Sound Off: State’s military, economy rely on Super Hornet funding

Washington state is an important state for our country’s Armed Services and national security. It is home to dozens of military installations from Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane to the Navy bases on the Olympic Peninsula. Our friends and neighbors working at these installations not only serve the nation, but also are a vital part of Washington’s culture and economy — and they deserve the best.

Naval Air Station Whidbey Island happens to be home to all of the Navy’s EA-18G Growler squadrons. This innovative platform is the only tactical airborne electronic attack aircraft in the Defense Department’s inventory. Growlers lend jamming, surveillance, and electronic protection of U.S. service members and can protect themselves with air-to-air missiles. This advanced survivability and electronic protection helps keep America’s ground, air, and maritime combat forces safe.

I am one of those service members. I spent most of my 20-year military career supporting the naval aviation complex through administration and management of aviation maintenance, materials and technical personnel. This included an assignment overseeing the day-to-day administration and management of flight operations and flight crew training departments for the Naval Flight Readiness Crew Training School. I developed a deep understanding of the intricacies of the E/A-18 Growler and the F/A-18 Super Hornet.

I know how powerful these platforms are and why they are vital for our national security.

The Growler is a variant of the tried-and-true F/A-18 Super Hornet, which provides multi-role attack and strike fighter capabilities to the U.S military and America’s allies. The Super Hornet is the most cost-effective tactical aviation platform in the U.S. Navy with a cost per flight hour that is one-third that of a new F-35C. The Super Hornet program supports 39 Washington suppliers and generates $510 million in annual estimated economic impact throughout our state. Combine that with the roughly 2,400 service members who support the 14 EA-18G Growler squadrons at NAS Whidbey and their family members and it’s easy to see how important these platforms are to our state.

Due to ongoing F-35 production delays, our troops are threatened with a significant capability gap. Meanwhile, the F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet has a dependable manufacturing and performance record and is ready to go today. In fact, the U.S. Navy threw long-term support behind the Super Hornet when it announced the Blue Angels would exclusively fly the platform.

To avoid ushering in a higher-than-expected risk and unnecessarily disadvantaging our U.S. military it’s imperative that lawmakers in our nation’s capitol ensure adequate funding for the F/A-18 production line.

After retiring from the Navy, I worked 22 years in quality control for naval aviation platforms. I’ve seen how decisions made by Congress impact the aviation industry’s ability to support the needs of the war fighter.

I believe strongly that if F/A-18 Super Hornet production is forced to stop prematurely due to inadequate funding, the door would close on future EA-18G Growlers, which are manufactured on the same line.

As a result, the Navy would lose its ability to increase the size of Super Hornet and Growler squadrons, add aircraft for joint and coalition operations, or simply buy attrition aircraft. It would also leave our allies empty-handed. Most importantly, it would be devastating for our own NAS Whidbey community on Whidbey Island.

The decisions our elected officials make today have complex impacts on national security for decades to come. With military readiness and national security on the line, it is imperative that lawmakers maintain adequate funding for the F/A-18 Super Hornet.

Our war fighters and economy depend on it.

Lionel Peoples Sr. served 20 years in the U.S. Navy, retiring as a chief petty officer before working an additional 22 years in aviation quality control. He holds an MBA from City University and is a senior manufacturing engineer, certified quality engineer, certified logistics engineer and certified reliability engineer. He lives on Whidbey Island with his wife and enjoys watching the EA-18 Growlers practice at Naval Outlying Landing Field Coupeville from his backyard.