Navy Won't Bite Just Yet on F/A-18 Refinements

FARNBOROUGH, England -- Remember Boeing's pitch about all the high-speed new refinements and capabilities it wants to add to its F/A-18E and F Super Hornets? It has talked about more efficient engines, conformal fuel tanks and even fighters launching their own unmanned aerial vehicles.

The world's biggest operator of Super Hornets, the U.S. Navy, isn't quite ready to sign up for all that stuff -- yet.

The Navy's Super Hornet program manager, Capt. Frank Morley, a career Hornet driver and true believer, said at the air show here Monday that the Navy has not signed up for any of Boeing's next-gen improvements to its Es and Fs. But he phrased his answer to a reporter's question in a very specific way:

"The U.S. Navy has not committed to any of those yet from a domestic standpoint," he said. Morley said Boeing had focused so far on advertising its potential Super-Duper Hornet -- our phrase, not his -- on international customers, but he acknowledged that he has liked what he's heard.

"We'll see where things go," he said. "They're all enticing in some way."

Although the Navy is a (reluctant) member of Club F-35, Morley's presentation reinforced just how much, and for how long, it will continue to depend on the Superbug. The service is going to extend the lives of some of its A and C model Hornets to 10,000 hours, and one of his charts said the Navy would continue to fly some variety of Super Hornets and E/A-18G Growlers until 2040. Another one of his PowerPoint slides, under the heading "Airborne Networking," included the bullet point: "UAV connectivity."

So even though the Navy will pass on the Super-Duper today, it may not be long before it begins upgrading its fleet with some of the bells, whistles and toys Boeing keeps dreaming up.

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