* General calls Boeing remarks inappropriate
* Denies Washington offering partners “dumbed down” F-35 (Adds details, quotes and byline)
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
PARIS, June 16 (Reuters) - The head of the Pentagon’s F-35 fighter program blasted on Tuesday what he called Boeing Co’s (BA.N) inappropriate marketing of a new F-15 fighter model with radar-evading capabilities that it is marketing as an alternative to the Lockheed Martin Corp-built (LMT.N) F-35.
Brigadier Gen. David Heinz, program executive officer for the F-35, said Boeing was free to market its F-15 “Silent Eagle” plane, but rejected a claim by Boeing executives that Washington was selling a “dumbed down” version of the F-35 to international partners.
“I state categorically that I am not doing a different variant of aircraft for my international partners today,” Heinz told Reuters in an interview at the Paris Air Show.
He said foreign countries who bought the F-35 would be subject to a U.S. disclosure process and U.S. export controls, but the aircraft being sold today were the same airplanes that were also being built for the U.S. military services.
“So for Boeing to make statements about a ‘dumbed down’ variant ... is absolutely incorrect and it is speculative and I believe, a very disappointing marketing ploy to drum up business,” Heinz added.
Boeing’s military aircraft president Chris Chadwick said the F-15 was being marketed only to existing F-15 customers, and was not in direct competition with the F-35.
“If there are other customers who would like to talk to us about the enhanced version of the F-15 (the Silent Eagle) we’d be happy to discuss,” he said, responding to Heinz’s remarks.
Boeing’s F-15 and F-18 fighter jets are competing against Lockheed’s F-16 for massive fighter jet orders around the world. Analysts say Boeing, the top U.S. exporter and the Pentagon’s No. 2 supplier in prime contracts, risks getting edged out of the fighter market altogether as the U.S. government focuses more and more on the F-35.
Keen to keep its fighter production lines open, Boeing in March unveiled an F-15 version that offers some radar-evading capability as an alternative for countries that can’t afford the F-35 fighter being developed by Lockheed for the United States and eight other countries.
Boeing has said it is speaking to companies in the United States and abroad about co-funding development of a new F-15 version aimed at Asian and Middle East markets that would incorporate coatings to help avoid detection by radar.
Jim Albaugh, who heads Boeing’s defense business, told reporters in Paris on Sunday that the new F-15 offered a comparable level of stealth capability to what Washington was willing to sell to foreign military sales customers.
“We are not trying to say that this is an airplane that has full-aspect stealth capability,” Albaugh said. “It doesn’t. But from a front-radar cross-section, it has all the stealth that has been approved for export by the U.S. government.”
Heinz first criticized how Boeing was marketing its F-15 Silent Eagle at a news conference in Washington on June 2, and also took a swipe at its radar-evading capabilities.
He said Boeing’s work to reduce the frontal radar signature of the F-15 Silent Eagle would give it an edge over other fighters of its generation, but was still no match for the F-35: “You put (the new F-15) against a fifth-generation guy, the second he turns, he looks just like the Goodyear blimp.”
Last week, Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz said the service was committed to buying the F-35 and should not get distracted by modernizing earlier fighters. It was more important to “make the leap” to the new plane and keep the unit cost for those airplanes competitive, he said. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)