The end’s in sight for the Super Hornet. Or is it?

The end’s in sight for the Super Hornet. Or is it?

Boeing’s F/A-18E and F Super Hornets, and their forebears, have been part of U.S. naval aviation for so long it’s hard to imagine aircraft carriers without them. But under this month’s DoD budget submission, the Navy would accept its last new Superbug in only three years.

Big B announced on Wednesday that it had completed early delivery of the Navy’s second-to-last multi-year batch of Super Hornets and E/A-18G Growlers — 257 airplanes — and that it’s on the glide slope to continue right on through into the final multi-year. That would involve another 66 Es and Fs and 58 Gs, “to be purchased through 2013.”  Under today’s deals, including existing international orders, that would mean Boeing would deliver its last jet in 2015, said company spokesman Philip Carder.

But you don’t get to be an aerospace titan by giving up that easily. A source with knowledge of the program tells DoDBuzz there could be opportunities for additional Super Hornets with the U.S. Navy and international customers, depending on the breaks.


It’s very feasible: Boeing has made billions of dollars by exploiting delays in Lockheed’s F-35, and DoD just pushed 179 of those outside its five-year defense plan. The Navy Department specifically dialed back its total order by 48 Cs and 21 Bs in this month’s budget submission. Presumably, that will only worsen its standing “strike fighter shortfall.” The exact numbers for that “gap” fluctuate with the phases of the moon, but the Navy said last year it was 65 airplanes.  If the Navy really wants to keep 11 carriers and 10 air wings, it may need to order new jets to plug the gap.

Then there’s the possibility for international orders: “The Super Hornet is currently involved in competitions in Brazil, Malaysia, and countries in the Middle East. In addition to these countries, Boeing and our U.S. government customer are having discussions with numerous international military institutions and governments,” Carder said.

Lockheed Martin and the world’s other big fighter vendors aren’t just standing still, however. They will scrap for as many of these competitions as they can, and as India’s selection of the Dassault Rafale showed, the Euro-firms can still play in the same league as the Americans.

F-35 boosters are working overtime to dispel the cloud that has surrounded their jet. We saw this week where the Royal Air Force’s first test pilot loved the C, and Lockheed kept up the tempo on Thursday, announcing what it called a significant set of test milestones for so early in the year:

An Air Force A reached the F-35’s highest altitude yet Jan. 9 when it cruised at 43,000 feet; an A did the first low approach with the Distributed Aperture System on Jan. 17; the A had its first night flight on Jan. 18; Secretary Panetta lifted the B’s “probation” on Jan. 20 “almost a full year ahead of schedule,” as Lockheed put it; the first test aircraft, AA-1, logged 2,500 flight hours Jan. 25; and an A flew with external weapons for the first time on Feb. 16 — though it didn’t fire any.

Overall, Lockheed said, As have flown 46 times so far this year; Bs have flown 45 times; and Cs have flown 23 times. The numbers and statistics are what they are — Lockheed did not address the “software” issues Panetta mentioned several times last week to congressional lawmakers, or the C’s apparent need for rework on its arrester hook.

Bottom line: Everyone involved is keenly aware that this is a battle over a shrinking pool of money. Boeing’s argument is that the F-35 will never get here. Lockheed’s is that it’s right around the corner. The Super Hornet’s survival or extinction — and possibly that of the companies involved here — will depend on the firms’ ability to make policymakers believe one pitch and not the other.

Join the Conversation

The real answer will come when:

1. An F-35C traps successfully
2. F-35 mission systems make significant progress.

We need more Super Hornets! We’d be shooting ourselves in the foot to end these aircraft now. The F-35 is too complex and expensive to fill that gap. I doubt we would even be able to afford enough of them to replace our current aircraft. The Super Hornet is more rugged, reliable, cheap, heavily armed, and in too many ways better than or just as good as the F-35.

And the Coast Guard needs Ships even more than we need SH’s. http://​www​.dodbuzz​.com/​2​0​1​2​/​0​2​/​2​3​/​t​h​e​-​c​o​a​s​t​-​g​u​ard

The money is not there & the folk in DC are not in a pro DOD spend mood right now.

I think the Super Hornet is today’s equivalent of Germany opting to still use F-4s after reunification: the East German MiG-29s were newer, but the NATO-standard F-4 was well-understood, well-trusted, and worldwide maintenance knowhow was available.
That’s why the SH should stay on: it’s just too well-established and trusted (same can be said for F-15 and the new F-16V…all light years ahead of their initial –A models)
The F-35 still still has a lot of childhood to grow up thru before it becomes a serious consideration as the new NATO/World standard to beat.
Will we be seeing delamination issues with the F-35s at some point like Boeing has discovered in numerous Dreamliners?
A very big gamble on so much unproven tech.

The F18 Line will continuing I can’t believe what the US congress and Senat will not buy additional F18 to secure the jobs on their Districts but the F18 is not really what the USN will need in the future. The F18 is really a good and really modern tactical fighter how has get a lot of upgrades and hi is well known and reliable but not a 5 Generation Fighter. What the Navy needs is the F35 to still able to penetrate modern Air defense systems and beating other 5 Generation enemy’s (PAK FA, J-20)and also UCAVs like the X47C for long range strike mission to avert threats like the DF-21 ASBM.

The Super Hornet has served us well. But I can’t say this bothers me much. It had a good run. 500+ aircraft sold is hardly anything to complain about. It will still serve alongside the new F-35s probably for at least another decade or two. Frankly, I’m glad the Navy won’t be relying solely on Hornet derivatives for much longer. Between the JSF and UCLASS we might finally get a degree of diversity and specialization on our carriers.

The US should offer Australia a good lease deal on a refitted Kitty Hawk (CV-63), bundled with a sale of another squadron (or two) of superbugs in RAAF configuration to augment what they already have. That would provide a lot of useful help in the Western Pacific without the operating expenses, and would extend Australia’s airpower and humanitarian reach well away from their shore. It would also provide work in both US and Australian shipyards and would keep the superbug line going at Boeing. It certainly beats wasting the high value resource by sending the carrier to the breakers or to the bottom.

if Boeing wants to find customers for the SH, it needs to produce with its own money a Block III SH to demonstrate its increased speed, thrust, range, stealth and F-35 comparable IRST capabilty. Same for the F-15SE. After the F-35 Fiaso who will trust a power point presentation?
Sequestration likely will make a new adminsitration look at different scenarios including F-35 out and
F-18SH Block III and F-16Vand F-15SE in. More “good enough” beats a few “gold plated”.

I would love to see a Block iii super bug against an F-35 so we can settle this debate once and for all.

i think that both the f-35 and the f-18 have their purposes… it would be best if we slowly migrated the f-35 to the navy but kept a good amount of f-18s.

Over all the Hornet design was stretched so far from what its designed for I would see a need to replace them the F-18 was never meant to replace the F-14 and and EA-6B and S-3 planes but well paid Admirals wanted it so. The need for a fleet defender fighter like the Tomcat was is needed the short ranges none Phoenix armed Hornets cannot defend ships from Russian or Chinese attack planes and missiles with short range AMRAAMs so a new Super Fighter like a F-15SE for Naval use or a F-22N would be great. Old and worn out A and C Hornets can be replaced by a F-18SH like superraptor said. Over all I doubt the Hornet is going anywhere greedy politicians and Admirals will keep it on line well for year as well as cuts and sequestration will also kill any Hornet replacement program for a decade at least.

Last I checked we already had 400+ Super Hornets. That’s enough. We need a new, more capable aircraft for our CVNs rather than an interim solution.

I agree on the Block IIII. Kind of makes you wonder though how good a design it is, or maybe Boeing is just sure the F35 will flop on its face further and Boeing is being patient waiting for some potential buyer to say uncle and underwrite the costs.

If the F35 does end up out the next admin isn’t going to really have any choice but to buy the advanced legacy models.

I think we’re already there, even if things go well in April on the trap test carrier validation is what, next year? That alone pushing schedules back I would think blows the fighter gap open.

And who knows, the Aussies might just take us up on the offer! Im thinking that it would address a couple of big problems for them, but i think that they might insist on a pair of carriers! one of anything is usually not smart!

You can’t increase speed beyond a point given design constraints unless you plan on redesigning the wings. The Super hornet international roadmap has many of the improvements you talk but there is no US Navy commitment to buy it yet.

The F-4 also had obvious advantages over the Mig-29. It had significantly better range, less maintance niggles, a better radar and was easily the better strike aircraft. I don’t think it’s a fair comparison to the Super Hornet.

And how exactly is Australia going to provide for up to 5,000 crew members for her? The RAN is a medium-sized navy which has had manpower retention issues-an aging supercarrier would be the last thing they’d want. Besides their shipyards would need to spend a lot of money on modernisation to handle a 50 year old ship.

Refittments are not going to happen, but there is also JFK (CV-67), probably next best in terms of condition behind Kitty Hawk (CV-63). I think JFK will soon be going to Newport RI, to become a museum.

We just lost a SH F model yesterday with the two crew out safe. That aircraft will have to be replaced. You will need attrition models and you will have to replace C/D Hornets that wear out. A good investment would be to buy 30 additional F SH models to let older D models flow back to the USMC.

No one knows how this will play out in Iran. More production needed to replace losses and wear outs for a prospective air war in Iran.

Foreign military sales a possibility, but that depends on which country wants the SH. Better to keep the production line on for USN needs than to take a chance on premature shutdown.

Three months ago this article was called “The ends in sight for the Eagle”.. and for the third time in two decades it avoided shutdown and now will easily last another 8–10 years.

Boeing won’t have to worry about their fighter lines until the next decade.. just look at the history.
Though keeping F/A-18 production at 50 airframes a year like it is now will be a challenge.

too bad the Ari Force will NEVER use Super Hornets. A Hornet only pulls 7.5 g’s Max, while a F-16 or F-15 pulls 9.

Australia is purchasing two LHDs from Spain to be known as the Canberra Class at 27,000 tonnes. The ships are modular in construction and being brought to Australia on a barge. This is because the nation does not have a ship yard big enough or experience to build them on their own. The local industry has been ramped up over several years to assemble and support these ships over their projected 40 year life. This has been a struggle so no way that we could support an aircraft carrier. Australia disposed of its last aircraft carrier in 1983 and whilst the Spanish will be using the Juan Carlos 1 their own version of the Canberra class as an alternative aircraft carrier Australia has been determined not to go down this path with a purley helicopter capability only such is the politcal nature of Australian Poltics and keeping in mind we have a left wing Labour government in power right now. Unlikely to change with a Liberal National Government in the future.

The US Government and Military are not in sync as the Obama Admin appear if they want to cancel the F-35 program and don’t have the courage to come out to say so nor are they willing to make any proposals on future weapon programs that the country needs.

a carrier of drones.…

I am not in the know, discharged in 1954 but, from all the info out there I believe the JSF-35 is flying under too many grey clouds of question marks and this has me worried as it’s been running into developmental problems and many potential buyers are unsure of it’s true capability. According to reports, during combat training missions against foreign aircraft it turned in poor results.

The United States MUST stay at the cutting edge as a defensive AND offensive world power! To do less is courting disaster!!

This is a great idea.. Send a refitted Kitty Hawk or even the USS Enterprise when she is decommissioned to the Australians! We could do the same with Canada or perhaps even Britain until their new carriers are ready.

I remember when she was a chick, sweet Bird.

we abandoned the proven airframe OF THE RAPTOR, and put all our ducks on the F-35 to carry the bulk, the cost overruns and the lack of meaningfull production, lead one to believe that the F18 wll have a long life, and further that the F22 should also be given an extension, and as for the military industrial complex, they signed on to field an aircraft at a certain time, for a certain price…this should be upheld and enforcedced…

I think Boeing ought to work on upgrading the SH the same way they did for the F-15SE. Also try outfitted a SH with P&W F-119 or if they will fit, the GE F-120s. The SH is a good design and can still be effective for another 10–15 years if done right. Personally, I don’t think we should be cutting anything defense wise, unless it is an old out-dated system that can be modernized. There are PLENTY of other places in the Govt that could be cut and even shut down altogether, like the Dept of Ed, Dept of Commerce, Dept of Energy, IRS, etc. Quit giving all of this foreign aid to countries that hate us and welfare to bums. Then we could really moderize our defense.

this is what happens when the military is down sizing some good programs go away,now are the new ones coming in capable of doing the job,this we will see.….

I totally agree! More F/A-18s is a good thing. Just like the Air Force needs more updated F-15s. For conventional warfare, you can’t beat either of these aircraft for air superiority and ground attack. Remember, just because it’s stealth, doesn’t mean it’s a good dogfighter.

F-35 has not flown and combat training missions at all much less against foreign aircraft

Actually, the contract that was signed has years and years of schedules and every year since the beginning of the contract, the government (the customer) has held back funds and moved them from year to year. When your customer keeps changing their mind as to what they want and WHEN, the program naturally slips and it gets more and more expensive.
I’d love to see the government live up to their end of the contract and fund it as they said they would to the schedule that they contracted for and FORCE industry to produce.

I was going by the reports of simulated missions run, not on actual, and that is my error in writing.

Can be rendered useless at best and enemy assets at worse with one successful cyber or EMP attack.

Most folks commenting on the F-35 vs. F/A-18 Super Hornet Series situation are missing the point: UCAVs will be the frontline attack/strike fighters in the near future. Manned aircraft will play a secondary role for strike missions, but remain as offensive/defensive platforms for the Fleet and other service needs. All the arm waving over the troubled F-35 Program is for naught. Let the foreign countries buy into the F-35 Program (good luck) and we need to continue to merge the F/A-18 Super Hornet next Block Series with the growing UCAV Programs. Give me a saddle in an F/A-18 Super Hornet Series armed with AIM 9X missiles and watch the adversaries lose. Otherwise, let the UCAVs get out there and do their missions. Having known and worked with and for now-SecDef Leon E. Panetta for over 20 years, my bet is on the F-35 Program being shelved for an indefinite UFN. Tallyho!

43,000 feet? BFD! I cruised at 43,000 in a Grumman F9F Cougar during flight training in 1969.

F-35 defeated in air combat simulation (2011–09-07)

We need super Tomcats stop the other programs and get improved Tomcats back in the Air.

@Common Sense… What is driving the retention problem? Basing the ship where most would prefer to live might help, if thats some of the problem.

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