Boeing Military Aircraft (BMA) has stepped up its campaign to sell more F-15 and F-18 fighters, and has issued a strong warning against overreliance on leading-edge platforms such as the F-35 Stealth Fighter
(produced by competitor Lockheed Martin). “The evolutionary approach is best…it’s hard to manage a revolution,” said Rick McCrary, BMA international business director.
McCrary advises customers to focus instead on tactics, techniques and procedures, and the effects that they wanted to create. The F-35 program was “going down the same path” as the B-2 and F-22 programs, McCrary claimed. He also pointed out that although both Russia and China are developing stealth fighters, the Su-30/35 series represented the real threat because they were being progressively upgraded and could be fielded in large numbers. In any case, Russia’s PAK-50 “is more like an Su-35 than an F-22,” according to his assessment.
Critics may say that Boeing’s argument is self-serving, but McCrary and colleagues believe that the upgrades already made or pending on the F-15 and F-18 prove their point. For instance, the tripling in radar range offered by active electronically scanned arrays (AESAs) provides a capability that McCrary likened to “having a rifle in a pistol fight.” New capabilities offered by the smaller transmit/receive modules on second- and third-generation AESAs had hardly been exploited. Various technologies (such as high off-boresight missiles, infrared search and track sensors, new digital electronic warfare systems and updated cockpits ensure that the F-15 and the F-18 (see below) are evolving to meet today’s challenges and provide the required effects, McCrary claimed. “We have a long-term, cost-effective plan,” he added.
Super Hornet’s Prospective Customers and Upgrade Plans
Thanks to the latest multi-year buy by the U.S. Navy, production of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is assured through 2016, at an average cost below $60 million in 2010 prices. In the Middle East region, Boeing is eyeing requirements in Kuwait (an existing operator of F/A-18C/Ds), Qatar and the UAE. All have received Super Hornet briefings from the U.S. government.
Further afield, Japan is likely to choose between the F/A-18E/F, the F-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon next month. Malaysia is another F/A-18D operator that might upgrade to the E/F. The “Super” is also competing for Brazil’s on-again, off-again new fighter requirement. Although it is an F-35 international partner, Denmark has not yet formally committed to the Lightning II, and will resume an evaluation of alternatives next month.
Boeing has described the following potential upgrades to the F/A-18E/F for future international sales:
- conformal fuel tanks
- 20 percent more thrust from the F414 engines
- spherical missile/laser warning system
- enclosed weapons pods on the wings and centerline
- next-generation cockpit
- internal IRST (infrared search and track sensors).