The leading candidate, preferred by the air force, is an extension of the lease deal with the Swedish government, with 5-, 10- and 20-year options being discussed (the 10-year option is seen as the most likely). A decision should be taken this year to allow time for a fall-back plan in case the lease deal does not materialize, says air force chief Brig. Gen. Jiri Verner.
Securing additional orders is critical not only for European manufacturers, seeing a potential end of their production lines in this decade in the absence of additional orders. Boeing is looking to both additional F/A-18 purchases by the U.S. and fighter export campaigns to sustain its two fighter production lines—the F-15 and F/A-18—beyond their currently expected lives.
The current multi-year program with the U.S. Navy runs until about 2015, but Dennis Muilenburg, CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security (DSS), sees scope for sales of additional EA-18Gs to the Pentagon to extend production. “We see an opportunity domestically for the joint electronic attack requirement,” he tells reporters. But whether there is enough demand for a fourth multi-year contract is unclear he notes.
While Muilenburg acknowledges that the existing backlog sees pressure on the F-15 and F/A-18E/F production lines in the 5-10-year time frame, he argues that both products have shown resilience and been able to extend their lives.
Several important decisions affecting exports loom in the coming months. Before year-end, Brazil is to announce its F-X2 fighter decision where the F/A-18E/F is competing against the Gripen NG and the Dassault Rafale. South Korea is also expected to make its choice between the F-15, Lockheed Martin's F-35 and the Typhoon.
Boeing also foresees more clarity to emerge on Australia's plans in the third quarter. That is when a decision is likely on the mix between the F-35s and F/A-18Fs and whether additional Super Hornet purchases will be made, says Mark Kronenberg, vice president- international business development at Boeing DSS. “I don't think they are going to walk away completely from the F-35, but the mix is a factor,” he argues.
Boeing sees Denmark as an opportunity for the F/A-18, as well as some nervousness among F-35 buyers that could generate opportunities, Kronenberg says.
The Middle East is viewed as another potential hot spot for deals, with Qatar and Kuwait seen as potential F/A-18E/F buyers. Kronenberg notes that “in Kuwait you are starting to see movement I had not seen two years ago.”
The United Arab Emirates might be an opportunity for Boeing, but Kronenberg sees that as an F-15 market.
Extending the production lines is vital for Boeing to maintain skills until future programs—FA-XX for the U.S. Navy and F-X for the U.S. Air Force—advance beyond the concept study phase. However, Muilenburg notes that skills will also be sustained through other efforts, including work in unmanned aircraft and the USAF's next-generation bomber effort.