Partnering With Foreign Industries Key For F/A-18s, Boeing Says

ST. LOUIS--Partnering with industries in foreign countries to develop, and possibly build, components for the F/A-18 Super Hornet is a key aspect of Boeing’s [BA] plan to market the aircraft internationally as the aerospace firm approaches completion of sales to the U.S. Navy, a company executive recently said.

Looking for opportunities to work with indigenous companies in those countries plays into Boeing’s “international roadmap” strategy for the fighter jet that was unveiled last year. The roadmap allows customers to pick among a variety of newly offered options for the aircraft, including conformal fuel tanks, enhanced engines, a next generation cockpit and an enclosed weapons bay to reduce radar signature.

Mark Gammon, Boeing’s program manager for F/A-18 and EA-18 Growler advanced capabilities, told Defense Daily that bringing foreign partners into the process to share technology and the production of the new options gives an added incentive to buy the airplane.

“Industries of international customers need to have opportunities that come along with the expenditure of billions of dollars against their national treasury,” Gammon said.  “And one of the things in the international roadmap that it lets us do in some cases is partner with those industries and co-develop some of those things. And they may end up building them.

“They might co-develop the conformal fuel tanks with us and end up being the supplier,” he added. “That’s a great industrial benefit for them and it also brings forward in incremental editions a capability to the airplane.” A conformal fuel tank is attached to the exterior of an aircraft to add range.

Boeing has no customers for the F/A-18 once the multi-year contract with the Navy is completed in 2015 and would have to face closing the production line if there aren’t subsequent orders. With Lockheed Martin’s [LMT] F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in line to serve as the next generation fighter for Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, Boeing has been aggressively pursuing international sales.

The multi-year deal with the Navy calls on Boeing to provide 90 F/A-18 E and F Super Hornet variants as well as 58 EA-18Gs, which are reconfigured versions of the airplane designed to carry out electronic attack. The Navy has the option of extending the buy to 196 aircraft under the contract awarded in 2010.

Boeing lost Super Hornet bids in competitions held by India, and most recently by, Japan, which selected the F-35 in December. Boeing is currently entering the F/A-18 in competitions with Brazil and Malaysia as well as with potential customers in the Middle East. The U.S. government has not authorized foreign sales of the EA-18G, which contains sensitive jamming technology and equipment.

Australia is the only country other than United States with F/A-18s, having bought 24 of the Super Hornets.

Gammon said he believes the F/A-18 has promise in future competitions because of its affordability compared to the F-35. He said countries will need to ask whether they can get “a functional airplane at a cost that will allow (them) to have a force structure that supports (their) national needs.”

Boeing has faced similar dilemmas in the past following the final delivery of F-15s to the U.S. Air Force in 2004. The line has since been kept alive by foreign orders to South Korea, Singapore and Saudi Arabia, which is buying 84 of the aircraft under a contract issued by the Pentagon in February.

The Saudi deal will keep the F-15 line going through 2018, and the company’s F-15 executives continue to look for other international opportunities. Boeing is offering the F-15 in another South Korea bid expected to take place this year. Lockheed Martin plans to offer the Joint Strike Fighter. 

More Stories You Might Like