WASHINGTON Feb 13 Boeing Co is mounting
a last-ditch campaign to convince U.S. lawmakers to buy more
fighter jets and stave off a shutdown of a St. Louis production
line after the U.S. Navy failed to fund the jets.
The Navy's fiscal 2015 budget plan omits funding for any
extra F/A-18E/F Super Hornets or EA-18G Growlers, according to
several sources familiar with the issue. The White House is due
to submit its 2015 budget request to Congress on March 4.
While the 2015 budget does not include funding for shutting
down the F/A-18 production line in St. Louis after 2016, the
Navy plans to add such termination funding to its 2016 budget,
said one of the sources, who could not speak publicly.
That spells bad news for Boeing, which needs additional
orders from the U.S. Navy to continue producing the fighter
planes, according to industry executives and analysts.
Navy officials have said they would like to keep buying
Super Hornets and Growlers, but cannot afford to do so given
tough budget pressures that have already forced the service to
propose eliminating one of 11 U.S. aircraft carriers.
That means Boeing must now appeal to U.S. lawmakers to fund
an additional batch of Growlers to keep the line running for one
more year while it continues to hunt for foreign sales.
The program has strong support among lawmakers but a dearth
of funding for aircraft carriers and other priorities may
complicate Boeing's efforts. Many traditional defense hawks have
also died or left Congress, and many current lawmakers are more
worried about deficits than maintaining defense spending.
Boeing officials declined comment, noting that the fiscal
2015 budget has not been released. But the company is already
airing advertisements on a local Washington radio station and
its lobbyists are working their connections on Capitol Hill.
Boeing contributed $1.3 million to individual lawmakers and
political action committees in 2013 and spent $15.2 million on
lobbying efforts, ranking as the 13th biggest spender, according
to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Boeing's F/A-18 program manager Mike Gibbons has said the
company needs to build about two planes a month to keep costs
down, which would require extra funding of at least $$1.2
billion, but Boeing is studying possible savings by combining
the F/A-18 and F-15 production line, which runs through 2018.
Industry experts note Lockheed Martin Corp builds
just one F-16 a month at its Texas plant and say Boeing may be
able to maintain F/A-18 production at a lower rate.
Boeing remains in competition for orders from Canada and
Denmark, and sees other prospects in the Middle East. But none
of those foreign orders are likely to materialize in time to
maintain the St. Louis F/A-18 line past the end of 2016.
Boeing and U.S. officials had hoped to land a big F/A-18
order from Brazil, but Brazil in December said it would buy the
Gripen built by Sweden's Saab after documents leaked
by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden
revealed U.S. spying on Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
Brett Lambert, a former top Pentagon official, said
lawmakers still viewed F/A-18 purchases as a hedge against
possible delays in the F-35 fighter jet program, although he
said the program was more stable than just a few years ago.
Proponents of additional F/A-18 purchases argue that the
F-35 has not completed development, and that continued issues
with its software development could delay the ability of the
Marine Corps to start using the plane in combat from mid-2015.