A key Navy officer said Thursday he is pushing for the sea service to continue buying F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters beyond fiscal year 2018.

Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, commander of Naval Air Forces and Commander of Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the Super Hornet platform is one the Navy will continue to modernize as the F-35 comes online. Shoemaker, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) think tank in Washington, called the Super Hornet a “four-and-a-half” generation platform as it pairs up with the F-35C, serving as the “low” in a “high-low” mix.

A Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet.  Photo: Boeing
A Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet. Photo: Boeing

A Boeing [BA] executive said in May that the company hoped for potential Super Hornet orders in FY ’17 and ’18, and an expected sale of aircraft to Kuwait, could extend the production line until 2020. Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher said Thursday the company was still waiting on the government approval process to conclude. Dan Gillian, Boeing’s vice president and program manager for Super Hornet, said in May that deliveries for the fiscal 2017 order would wrap up in the beginning of 2019.

The 24 jets for Kuwait would then fill the rest of 2019 before the Navy’s 2018 order starts production in 2020. Ultimately, Gillian believed the Navy would need to buy 100 new planes as well as a service life extension program (SLEP) for all of its current Super Hornets to meet operational demands and bridge the gap to the F-35C (Defense Daily, May 12).

Shoemaker also said the Navy just finished final concept refinement for the MQ-25A Stingray carrier-based unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) after a request for proposals (RFP) was issued to industry. The service, he said, is now looking at the trade spaces for the two missions the Navy envisions the aircraft performing: both aerial refueling and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). Shoemaker said he envisioned the tanker piece being the primary focus.

The Navy is facing a challenge, Shoemaker said, in finding the design sweet spot for an aircraft tasked to perform two very different capabilities. He said an ISR-only platform would usually feature high endurance and not much fuel, while a tanker would need to carry a fair amount of fuel.

The MQ-25 program, also known as the Carrier-Based Aerial-Refueling System (CBARS), stemmed from the service’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) effort to procure a UAV that would deploy from an aircraft carrier to collect intelligence and strike targets. The MQ-25 is envisioned as a “descoped” version of UCLASS that would focus on a tanking and ISR but could later be configured for a light strike role (Defense Daily, March 10).