LONDON — Although it has been years since Boeing was selected to create an entirely new fighter jet for the Air Force, the head of the company’s defense unit said the company shouldn’t be underestimated.
“Fighters are an important business to the Boeing Company,” Ted Colbert, chief executive officer of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, told reporters during a roundtable discussion in London July 17. “We haven’t given up the fight in that space. We are continuing to invest in it.”
The only new fighters Boeing is now producing for the Air Force are the F-15EX, an upgraded and modernized version of the fourth-generation F-15E. The first models of F-15s began flying in the mid-1970s.
Boeing is also working on the Air Force’s new trainer, the T-7A Red Hawk, and us delivering KC-46A Pegasus tankers to the Air Force. It also makes the Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter, among other aircraft.
The Air Force’s most recent fighter, the F-35, is primarily built by Lockheed Martin. Northrop Grumman is building the Air Force’s next bomber, the B-21 Raider.
The Air Force is working on a new highly-classified, sixth-generation system called Next Generation Air Dominance, about which few details — including which companies could build it — are publicly known. Kendall said in June NGAD has entered its engineering and manufacturing development phase.
Colbert would not comment on whether Boeing is active in any classified fighter-related programs.
He said Boeing’s Phantom Works organization is working on the future of fighters, including investing in facilities, people, technology and techniques such as model-based engineering.
Breaking Defense reported on July 15 that Steve Parker, vice president and general manager of bombers and fighters for Boeing’s defense unit, said at the Royal International Air Tattoo in England the contract for the next two lots of F-15EXs would likely meet, or even come in below, the expected $80 million price, despite ongoing problems with supply chains and inflation that have recently driven up prices in the defense industry.
Asked whether prices could similarly stay steady for other Boeing programs, Colbert said wage escalation, supply chain issues and other challenges are pressuring companies across the defense industry. And, he said, Boeing needs to keep lines of communication open with the military so it knows how the company is being affected by these issues.
“My intent right now is to work with our government customers, have a discussion around the realities of the environment we’re in,” Colbert said. “And when that changes, it changes and we go through a process to do that. And we’ve got to set ourselves up for the ability to get the work done and invest in the future.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.