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Determining the Future of Naval Aviation: An Institutional Perspective

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Research paper

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Naval Aviation is increasingly facing a future in which it will have to operate aircraft with diminished margins of capability over potential adversaries or face force structure reductions below the DOD Base Force in order to field a modernized force. Naval aircraft modernization plans have been complicated by a wide range of mission requirements, acquisition failures, and new post Cold War budget constraints. However complicated these problems are, the root cause of naval aviations looming modernization crisis is the failure to develop institutional consensus on a rational strategy for the future within the uniformed elements of naval aviation, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations OPNAV, and the Department of the Navy DON. The lack of consensus and cohesion have undercut naval aviations ability to function in the DOD and Congressional budget battlegrounds. The result is that the OPNAV and the DON have forfeited the ability to set the future agenda of naval aviation. The subdivision of naval aviation into separate platform based communities is the chief institutional factor that prevents naval aviation from speaking with one voice. Marine Corps aviation presents other institutional problems. The changing institutional environment in OPNAV, the DON and DOD have also contributed to the disarray which places naval aviations future at risk. The most dramatic changes have been the decline in power and influence of the platform barons and the rise of an independent acquisition corps directly under the SECNAVs authority. The genesis of the FA-18 EF program is used to demonstrate the weakness of the present institutional arrangements within OPNAV and the DON. The conclusion discusses why strong warfare area representation is essential to managing the diverse elements of the Navy and for developing and articulating naval modernization strategies. A return of the platform sponsors to DCNO status is recommended.

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  • Military Aircraft Operations
  • Military Forces and Organizations

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