Dec 21 Brazil's decision not to buy the American
F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet, and instead purchase an
untested plane from a Swedish rival, hit the rural Missouri town
of Alton this week, where Chet Sisco's family-owned company has
made parts for Boeing Co planes for nearly four decades.
The Super Hornet, supplied by vendors across Missouri,
looked sure to win Brazil's $4 billion-plus contract. But
revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on
Brazil's president helped to kill the deal at the last minute.
Brazil's snub of Super Hornet, and the loss of a major F-15
deal in Korea last month, threaten St. Louis-area production
lines that support Boeing employees, suppliers and municipal
At current production rates, the Super Hornet would run out
of production in 2016, and the F-15 two years later. Boeing and
its contractors had been counting on foreign military deals to
extend the life of the two planes, but budget pressures are
delaying contract decisions in some key foreign markets and also
curbing U.S. purchases.
"We're certainly worried how this will play out," said Chet
Sisco, general manager of Central Ozark Machine Inc, which
employs 25 people and derives about 85 percent of its work
making aluminum and titanium parts for Super Hornets and F-15s.
Sisco said Brazil would have gotten more plane for its money
with the Super Hornet than with the Swedish Gripen, made by Saab
AB, which has never seen combat.
The Super Hornet, whose biggest customer is the U.S. Navy,
supports about one-third of Boeing's 15,000 employees in
Missouri. The plane and other Boeing business provide about $1
billion in annual orders for nearly 700 Missouri suppliers.
Some U.S. lawmakers and Boeing are pressing hard for support
for the jet programs.
"Keeping that line open and extended in St. Louis is ...
obviously an important thing for our state," U.S. Sen. Roy
Blunt, a Missouri Republican, told reporters on a conference
call after Brazil announced its decision. "I'm certainly
disappointed by this."
Blunt said the loss of the Super Hornet contract underscores
"a weakened position" in U.S. foreign policy, partly because of
the NSA spying revelations.
Documents leaked by former National Security Agency
contractor Edward Snowden enraged Brazilian President Dilma
Rousseff, changing her mind about choosing Boeing's Super Hornet
combat plane, several Brazilian officials told Reuters.
Snowden's documents revealed that Washington had spied on
Rousseff's personal communications.
In Hazelwood, a suburb north of St. Louis, where the $50
million Super Hornet is made, Boeing is the largest employer and
accounts for 6.0 percent of the tax base. Analysts at Moody's
Investor Service have warned that any downsizing to Hazelwood's
chief taxpayer could hurt its "Aa3" municipal bond rating.
With the future of Boeing's fighter jets in question,
Hazelwood City Manager Matt Zimmerman said his small city is
doing everything it can to support Missouri's bid for building
Boeing's next advanced commercial airplane, the 777X.
But at Central Ozark Machine in Alton, it's not easy
switching gears to make structural components for commercial
planes, which are now demanding composite materials, Sisco
"It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks. It's a whole new
style of manufacturing," Sisco said.