* Pentagon arms tester cited issues with jet's radar
* New Pentagon report says F/A-18 not effective for certain
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
NEW YORK, Jan 28 A settlement of a dispute over
the cancelled A-12 aircraft calls for Boeing Co to build
three more EA-18G electronic attack planes for the U.S. Navy,
but those jets will not extend the F/A-18 production line in St.
Louis, according to Navy officials and company executives.
A new report by the Pentagon's top arms tester, meanwhile,
criticized the Navy for failing to address longstanding
deficiencies with the radar used on the F/A-18E/F model of the
plane. It said the jet could not be effectively used in certain
"threat environments," although details were classified.
The EA-18G electronic attack planes, by contrast, were
proving operationally effective, the report said.
The U.S. Justice Department announced a $400 million
settlement agreement with Boeing and General Dynamics Corp
last week that includes providing the additional jets,
which will be paid for by Boeing.
U.S. Navy officials this week said the planes would be built
along with 21 Growlers already being funded in fiscal year 2014
and delivered in calendar year 2016.
Boeing officials said the additional jets would not extend
production of the F/A-18 line beyond the currently planned date
of the end of 2016.
The company is awaiting details of the Pentagon's budget
plan to fiscal 2015 to see if any additional orders for F/A-18s
or EA-18Gs will be included, although Pentagon officials have
repeatedly said they do not plan additional orders.
Loren Thompson, analyst with the Virginia-based Lexington
Institute, said he expected Boeing to launch a massive lobbying
campaign to get more F/A-18s, also called Super Hornets, or
electronic attack variants, added to the 2015 budget.
"Boeing is determined to get more Super Hornets into the
defense budget because if that doesn't happen, they will soon
have no fighter production line in the whole company," he said.
Thompson said the company faced an uphill climb, given
continued pressure on military spending.
"In a budget environment where defense spending is capped,
any money spent on a new initiative has to come out of some
other program, which makes this an Olympic-scale selling job on
Capitol Hill," Thompson said.
The report by Michael Gilmore, chief U.S. weapons tester,
said the plane's Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA)
radar continued to have software issues that reduced its
reliability. Copies of the report circulated in Washington on
Tuesday ahead of its formal release on Wednesday.
"Although the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet weapon system continues
to be operationally effective and suitable for many threat
environments, it has critical shortfalls," the report said,
citing recent software and radar assessments.
It released no details on which environments posed problems,
citing a separate classified report.
It said operational testing had not yet shown a
statistically significant difference between the new radar and
older systems used on earlier jets.
Boeing had no immediate comment on the Pentagon report.
Boeing says it needs to build about two F/A-18s a month to
ensure economical production rates, which would require a
foreign order, or a new U.S. order valued at just under $2
Canada, which helped fund development of Lockheed Martin
Corp's F-35 fighter, is expected to make decisions in
coming months about whether to proceed with F-35 orders or
launch a new tender that could result in orders for the F/A-18
or other fighter planes.
Boeing's F-15 fighter line, also in St. Louis, is slated to
continue through 2018, buoyed by a large Saudi Arabian order.