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PARIS: Boeing takes cautious look on European fighter competitions

Boeing is pursuing several European fighter jet competitions, albeit with a more strategic look at the changing market.

As its major domestic rival, Lockheed Martin, brings pomp and circumstance to the Paris air show with the arrival of the F-35A, Boeing maintains it's pursuing an aggressive push in the European fighter competitions. In a bid for the HX competition contract, Boeing showed its F/A-18 Super Hornet at a recent air show in Finland. The programme will replace the air force’s Boeing F/A-18C/D Hornets with 64 fighter jets, but the competition is still a year away from heating up.

Boeing’s strategy comes with some baggage, though, as the company learns lessons from previous fighter competitions in Europe. Last year, Boeing lost its bid for Denmark’s new fighter to the F-35A. The company issued a legal challenge against the Danish defence ministry, arguing that the government executed a "flawed" evaluation process.

In April, Boeing pulled its F/A-18 Super Hornet out of Belgium’s fighter jet recapitalisation competition. Boeing did not see the programme as a truly full and open contest, the company said in a statement. In an 18 June interview, Boeing executive vice president Leanne Caret told reporters the company looks at its fighter competition on a country-by-country basis.

"I’m not going to go into a competition where the customer has already predetermined we’re not going to win," Caret says. "Otherwise, I’d just be spending money that didn’t make sense to spend and I think it takes courage to say: 'no' and I encourage my teams to know that sometimes you need to make the right decision based on the facts on the table but we just don’t go chasing just for the sake of chasing."

Still, Boeing is not spending any less time focused on Europe and is aggressively pursuing fighter competitions as the market changes, she adds. Over the past three years, Europe has seen a general increase in the percentages of defence spending against GDP, a positive indicator that countries are examining their force structure, Caret says. The upward trend continued at last year’s Farnborough air show, where the UK announced a major order for Boeing’s P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, she adds. Stoked by recent calls from US President Donald Trump to boost its NATO commitments, Europe’s defence market is poised to grow over the coming years.

"The reality is none of this happens in a single period of a month," Caret says. "From a market perspective, it’s still modest growth. The defence market isn’t making some fundamental shift in terms of demand signals. But I think there’s confidence that we’re going to see equipment and services being procured."

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