F/A-18 E/F manufacturer Boeing has until roughly March to decide whether to put its own funding toward continuing production of the Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler aircraft without further U.S. Navy orders, says Mike Gibbons, the company’s Super Hornet vice president.
The last Super Hornet/Growlers on order are expected to roll off the production line in 2016; the supply chain has a roughly two-year cycle.
Though interested in considering more buys, the Navy thus far has been noncommittal. Company officials are hoping to see an indication in the fiscal year 2015 budget, expected to go to Congress in February, to avoid wasting company funds on the St. Louis production line.
“Boeing financially has the ability to keep this line going,” Gibbons told reporters following a Dec. 9 ceremony here celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Hornet, Super Hornet and Growler aircraft.
Boeing is currently producing 48 of the aircraft annually, with its portion at a flyaway cost of $37 million, Gibbons says. This excludes the price of two General Electric engines and electric warfare systems, both of which are government-furnished equipment. The total flyaway cost for a Super Hornet is roughly $50 million, he says. The Growler, which includes jammers and specialized avionics, costs about $9 million more per jet, he adds. The fiscal year 2014 budget request, yet to be enacted by Congress, requests enough aircraft to reduce that rate to 36 annually.
Boeing is responsible for roughly 80% of the cost of the Super Hornet and Growler.
Gibbons says the company has already studied how to further decrease production to 24 annually at a minimum rate while maintaining roughly the same price point. The program garnered lessons from the C-17, which reduced its production rate without increasing unit cost as demand decreased. That production line, located in Long Beach, Calif., will close in 2015.
There is still international interest among Malaysia, Denmark, Brazil, Canada, Kuwait and other, unnamed Middle Eastern countries. However, a decision from these possible customers is not expected in the near term.
The Navy has taken delivery of 490 of 563 planned Super Hornets and 90 of 135 planned Growlers, says Capt. Frank Morley, program director for the Navy, speaking at the anniversary ceremony. Noting Australia’s decision to buy another 12 Super Hornets on top of the 24 already ordered by Canberra as a gapfiller until the rival Lockheed Martin F-35 is ready, he said, “Hornet/Growler continues to be the no-drama option.”
The Navy is planning to declare initial operational capability for the F-35 in February 2019.
Meanwhile, the service is considering a purchase of conformal fuel tanks (CFTs) — part of Boeing’s “Advanced Super Hornet” menu of upgrade options — as a retrofit capability for a portion of its fleet. They have “certainly got our interest,” Morley said. He did not cite a potential timeline for purchase or an amount needed to initiate the buy.
Meanwhile, the Navy is continuing to work on a plan to restart procurement of a new, Next-Generation Jammer after BAE successfully protested the selection of Raytheon for the $279 million contract. Northrop Grumman also was a losing bidder. Rear Adm. Donald Gaddis, Navy program executive officer for aviation, says the Navy still plans to maintain a 2020 initial operational capability for the new jammer despite the delay brought on by the protesthttp://www.aviationweek.com/Article.aspx?id=/article-xml/awx_12_09_2013_p0-644559.xml#