Boeing’s iron Eagles, part 2

Boeing’s iron Eagles, part 2

In Paris last year, Boeing’s top leaders raised the possibility that it could keep building F-15s all the way into the 2020s — quite a landmark for a fighter that first flew when Richard Nixon was president.

Today, having locked down the deal with Saudi Arabia that was still in the works last summer, Boeing’s ambitions now look realistic. If it can sell South Korea on its wham-o-dyne new Eagles or Silent Eagles — elbowing out Lockheed Martin and its F-35 — Boeing could wind up with a total run of around 144 new airplanes and years worth of work.

At the same time as company officials are salivating over that potential deal, get a load of this: As our eminent colleague John Reed writes over at Defense Tech, Boeing also is doing its utmost to sell its other flagship fighter, the F/A-18 Super Hornet. Who cares that it first flew in 1978 — today’s new-model jets are “stealth killers,” a top Boeing official told Reed, setting them up as a smart shopper’s alternative to certain other combat aircraft, and one that can defeat those other airplanes’ advantages anyway.

Wrote Reed:

Basically, the Super Hornet’s active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar — and it’s ability to jam enemy radars and electronic countermeasures — combined with the jet’s infrared search and track (IRST) system will allow it to compete with low-observable jets, said Phil Mills, director of Boeing’s F-X program in an interview just days before Boeing lost that contest to Lockheed Martin’s stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The radars and infrared sensors on today’s airplanes can combine to help crews spot “stealthy” red air, Mills told Reed. So if you’re the Republic of Korea Air Force and you’re worried about theoretical incursions by Chinese J-20s, no need to spend all that money on F-35s, Boeing might say — our jets do the job, cost less, and we’re rolling them out today like Ford F-150s.

Lockheed would probably roll its eyes that this kind of pitch — clearly Japan didn’t buy it, the company would say, and the South Koreans or Brazilians shouldn’t either. But as a business question, Boeing has proven that its 1970s-vintage warplanes can stand toe-to-toe with newer model jets, and it’s not going to give up on that strategy.

Here we come to an area of pure speculation, informed by one kernel of potential fact. In their story Tuesday about Secretary Panetta’s planned budget and strategy rollout, the New York Times’ Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker wrote this:

The chief target for weapons cuts is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, one of the most expensive weapons programs in history. The Pentagon has plans to spend nearly $400 billion to buy 2,500 of the stealth jets through 2035, but reductions are expected.

“Reductions are expected?” No way to know what that actually means — whether the DoD officials who gave this read-ahead said that or whether our reporters are drawing their own (reasonable) conclusions. But let’s say they’re right. As we’ve talked about many times, one plausible scenario for the end of the F-35 is the death spiral: Program cancellations increase the unit cost, which leads to more cancellations, and so on. The house of cards falls apart. What are the services that were counting on the F-35 — especially the Air Force — supposed to do?

What Boeing might hope is that they swallow their pride, and their declarations that they’ll never again buy “fourth-generation” aircraft, and pick up some bargain basement F-15s. Boeing has used this strategy to great success with the U.S. Navy, locking the government into multi-year deals for its full program because, c’mon, we’re churnin’ these babies out and you’re getting a heckuva deal!

Boeing has also convinced Australia to buy new Super Hornets as a stopgap for its behind-schedule F-35s. If the F-35 continues to take longer than originally planned, the Aussies could well order more Super Hornets. At very least, Boeing could make clear to Congress and the U.S. Air Force that it’s going to keep on building new F-15s — which the U.S. officials who announced the Saudi deal called some of the best airplanes in the world — and it’s ready to deal.

Lockheed might have something to say to its friends in Congress about all this, too.


Join the Conversation

ROTFLMAO! Could Boeing end up selling Eagles and Super Hornets into the 2020s? Methinks that the rumors of the demise of the Boeing (ex-McDonnel-Douglas) line of fighters may have been a tad premature, so MY answer is a resounding YES!

If my mission were to penetrate an air defense system with my natty new stealthy fighter, the idea of having that air defense system equipped with GOOD fighters, carrying credible sensors, and lethal weapons and good tactics, might give me good reason for concern.… .… unless of course I had drank my fill of the Koolaid that lobbies for substituting the word “invulnerable” for “stealthy”!

For the job of penetrating an AD system, stealth, even just “partial” stealth, certainly brings a lot to the party. However, for the purposes of defending that AD, its a game of seeing and shooting, and modern IRSTs would bring a whole new perspective (As Foghorn would say, its a pun, son!) to the seeing game. AESA COULD also be another game changer against at least some kinds of stealth.

If the F-35 woes continue, and the F-22 remains inaccessible, look for Boeing’s marketing task to become simpler and simpler.

Iran doesn’t look like it’s going to be picking up stealth fighters anytime soon, so updated F-15’s would still make sense for Saudi Arabia. 4.5-gen fighters may have had their airframes designed in the 70’s and 80’s, but their avionics will still be up-to-date and that’s what matters. Considering that they’ll be squaring off against aircraft like the F-5 that were designed in the 60’s, and you’ve already got plenty of overkill.

This is so true the USAF will upgraded F-15C with new sensors and radar and the fact the F-15 has shot over 300+ planes down w/o a single loss in air to air combat shows the plane can be barley matched. Given the fact its one of the worlds fastest fighters also makes it a awesome interceptor.

Update the YF-23 anyone?

Don’t get me wrong, it is possible Boeing will be building F-15s &/or F/A-18s into the 1920s — not everyone is going to get cleared to get the F-35. BUT just as it is today it will remain until their ultimate end that Boeing will be hoping & praying & doing everything else it can to get that next order for a few dozen or so to keep the line work going for another few years. Meanwhile LM will be building >100 F-35s EVERY YEAR for 2–3 decades.

Time is comparatievly short however. As each year pase’s, Boeings prospect grow dimmer as the procurement cost of the F-35 continues to drop it will before too long become LESS EXPENSIVE to procure than the F-15 & eventually reach a point where one could buy 4 F-35s for about the same cost as 5 F/A-18.

Panetta did not say that the F-35 was a target for cuts (that comment was actually from an ‘analyst’). In fact he has in so many words stated that the F-35 would be one of if not THE last program that would be cut (if he & the services have anything to say about it). Of course sequestration means EVERYTHING gets cut.

If the F-35 gets cut is it because there is no money to buy ANYTHING so sorry wet dreamers, no more F-15s or F-16s for the USAF & it is doubtful that the USN will buy any more F/A-18s (other than perhaps some more Growlers) after FY2014 (last year of the current MYP deal).

Australia aquired 24 F/A-18F as a stop-gap DUE TO THE EARLY RETIREMENT OF ITS F-111s, not due to any F-35 delays.

Panetta knows the F-35 has to be killed to save the airforce — he’s just looking for a stake large enough to drive though it’s heart.

Typical Lockheed shill lies — the F111s were retired early because they were going to be replaced by F-35s that didn’t turn up.

What we OUGHT to do is 229 up engine our 220s and sell them to be replaced with F-15SEs. I know where there are a few starter squadrons.

SKan the F-35 and move ahead. While at it SK L-M fighters and move on.

You just have to laugh — “we have to buy F-35 because the now money that is spent on them will just evaporate unless Lockheed gets it.”.

What drugs are you on?

Remember the NASA Active Eagle? Neural network for learning FLCS and an engine simulating itself as it runs, thats good tech. time to push that concept into a war ready role I say.

You may want to check those stats, sport. Try around 100, not over 300.

Too bad the money from the Saudi sale could not be used to fix the OBOGs issues on F-22s and restart production. I have always loved the F-15, but it’s getting old. With advances in technology, F-15SEs would be a better choice than building more Eagles for the USAF. As for the Super Hornet, it’s a great 4.5 gen aircraft, but our airpower should be geared more towards stealth now and fully modernized. There are many that argue that the world is still behind us in technology. However, would it be better to be two-three steps ahead rather than one step? IMHO more F-22s and F-35s to ensure 100% air dominance and superiority. It doesn’t hurt to disagree with me.

F-111s were also retired because it’s EXPENSIVE to maintain hydraulics on swing-wing aircraft. The same reason politicians axed the F-14… $$$$ for repairs and maintenance.

Yeeeaaahhh, and we’ll be stuck with second-rate fighters while Russia and China frantically build stealth planes to rival ours (oh that’s right, we canceled or grounded them all).……

Pfcem, you are ridiculous in thinking the F-35 will be made twenty years from now. It will destroy itself way before then.

On another note, the F-15 is already set until 2019.. any other contracts between now and then will put production into the next decade.. pretty impressive.

If we want to keep our air superiority I believe we must have an austerity program. I would rather have a tight pocket and strong country than any military weakness.

2 million square feet of space in 97 buildings to maintain while only about 40% is being used?? That’s a lot of upkeep when most others in the field are downsizing. I don’t blame Boeing, especially after all the decades of producing superior aircraft to defend the free world.

I think your talking about the Kansas plant shutting down? All the fighter aircraft are built in St. Louis.

I am not the one on drugs.

No, YOU are the one who is ‘trippin’. The unit cost of the F-35 has already been cut almost in half from LRIP 1 to LRIP 4 AND has been, is & continues to track along projections that have it being cut in half again during full rate production. Projections which bring the unit cost of the F-35 BELOW that of the latest F-15s by FY2016 and the average full rate production cost of the F-35B & F-35C where IF the F/A-18E/F is/where still in production in the 1920s that one could buy 4 F-35B &/or F-35C for about the same cost as 5 F/A-18E/F.

No, YOU are rediculus. The plan is to for the USAF to procure F-35s until FY2034. The program is nowhere near destroying itself & in fact going the opposite direction.

That is right, THIS deal with Saudi Arabia keeps the F-15 line open until 2019 (assuming a constant production rate). It remains to be seen if any additional contracts will come & if there are if they are for later delivery of if they too will be for delivery before 2019 (resulting in an increase in production rate). AND if you actually bothered to read my post you would see that I in fact said that additional contracts (even such that production continues into the 2020s) IS possible BUT as the cost of the F-35 continues to drp & more nations are cleared to receive it, the prospects for the F-15 & F/A-18 are reduced.

Quite the opposite. Try ready what Panetta has said instead of boneheaded ‘analysts’ you just like you have not bothered to listen or read what Panetta has said.

No, YOU are the one who is lying. Australia retired its F-111s EARLY (because they had gotten too expensive to maintain & safety issues related to their age), BEFORE it was planning to receive its F-35s.

No we ought NOT waste any money on additional legacy fighters.

You do know how expensive a fully upgraded F-15E series fighter is right?

What I don’t understand is that if we can’t afford to buy more Raptors, why can’t we at least replace our aging fleet of F-15Cs with the new F-15SEs, that would at least be an improvement. Oh wait, I forgot, Nanny State is the top priority, Defense is the last priority.

There will be a two year gap in F-15 production since the first F-15SA won’t begin final assembly until 2014, with the contract lasting five years (15–18 aircraft a year at $90 million each) and I never said anything about your statement’s on Boeing’s production lines.. yes they will come to an end by the mid 2020’s no doubt, and I am not debating that, so calm down.

I’m debating the fact that your statements on the F-35 are backed up by nothing but current estimations by Lockheed Martin and the D.O.D., which to be honest is a rather naive and foolish thing to go by considering the project is already a decade behind schedule. The F-35 could very well see some service, but your fooling yourself if you think the estimated cost per airframe will be anything less than 85 to 100 million. Production will never reach a point to where it is cheaper than a Super Hornet unless the production line gets reduced to less than a dozen.

You can cheerlead all you want, I’m just stating the truth.

Mike, Thank you for the correction, it was thoughtful to set me straight


The F-15SE is a new radio, a catback exhaust, and a K&N filter in the car you have now.

The F-22 is a new car.

@ pfcem

The upcoming Russian-made T-50 PAK-FA 5th Generation low-observable fighter now in development is expected to be much more lethal in air-to-air combat against the F-35. The Su-35BM Super Flanker-E and T-50 made appearances last year at the Russian aerospace industry air show known as MAKS 2011. Both aircraft will include sensors and networking which can minimise the effects of the limited low-observable qualities of the F-35. The Su-35 and T-50 will also have higher performance, longer range (without refuelling), more powerful radars, advanced sensors, networking, data fusion capabilities and carry more air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons than an F-35.

Detailed modelling, analysis and participation in highly fidelity simulator exercise which have shown and demonstrated that the JSF has been defeated all realistic current and future threats that any air force is likely to face by the Sukhoi family. Part of the presentation showed a computer simulation which calculated that the F-35 would be consistently defeated by the Russian-made Su-35BM Super Flanker-E fighter. The defeat calculated by the scenario also showed the loss of the F-35’s supporting airborne-early warning and air-to-air refuelling aircraft.

@ pfcem

To send the pilots into a fight with an inferior platform deliberately purchased when a demonstrably better alternative may have been available is questionable decision making at best.

@ pfcem

Absolutely rubbish. Australia should retained the F-111 fleet, there’s no replacement for this very remarkable warplane etc.

The stingless F/A-18F Super Dog (Super Hornet) will be outclassed by Sukhoi Su-27/30/35 Flanker family in aerodynamic and radar performance. When I researched on the F/A-18E/F’s specifications and its flight characteristics, I was not impressed with its performance, it’s aerodynamically uncompetitive which it provides little useful capability in primary roles that make the aircraft unsuited for air superiority, bomber and cruise missile defence, it has limited supersonic speed, limited range/weapons payload performance and poor survivability which means two or more aircraft required to match range/weapons payload of single F-15E or any high capability fighter.

@ pfcem

This concept of “air-warfare” with detect first and shoot first is not good enough. Relying only on stealth, AESA radar, advanced sensors, networking, data fusion capabilities, BVR AAMs and cruise missiles as stand-off while flying at straight and level with very gentle manoeuvres of presents of guns or missiles you’re a “dead duck”. Kinematic performance is still the most important factor, the ability to identify and paint targets at BVR ranges and launch AMRAAMs, turn and retreat.

The F/A-18E/F shares similar performance deficiencies to the F-35 JSF which both aircraft are not the fighter pilots aircraft to go to war for air-to-air combat to able to compete against the Flanker family. I still consider the idea of having speed (Mach 2+, even though Mach no. rarely used in combat, I still consider it to enhance both engagements of, and escape from, known threats), long range (without refuelling), bigger weapons payload and better agility as well as AESA radar, advanced sensors, networking, data fusion and BVR capabilities.

@ pfcem

What makes you think that the F/A-18 Super Dog and the lemon F-35 JSF are the right aircraft for any air forces? Is because you know why its a wrong aircraft.

The presentation detailing computer simulations of a hypothetical 2018 air battle between either 240 F-35s, 240 F-22 Raptors or 240 Super Hornets and an equivalent number of Sukhoi SU-35S Super Flanker-E off the coast of Taiwan is the most interesting.

It was claimed “only 30″ lemon F-35s would survive as against no survivors for the Super Dog (Super Hornet) force and 139 survivors for the F-22 force.

pfcem Whats so special about the F/A-18E/F and F-35? They bring nothing to the modern high end threat.

@ pfcem

Small fighters with short range and limited weapons payload don’t have a powerful and hefty punch that means large amount of numbers to do the job which is ludicrous.

i imagine if there are buyers for them they will continue the building of them.

Air superiority? Sure. We should continue our dominant position in the world but we shouldn’t forget that we outspend the next fifteen nations–combined in our defense expenditures. Those who would argue that we need every last nickel in our defense budget seem to forget this fact.

Our huge defense spending–coupled with statements that we can’t afford universal healthcare–is puzzling..

Now that we’ve herd from the Lockheed Martin marketing department all is right with the world…


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