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Biggest Priority for Naval Aviation: It’s dealing with a projected shortfall of fighter aircraft around 2016, Adm. Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, said March 25. “We predict right now that we will bottom at about a 69-aircraft shortfall,” the admiral told defense reporters yesterday (see above), noting that this number reflects only the Navy and does not include the Marine Corps’s needs. “When you bring the Marines in, that number goes up,” he said, telling the reporters that analysis is still ongoing and he did not know what the larger number would be. He could not confirm the figure of 200 or so that has been circulating in the press. Roughead said the Navy will begin to experience the shortfall “as some of the earlier [F/A-18] Hornets age out.” The sea service will be addressing how to mitigate the impact of this shortfall and phase in the F-35 as it assembles its Fiscal 2010 budget submittal later this year, he said. He was clear on this: “I have no intention to skip over the F-35C.” He said that in response to the question of whether it would make more sense just to buy more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, and then skip over the F-35C to a sixth-generation fighter.