Boeing Co.’s Super Hornet is poised for a surprising comeback thanks to President Donald Trump’s Twitter broadsides and a strike-fighter shortage caused by delays to Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 program.
Until recently, Boeing’s combat jet was on life support, with work at its St. Louis factory slowing to a crawl as orders dwindled. But that was before Congress approved a $10.1 billion sale to Kuwait, Canada said it would take 18 of the twin-engine fighter and Trump said the Pentagon is “looking seriously at a big order.”
Now Dan Gillian, who heads the Boeing fighter-jet program, is plotting upgrades to keep the F/A-18 flying through the 2040s -- and even looking at increasing the production rate. The U.S. Navy may need at least 100 of the Super Hornets over the next five years while it waits for Lockheed’s next version of the F-35. Boeing also sees opportunities for additional sales from India, Finland and Switzerland.
“We have reinvented this factory four or five times,” Gillian said during a recent February morning stroll through the Super Hornet’s final assembly line. In the background, a jet’s nose barrel was being riveted together. Now the company is studying how to boost output while keeping operations lean, “which is a great problem to solve,” he said.
It’s the latest resurgence for a combat jet that took its first flight in 1995 and seemed headed for oblivion in 2001 when Lockheed’s F-35 beat a Boeing proposal to build the Pentagon’s Joint Strike Fighter. The Super Hornet found a lifeline as cost overruns and technical issues plagued early development of the F-35, the first jet designed to meet the different missions of the Marines, Air Force and Navy.
The flurry of Super Hornet sales and a $21.1 billion order by Qatar for Boeing’s F-15 fighter have helped revive the Chicago-based company’s defense business as commercial-jet orders start to lag. The military business was Boeing’s largest at the start of the decade. It accounted for only 31 percent of total revenue last year due to the Obama administration’s spending constraints. (end of excerpt)
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