The US Department of Defense is negotiating a new contract with Boeing that could lock in more than 70 additional F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler purchases until 2014 as part of a US Navy plan to narrow a looming fighter capability gap.
The USN has estimated that the fleet faces a fighter shortfall varying between 125 and 432 aircraft over the next decade as older F/A-18A-Ds reach the end of their service life.
The navy plans to continue F/A-18E/F procurement at the same that it enters low-rate initial production on the more expensive Lockheed Martin F-35C carrier variant. F-35C is scheduled to enter operational service two years late in fiscal year 2015.
The DoD hopes to complete negotiations with Boeing before a congressionally imposed deadline of 1 May, Ashton Carter, under secretary of defence for acquisition, technology and logistics, told lawmakers on 24 March.
The timing of a potential agreement, however, depends on achieving progress in the negotiations, says Carter, adding that DoD officials were unsatisfied by Boeing's pricing offers until recently.
Last year, the US Navy programme resisted calls by Congress to sign a third multi-year procurement deal with Boeing. The second such five-year agreement expired in FY2009. The USN instead chose to negotiate a single-year purchase for 40 F/A-18E/Fs and EA-18Gs for FY2010.
Multi-year contracts are expected to lower the overall price of procurement by allowing Boeing to negotiate better prices with its vendors. At the same time, the deal restricts the Pentagon's budget flexibility in future years, requiring the USN to purchase a minimum number of aircraft over a certain period.
The USN has been increasing the number of F/A-18E/Fs and EA-18Gs in its acquisition planning since last year. Instead of buying 506 F/A-18E/Fs and 88 EA-18Gs, the USN now plans to buy 515 and 114 respectively.
After the USN signs the contract to procure the single-year purchase of 40 aircraft in FY2010, another 96 fighters and escort jammers remain in the acquisition plan. The remainder includes 48 F/A-18E/Fs and 26 more EA-18Gs. It is not clear if the 40 aircraft in FY2010 could be added to the multi-year deal currently under negotiation.