Will Trump choose Super Hornets over JSFs?
During the roll-out ceremony of the new 787-10 Dreamliner in Boeing’s South Carolina facility on the 17th of February 2017, US President Donald Trump raised a statement on F-18 Super Hornets in front of Boeing’s employees.
The president said: “Do you care if we use the F-18 Super Hornets? Or do you only care about - what do you think? Well, thought that was a Super Hornet. We are looking seriously at a big order, and we’ll see how that - you know the problem is that Dennis [Muilenburg – Boeing CEO] is a very, very tough negotiator.“
Before his inauguration Trump had been critical of the F-35 program, which is developed by Boeing’s rival Lockheed Martin.
“The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th,” Trump tweeted on the 12th of December 2016.
Pentagon searches for the best
On the 26th of January 2017, the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis ordered a Pentagon review to compare the capabilities and cost between the emerging carrier-based Lockheed Martin F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter and an upgraded version of the Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, according to a memo obtained by United States Naval Institute (USNI) News.
The three-paragraph directive orders Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work to “oversee a review that compares F-35C and F/A-18 E/F operational capabilities and assesses the extent that F/A-18E/F improvements (an advanced Super Hornet) can be made in order to provide a competitive, cost effective, fighter aircraft alternative.”
The memo also directs Work to look at the overall F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and find opportunities to significantly reduce costs while maintaining the requirements of the program.
The memo might also indicate that the price difference between two jet fighters could ‘force’ the Pentagon to buy Super Hornets, replacing F-35s, which Trump considers costly.
Lockheed Martin, in addition, showed its willingness to give a ‘discount’ to the Pentagon on the latest F-35 procurement. Compared to the previous Petagon’s procurement, the Lot 9 contract, the F-35 pricing given by LM was reduced at around 7%.
After the discount, a unit of F-35A costs $94.6 million, and the most advanced JSF F-35C costs $121.8 million. The F-18E/F Super Hornet, on the other hand, currently costs around $70 million (or more depending on the features).
USAF and US Navy to ‘follow’ the President’s order
While Pentagon is conducting the review, US Navy said that Super Hornets and JSFs are complimentary for each other. The Navy’s director of air warfare Rear Adm. DeWolfe Miller said: “You hear the word competing but that’s not the way the Navy is looking at it. The Navy views our F-18 Super Hornet and its fourth generation capabilities and the capabilities that come with the exquisite F-35C as complimentary.”
“Our view is that we end up with a carrier air wing mix that would provide two squadrons of F-35Cs and two squadrons of Super Hornets. That complimentary capacity of the Super Hornet and the capability of the F-35C is going to handle us well in the near term and as we continue to grow that capability embarked,” Miller added.
Similarly, commenting on the Pentagon’s memo, Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan stated: “It’s important to understand, the discussions that we had were all pre-decisional, there were no decisions made during those conversations and it’s my belief that President-elect Trump was attempting to get more information in its F-35 and its affordability and try and gain more information about the F-35’s capability relative to the Super Hornet and to gain more information of the presidential aircraft replacement program.”
However, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson last month stated that the Navy needed the capability the JSF brought to the service as well as unmanned aircraft in a blended airwing of existing and future aircraft.
During the interview with media in the B787-10 rolling out, President Trump said, as quoted by Bloomberg: “If the price doesn’t come down, we would. The F-18’s a great plane and now put a stealth component onto it.”
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