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F/A-18 Hornet Production

The Super Hornet and Growler production line is an investment in the United States economy. In total it supports more than 60,000 highly skilled jobs in 44 states, including small businesses. If production ends, so would the ability to sustain these jobs and businesses. Boeing officials have said that as of 2015 production of two aircraft per month, or 24 per year, is necessary to keep the St. Louis, Missouri production line at the break-even point.

By 2018 the F/A-18 Super Hornet production line had a seven-year backlog, after nearly expiring in 2016 due to a lack of orders. In March 2018, Kuwait ordered 22 F/A-18E and six F/A-18F Super Hornets for delivery through 2022, with options for 12 more. During the same month, Congress topped off the US Navy’s request list with 10 more Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets, worth $739 million. In all, the Navy is buying 24 Super Hornets for a sum of $1.8 billion in fiscal 2018, with more than 100 additional fighters planned for procurement over the next five years. The company believes production of the aircraft could extend even beyond 2025, citing potential sales of the fighter to India and Finland.

The F/A-18 was concurrently developed and produced. The program structure called for completion of some operational testing before production. At the time production began on the F/A-18 aircraft, it had not undergone critical aspects of planned OT&E that was called for in the program schedule because of the system's immature development at that time. Expensive retrofits were required on F/A-18 production models to correct problems identified during operational testing performed after the production decision was made.

Significant risk existed because the aircraft was designed with a new engine, new radar, and new airframe and the tight test schedule allowed little time to correct and retest performance deficiencies that might occur. The program schedule prescribed initial operational testing of the system's potential effectiveness before beginning production. The testing that was envisioned, however, was not accomplished.

The Navy’s independent operational testing organization, OPTEVFOR, performed an abbreviated phase of the planned OTcE in March 1980 in support of a limited production decision. However, OPTEVFOR notified the Chief of Naval Operations that it was unable to make a valid assessment of the F/A-18 because of the system’s immature development. The initial operational evaluation of the system's potential was not started until October 1980. The Secretary of Defense nonetheless approved limited production of 25 aircraft before OT&E was completed to OPTEVFOR's satisfaction.

The Navy planned to procure a total of 1,157 F/A-18 production aircraft excluding 11 full-scale development aircraft. As of September 9, 1991, 744 of these production aircraft had been delivered, 115 were on order, and 298 more were needed to meet the planned procurement. Procurement had been at a rate of 84 per year, but congressional budget constraints reduced procurement to 66 aircraft in fiscal year 1990 and 48 in fiscal year 199 1. The amended budget seeks to accelerate the procurement of the needed aircraft. The fiscal years 1992 and 1993 requests for 36 and 20 aircraft were increased to 48 and 48, respectively. The Navy then planned to procure 170 more F/A- 18 C/Ds in fiscal years 1994-1997 than the 82 previously planned for that time frame. With the fiscal year 1997 procurement, the Navy expected to have completed procurement of the F/A-18 models C/D.

Designed and initially produced by McDonnell Douglas, the Super Hornet first flew in 1995. Low-rate production began in September 1997, after the merger of McDonnell Douglas and Boeing the previous month. The Super Hornet entered service with the United States Navy in 1999, replacing the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, which was retired in 2006.

The F/A-18E/F went into full-rate production in June 2000. Although the program proceeded without obtaining full product knowledge at key decision points, it embraced the concepts of attaining design and manufacturing knowledge early in development. The program released just over half of its engineering drawings by its design review. When low- rate production began, nearly all of the drawings were released and about 75 percent of the manufacturing processes were in control. The Navy reduced some program risk because aviation electronics from an earlier version of the F/A-18 were incorporated into the baseline F/A-18E/F. Furthermore, focus was placed on commonality between the F/A-18 C/D and the F/A-18E/F, which further reduced risk.

On 05 December 2013 Congressman J. Randy Forbes (VA-04), Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, released a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expressing concern with current Navy plans that would see the F/A-18 production line close.

“Should the Navy choose to allow the F/A-18 production line to close, the U.S. will be left with only one manufacturing line capable of producing combat ready tactical aircraft until later this decade,” Congressman Forbes said. “The risk to U.S. national security and the health of our aviation industrial base of relying on only one tactical aircraft supply line is simply too great to allow the line to close. I urge Secretary Hagel to carefully weigh the effects of any such closure on the U.S. defense industrial base and the future of our Carrier Air Wing.”

By 2014 eighty nine percent of the total F/A-18E/F procurement objective had been delivered (516 of 563).

The Boeing production line remained open with the planned procurement of 21 EA-18G in Fiscal Year 2014 for delivery in 2016, with parts of the production line for manufacture of long lead items starting to shut down in Fiscal Year 2014. Although AP funding was received in the Fiscal Year 2014 Appropriation Act for 22 additional F/A-18E/F aircraft, the Navy did not have a requirement for additional F/A-18E/F aircraft, and therefore would be unable to obligate this funding.

The Fiscal Year 2016 President’s Budget Request did not include funding for continued production of either the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet or EA-18G Growler, both aircraft produced on the same manufacturing line. The F/A-18 production line is the only aircraft production line with the ability to build operational strike fighters for the Navy today and AEA aircraft for the entire Department of Defense.

By March 2015 Greg Waldron reported in Flight Global that "Boeing remains bullish about the prospects for more sales of its F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet overseas, as the end of production in 2017 starts to loom. Chris Raymond, vice-president, business development and strategy for Boeing Defense, Space & Security, says the type is still being pitched to several countries, with potential interest in Malaysia, Europe, the Middle East and possibly also the USA. ... Raymond estimates that there could also be opportunities to sell more F/A-18 E/Fs or the type’s electronic warfare variant, the EA-18G Growler, to the US Navy."

Boeing is taking steps to keep its F-18 production line open for future Navy and international sales based on positive signs from multiple sources, the company told USNI News. The company builds both its F/A-18F Super Hornets and F-18G Growlers on the same production line, and the last planes the company had sold were 15 Growlers in Fiscal Year 2015 – enough work to keep the line open through the end of 2017.

As of mid-2016, current orders – including the 15 added by Congress in fiscal year 2015 defence budget and the dozen more included in FY2016 – Super Hornet production in St Louis, Missouri would continue through mid-2018 at a rate of two aircraft per month.

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Page last modified: 14-04-2018 18:08:38 ZULU