'Cruel' budget pinches pilots' IT on aircraft carrier

ABOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK—Faced with not enough funds to upgrade systems in older aircraft, pilots aboard this aircraft carrier must rely on commercial handheld Global Positioning System receivers to help navigate their older "Tomcat" fighters, which are not equipped with built-in military systems.

Capt. Rick McHarg, commander of the formidable air wing aboard the USS Kitty Hawk—which abruptly detoured from the Western Pacific Ocean to the Persian Gulf last week for air operations over Iraq—said the lack of built-in military GPS systems on some of the aircraft reflects "the cruel reality of [budget] dollars."

McHarg, who straps a commercial Garmin GPS receiver into the cockpit of his F-14 Tomcat, described it as "the best thing we can have to know where we are.... It's the best guarantee that the airplane and its [internal navigation system] are aligned.''

Lt. Drew Basden, a pilot who works as the ship's landing signals officer, said squadrons on the ship have been using internal funding to buy the commercial GPS receivers, which he described as "squadron band-aid kits." He said the receivers provide basic navigation and are better than the internal systems on the older aircraft.

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