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PICTURE: US Navy Super Hornet deal could cut JSF numbers

The US Navy (USN) is in "low-level discussions" with Boeing on a plan to link F/A-18E/F Super Hornet production to the start-up of full-rate production for the carrier-variant Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter.

The ongoing talks could add several years and at least scores of aircraft to the F/A-18E/F production programme, perhaps at the expense of the USN's current plan to buy 600 F-35Cs.

 © US Navy
The Super Hornet programme had been cut from about 1,000 fighters to the current plan to buy 550 aircraft

Naval aviation officials are seeking to reclaim hundreds of F/A-18E/Fs cut from the programme after JSF was launched in the late 1990s. Since then, the Super Hornet programme has been cut from about 1,000 aircraft to the current plan to buy 460 of the fighters, plus about 90 EA-18G Growler electronic-attack aircraft.

The USN now wants to reclaim as many of those lost aircraft as possible, says F/A-18 programme manager Capt Don Gaddis.

Naval leaders say they face a shortfall of as many as 200 fighters in the inventory up to 2030. Last month, Boeing disclosed it has made an unsolicited offer to sell a further 170 Super Hornets for about $49 million each.

Gaddis says he has agreed to discuss terms for buying 152 aircraft, an amount thought of as a random starting point for obtaining pricing information.

The number includes about 90 aircraft already scheduled to be purchased in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, plus about 60 new orders to be wrapped into a third multi-year procurement (MYP) deal for the F/A-18E/F, he says.

When both parties can agree on a price on options for ordering quantities, Gaddis will submit his recommendations through the navy's budget review process for the FY2010 budget cycle. The goal is to secure a third MYP deal, with savings generated by the long-term order to be invested in orders for additional aircraft.

The length of the proposed MYP to start in FY2010 has not been determined, but it could run at least through FY2014, with the last delivery to the USN coming two years later. Currently, that timeline overlaps the full-rate production schedule for the F-35C, which launches in FY2015.

Meanwhile, the foreign market for the F/A-18E/F may also expand Boeing's production line. Australia has signed the first international order for 24 Super Hornets, and the USN-Boeing sales team is competing in the next several years for potential contracts in India, Japan, Kuwait and Switzerland, as well as a potential follow-on order in Australia, Gaddis says.

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