Boeing Co. is pressing lawmakers to restore funding for the Navy's EA-18 Growler, in the latest lobbying fight between the aerospace giant and Lockheed Martin Corp. over attack aircraft.
The Defense Department's budget for fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1, doesn't include money for the Growler, a version of the fourth-generation F/A-18 fighter jet designed for electronic warfare.
Now, Missouri Reps. Ann Wagner, a Republican, and Lacy Clay, a Democrat, are urging colleagues to sign a letter asking leaders of the congressional defense committees to add some $2 billion in funding for 22 EA-18Gs -- the quantity the Navy included in its "unfunded priorities" list.
The aircraft, which is manufactured in Missouri, "is the only DoD option for electronic attack, and limited capacity significantly impacts mission effectiveness against current and future threats," the letter states.
A spokesman for Rep. Wagner said her office has already received about two dozen signatures and was expecting even more by the close of business on Wednesday.
If the money isn't included in the budget, Boeing will have to decide whether to shut down the production line this year, according to the letter. Such a move would hurt the industrial base, leaving the Defense Department with only a single manufacturer of tactical aircraft, radar and engines, it states.
"This scenario limits warfighting surge capacity, eliminates competition that drives innovation and cost control, and imperils future development programs," it states.
The F/A-18 program is estimated to provide some $3 billion in annual economic impact, with 60,000 direct and indirect jobs and 800 suppliers and vendors, according to the letter.
Lockheed, the world's largest defense contractor, is already pushing back. The Bethesda, Md.-based company makes the F-35, the fifth-generation stealth fighter designed to replace not only the F/A-18, but also the F-16, A-10 and AV-8B.
The company's supporters, including Reps. Kay Granger, R-Texas, and John Larson, D-Conn., drafted another letter urging colleagues to support the Pentagon's request for $8.3 billion to buy 34 F-35s -- which they note is eight fewer than previously planned because of automatic budget cuts known as sequestration.
The Granger-Larson letter also points out that Russia is preparing to make its T-50 fighter available to the global market and the Chinese are investing heavily in the development of their own J-20 and J-31 fighters.
"These countries are also building and proliferating advanced surface-to-air missile systems that threaten to make our 4th Generation fighter fleet obsolete," it states. "These rapidly advancing threats around the globe make a strong case for increasing F-35 production, even in this resource constrained environment."
Watch for both sides to make similar arguments at the Navy League's Sea Air Space conference next week in National Harbor, Md.
Associate Editor Brendan McGarry can be reached at email@example.com.