Boeing Pursues New Customers with Super Hornet Upgrades
The Navy’s decision to proceed with a new version of Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet — along with a recent order from Kuwait — has the company bullish on its ability to compete in the international jet fighter market.
“With the Navy’s continual need for airplanes and the international market, I’m optimistic we will be extending F/A-18 production to the right,” Dan Gillian, vice president of F/A-18 programs at Boeing, told reporters May 23 at a media day in Arlington, Virginia. He was confident the company could sustain a two aircraft per-month build rate at its St. Louis manufacturing plant through the year 2025, and could ramp that number up to four per month if need be.
“We make those decisions based on what the market tells us,” he added.
The Navy has ordered 110 block III Super Hornets, which will begin production in 2020. In the meantime, it will fill an order from the Kuwaiti air force for 28 aircraft.
“Those [Kuwaiti] airplanes will be the most modern Super Hornets we have ever delivered,” Gillian said. He could not comment on the capabilities the Kuwaitis are asking for, but said they will include some of the block III’s new features. Those are: multi-channel advanced electronically scanned array (AESA) radar; advanced communications/open computing capacity; multi-ship multispectral data fusion; a lower observable signature; a next-generation electronic warfare system; and an airframe designed to last 9,000 hours rather than the standard 6,000 hours.
Two new features on the block III F/A-18 that will not be available until after the Kuwaiti aircraft are delivered will be a conformal fuel tank and an advanced cockpit display.
Boeing will be both building new Super Hornets and doing service life extensions on block II aircraft to meet the Navy’s acquisition needs, he added.
The company has identified eight potential international customers for the block III Super Hornet including Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Poland, Finland, Bulgaria, Japan and India. These opportunities are a mix of ongoing programs or emerging programs, he said. Some of the countries such as Japan are looking to buy the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare version of the aircraft, he noted.
The Super Hornet’s main competitors will be Lockheed Martin’s F-35 joint strike fighter and the Eurofighter Typhoon.
“That long term investment on Block III as a day-one frontline fighter for the U.S. Navy has certainly brought renewed energy into the international market space. People are looking at the Super Hornet as a viable replacement for their air force fighters,” Gillian said.
The F/A-18 program employs 60,000 workers in 44 states and major subcontractors include Northrop Grumman, General Electric and Raytheon.
Capt. David Kindley, U.S. Navy F/A-18 program manager, said one of the great strengths of the block III Super Hornet is that it will do both lower-end warfare such as dropping ordnance or higher end air-to-air combat.
“This airplane — as it sits — looks very much like a high-end air-to-air type fighter. God forbid that we should be in that place, but this is what that plane is designed for. Tomorrow, if we go put smart air-to-ground ordnance in it would be in a different role,” he said. It will be the “Swiss army knife of the future carrier fleet,” he added.
Topics: Air Power