WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Navy plans to “continue to modernize” Boeing‘s (BA) F/A-18 Super Hornets, said Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker, the commander of Naval Air Forces, calling newer versions “4.5-generation” fighters.
During a talk Thursday at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Shoemaker said he isn’t minimizing the need for Lockheed Martin‘s (LMT) F-35, a fifth-generation fighter. Instead, he sees a role for both of them.
“We absolutely need the F-35 as soon as we can get it,” he said. ” We want to pair those two up together.”
Shoemaker said the two jets could be flown in tandem to take advantage of the planes’ “very good complement of high-low mix.”
It’s unclear how many more Super Hornets the Pentagon will buy. Without additional orders, Boeing faces the end of its production run. Currently, the Navy has money in its budget for two Super Hornets in 2017 and 14 in 2018.
But the service could purchase even more Super Hornets as part of its unfunded spending request, and Congress seems keen to keep the production line open. Boeing has said it needs 24 orders per year to keep the production line alive past 2020.
A deal between Boeing and Kuwait for 28 Super Hornets, with an option for 12 more, is facing political roadblocks, so Kuwait recently ordered Eurofighter Typhoons instead.
Meanwhile, Shoemaker said that, despite some setbacks with the F-35’s development, the Navy has plans to declare the new fighter ready for combat in late 2018. The Navy still needs the new 3F software update on the plane, however.
The Air Force declared initial operational capability for its version of the F-35 earlier this month, and the Marine Corps declared its version combat-ready last year.