The Defense Department decided it could skip further orders for
Boeing's F/A-18 fighter jets and EA-18G electronic attack planes
after concluding that a halt in their production would not
jeopardize suppliers for other big weapons programs, said Elana
Broitman, the Pentagon's top industrial base official.
"Nothing piqued our concern (about) a critical supplier going away
entirely if ... they do indeed have to close that line," Broitman,
deputy assistant secretary for manufacturing and industrial policy,
said in an interview on Friday.
Broitman's office carefully monitors the health of the U.S. defense
industrial base, and provides additional funding or other aid in
select cases if the manufacturers of key components are likely to go
out of business or stop making those parts.
Those pressures are mounting as U.S. military spending declines as a
result of mandatory budget cuts, the end of the war in Iraq and the
withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
Current orders for the Boeing jets ensure production through the end
of 2016 and possibly into mid-2017, but the company needs to decide
in coming months whether to start shutting the line down or keep
buying certain components from suppliers that take years to build.
The Navy's fiscal 2015 budget request did not include money for any
more of the Boeing planes, but the Navy has now asked lawmakers to
add $2.1 billion to the budget for 22 more EA-18G Growlers, if money
becomes available. Growlers jam enemy radars so fighter jets can
carry out their attack missions safely.
Congress is weighing the Pentagon's overall budget request, and $36
billion in items identified by the Navy and other services as
"unfunded priorities." But lawmakers have said they intend to stick
to budget caps, which means that funding for any of those items
would reduce spending in other areas.
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Broitman said the decision to skip further orders in the 2015 budget
request reflects the mounting budget pressures, not any
dissatisfaction with the Boeing plane.
"It's not that the Growler isn't a great system. It's just what
could be afforded," she said, adding that the department would keep
a close eye on the issue in coming years.
Rear Admiral Michael Manazir, director of the Navy's air warfare
division, last month said the Navy decided to add the Boeing
warplanes to its wish list after classified studies showed the
planes would improve the effectiveness of the overall 44-plane
strike group on a carrier.
He said adding a next-generation jamming pod being developed by
Raytheon Co <RTN.N> to the Growlers would help them to assure access
for U.S. fighters to enemy airspace for years to come.
Outfitting the 22 planes with Raytheon jammers would cost an extra
$750 million, plus up to $140 million a year to operate the jets,
said a U.S. defense official familiar with the issue.
(Editing by Alwyn Scott)
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