Boeing is upbeat about its prospects in the global fighter market, despite the F-15's grounding for non-essential operations by Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the USA in the wake of a 2 November crash. The decision followed the loss of a US Air National Guard F-15C, which is believed to have suffered a catastrophic structural failure during a routine training sortie. The aircraft's pilot ejected, suffering minor injuries.
The manufacturer, which says it is providing engineering support to the US Air Force during its investigation, recently received better news for its more than 35-year-old F-15 design, in the form of a follow-on order that will double the size of Singapore's F-15SG fleet to 24 aircraft by early next decade. Negotiations continue to supply South Korea with a second batch of 20 F-15Ks, and Boeing is also optimistic about securing a fresh deal with Saudi Arabia, reveals Chris Chadwick, vice-president/general manager global strike systems for the company's Integrated Defense Systems unit.
"We believe the Saudis are interested in new [F-15] aircraft," says Chadwick, citing concerns within the nation over the ongoing re-equipment of neighbouring Iran's armed forces. A decision on a follow-on package of 24-48 aircraft could come from Riyadh within the next two years, he believes. The Royal Saudi Air Force's 70-strong F-15S fleet is also undergoing an upgrade which will replace the type's Pratt & Whitney F100-229 engines with General Electric F110-129Cs.
Other opportunities for the F-15 include a possible South Korean requirement for a further 60 fighters and via Japan's McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom replacement effort, says Chadwick.
Boeing is meanwhile also looking for continued success from its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet design, having earlier this year secured a first export sale, to supply Australia with 24 F-model strike aircraft from 2010. Chadwick believes the nation's air force could have a larger requirement for the type, potentially to also include the US Navy's EA-18G Growler electronic-attack aircraft.
The Super Hornet will also be offered to meet the Indian air force's 126-aircraft medium multi-role combat aircraft requirement, with Chadwick saying success in the nation would enable Boeing to go "truly global". Noting that New Delhi's requirement for a 50% defence offset proposal related to the fighter deal - which will exclude the final assembly of 108 of the aircraft by Hindustan Aeronautics - is "sporty and difficult", he says the company is nonetheless "optimistically bullish" about securing the deal.
Technical responses to India's request for proposals are due next March, with offset proposals to be submitted during June. Boeing faces competition from the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16, RSK MiG-35 and Saab Gripen for the estimated $12 billion deal. Other Super Hornet prospects are listed as including Japan, Kuwait and Switzerland, with the latter having an emerging requirement for 33 new aircraft.
Chadwick says Boeing is also trying to "introduce" potential buyers of the Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to the capabilities of the Super Hornet, with the company potentially trying to persuade nations such as Norway - which continues to evaluate the Gripen and Typhoon alongside the JSF - to also consider its product. "The E/F gives them an alternative, or a bridge to whenever the F-35 comes," he says.
Boeing hopes to receive a decision within the next 18 months on a potential third multi-year procurement deal for the F/A-18E/F with the US Navy, which Chadwick says will reduce the fighter's fly-away unit cost from $53.8 million to $49.9 million. "The E/F is doing things in a cost and capability way that really goes against the grain," he says, predicting that the type could remain in production for the USN and export customers until at least 2015.
Source: Flight International