A new report by the Pentagon's top arms tester, meanwhile,
criticized the Navy for failing to address longstanding deficiencies
with the radar used on the F/A-18E/F model of the plane. It said the
jet could not be effectively used in certain "threat environments,"
although details were classified.
The EA-18G electronic attack planes, by contrast, were proving
operationally effective, the report said.
The U.S. Justice Department announced a $400 million settlement
agreement with Boeing and General Dynamics Corp last week that
includes providing the additional jets, which will be paid for by
U.S. Navy officials this week said the planes would be built along
with 21 Growlers already being funded in fiscal year 2014 and
delivered in calendar year 2016.
Boeing officials said the additional jets would not extend
production of the F/A-18 line beyond the currently planned date of
the end of 2016.
The company is awaiting details of the Pentagon's budget plan to
fiscal 2015 to see if any additional orders for F/A-18s or EA-18Gs
will be included, although Pentagon officials have repeatedly said
they do not plan additional orders.
Loren Thompson, analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington Institute,
said he expected Boeing to launch a massive lobbying campaign to get
more F/A-18s, also called Super Hornets, or electronic attack
variants, added to the 2015 budget.
"Boeing is determined to get more Super Hornets into the defense
budget because if that doesn't happen, they will soon have no
fighter production line in the whole company," he said.
Thompson said the company faced an uphill climb, given continued
pressure on military spending.
"In a budget environment where defense spending is capped, any money
spent on a new initiative has to come out of some other program,
which makes this an Olympic-scale selling job on Capitol Hill,"
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The report by Michael Gilmore, chief U.S. weapons tester, said the
plane's Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar continued
to have software issues that reduced its reliability. Copies of the
report circulated in Washington on Tuesday ahead of its formal
release on Wednesday.
"Although the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet weapon system continues to be
operationally effective and suitable for many threat environments,
it has critical shortfalls," the report said, citing recent software
and radar assessments.
It released no details on which environments posed problems, citing
a separate classified report.
It said operational testing had not yet shown a statistically
significant difference between the new radar and older systems used
on earlier jets.
Boeing had no immediate comment on the Pentagon report.
Boeing says it needs to build about two F/A-18s a month to ensure
economical production rates, which would require a foreign order, or
a new U.S. order valued at just under $2 billion.
Canada, which helped fund development of Lockheed Martin Corp's F-35
fighter, is expected to make decisions in coming months about
whether to proceed with F-35 orders or launch a new tender that
could result in orders for the F/A-18 or other fighter planes.
Boeing's F-15 fighter line, also in St. Louis, is slated to continue
through 2018, buoyed by a large Saudi Arabian order.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; editing by Stephen Powell and Ron Popeski)
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