The Secretary of the Air Force is responding to a proposal the president-elect made two weeks ago to modernize a fourth-generation Boeing alternative, while questioning the cost of Lockheed’s F-35 fighter jet.
Donald Trump tweeted on Dec 22: “Based on the tremendous cost and cost overruns of the Lockheed Martin F-35, I have asked Boeing to price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet!”
However, Sec. Deborah Lee James told Defense News that the Super Hornet is not interchangeable with the F-35.
Experts say the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a fourth-generation plane that “lacks many of the capabilities that define a fifth-generation plane, such as stealth and sensor fusion.” Redesigning it to meet the same requirements as the F-35 would require “years of development and engineering time and probably billions of dollars.”
Aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia says, Super Hornets “are strike aircraft for a carrier deck. It’s a useful strike fighter for a large carrier, but its fundamentally a different aircraft. You can’t just make it stealthy.”
Mr. Trump met with officials from Boeing and Lockheed Martin last month, presumably to try and see whatever he can do to bring down costs further.
During the Jan. 5 interview with Defense News, Sec. James said, “The leaders of the Air Force will have the opportunity when the time comes to advise the president-elect on this….But based on everything I know…the Air Force has not expressed interest in the F/A-18s.”
James also pointed out that while the president can determine whether to cancel a weapons program or direct the military to start a new one, “the Air Force remains a strong supporter of the F-35 program.” She says Mr. Trump could expect to find opposition from the service if he moves forward with trying to replace the F-35.
James added that although the joint strike fighter is still working through challenges, the program has shown progress. The Air Force declared initial operational capability last August.
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