More F-18 Super Hornets Possible for USA, Exports
Aerospace Daily reports that the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet program is proposing to buy up to two dozen more fighters than currently planned. While the Navy now is slated to buy 550 Boeing-built Super Hornets, Capt. James Wallace, the service’s F/A-18 international programs manager, said the program believes the Navy could use about two more squadrons worth (20-24). The case for more jets is reportedly being made to higher-ups.
The US Navy is buying 421 of these jets under the first two multiyear contracts, taking delivery of 245 Super Hornets to date. The aircraft have been used extensively in Iraq, and the current contracts are expected to sustain the production line until 2013. DID recently covered the Super Hornet program’s lessons learned, and also noted related comments regarding procurement of the EA-18G Growler electronic attack version. Nevertheless, the request faces some complications.
One obvious complication is the uncertain fate of the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in the coming Quadrennial Defense Review. The Navy plans to buy the stealthy F-35C carrier variant to complement the Super Hornet, but the US Defense Department has been studying a range of options that include including slowing the program, speeding it up, and even killing the Navy’s F-35C carrier-based conventional takeoff and landing carrier variant and adding a few more more F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off, Vertical Landing) versions to be flown by the Navy as well as the Marine Corps.
International sales also enter the equation, however, because of their effects on the overall production line and on unit costs. While DID has seen other cost figures for the F/A-18 Super Hornet in the $60-70 million range, Aviation Now reports that the Super Hornet’s current price for the Navy is $53 million per aircraft, and that the US Navy ultimately hopes to cut the cost to about $50 million.
While the earlier version F/A-18 A-D Hornet has been exported to Australia, Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain, and Switzerland, the Super Hornet and its advanced radar are both more recent and more restricted; the Super Hornet has no international customers as of yet. With Australia and Canada committed to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and Spain committed to the Eurofighter as its next-generation aircraft, upgrade options do not appear to be a major sales opportunity.
Aerospace Daily noted, however, that “Wallace said he is talking with several potential buyers, including one unnamed country that recently signed a “letter of intent,” signaling it is “very interested” in buying the aircraft… Besides seeing the potential to export hundreds of new Super Hornets, the Navy would consider making 58 of its used jets available for sale to foreign customers…”
DID recently covered India’s expression of interest in the Super Hornet and its advanced AN/APG-79 AESA radar, and added a short analysis of our own.
- Singapore Armed Forces Cyberpioneer (June 20/06) – Sting of the Super Hornet. Offers a fine recap of the upgrades and rationale behind the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet’s evolution from earlier A-D models. This passage is cause for serious reflection, however: “Despite the improvements in many areas, there has been controversy over the air combat performance of the Super Hornet. In a typical air-to-air configuration, it can reach a maximum speed of Mach 1.6, which is slower than the C/D models. This shortfall is seemingly true for other vital parameters relating to air combat like acceleration and agility.” Next-generation fighter, or the Brewster Buffalo of its era? Without a real combat acid test, it’s hard to say. Note that Singapore does not fly F/A-18s, nor have any F/A-18 variants been short-listed for its recent fighter competitions.
- Aerospace Daily & Defense Report (Nov 17/05) – U.S. Navy’s Super Hornet Program Proposes Buying More Jets
- Association of Naval Aviation, Wings of Gold (Fall 1998) – F/A-18 Super Hornet. Interesting technical analysis of the Super Hornet and application of same to operational issues by CDR Robert Niewoehner, USN, Ph.D. The author served as the Navy’s lead test pilot on the Super Hornet program from prior to first flight until July 1998. A good bookend to the evaluation from Singapore.