Boeing’s [BA] leader for the Super Hornet and Growler aircraft is optimistic that the company will see more international interest in F/A-18 Super Hornets.
In a press event on May 23, Dan Gillian, Boeing vice president for the F/A-18 Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler programs, said the company anticipates deliveries of F/A-18 E/Fs to Kuwait in 2020. This will serve as a bridge between deliveries of Super Hornets to the Navy in 2018 and the upgraded Block III Super Hornet starting at the end of 2020.
Boeing was awarded a $1.2 billion long-lead engineering contract to start manufacturing and delivering 28 Super Hornets to Kuwait for a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) order.
Gillian said when delivered the 22 F/A-18Es and six F/A-18F Kuwait planes “will be the most advanced Super Hornets ever delivered.” Gillian was unwilling to describe specific features they share with the Block III but added “they fit in perfectly with the Block III.”
He also highlighted international interest in the F/A-18: Finland has an ongoing competition and is interested in both the Super Hornet and F/A-18G Growler; Germany is interested in both; Japan has expressed initial interest in Growler; the company has had discussions with the Indian Navy and responded to its request for proposals (RFP) for 57 new aircraft and found interest from the Indian Air Force as well; Switzerland is looking to replace its legacy F/A-18 C/D Hornets and F-5E/F Tiger IIs; Bulgaria and Poland have “emerging interest” in the Super Hornet; and Boeing passed the initial phase of Canada’s fighter replacement program.
Boeing could have an uphill battle in Canada after the recent international fracas between Boeing and Canada’s Bombardier.
Last December Canada’s procurement agency announced it was launching a competition to replace its 76 legacy CF-18 Hornet fleet while buying 18 Australian F-18s in the interim. It originally planned to acquire new Super Hornets from Boeing as a stopgap measure before launching a full replacement effort, but canceled when Boeing started a trade challenge against Bombardier over commercial airliner prices.
The challenge led to a proposed 300 percent duty on all Bombardiers of the civilian model in contention, but the U.S. International Trade Commission found in favor of Bombardier.
Even though Boeing’s challenge was unsuccessful, the Canadian government decided that F-18 replacement bids will be evaluated, in part, on the basis of how a bidder impacts Canada’s economic interest. This decision was seen as a rebuke to Boeing and may handicap their success in the competition. The other competitors for the replacement are Dassault’s Rafale, Lockheed Martin’s [LMT] F-35, Saab’s Gripen, and Airbus’ Eurofighter Typhoon.
Gillian said the competition for the replacement is still in the early phases. He noted that the Super Hornet cleared the initial phase of the competition despite the history.
“My job is to present the best Super Hornet to replace the Canadian forces. I think we are a great fit for that. We have responded to the initial inquiries and we’ve been accepted in the fighter competition,” he said.
Gillian said not all of the possible buyers of the Super Hornet will want all of the new Block III features. For example, Bulgaria and Finland are looking for new aircraft and while he said the Block III is a great fit for any air force looking to move to a next-generation capability, “individual country requirements will shape how many of the Block III aspects are applicable.”
He named the conformal fuel tanks (CFTs) as a prime example, “depending on the range their forces want to operate.”
All of these Block III capabilities are still subject to Beoing discussions with the U.S. government.