The Pentagon has awarded Boeing a new three-year contract covering 78 F/A-18E/F Block III Super Hornets. Boeing and the Pentagon argue that multiyear contracts reduce costs by bringing certainty to future production rates. U.S. Navy officials estimate that the new contract will save a minimum of $395 million on the new contract value of approximately $4 billion.
Boeing says the Block III configuration improves networking capability, offers more range and a reduced radar signature, makes changes to the cockpit, and provides a better communication system. In addition, the Block III aircraft’s service life increases from 6,000 hours to 10,000 hours. Assuming the aircraft fly an average of 250 hours per year, the USN could fly these Super Hornets into the 2060s. Besides orders for new aircraft in the Block III configuration, Boeing expects to receive contracts to begin converting existing Block II Super Hornets to the new standard early in the next decade.
Meanwhile, the Navy is also acquiring a carrier-capable version of the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter. The F-35C was once expected to replace the Super Hornet on carrier decks, but an extended development schedule for the new stealth model and a looming shortfall in Navy fighters led to new orders for the legacy F/A-18E/F family, which first flew back in 1995.
The Super Hornet and the latest version of Boeing’s F-15 family, the F-15EX, are getting more attention from the Pentagon under the Trump administration. Lockheed Martin’s F-35 family will account for the lion’s share of the world fighter market over the next 15 years, but the current leadership of the Pentagon appears hesitant to rely on a single supplier for U.S. fighter aircraft. Buying more legacy fighters from Boeing will keep the Super Hornet and F-15 production lines alive for years, giving the manufacturer time to secure new orders from export customers.