In a swift reversal of fortunes, Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet production line now has a seven-year backlog after nearly expiring two years ago due to a lack of orders.
In March, Kuwait ordered 22 F/A-18E and six F/A-18F Super Hornets for delivery through 2022, with options for 12 more. During the same month, Congress topped off the US Navy’s request list with 10 more Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets, worth $739 million. In all, the Navy is buying 24 Super Hornets for a sum of $1.8 billion in fiscal 2018, with more than 100 additional fighters planned for procurement over the next five years.
The company believes production of the aircraft could extend even beyond 2025, citing potential sales of the fighter to India and Finland.
In the case of India, the company said it is in discussions with that government to set up a separate production line within the country, which could be later used to produce other aircraft.
“We think that factory can be used by India to build their next generation fighter,” says Dan Gillian, vice-president of F/A-18 and EA-18G programmes. India is in the early stages of developing a stealthy fighter under the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft programme.
He noted that Boeing’s F-15E Strike Eagle and F/A-18 have parts and electronics sourced from Indian manufacturers such as Hindustan Aeronautics and Tata.
“We have a very robust supply chain in India, supporting our commercial and defence products,” says Gillian.
Boeing also claims the aircraft’s low operating cost and ability to be upgraded quickly have made the plane continually appealing.
“What really makes it competitive is the ability to put on capabilities quickly at an affordable cost,” said Jennifer Splaingard, Boeing programme manager for F/A-18 development.
She noted Block III enhancements to the aircraft such as an extended range that comes from its internal conformal fuel tanks, added stealthy characteristics and its Advanced Cockpit System.