Rejections by India and more recently Brazil – combined with the looming end to a multi-year procurement deal for the US Navy – mean that the pressure is mounting on Boeing to secure extra orders for its versatile Super Hornet.
As things stand, the last F/A-18E/F or EA-18G Growler will roll off the line in St Louis, Missouri before the end of 2016, with the USN and Royal Australian Air Force the buyers so far. As you can read in my colleague Jon Hemmerdinger’s report on the situation, that’s not a major problem for the manufacturer for now, but Washington finding funds for more in its fiscal year 2015 budget planning is described as a “critical” requirement.
Boeing has a proven multi-role aircraft available for a reported $52 million that it’s really struggled to shift internationally. From a long list of legacy Hornet operators, only Australia has gone for the new model, although fellow users Canada, Kuwait and Malaysia are now considering their future fighter options. Other potential buyers include Denmark.
The big question is whether the raft of Advanced Super Hornet (Boeing image above) options now on the table – including engine and radar enhancements, conformal fuel tanks, a belly-mounted external weapons bay and infrared search and track sensor – will make a difference? If these proposals fail to attract new buyers, as was the case with the stealthed-up F-15SE unsuccessfully pitched to South Korea, then we could see a second Boeing production line shut down, after its last C-17s are delivered next year.
We can expect some serious lobbying in Congress if the FY2015 proposal doesn’t include more F/A-18s, but any move to “plus-up” would have to be at the expense of other procurements: maybe even a few F-35s? But might a few Super Hornets creep into the FY2015 bill anyway? A pre-solicitation note for 36 more was withdrawn last October, supposedly after being “accidentally” posted online.