President Donald Trump loves Lockheed Martins "fantastic new F-35 jet fighter" -- at least now that Lockheed Martin has cut its price on the F-35, he does. That said, last we heard, the president still wanted Boeing to price out a "comparable F-18 Super Hornet" so that he can comparison-shop. And Boeing is only too happy to do that.
In recent weeks, word has been filtering out of a new "white paper" being circulated around Washington, D.C., which touts Boeings F/A-18 Super Hornet as a better value proposition than Lockheeds F-35 -- and makes the case for the U.S. Navy to buy more of the former and less of the latter.
As reported on DefenseOne.com last month, the white paper in question states the case thusly: "The U.S. Navy currently plans to have a Carrier Air Wing mix of 3 squadrons of F/A-18 Super Hornets and 1 squadron of F-35Cs in 2028 transitioning to 2 squadrons of F/A-18 Super Hornets and 2 squadrons of F-35C in 2033." (Plus supporting sub-hunting, electronic-warfare, and airborne early warning aircraft.)
Boeing, however, argues that buying all the F-35s required to obtain the air-wing mix as described "will be prohibitively expensive" and "leaves the Navy with a significant inventory shortfall" in the near term, because of production delays with the F-35C.
So what is Boeings solution?
Buy more F/A-18s, of course. Specifically, Boeing in this white paper argues that the Navy should buy some 120 current-model F/A-18E/F fighters and substitute 200 units of a new and improved, stealthier variant of its Super Hornet -- which it calls alternately the F/A-18XT, Block 3 Super Hornet, or Advanced Super Hornet -- for F-35Cs that the Navy would otherwise buy. (The Navys total planned purchases of F-35Cs number 350 units, so Lockheed would still sell some F-35Cs -- just not nearly as many as it had hoped.)
Now what would all this mean to investors? Lockheed Martins F-35C currently costs about $122 million. That is about $43 million more than the $79 million Boeing says it would charge for an Advanced Super Hornet. Thus, by switching out 200 purchases of F-35s for 200 purchases of Advanced Super Hornets, Boeing says the Navy could save about $8.6 billion. What is more, Boeing also says its Advanced Super Hornet would be easier to maintain. Factoring savings from operations and maintenance costs into the equation adds up to "about $30 billion" saved over 20 years.
That is enough to buy the Navy two brand-new Ford-class supercarriers with the savings -- which is a proposition attractive enough that it might persuade the Navy to give Boeings proposal a listen. News Motley Fool