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Interview: Matthew G. Moffit

Vice President for Navy Systems, The Boeing Company

Matthew G. Moffit is vice president, Navy Systems for Boeing’s National Security and Space Group. He brings numerous years of Navy operational experience plus military assessments, requirements and budgeting expertise with him.

Moffit joined The Boeing Company after retiring as a rear admiral with 34 years of distinguished service. His military career began in 1974 upon commissioning through the NROTC program. He received his Naval Aviation wings in 1976 and has served in numerous training, operations and staff assignments. Additionally, his staff tours include serving on the Chief of Naval Operations and the commandant of the Marine Corps staffs focusing on aviation programs and associated aviation logistics requirements.

Moffit’s last Navy assignment was as director, Fleet Readiness Division, concentrating on assessing requirements and developing the Navy’s yearly and future afloat operations and maintenance budgets. His responsibilities also included Marine Corps aviation operations and maintenance budget development.

Moffit is a highly decorated combat veteran having flown more than 20 different aircraft and helicopters to include the FA-18 Hornet from airbases and carriers around the world. He has been selected to command six times at the Squadron, Carrier Airwing, Carrier Strike Group and senior staff levels.

Moffit holds a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Utah. He is a graduate of the Navy’s Executive Leadership and Strategic Planning courses at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Air Power at Sea: A Century of U.S. Naval Aviation: Can you make a comparison between the state of naval aviation when you first entered the fleet, when you went on your first cruise, and what you see in the fleet today?

Matthew G. Moffit: I received my wings in 1976 and joined the fleet fairly shortly thereafter. It was near the end of the Vietnam War, but there were still a tremendous number of Vietnam combat veterans in the system. I joined at a time when America was getting pretty serious with the Soviets, so the Cold War was pretty intense.

I qualified on the A-7 [Corsair II] aircraft and deployed on the America [CV 66] for my first tour.

At the time, the air wings consisted of single-mission aircraft – A-7, A-6 [Intruder] with some A-3s [Skywarriors] still out there that were transitioned into the tanker role, the KA-3. There were also the F-4s [Phantom], F-14s [Tomcat], the S-3 [Viking] and, of course, the H-3 [Sea King] helos and the E-2 [Hawkeye] aircraft, while the S-2 [Tracker] was on its way out. There was a fairly wide array of capability, although the single-mission focus was something that kind of stuck with me.

Naval aviation had evolved to the point where each squadron and aircraft had a set mission it was meant to perform. It was a very interesting time from the perspective of how we conducted operations compared to what you see today. It was a much more maritime-focused capability as opposed to the support of land operations.

There’s a pretty significant difference from how we employed the naval capability to what you see today. Our domain was sea: maintaining control of the world’s choke points and the sea lines of communication. Today we see a bit of that, but naval aviation has been more focused on supporting sailors, soldiers, Marines, and airmen over land. And this will evolve in the months and years ahead.

I think the biggest difference is the level of technology. We were coming out of the A-4 [Skyhawk] era in the light-attack community – the VA community – and going into the A-7 Corsair II, which had a fairly significant evolution in and of itself; from what I would describe as a pretty archaic paper map display system that kind of tracked where you were on the ground – and you actually created these maps yourself – to what the A-7E had, which was like a digital map. It wasn’t actually digital; it was really a film canister of sorts that was installed into the aircraft before flight. The film canisters were regionally oriented, depending on where you were in the world. Although it was only a 35 mm film canister, it was a significant improvement over the paper-based system we had been using. The map itself was driven by a Doppler radar and a mechanical gyro-driven INS system [Inertial Navigation System]. The passage of time brought about pretty significant technological change, where now there are GPS-aided INS, Ring Laser Gyros, true Digital Map Displays, and in color, and interlinked positioning that we would only dream of back in those days.

Technology has changed the nature of the maritime aviation business significantly and I was fortunate enough in my career to see that change take place starting out in A-7s and moving eventually into the F-18 [Hornet] as our roles and missions evolved.

Another significant evolutionary step in TacAir came about in how we conducted our bombing missions. Back when I first started, we would launch en masse to execute Alpha Strikes. An Alpha Strike consisted of numerous aircraft, attacking together with a great number of weapons to just saturate the target with the intent of destroying it in the process. There was no real precision to speak of other than the Walleye, which was a TV-guided weapon. It was all about concentrating massive numbers of weapons in an area in hopes of achieving the desired level of damage to the target. And, today, you see Super Hornets going out with, four, six, eight precision weapons and all of them hitting their assigned targets – on every delivery.

In going from the A-7 to the legacy Hornet, what kinds of differences struck you at the time as a pilot?
I think the biggest thing for me was the aircraft’s reliability. Back in those days the A-7 was a relatively inexpensive aircraft – it was about $7 million. The technology was different, and not only the weapons system technology, but the actual aircraft systems: the engine, the hydraulics, the electrical systems, etc. The A-7 had evolved to a three hydraulic system because two wasn’t enough. You’d lose a system on just about every flight. It was a single-engine aircraft and the engine itself wasn’t all that reliable. I ended up ejecting out of one of them, fortunately that had a happy ending for me. So we were very pleased getting into the F/A-18 with two engines, where we had automated flight controls along with significant systems reliability. We felt as though we could actually fly a demanding mission, make a hard turn with a full combat load and survive. That was not the case in the A-7.

The F/A-18 is built to maneuver. Although a compromise of sorts between strike and fighter, it still had an incredible fighter capability from an A-7 pilot’s perspective. And, I truly appreciated that. But the thing I appreciated most was the reliability of the aircraft and the systems. Everything seemed to work all the time.

Well, it’s interesting because I read recently that it was about the time when the F/A-18 was first really penetrating the fleet squadrons that the mishap rate came down to a point where it was more like the Air Force mishap rate.
Yes, in the A-7 community, I can’t remember what the specific average was, but I think it approached once a month or once every two months we would lose an airplane. Mostly due to engine reliability but, on occasion, it was aircrew or another system failure.

There was a significant transition in actual conduct of flights, where everything from about the F-4/A-6 vintage back was really a pilot’s aircraft – you had to fly the airplane to get the most out of it. When the F/A-18 came around, the systems were so automated and the flight control system was so refined being software-driven that the amount of effort required to actually fly the airplane wasn’t close to what it was in the old days. So the pilots and the NFOs have become highly effective weapons systems operators.

That particular transition was pretty vivid to me and it was apparent even in the F-14 community. The F-14 was a two-crew aircraft … I’ve flown it and it really required a pilot to fly the airplane and a weapons systems operator [WSO] to control the radar/weapons system. When the community transitioned into the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, it was like, holy smokes this aircraft flies with actually no effort whatsoever and you can concentrate on the important stuff, which is executing your mission more effectively.

Which aircraft have a special place in your heart and why and also, are there any maybe not so much?
Well, let’s see. I’ve got time in T-34Bs, T-2Bs [Buckeyes], TA-4s, TA-7C, A-7C/Es, F-18 from A through D and F, F-14s, S-3s, ES-3s [Shadows], E-2s, P-3s [Orions], C-1s [Traders], H-3, H-60 B/F, EA-6 [Prowler],  F-16Ns, P-51, C-130, and the Goodyear Blimp. …

You cover the waterfront.
I’ve had an opportunity to fly a lot of airplanes. Each one was unique in how it handled and what it did. You could see the evolution as you transitioned from these airplanes. The evolution from one particular vintage to the next, to the next, but in terms of a favorite, I think the A-4 stands out from the perspective of my first day trap in that airplane. We got day traps in T-2s and we got day traps in A-4s and then we got our first night trap in the A-7s. But the A-4 trap I think was memorable. The T-2 traps I don’t remember at all. They just happened and I happened to be in the cockpit …

I started my operational career in the A-7 so there’s always an attachment with that first operational aircraft – it’s kind of like your first car. But, I had absolutely no problem transitioning to the F/A-18 when it came along.

And, I think when it’s all said and done, the F/A-18 was probably my favorite of all of them, just because of the significant impact it had on my naval aviation life and career.

You didn’t mention any you really didn’t like that much.
Not really, but I will say the C-1 COD [carrier onboard delivery] wasn’t very high on the list. It was a twin radial engine carrier onboard delivery aircraft. Back in the early 1980s, I was on my ship’s company tour and I was able to get qualified in this aircraft – at least attempt to get qualified. Of the three flights I had in the aircraft, two ended in emergencies and I decided I was done with this aircraft. As A-Strike I didn’t have the time or focus to have to deal with that kind of challenge. Being assistant strike ops officer, the skipper didn’t want me on the beach when the plane broke so that ended that. So, it’s not that I didn’t like it – I thought it was fun flying a radial engine aircraft. It was pretty neat because it linked me with my dad’s naval aviation career to a certain extent.

You mentioned the legacy Hornet before when you talked about some of the aircraft you’ve flown. I thought you said you had flown the Super Hornet at some point?
Yes, I did. I got to fly in an F/A-18F when I was assigned to NSAWC [Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center] as the commander. It was an early version F, so it didn’t have all the bells and whistles they have today and it didn’t have the integrated helmet or the AESA [Active Electronically Scanned Array] radar. Even though it was an F, it was more like a very high-end C at that time. When you get in the airplane, it’s very much like the classic Hornet. A little more room in the cockpit, which I found nice, but you could hardly tell the difference. The thing that I do remember most is the acceleration because of those more powerful engines. They would push that airplane around the sky a lot more readily than the classic did. Even with the classic’s EPE engine.

While we’re on the Super, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what sort of programs are under way to develop the aircraft for the future?
The Super Hornet is still being produced in pretty good numbers and will be for a while. The Super Hornet’s got a great legacy from the 500-plus that we have built. In fact, we just celebrated the 500th aircraft production in April.

We’re staying aligned with the Navy’s plan for the future, the flight plan, and in addition to that, the Growler, the EA-18G, which is a big part of that technological move to the future. There is a technology insertion plan to keep the F/A-18 Super Hornet viable and capable into the 2020s and 2030s. I see it being around the fleet through 2035 and potentially beyond and we continue to look for opportunities to improve the technology associated with the cockpit display system to further optimize it for the warfighter and make it more attuned to what’s actually available on the commercial market.

We’re also looking at improvements like additional fuel capacity and additional ways to load weapons to make the aircraft more capable in threatened environments. Sensor integration is a big part of that future also. Enhanced targeting is also a big part. We’re trying to make sure that we reduce the time between target identification and weapon deployment to the maximum extent possible. And, really, it’s all about speed of response in the future and your ability to get an indication or get information, process it, and then put a weapon on target if a kinetic response is the requirement.

Super Hornet is all about that. Disconnecting the two cockpits with the AESA radar system is a huge step forward, where the pilot can perform the air-to-air mission and the WSO [weapon systems officer] can do the air-to-ground mission simultaneously. That is a huge leap forward from the days where the radar-intercept officer and the pilot in an F-14 or an F-4 had to verbally coordinate their actions to employ a single weapon.

Taking some of that confusion, or potential for confusion, out of the equation is really the key, and giving both individuals the situational awareness needed to maximize their potential as you put those two computers, their brains, to work on different problems. In high-threat environments and scenarios where it’s pretty complex, the Super Hornet proves that it is – without a doubt – the best in the world. You can see this after a day of watching the performance of the aircrews and aircraft out at Fallon [Naval Air Station, Nev.]. When you see the capability that the AESA and the integrated helmet system and the other integrated systems provide the warfighters, it is absolutely phenomenal.

At Fallon, where we first set up the Naval Strike Warfare Center in 1984, we brought that first air wing in to see if NSWC had any value in helping the air wing training process and discovered that we did. We hosted what was then a pretty capable air  wing and evaluated them and you were able to see how they performed, what they did well and what they didn’t do well. When I compare that experience as a lieutenant commander staff officer with what I saw as the commander 20 years later, [it] was truly amazing, night and day.

The technology a Super Hornet brings to naval aviation and this particular venue is phenomenal. You see it in the Navy’s success in Iraq and Afghanistan and in any place where the weapon system is employed. It’s eye-watering for me to reflect on the two eras of technology and capability of the individuals flying and operating systems.

You know the initial worry with the Growler was, well you only have two guys now, you used to have four guys. But what we got from the guys in the fleet when we interviewed them was that the pilot is a part of this now. Before, the pilot used to just be the guy who flew the airplane. But now, because you can coordinate so well, the pilot and the weapon systems officer are both able to do more than they were able to do in the old Prowler.
As you watch software develop and align it to the capabilities of the individual in the cockpit, you can see the differences from the Prowler to the EA-18G in spades. We have taken a huge step forward in that technology. My dad was very involved with the development of the EA-6A, which was an A-6 that was modified with a couple of jamming pods and what not, and then it evolved to the four-seater you see today because of aircrew workload and the state of automation and cockpit interface technology.

In the Growler, the pilot doesn’t have to spend as much time “flying” the aircraft as in the Prowler. You don’t have to completely dedicate a position to that activity anymore. The pilot now becomes a significant contributor to the warfighting equation – and a critical one in the case of EA-18G. The “G” has superior warfighting ability, due in part to its inherent Super Hornet qualities. From air-to-air missiles and AESA to integrated helmets, the G can basically get out there into the mix, to a certain extent, in areas where the EA-6B would never be allowed to go and operate because of its performance and technology. The EA-6B wasn’t the most high-performance aircraft in the world, although it was great at what it did. But now you’ve got a highly maneuverable, highly capable platform that provides this very effective EA [electronic attack] capability.

Right. And, you have a more similar mission profile and flight envelope to the Super Hornet, don’t you?
Yes, absolutely. When the strike goes to altitude to cruise to wherever it’s headed, the EA-18G is right there with them.

In the old days, with the EA-6B, you would have to place them at certain points because they couldn’t do the cruise mach that the bombers were using. Now it’s completely integrated.

Moving on to another aircraft, the Osprey. It was an aircraft that got a lot of bad press early on and then, of course, once the Marines had procured a whole bunch of them and were using them actively it seemed like all that bad press just quieted down. What have you heard as far as feedback from the Marine Corps and how they feel about it?
We stayed pretty close with the Marine Corps obviously and the MV-22 is an important capability that they are employing in combat, as well as the Air Force for that matter. The Osprey is doing exceptionally well. Its operational reputation is pretty darn fantastic with the Marine Corps leadership. They are more than pleased with the capability the aircraft is bringing the Marines on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. It’s done multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. It has been wrung out from that perspective and that combat experience has helped as we further develop its capabilities.

The Marines I’ve spoken to love it. It provides an insertion and extraction capability that they’ve never had with just a helicopter. The speed of entry and the speed of exit are the things that the Marines love the most because it gets them into the fray and out of the fray much more quickly than they ever could before.

The MV-22’s ability to vertically insert and extract into and out of a combat zone is pretty incredible – and those that fly it truly enjoy flying it. It is an exceptional hybrid capability and I think it’s changing the face of combat for the Marines unlike any other vehicle they’ve had. Additionally, their “reach” within a given theater or combat zone has increased dramatically. What they can now touch far surpasses any previous helicopter and it’s because of their MV-22s.

It came up as well with the TRAP (Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel) mission recently to pick up the Strike Eagle pilot and WSO who went down.
If there ever was a better mission for the Osprey, CSAR [combat search and rescue] is it. The ability to react, get in, locate, pick up, and extract is phenomenal and I know everybody involved with that recent event agrees. We’ve seen some debriefs from the MEU [Marine Expeditionary Unit] that indicate that it was the quintessential mission for the MV-22.

Yeah, well the MEU had their PowerPoint® slide up pretty quickly after that mission was over (chuckling).
(Laughing) Well, yes, but it was amazing. When I was the Strike Group commander on the USS Kitty Hawk during OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom], we had an F/A-18 pilot shot down, unfortunately. The shoot down was at night in Iraq and I’ll tell you it took what I thought was just about forever to get out there and search. Now, we obviously had active combat going on, but if we had had an Osprey for that particular mission, it would not have been near the challenge it was to go search out this individual and locate him. Unfortunately, he perished in the event, but that notwithstanding, I thought about that particular scenario when I heard about this F-15 CSAR.

How are things going with the Poseidon, with the P-8? Where does that program stand?
The P-8 program is going very well. As a matter of fact, the Navy recently had T-3 fly down to a gathering of the maritime community in Jacksonville, Fla., for their celebration of the 100th anniversary of naval aviation and it was the first for the new aircraft. The intent was to show the capability to the ultimate users. And, of course, it continues to go through its paces at Pax River [Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.].

As of this interview, the Navy has three aircraft at Pax. The static testing is complete at the Renton factory in Washington. Now the program is about to start fatigue testing and we’ll go through two aircraft lives in Renton. The three aircraft in Pax are doing well. The mission systems and the weapons systems aircraft are executing the test plan. And the airworthiness test aircraft is going through flight envelope expansion. The Navy is very pleased with what they’re seeing, as are we.

The Navy has signed a contract for the first LRIP [low-rate initial production] and is moving forward on the second LRIP contract. The first production aircraft fuselage has actually shown up in Washington where it will have its wings and tail attached and then it will be turned over to the weapons system integrators. It won’t be long before it shows up on the line. So, it is moving forward with some speed.

The Navy recognized the ASW [anti-submarine warfare] mission – the long-range ASW mission that the P-3 aircraft has flown for many years – was in need of a new vehicle. Boeing was fortunate to have been selected to provide the P-8, a derivative of the 737, into the Navy’s inventory to continue this mission. The CNO [Chief  of Naval Operations] has stated time and again that this is a No. 1 aviation priority – making sure that we get this anti-submarine warfare capability in the fleet as quickly as possible. So, between the Navy and The Boeing Company, we’re moving forward as rapidly as we can to make that a reality.

It does seem like the program has really moved along at a pretty good clip, with very few hiccups.
Right. It has. It’s been recognized as one of the best programs in the Department of Defense. Of course, as with every program, you’ll have issues along the way and you work your way through them. This program is fairly unique in that it is using in-line production of a commercial derivative aircraft to a military-specific platform.

I mean, it’s pretty amazing. The Navy and The Boeing Company are taking a 737 and turning it into an anti-submarine warfare aircraft. The commercial derivate concept brings incredible benefit to the Navy in the process.


What’s ahead for Boeing as far as naval aviation goes?
Super Hornets, P-8s, MV-22s … there’s a tremendous amount of unmanned capability that we’re looking at, in MRMUAS [medium-range maritime unmanned aircraft system (UAS)], in UCLASS [unmanned carrier-launched surveillance and strike aircraft]. We’ve got STUAS [Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System] out there. We’ve got ScanEagles that are flying off ships. There’s a tremendous amount of activity. We also have Phantom Ray [unmanned air vehicle], which just had its first flight out at Edwards [Air Force Base, Calif.] in May.

And, we’ve got Phantom Eye, which is a high-altitude, long-endurance vehicle that will be taking off in the not-too-distant future as well. We see all kinds of opportunity and we’re looking forward to the challenges that the future brings to that end. As the Navy and the Air Force and the Marine Corps work through how they want to employ unmanned capability in conjunction with the aircraft inventories they’ve currently got, we’re going to be there with them. As they move forward and really optimize the capabilities that an unmanned platform brings to the warfighters, we’ll be there offering the capability they require.  I believe the near future will start to see unmanned capabilities integrated with the manned vehicles as the Navy and other services move forward employing them in an appropriate way. We’re excited about that.

I know Boeing has been a major sponsor for the Centennial of Naval Aviation. What does the centennial mean to Boeing as a company, but also to you personally?
The Boeing Company will celebrate its 100th year in the aircraft manufacturing business in 2016. We’ve been involved with the Navy in one way or another for 94 years. The Boeing Company sold the Navy 50 trainer aircraft called the Model C in 1917. They were basically seaplanes.

Our alignment with the Navy over the years with McDonnell Douglas and the many other companies brings us a wide array of naval aviation history. We have a long and strong history with the Navy and we look forward to filling their needs with capability that I think is the best in the world. We have the most extensive association with carrier-based capability in all of industry. In our history, being the premier provider of sea-based aircraft is pretty significant, and we want to continue doing that for our Navy and Marine Corps customers.

Personally, the milestone means a lot as well. My dad was a naval aviator for 33 years, World War II and on. He retired a year after I was commissioned. I picked it up from there. My brother was also a naval aviator. He flew A-7s out of the East Coast for eight years. I have a nephew who was an F-18 pilot for eight years and I have a son who is a naval aviator in H-60s. And, I’ve got another son who is in the naval aviation training pipeline as we speak. So, we have a fairly significant bond with naval aviation and its history.

So through The Boeing Company and my family, I have a close identity [with] the centennial. As I was reflecting, my dad and I make up 67 of the 100 years of naval aviation, and Boeing makes up 94 of those 100 years, both of which are amazing to me. I look forward to my sons and Boeing adding to that number.

And that legacy will be going on for many years too.
Yes, it will.

When you were serving as a naval aviator, as an admiral, during your whole career, what was the most memorable accomplishment or mission or experience for you? Or maybe there’s not just one, but what stands out for you?
Well, there are thousands, actually. Throughout one’s career, as you mature and evolve, different things hit you in different ways. But  I think the most memorable thing that I left with was all the great people I worked with. I mean, they were all really, really dedicated to serving our country. I think that was probably the most impressive thing. I came in at a very difficult time – the Vietnam War. Things were not good for the military back then, but all those people that I interacted with were truly dedicated to doing the right thing. And that was … that was really impressive.

Some of the actual events themselves … of course, you can’t ever forget your first night arrestment.  I’m glad I don’t have to do that again.

And being shot at in combat is memorable. I remember flying over Kuwait City during Desert Storm and all of a sudden these little grayish black puffs are popping around and underneath me and I’m thinking “What the heck is that?” Then I had a déjà vu moment with the movie Twelve O’Clock High.  That shook me up.  I’m going: “Holy smokes, these guys are really shooting at me.”

Of course, there are some personal events. I was in the North Atlantic. It was a no-moon night, but it was clear as a bell. I was 40,000 feet in a Hornet and looking out into the universe and seeing the Milky Way. It is a memory that’s always stuck with me.

And finally, the loss of a squadron mate. I’ve dealt with it a couple of times in my career, up close and personal. That’s tough, and of course, the loss of others on your ship or in your airwing.

I wonder if there’s anything that you would like to add or that you feel that maybe I’ve missed that we should talk about.
I think it is an absolute honor for The Boeing Company to be a part of the centennial to the extent that we are. We truly appreciate the opportunity to be the Presenting Sponsor for the Centennial of Naval Aviation events and for the CoNA Foundation. We look forward to continuing to celebrate this incredible time in history  – it’s just so hard to believe 100 years has passed since that first launch off and that first landing on a ship.

And, it is also absolutely wonderful to see the capability that is provided to our warfighters now as compared to my career, and also compared to those very first days where it truly was a dangerous thing to fly. Today, naval aviation is an incredibly effective capability our warfighters bring to the defense of the country.

This interview first appeared in Air Power at Sea: A Century of U.S. Naval Aviation.