Home » Aviation » Navy’s Planned 80 Super Hornet Buy Could Grow After New Pentagon Strategy Review

Navy’s Planned 80 Super Hornet Buy Could Grow After New Pentagon Strategy Review

An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the “Tomcatters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 31 launches from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77) on June 9, 2017. US Navy Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The total of 80 Super Hornets the Navy is set to buy over the next five years could grow based on the findings of the Pentagon’s ongoing and overarching national defense strategy review, acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told USNI News on Thursday following a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Earlier this week, naval aviation leaders confirmed that the service was set to buy 80 of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as part of a five-year $7.1 billion outlay.

This time last year the Department of the Navy was set to zero out the F/A-18E/F line as the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter was coming online and the service pursues the Next Generation Air Dominance replacement for the Super Hornets.

However, a combination of the intense operational use of current aircraft and unpleasant discoveries during the Navy’s service life extension program (SLEP) for the F/A-18 A-D Hornet program pushed the new buy, Stackley said.

“What we discovered was that they’re in worse shape than we had planned and estimated so we’re turning them faster was more of a challenge than we forecasted. We were discovering a lot more weren’t going to make it to the fleet. Some of these were just going to be attrited,” he said.
“So when we look ahead to the Super Hornet, we’re packing that planning up front and better so that we’re better positioned for the throughput but when you do the math in terms of how many Super Hornets will be out of reporting in the depots then we have to have some mitigator in terms of additional aircraft to meet our fleet replacement… If you do that math and all of the modeling assumptions and you add from what you learned off of the legacy F-18 SLEP program, we concluded that we needed about 80 additional aircraft to insure that we get through this period of time in better shape than what we’re experiencing now with the legacies.”

Richardson said the decision to plan for the additional aircraft instead of zeroing out the line was made also in part due to the ongoing demand for the aircraft in operational theaters — particular over Syria and Iraq as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

“It’s a very dynamic environment. Stuff happens and the world gets a vote and right now the Super Hornet is a very capable strike fighter aircraft and is doing great work for us right now,” Richardson said.
“We’re working with industry to see if we can modernize it some and make it even more capable so it can be the plane that mitigates these emerging types of world situations.”

The modernization effort, dubbed Block III, is set to be funded starting in FY 2018 as part of a $264.9 million over the next five years to improve the characteristics of the Super Hornet.

An artist’s concept of a F/A-18 E Advanced Super Hornet. Boeing Image

While Boeing has offered a variety of options for the Block III effort, USNI News understands the bulk of the money will be used to fund additional conformal fuel tanks. The tanks fit along the fuselage and can extend the range of a Super Hornet by 120 nautical miles, Boeing officials told USNI News in May.

That total of 80 Super Hornet fighters could grow yet again following the Secretary of Defense James Mattis led review of the national defense strategy that will inform the Fiscal Year 2019 budget and set the agenda for a Trump Administration Pentagon.

Earlier this week, when asked by SASC Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) the status of the strategy Mattis told McCain, “We’re working it.”

  • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0


    “How about we end this 15 years of incessant war cos it is flogging our fleet to death”.

    • Tony

      Sure, when the terrorists stop trying to kill us. Until then, we keep fighting. Unless of course you want to surrender.

      • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

        Surrender what & where Anthony?
        What part of sh*t-pile desert 8,000 miles from CONUS would the US be “surrendering”.

        But sure…, ride yourselves into the ground blowing up brown people half a world away….
        Do it forever…. that is the “strategy” after all!

        Your ‘permanent war’ seems to be a terrific strategy so far….. congrats!

        • 1coolguy

          If it was SOOO easy, Obama would have pulled us out in an instant. He got religion once he moved from the peanut gallery to the Oval Office.

    • E1-Kabong


      Get the folks who planned and financed the 9/11 attacks and everything since then.

      A couple of nukes should sort it out, once and for all.

  • RDF

    How strange and unexpected that a burner aircraft would get Block III design change of 271 million design cost? for conformal fuel tanks. Fighter guys. 271 million for sheetmetal, dzus fittings, and some plumbing. Good work If you can get it. Someone played golf with someone on this one.

    • 1coolguy

      They are rebuilding the planes interior frame structure (longerons & stringers) and upgrading electronics and comm. It’s an extensive rebuild and upgrade.

      • Curtis Conway

        Blk III is a bit more complex than represented above.

      • RDF

        The article said conformal tanks and these are Block III aircraft.

    • E1-Kabong

      How strange and not unexpected to see amateurs displaying how little they know.

      If it’s SO easy, then YOU go ahead and start up an aviation manufacturing company.

      • RDF

        You think 1/4 billion for design fabrication of conformal fuel tanks and plumbing is worth that. No materials. Just design.

        • E1-Kabong


          The Block III is a LOT more than just some CFT’s.

          A 30 second search would show you that….

          IRST pod
          IDECM Blk IV
          AESA radar
          Cockpit improvements
          Enhanced F414’s
          Avionics upgrades

          So, yes, a 1/4 billion isn’t far off.

          • RDF

            I don’t find all that. They are adding ability to carry and display irst POD data. POD is extra. They are adding bandwidth to do advanced data link xfer and receive. Ecm work is growler stuff. Nothing on easa or engine improvements. So, in the end I remain unconvinced. They are just feeding at the trough while the checkbook is open. 4th gen monies for frontline combat aircraft is a waste. Maintain 4th gen while 5th gen is deployed.

          • E1-Kabong


            “Ecm work is growler stuff.”?

            Yeah, NO.

            ALL fighters and bombers have ECM gear.
            Countermeasures, also.

            Do some research.

          • RDF

            I am an ex-naval Officer and understand avionics. And EW and ECM. just because you do not understand is no reason to be snarky.

          • E1 Kabong


            SURE you are….

            Clearly, you do NOT understand.

            Anyone who truly understands ECM and EW would know that ALL fighters and bombers have had ECM, RWR, chaff, flare, etc., for DECADES.

            Even transports and tankers have countermeasures and RWR…

            I’ll be nicer, when you’re smarter.

  • b2

    Any improvement in SuperHornet range/persistence performance would be welcome as long as it doesn’t exacerbate fatigue life issues. Particularly, when heavily loaded w/jet fuel conducting the organic overhead and recovery tanking missions that 25 of the 80 SuperHornets to be purchased will be doing every day, 24/7. War or no war.

    Really no easy way out of this “hole” except to “buy more SuperHornets”, as the F-35C offers zero relief for the daily carrier airplan, but the MQ-25, “A model” dedicated airwing tanker could offer some glimmer of “hope” for the future. However, when you read about how that program is constanly metamorphisizing/progressing one has to be wary, especially for the fact that the present CNO and the entire naval aviation leadership say they want it fielded 2019-2020. That depends entirely on how common sense a solution they come up with…

    • Blain Shinno

      Does the Navy want airframes – bomb trucks – or do they want a day 1 low observable strike aircraft? In a medium/high intensity conflict the Navy seems like they are perfectly willing to rely
      on the USAF down the door – establishing air dominance with F-22s and knocking out an adversary’s IADS.

  • @USS_Fallujah

    Once the O&M accounts are fully funded and the depots finally staffed/supplied we’ll quickly get a better idea of exactly how big the fighter gap is. I’d bet it’s a lot more than can be bridged with 80 airframes over 5 years so we’ll likely see that request number go up significantly. I’d say the over/under for new SH requests though FY22 is 150 and could easily top 200.

  • MaskOfZero

    Spending money on Super Hornets is unwise when the F 35 C is soon available with the final combat ready block 3F software.

    The F-35 C is leaps and bounds more capable than a Super Hornet, but I suppose they need to keep the production line open for insurance reasons.

    The cost of a fully loaded Super Hornet gets pretty close to the F 35 C price, still with less capability, and less room for upgrades over time.

    • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

      The Lightning is not replacing the Super Hornet!

      While the Rhinos fleet is being bled dry it needs to be replenished.

      • Blain Shinno

        If all the Rhinos were replaced by F-35Cs would that be a bad thing?

        • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

          For whatever reason the USN want to have 2 different strike fighters in its fleet.
          While the Lightning is objectively better, the Rhino is still good for a couple of decades left and has its own replacement programme in embryonic stage.

        • E1-Kabong

          How would you magically build all those F-35’s?


  • Blain Shinno

    It’s time to go all in on the F-35C and start brining down its fly away cost. Maybe the Navy wants to cede the capability for low observable strike to the USAF? The USAF gave up the procurement of new jets a number of years ago in order to prioritize the F-35. Fly away costs are dropping to under $100 million. Even with the current block of software and the limitations to the ALIS, the F-35 is far superior to any 4th generation fighter.

    If the Navy intends to ever deploy the F-35, they will be able to address the short fall quicker if they bit the bullet and start ramping up production. Any short terms disruptions to deployments could be alleviated by USMC fighter squadrons.

    • Curtis Conway

      When the testing is complete, and the combat system is mature Lockheed Martin will start cracking them out at one per day.

  • Curtis Conway

    The F/A-18F Blk III with its greater range, AESA radar, computer and data-link upgrades (probably including to some nifty engagement capability), and EA-18G wiring will add a lot to the US Navy Air Wings. The EA-18G Growler Squadrons will soon be filled, yet Electronic Attack is not a mission many of our Allies are willing to assume, except the Royal Australian Air Force. Additional EM energy from a platform that can double as CAP is quite a capability, and many nations need both, like Canada, and perhaps a NATO member. I suspect that there are more than 80 new Super Hornets in our (and others) future.

    Additional LHA-6 Large Deck Aviation Platforms employing greater numbers of F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, with its unique combat system capabilities, also adds advantage to the battle space. More LHA-6 Large Deck Aviation Platforms are needed to provide that greater population of F-35Bs. Greater number of USMC F-35Bs will be required if more LHA-6 Large Deck Aviation Platforms are built.

    A VSTOL/STOVL AEW&C aircraft is needed to complete the NIFC-CA equation for the fleet across all platforms with a flight deck. This will be the game changer that will keep the US Navy in the lead for the next two decades.

  • E1 Kabong

    SURE you do, boy….

  • E1 Kabong


    Yet, you had NO CLUE about fighters/bombers having ECM…

    Apparently, you believe Googling a few acronyms makes you an expert.

    It doesn’t.

    Your mom shouldn’t have been drinking while knocked up.

  • E1 Kabong


  • E1 Kabong

    SURE you did.

    Keep squirming, child…

    It’s always amusing to see you wannabe’s yap to someone who you know NOTHING about….

    How’s an ALE-47 loaded?

    You should have quit lying a while ago, boy.