Navy Lukewarm On Substituting Upgraded F/A-18s For F-35C


U.S. Navy Rear Adm. DeWofl Miller showed little enthusiasm for trading F/A-18 Super Hornets for F-35s, as has been proposed by President Trump in an effort to reduce the total program cost of the F-35 Lightning. Testifying at a House Subcommittee hearing on the F-35 program, Miller said, “The F-35C provides unique capabilities that cannot be matched by modernizing fourth-generation aircraft.” The F/A-18 first flew in the late 1970s. In the same hearing, Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, head of the F-35 program, reminded Subcommittee members of a looming acquisition “death spiral”—wherein reduced quantities result in unpalatable unit costs—that could arise if purchase quantities of the F-35 are reduced.

Boeing believes a “Block 3” Super Hornet incorporating conformal fuel tanks, improved sensors and electronic warfare capability could be delivered in the early-2020s, according to reporting by Aviation Week. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has directed the F-35 program office to work with the Navy and report back on whether President Trump’s suggestion of buying F/A-18s is capable of reducing acquisition costs at similar levels of mission capability, says Bogdan. That report will have to decide what an upgraded Super Hornet would do, what it would cost and when it would be ready. Answers to those questions remain up in the air.

(Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen)