WASHINGTON — Boeing on Thursday made its first move to challenge the Danish government's recommendation of Lockheed Martin's F-35 over its own Super Hornet, submitting a "request for insight" that would require the country's defense ministry to provide all data related to the fighter jet's evaluation.
Denmark's defense ministry announced in May its recommendation of the F-35 joint strike fighter. The MoD ranked the joint strike fighter above the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in strategic, economic, industrial and military aspects, but Boeing has focused its criticism on the economic evaluation, which estimated that — over the lifecycle of the plane — 38 Super Hornets could cost as much as double that of 28 F-35As.
"As we said when the decision was announced, we believe the ministry's evaluation of the competitors was fundamentally flawed and inaccurately assessed the cost and capability of the F/A-18 Super Hornet," said Debbie Rub, vice president and general manager of Boeing's global strike division. "We're taking this step because there's too much at stake for Denmark and, potentially, other countries considering the Super Hornet."
Boeing submitted its request for insight Thursday afternoon, said company spokesman Andrew Lee. The Danish defense ministry now has seven days to supply all information related to the decision, which the company will use in any future legal challenge.
The Danish government currently plans to buy 27 F-35As to replace its current fleet of F-16s. Lockheed beat out both the Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon in the $3 billion competition.
Boeing has been public about its misgivings about the estimated procurement costs of the competitors put forward by Denmark. Those estimates set procurement of 28 F-35As at about $2.33 billion, or about $83 million per jet. The procurement costs of 38 Super Hornets, in contrast, was valued at about $4.65 billion, or about $122 million apiece.
Lee said Boeing also has concerns about the other three evaluation criteria, although he declined to elaborate.
"Because this is a legal challenge, we don’t want to share our concerns in those areas," he said.
In an emailed statement, Rub reiterated that Boeing believes the Danish government needs to take a second look at the Super Hornet.
"Denmark deserves to know beyond a shadow of doubt that a fair and transparent process was used to select the country’s future fighter fleet," Rub said in the statement. "Our action today underscores our belief that the Ministry’s evaluation of each of the four selection criteria fell short of these objectives and must be reviewed to the fullest extent allowed under Danish law."
Boeing’s concerns about the evaluation process extends beyond Denmark, however. Officials stressed that they also worry other countries considering a Super Hornet buy — namely Canada and Finland — could look at the data put forward by the Danish defense ministry and use it as evidence against a potential purchase. Those anxieties run particularly deep, as the company's F/A-18 production line has slowed down to two aircraft per month, with final deliveries in 2018.
"We don’t want misplaced assumptions that were made by the ministry of defense in Denmark to be out there unchallenged," a Boeing source said on background.
Even though it's very unlikely that Denmark will reverse its decision, Boeing would stand to gain from a reevaluation of the Super Hornet, said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group.
"Even if the company has a point, the customer will still find a different way to get where it already wants to go," he said in an email."I haven't seen the cost data, but Boeing is certainly right. The Danish numbers were quite surprising. So even if they can't get Denmark to reverse their decision, at least they can maybe get their aircraft vindicated. That may come in useful elsewhere, like in Canada."
In an emailed statement, Lockheed Martin said it remained confident that the F-35 was the best choice for Denmark's future fighter jet. "We will continue to support the post-decisional process and are now focused on executing the program, including industrial participation for Danish industry," the company said.