended the decision to eliminate the F-22 program, with a stronger emphasis put on the next-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets.  The Air Force will still receive up to 187 F-22 fighter jets, but the Pentagon won't make another order, Gates recently announced.

As the military begins to transition from traditional warfare to modified warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, it'll be interesting to see how the current fleet of fighter jets adjusts.

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