PARIS — Upgrades and maintenance on existing F/A-18 Super Hornets can help keep work going at Boeing's St. Louis facility, Boeing executives said Sunday, but the hunt for further sales of the jet continue.

This will allow Boeing to maintain a workforce capable of designing and producing fighter jets, Chris Raymond, vice president for business development and strategy of Boeing's defense, security and space business, told reporters during a briefing at the company's Paris office.

The fact that all four committees with jurisdiction over defense spending have included money for F-18s in their markups of the NDAA gives Boeing some confidence that there will be another tranche of F-18s added to the US Navy, Raymond said. The Navy has indicated support for adding 12 jets to the FY16 budget.

Boeing is also exploring international sales.

Additionally, modifications to F-15s to improve its ability to communicate with F-22s and F-35s in the air should also keep Boeing employees busy, he said.

"It gets back to: Do you have a healthy enough portfolio to where you're generating the kind of R&D, where if you chose to, you can spend some R&D to mature some technology you think will be relevant in the future, and also hold on to those critical design teams?" he said.

"You don't go in and out of the fighter business, so you need to keep a workforce that is experienced and knows how to build a complex, high-G fighter," added Jeff Kohler, vice president of international business development for Boeing's defense, security and space business.

There are currently 450 F-15s in circulation worldwide, and countries are beginning to request upgrades, Kohler said.

Raymond said he expects the Boeing-Lockheed Martin entry to be in the running for the contract for the Long Range Strike bomber, or LRS-B, program. The Pentagon has yet to announce a winner for the program, but the victor stands to benefit considerably, especially with a dearth of big-ticket programs in the offing.

"That's a program you want to win for a lot of reasons," he said, including stability for Boeing's expert workforce. "I don't think anybody wants to say their company is out of business the next day if you lose it, but obviously you want to win it."

If the Boeing-Lockheed Martin team loses the competition, it will not change Boeing's approach to merger and acquisitions, or force it to consolidate with another firm, particularly because the Pentagon is averse to mergers involving prime contractors, he said.

"Independent of that program outcome, we are always looking at the marketplace right now," he said. "I don't know that we've hit the point where there's not enough base that it spurs a lot of M&A, but we're not thinking about that because of the bomber program."

Raymond, who is seguing to another position at Boeing, heading up the electronic and information solutions of Boeing's network and space systems, pointed to space as another area where growth has created room for investment in research and development.

"2014 was a big year for us with NASA. We had the space station contract get renewed and extended, we had the SLS (Space Launch System) contract, got the commercial crew program there late in the year," he said. "So there is a good balance there, right now, of sustainment activity, and design and development activity that NASA's trying to do."

6/17/15: This story was edited to clarify the production situation with the F/A-18.

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