December 06, 2013
Randy Forbes, a key member of the House Armed Services Committee, on Thursday urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to rethink the U.S. Navy’s current plan to allow Boeing Co’s F/A-18 fighter jet production to close in 2016.
Forbes released a December 4 letter to Hagel in which he raised concerns about the fighter industrial base and warned about relying solely on the next-generation F-35C fighter jet being developed by Lockheed Martin Corp since it will not be ready for operational use on an aircraft carrier until 2019.
“The risk to U.S. national security and the health of our aviation industrial base of relying on only one tactical aircraft supply line is simply too great to allow the line to close,” Forbes said in the letter.
The lawmaker’s warning comes amid a concerted push by Boeing for additional U.S. and foreign orders for its popular F/A-18 Super Hornet and the EA-18G Growler electronic attack plane based on the same airframe to keep production going.
Boeing executives say they see good prospects for additional F/A-18 orders from the U.S. Navy, Canada, Australia, Denmark and several other countries, and they plan to continue investing in the fighter line.
Dennis Muilenburg, head of Boeing’s defense business, last month said the company must decide soon whether to self fund certain long-lead procurement items to extend the line beyond 2016, but he did not expect a decision to shut the line.
U.S. Navy officials say they would like to buy more F/A-18s and are exploring options to do so but caution that there is no funding for any such purchases at this point. The timing of any new foreign orders also remains unclear.
Forbes said the Pentagon should maintain F/A-18 production in St. Louis, Missouri to safeguard the industrial base and ensure competition. Shutting the line, he warned, would eliminate “vital competition that could result in spiraling costs, leading to more expensive, less capable systems.”
It would also eliminate competition among suppliers, including companies that build aircraft radar and engines.