Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Paper-Plane Battle Is `Pure Politics' F/a-18 Cuts Are Far in the Future and May Result in Some F-15 Orders

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Paper-Plane Battle Is `Pure Politics' F/a-18 Cuts Are Far in the Future and May Result in Some F-15 Orders

Article excerpt

For all the jobs and contract dollars involved, the McDonnell Douglas Corp. fighters the Pentagon wants to cut from its procurement plans are still just paper airplanes.

The 200-plus F/A-18 Super Hornets that Defense Secretary William Cohen wants to delete from the nation's fleet projections would not be built for more than a decade.

So much could change in that time that the losers in the Defense Department's latest review may eventually wind up winners. "These numbers are pure politics," said Paul Nisbet, who follows the aerospace industry for JSA Research Inc. in Newport, R.I. "They rarely have any bearing on the actual number of aircraft that will be built." The Air Force, for example, originally planned to buy 800 F-16 fighters. "The number today is in the thousands," Nisbet said. The Navy and Marine Corps hope to buy 1,000 Super Hornets at a cost of $42.2 million per plane in 1997 dollars. The total outlay, including research and development and other expenses, would be $62.4 billion. The Defense Department reportedly will recommend to President Bill Clinton and Congress that the United States buy no more than 785 Super Hornets. That recommendation, contained in a report to be submitted May 19, would cost McDonnell more than $9 billion in potential revenue. The company declined to discuss reports of Cohen's recommendations, saying it would wait until it sees the official results of the planning exercise, known as the quadrennial defense review. A cutback in the Super Hornet program would boost the per-plane price of the remaining jets, because some of McDonnell's costs would be spread over fewer aircraft, Nisbet said. The Defense Department would encounter the same unpleasant problem if it cuts its planned purchase of F-22 fighters by nearly 100, to 339, Nisbet said. The reduction in the number of aircraft, along with a slowdown in the production rate, could push the cost per jet above $100 million, Nisbet said. The current figure is $71.7 million. McDonnell stands to benefit from any reduction in the F-22 program because the Air Force probably would buy more F-15 Eagles to fill the gap. A trade publication, Inside the Pentagon, reported earlier this month that the Air Force wants a new single-seat version of the Eagle that is geared toward air-to-air combat. …

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