Contract should secure production until 2011 and boost morale at Boeing's beleaguered Integrated Defense Systems unit

Boeing has received orders to build at least 210 more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets over a five-year period and to develop an electronic attack (EA) variant for the US Navy under 29 December contracts worth $9.6 billion.

The navy's second multi-year procurement (MYP-2) deal includes a commitment to buy 42 aircraft a year from 2005 to 2009, with a yearly option to increase the order by up to six airframes.

A $1 billion contract will launch system development and demonstration (SDD) of the EA-18G. The navy has, however, revamped its original acquisition strategy, which had called for the conversion of 90 F-model two-seaters for the electronic attack role, including 56 during the MYP-2 period.

The navy now intends to keep its options open as the contract period evolves, says Rear Adm James Godwin, programme executive officer for tactical aircraft. The service may decide to slide either F- or G-model deliveries to later in the order cycle or even to a third multi-year procurement deal if specific needs arise. Godwin says numbers could also be influenced by the results of an ongoing effort to combine US Navy and US Marine Corps tactical aviation units into a single, streamlined force.

There are limits to the navy's flexibility, however, since sufficient EA-18G squadrons must be ready to replace the existing fleet of Northrop Grumman EA-6Bs by 2015. The first two EA-18G squadrons will become operational by 2009, with the navy to support 10 carrier air wings by 2015 with electronic attack squadrons of five or six aircraft each.

With the EA-18G scheduled to remain in development until December 2009, the navy has several years to make a final decision. Added flexibility will be provided as all F/A-18Fs built in MYP-2 will have wiring harness and bracket provisions for easy conversion to the EA-18G standard.

The latest orders all but secure an active Super Hornet production line until 2011. The contracts also offer cheering news for Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems business unit, which remains the target of a US Department of Defense probe into the circumstance of several favourable contract decisions by the US Air Force.

Boeing has received contracts for 272 Super Hornets through the programme's low-rate initial production (62) and MYP-1 (210)phases and 170 have been delivered.

Source: Flight International