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PAS11: As F-35 struggles, Boeing waits, poised

PARIS -- The setbacks and struggles for the F-35 could be good news for Boeing, the company's president of military aircraft said Tuesday, if it can convince customers leery of Lockheed's super-jet to opt for something older, but proven.

Chris Chadwick told reporters that he sees many potential markets around the world for the latest models of Boeing's F-15 Eagle and F/A-18 Super Hornet, and there could be more if the F-35 continues to spin its wheels. Brazil might want some Hornets, Chadwick said, and he thinks it's possible Australia may need another stopgap set of aircraft as it waits for its F-35s, and he said a few "Middle Eastern countries" also are interested in Super Hornets.

Overall, Chadwick said Boeing has talked with many F-35 customers about its alternatives, "just to let them know what their options are," he said. Although the Eagle and Super Hornet might be less wham-o-dyne than the Lightning II, Chadwick thinks their performance will be comparable, but just as important, their costs are well understood and their risks are low. By comparison, the F-35 can seem like a roll of the dice, he argued, and in the era of reduced budgets, that looks less and less like a smart investment.

What F-35 supporters invariably say in response to this argument is that whatever teething pains the F-35 is having now, it will give militaries a clear edge for a long time, as opposed to older aircraft that could be come obsolete quicker. Lockheed also says its customers will keep that edge for a long time: "Most of the pilots who will fly the F-35 have not been born yet," company vice president Tom Burbage said at its F-35 brief earlier Tuesday.

There's a psy-war element here, too: Reporters pressed Chadwick on the chances for selling more Hornets to Australia, and he acknowledged there hadn't been any official discussions, but that he was optimistic about the prospects for another sale.

Another potential target is Denmark, Chadwick said, one of the original members of the F-35 club. "They're going to give this a little more time and then make a decision," he said. As for the prospects? "We like our position."

Chadwick was also asked if he'd heard whether India's fighter deal -- in which both Boeing and Lockheed were rebuffed -- might be falling apart before it can get to a final selection. Chadwick said he didn't know anything about it, but he smiled and crossed his fingers for luck.

 

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