Shifting political winds are generating a new fighter jet competition between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The end result could be more F/A-18 Super Hornets and fewer F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, according to defense and aerospace analysts.
President Donald Trump has bashed the F-35 program and complained about its high price tag. He asked Boeing, the manufacturer of the F/A-18, to price out a “comparable” Super Hornet as a potential alternative to Lockheed’s jet.
The new commander-in-chief suggested that major programmatic changes are afoot. “We’re going to do some big things on the F-35 program and perhaps the F/A-18 program,” he told reporters in January. “We’re going to get those costs down … and we’re going to have competition. And it’s going to be a beautiful thing.”
The Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy are buying the A, B and C variants of the F-35, respectively. The Pentagon is already laying the groundwork to compete the F/A-18 against the F-35C, the carrier-launched version of the joint strike fighter.
During his first week in office, Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued a memo directing his deputy to oversee a review that compares their operational capabilities.
Mattis also tasked his subordinates to “assess 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 results and recommendations of the review will inform upcoming budget decisions, he said.
Meanwhile, Lockheed and Boeing executives have been meeting with Trump to tout their technologies and cost reduction efforts.
“The F-35 is the most capable multi-role fighter in the world,” a Lockheed spokesman told National Defense. “We look forward to continuing to work with the DoD and partner nations to deliver the F-35 at the most affordable price possible.”
In a statement, Boeing said: “We have been responsive to requests for information from the incoming Trump administration. … We remain committed to working with the new president and Congress to provide affordable, capable Boeing products and services to meet our national security needs.” (end of excerpt)
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