A request in President Donald Trump’s new defense budget proposal could add 24 Super Hornets to the Navy’s air fleet and keep a Boeing plant in St. Louis alive, according to a report Thursday by Bloomberg News.
The defense budget proposal for fiscal year 2019 is expected to be formally released on Feb. 12. If confirmed, the request for more Super Hornets would be the largest addition since 2012 and would reverse the Obama administration’s decision to stop buying the aircraft.
The Trump administration has requested 14 Super Hornets, and House and Senate appropriators have proposed adding 10 more, according to Bloomberg. That total of 24 jets happens to be the key number needed to keep Boeing’s plant in St. Louis running.
The plant’s future was believed to be at risk after the Navy committed to adopting the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter to replace the F/A-18E/F Hornets.
The Hornets were originally set to retire by 2035, but the Navy was forced to reevaluate that date in 2015 due to persistent delays in the F-35’s development.
The Navy’s carrier version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is expected to reach initial operational capacity in 2018.
The F-35Cs are expected to reach initial operational capacity this year, but the Navy needs additional Hornets to fill its inventory shortage until more of the new jets are purchased.
The Navy has struggled recently with aviation readiness. As of last October, only one-third of the Navy’s Super Hornets were fully mission-capable and ready to fly.
The Super Hornet fleet is scheduled to begin service life extension maintenance this year, and the Navy may take advantage of the opportunity to upgrade the Hornets to the more advanced Block III configuration. The upgrades would give the Hornets conformal fuel tanks and add to their stealth capabilities.