Graham Warwick/ATLANTA

McDONNELL DOUGLAS (MDC) has defended the F-18E/F Super Hornet after the leak of a US General Accounting Office (GAO) draft report, which has recommended that the aircraft programme be cancelled.

Reports suggest that the Congressional watchdog, recommends buying upgraded F-18C/Ds, citing only "marginal improvements in operational capabilities", provided by the E/F.

MDC declines to comment on the draft report's contents, but points out "...that the question of whether to proceed with the F-18E/F Super Hornet has been asked countless times before". The company describes the E/F upgrade as " the most scrutinised defence-acquisition programmes in history", adding that reviews "...have all decided that it's the right thing to do".

The GAO reportedly questions the E/F's stealth improvements, projected unit costs and the C/D operational deficiencies cited by the US Navy in justifying the E/F structural upgrade.

The agency is thought to argue that a non-structural upgrade of the C/D would save $17 billion, while the planned Joint Strike Fighter could be a long-term alternative to the E/F.

The E/F upgrade is intended to increase F-18 range, weapons capability and survivability. Three of seven flight-test aircraft have been flown so far and more than 85h flying accumulated, with aircraft having been flown to Mach 1.52 and 48,000ft (14,650m).

MDC says that the programme remains on schedule and within budget, and adds that the aircraft is "...well under the specified weight".

Source: Flight International