Delays, Added Costs Might Spike Resurgence In F-15, F-18
Concerns over mounting controversy,
production delays and added costs surrounding the expected
next-generation of fighter aircraft -- the Lockheed Martin F-22
Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (right)-- may result in more
orders for the relatively aged Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet... and
even Boeing's comparatively old-school F-15 Eagle.
While Boeing stands to lose a little, too, if the
next-generation F-22 Raptor is held up further by development
delays, it may stand to gain far more if that program -- and the
JSF -- are delayed.
That's because delays on the newer planes have forced the older
fighters to stick around longer than expected, according to a
report by the Government Accountability Office -- and Boeing
provides maintenance and logistical support on those planes. As
evidence of the importance of such business, the logistics support
branch is the fastest-growing segment at Boeing Integrated Defense
Such delays might also result in greater sales for the older
fighters, as well, as customers worldwide grow weary of waiting for
the new fighters. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that already,
the F-15E Eagle (above) -- a much-modified version of the plane
that first flew in 1972 -- has landed new orders with South Korea
As for the newer F/A-18 Super Hornet (right), the fighter
is a mainstay of the US Navy, and is a contender for a third
multiyear order worth several billion dollars. The Super Hornet is
also marketed overseas, and is the US entry in a
multibillion-dollar fighter competition currently underway in
The GAO, however, says that money spent on older fighters is, in
a sense, money wasted.
"The funds used to
operate, support and upgrade the current inventory of legacy
aircraft represent opportunity costs that could be used to develop
and buy newer aircraft," the GAO said. When it comes online, the
F-22 is expected to be much less expensive to maintain than
Boeing's F-15, to the point that one squadron of Raptors could even
replace two squadrons of Eagles -- saving 780 maintenance
personnel, according to the government auditors.
The GAO report also says the Pentagon's business case to spend
an estimated $320 billion to develop the two new fighters isn't
supported -- calling the F-22 program "unexecutable," even, as the
Air Force alone needs 198 aircraft -- more than the Pentagon can
"With due respect with their report, we don't agree with their
conclusions," said John Kent, a spokesman for Lockheed's JSF
program. "Without question the (JSF) possesses the highest level of
technical maturity and the lowest level of technical risk."
To save funds, Lockheed already plans to begin production of the
JSF in FY2007, with less than 1 percent of the flight test program
completed, according to the GAO. That program is doable, said Kent,
because due to digital design most of the plane's technical issues
will be addressed before the first test flight takes off this
Currently, the US military plans to purchase 2,443 F-35 Joint
Strike Fighters, to replace Air Force F-16s and A-10s, as well as
complement the F-22 Raptor (above). The Pentagon plans to buy 183
F-22s, to replace the AV-8B and F-18 Hornet.
That's less than half the number of F/A-18s currently on order
-- 400-plus aircraft, according to the GAO.