The U.S. Navy has made no secret of its desire to buy more F/A-18E/F Super Hornet strike fighter jets.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson in March told lawmakers on Capitol Hill that the service requires two to three more squadrons of the Boeing Co.-made fourth-generation fighter/attack aircraft.
“There’s a required need for those aircraft,” Richardson said.
That translates into roughly 24 to 36 planes to meet projected operational needs until the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a stealthy fifth-generation fighter made by Lockheed Martin Corp., is fielded in enough quantities to take over such missions.
The Navy’s official target for the Super Hornet program is nearly 570 aircraft.
Officially, the service requested to buy two more of the aircraft in fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1, and 14 more in fiscal 2018. Unofficially, according to its budgetary wish-list, known in acquisition speak as its unfunded requirements list, it wants to purchase 14 more in fiscal 2017 alone at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion.
Boeing, based in Chicago, which estimates it needs to build two Super Hornets a month to keep open its production line in St. Louis, says the Navy requires even more of the aircraft — closer to 100 planes — to satisfy operational demands.
That was the figure cited by Dan Gillian, vice president and program manager of F/A-18 programs at the aerospace giant, during a briefing with reporters Wednesday at the company’s offices in Arlington, Virginia, in advance of next week’s Sea-Air-Space conference organized by the Navy League.
He said the quantity is based on the Navy’s stated requirements for its carrier air wings, increasingly advanced air-defense systems developed by adversaries, the high operational rate of both Hornet and Super Hornets for U.S. airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and other operations, among other factors.
Gillian said the company is talking to several potential Super Hornet customers abroad. He said landing a deal with the government of Kuwait to purchase up to 28 of the aircraft is critical to maintain steady production into the 2020s.