(Adds comments from Pentagon acquisition chief)
By Andrea Shalal
LONDON, July 13 Boeing Co said on Sunday
it was optimistic it could maintain production of its F/A-18 and
EA-18G fighter jets in St. Louis through the end of 2017 - a
year longer than expected - if Congress approved additional
orders of a dozen more planes.
But the Pentagon's chief weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, told
reporters that slowing production to extend the line was likely
to increase costs at a time when budgets were already tight.
"I don't see how we can do that without it costing money and
we just don't have money to spend on things that aren't core
requirements right now," Kendall said at a separate briefing.
Chris Chadwick, president and chief executive of Boeing
Defense, Space & Security, said the company was in discussions
with the U.S. Navy about revamping the production schedule for
jets already ordered, but added no decisions had been made.
Chadwick said action by several congressional committees to
add funding for 12 more EA-18G electronic attack fighters or
Growlers "looked very positive" and should allow the company to
keep the production line running a year longer than expected.
"I think that will allow us to stretch the line out ...
through the end of 2017," Chadwick told reporters at the
company's London office ahead of the Farnborough air show.
Boeing, seeking to stave off a shutdown of the St. Louis
production line, has been lobbying U.S. lawmakers to add funding
for additional EA-18G aircraft, arguing the planes offer the
most sophisticated electronic attack capabilities available.
The company has previously said it needed to build at least
two airplanes a month at the facility to keep rates economical.
"We'll find a way to stretch the line in an appropriate
fashion to get through 2017," Chadwick said. "We have to look at
what we have in the pipeline, what gets added to it, and how you
might be able to spread those (orders) over multiple years."
Kendall told reporters that he understood Boeing's interest
in keeping production running, but said it was clear that the
F/A-18 and EA-18G line would have to shut down eventually.
"We are not going to be buying the F/A-18 indefinitely,"
Kendall said. "We're going to stop buying them... and doing
uneconomic things to prolong that process is not in the interest
of the department."
Boeing is also chasing international orders for the F/A-18
Super Hornet, but Chadwick stopped short of saying any
particular order was imminent.
"There is some interest. We're looking at competing in a
number of areas," he said.
Later this year, the U.S. Navy plans to test the possibility
of using seven EA-18G Growlers on an aircraft carrier instead of
the five currently used.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Potter)