By Geoff Fein

After much criticized delays, the Defense Department Friday notified Congress of its intent to pursue a multi-year purchasing agreement with Boeing [BA] for 124 F/A-18E/F/G Super Hornets, according to lawmakers.

The Navy and DoD have made a great decision, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) said in a statement.

“I commend Secretary Gates and Secretary Mabus for seeing the light and moving forward with a multi-year contract. A multi-year contract for F-18’s saves the Navy and taxpayers over half a billion dollars, provides stability for the workforce in St. Louis, and is an important insurance policy as the Navy faces a large strike fighter shortfall,” Akin said. “It is encouraging to see the Navy and DoD come to their senses on this issue, after I have spent two years arguing that a multi-year contract made sense on all fronts.”

This decision is a tremendous win for our men and women in uniform, taxpayers, and America’s defense industrial base, Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo) said in a statement.

Back in March, Bond sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, urging the secretary and the Navy take “aggressive steps to enter into a multi-year procurement” for the Super Hornet.

“A third multi-year procurement for the F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft also would ensure that the defense industrial base for tactical aviation is maintained through at least [fiscal year] 2013,” Bond said in his letter. “In order for the United States military to maintain its current air domination, the skills and experience of the aviation manufacturing sector must be protected for as long as possible into the future rather than curtailed.”

Boeing builds the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the EA-18G Growler in St. Louis, Mo.

“We are pleased the Department of Defense has certified this new multi-year contract [that] will save the U.S. Navy and the nation 10 percent compared to single year procurements, delivering hundreds of millions of dollars in real cost savings,” Philip Carder, a Boeing spokesman, told Defense Daily yesterday. “We will work closely with the Navy to continue the process of finalizing a new multi-year contract.”

The Navy and DoD had originally been working to meet a March 1 deadline on whether to pursue a multi-year buy of Super Hornets (Defense Daily, Feb. 25).

Under section 128 of the Fiscal Year ’10 defense authorization bill, the Navy would need to obtain congressional authority to enter into a multi-year for the Super Hornet no later than March 1. At a Feb. 24 House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told lawmakers the service was working to meet that deadline.

But at the end of April, DoD had asked for an extension, a request that had frustrated lawmakers.

“Senior leadership in the DoD is once again dragging their feet on a solution that is good for taxpayers and good for the Navy. Delaying a multi-year procurement of F/A-18s for the second time concerns me greatly. The Navy and Boeing have had plenty of time to negotiate–it is time for the Secretary of Defense to make this deal happen,” Akin said in a April 30 statement.

Two weeks later, Akin got his answer.

“This multi-year is the first step toward addressing the Navy’s fighter shortfall, but more needs to be done,” Akin said in the May 14 statement “The DoD should consider using the fantastic price provided by the multi-year contract to buy additional planes to reduce the Navy’s fighter gap.”

Boeing offered a cost savings of 10 percent under the multi-year contract.

“Boeing is committed to delivering the advanced, combat-proven Block II Super Hornet and new EA-18G Growler to the U.S. Navy through the procurement option that offers the best value for our nation and its warfighters. We have provided the U.S. Navy with pricing information that enables cost savings of 10 percent under a multi-year contract,” Carder told Defense Daily in February (Defense Daily, Feb. 25).