The Navy is looking into the possibility of seeking money for additional  F/A-18 Super Hornets as part of an unfunded priorities wish list that could be submitted to Congress separately from the formal budget request provided earlier this month.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told reporters following testimony before the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel on Thursday that the Boeing [BA]-built Super Hornets could be needed if the Navy does not have enough of the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in service by the mid-2020s.

An E/A-18 Growler in the foreground shadowed by a F/A-18 Super Hornet. The Growlers will host the Next Gen Jammer. Photo by Boeing.
An E/A-18 Growler in the foreground shadowed by a F/A-18 Super Hornet. The Growlers will host the Next Gen Jammer. Photo by Boeing.

Greenert said the F/A-18 Super Hornets could be among a “host of possibilities” for consideration on the unfunded wish list.

In rolling out its fiscal 2016 budget request, the Navy said it was curtailing some of its planned buys of the carrier variant F-35C to save money. Greenert said the reduction will not impact plans to begin initial operations for the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35C in 2019.

The fifth-generation fighter jet F-35Cs are replacing the F/A-18 Hornets, which are due to leave the service in the early 2020s. By the middle of the decade, it is possible more Super Hornets could be needed if the service has not yet procured enough F-35Cs.

“We’re evaluating that,” Greenert said.

Greenert said he has yet to raise the issue with Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. Standing beside Greenert after the hearing, Mabus said the service was awaiting instructions from Congress regarding an unfunded priorities list.

During the hearing, Greenert told the committee he believes the service’s planned buy of 153 EA-18 Growler electronic attack aircraft, also a Boeing product that shares an airframe with the Super Hornets, is “about right” for meeting airborne electronic attack requirements.

“I think we have enough,” he said, noting a congressional decision to fund an additional 37 Growlers in fiscals 2014 and 2015.

He said, however, that the Pentagon is conducting an electronic warfare capability analysis across the armed services to determine requirements. Greenert said he wants to hear the report’s conclusions before arriving at a final decision, reminding the committee that the Department of the Navy, including the Marine Corps, is the only source of airborne electronic attack.

“I want to hear from the whole of the Department of Defense because we are the electronic attack provider,” he said.

Boeing over the last several years has been pushing hard to persuade the Navy to buy more Super Hornets and Growlers, but the service did not request money for either aircraft in its 2016 budget proposal. Ending the program could force Boeing to close the production line in St. Louis by the end of 2017.

Mabus said the Navy was working with Boeing to find ways to extend the line, in part by slowing production. He said the Navy is also helping Boeing find additional international customers for the aircraft.