U.S. Navy committed to F-35 despite talks about more F/A-18 buys

Tue Nov 19, 2013 4:48pm EST
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa

DUBAI (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy remains committed to the Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N: Quote) F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program, but is also looking at options to buy additional Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote) F/A-18 fighter jets, a senior U.S. Navy official said on Tuesday.

Richard Gilpin, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for air programs, told Reuters at the Dubai Airshow that the Navy's current plans still called for purchases of the Boeing F/A-18 and EA-18G electronic attack planes to end in fiscal 2014.

He said the U.S. military would have to act soon to ensure continued production of the F/A-18 beyond 2016, but said no decisions had been made at this point. U.S. officials are also meeting with possible buyers at the show, in hopes of cementing orders that could extend the production line.

Gilpin, and Navy Captain Frank Morley, who heads the F/A-18 and EA-18G program, both denied that the discussions signaled any wavering of the Navy's commitment to the F-35 program - and underscored that the two fighter jets were always intended to operate together for decades to come.

"Let me be clear. The Navy is very committed to moving to JSF. I wouldn't want you to get the impression that the Navy is not committed to JSF, because we are," Gilpin said in an interview at the air show.

The $392 billion F-35 JSF, the Pentagon's biggest arms program, has seen a 70 percent increase in costs over initial estimates and repeated schedule delays, but U.S. officials say the program has made progress in recent years.

Questions arose about the Navy's F-35 program last month after it erroneously posted a notice on a federal procurement website about a possible order of up to 36 more F/A-18 fighters or EA-18G electronic attack planes in fiscal 2015.

The Navy has also mapped out plans for a two-year halt in procurement of the F-35 C-model if U.S. lawmakers fail to reverse tough mandatory cuts in military spending - a move seen by some industry executives as a sign of the Navy's lukewarm support of the multi-service F-35 fighter program.   Continued...

Three F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (rear to front) AF-2, AF-3 and AF-4, can be seen flying over Edwards Air Force Base in this December 10, 2011 handout photo provided by Lockheed Martin. REUTERS/Lockheed Martin/Darin Russell/Handout