The competition between the largest jet makers in the U.S. is heating up again as President Donald Trump considers what to do with the troubled F-35 program.
The Boeing Company has been quietly lobbying behind the scenes to encourage the administration to purchase its F/A-18 Super Hornets over Lockheed Martin’s F-35s.
Boeing is passing around a one-page white paper to administration officials that points out possible “capability gaps” if the Navy continues with its plan to replace many Super Hornets with the Navy’s F-35C, Defense One reports.
The white paper, which does not mention Boeing by name, argues that the Navy’s version of the F-35 will need to add more Super Hornets to the mix for operational security.
“The U.S. Navy currently plans to have a Carrier Air Wing mix of 3 squadrons of F/A-18 Super Hornets and 1 squadron of F-35Cs in 2028 transitioning to 2 squadrons of F/A-18 Super Hornets and 2 squadrons of F-35C in 2033,” the white paper says.
The situation would leave “significant capability gaps against emerging threats and under the current aircraft procurement plan leaves the Navy with a significant inventory shortfall,” the white paper argues.
“Adding additional F-35Cs will not solve this capability gap and will be prohibitively expensive. Adding Advanced Super Hornet F/A-18XT squadrons gives the Carrier Air Wing a significant edge against future adversaries and is an affordable solution to the inventory challenge.”
The key promise of the F-35 variants is incredibly effective stealth, which is something Boeing has tried to match with improved Super Hornets. The new, improved F/A-18s, which Boeing calls the XT, or Advanced Super Hornet, is more stealthy than the original F-18, with greater maneuverability, acceleration and weapons load than the F-35C, Boeing says in the paper.
Proponents of the F-35 say that while the jet isn’t perfect in a head-to-head dog fight, the jets’ advanced stealth more than makes up for decreased maneuverability.
Every military branch relies on the F-18 as the primary fighter while F-35s gradually enter the service. The real problem is an overall readiness issue and the difficulty in finding replacement parts for aircraft, according to military officials who testified at a congressional hearing last week on F/A-18s depriving pilots of oxygen during flight. (RELATED: F-18 Pilots Keep Running Out Of Oxygen During Flight)
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has ordered a review of the F-35 program after Trump said the jet was too expensive. During a trip to Boeing’s South Carolina factory, Trump said he may purchase additional Super Hornets.
“By the way, do you care if we use the F-18 Super Hornets?” Trump said to a crowd at the Boeing factory in February. “We are looking seriously at a big order.” (RELATED: Trump To Boeing: Expect ‘A Big Order’ Of Super Hornets)
Trump opened up the idea of competition between Lockheed and Boeing over stealth jets in December, tweeting that due to the “tremendous cost and cost overruns” of the F-35, he was looking at purchasing Super Hornets instead.
The acquisition strategy for the F-35 included costs savings over time, but numerous technical challenges and testing delays drove the cost up. The program is several years behind schedule, and more than 50 percent over budget.
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