Boeing will cease production of F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets in 2025.

Boeing Defense & Space announced on February 23 that production of its flagship F/A-18 Super Hornet will likely end in 2025.

The line production near St. Louis could be extended for two more years if the company wins a tender in India. Improvements to already delivered Super Hornets will continue for several more years.

However, the end of the new production of what has been considered the most successful aircraft in naval aviation history is fast approaching. It is the first time that Boeing Defense & Space has offered a definitive timetable for the end of production, and it appears to reflect a change in company philosophy.

Typical behavior for veterans incumbent on big weapons programs is to squeeze as much money out of a program as possible, even if it means fighting the military client on Capitol Hill.

But Boeing is taking a different path with the Super Hornet. Rather than try to hang on, it will redeploy manpower to new opportunities, including the T-7 Red Hawk trainer and the MQ-25 Stingray unmanned refueling aircraft.

Boeing will cease production of F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets in 2025.
Boeing will cease production of F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets in 2025.

These programs are still in their childhood, and company executives believe they have vast sales potential beyond their Air Force and Navy baselines.

Boeing Defense is pursuing many other opportunities, some of them very secret. However, the company says it expects work at its facility near St. Louis to continue to focus primarily on the aircraft, including a potential sixth-generation successor to the F-35 fighter.

The St. Louis complex was the headquarters of the McDonnell Douglas Corporation, once the world’s largest producer of tactical aircraft, with which Boeing merged in 1997.

McDonnell Douglas engineers designed the Super Hornet as an evolved version of the original Hornet, but production of the aircraft did not begin until the same year that Boeing took over McDonnell.

The Navy subsequently funded an electronic warfare version of the Super Hornet, the EA-18G Growler, as it whittled down the aircraft types of its carrier air wings to a force dominated by airframes built in the city of St. Louis.

More than 2,000 Hornets, Super Hornets, and Growlers have been produced at the St. Louis plant, with exports to countries like Australia, Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain, and Switzerland.

St. Louis, where Boeing employs 15,000 people, has reached a tipping point with the end of new manufacturing.

The impact on hundreds of Super Hornet supply chain companies will be significant. However, it is not clear that the workforce at Boeing’s St. Louis facility will be greatly affected, as production of next-generation manned and unmanned aircraft is increasing.

The wings of Boeing’s 777X wide-body jet are also being built at the St. Louis plant, and an advanced version of the F-15 fighter known as the EX is being assembled. The company has an extensive research infrastructure and is investing $1 billion to build three new facilities for future testing and production.

Boeing Defense in St. Louis has been hiring new employees (900 in 2022 alone) and plans to keep doing so clearly indicates that the corporation sees a future beyond the Super Hornet. The presence of so many engineers indicates a focus on innovation within the organization.

The decision to release a timetable for the closure of the Super Hornet line may indicate the new mindset that Boeing Defense & Space CEO Ted Colbert has brought to the company.

Colbert, an engineer by trade, has been tasked by headquarters with rebuilding the company’s defense and space business, which has suffered significant revenue erosion in recent years due to the termination of legacy programs and the inability to get enough new awards.

Colbert needs to reverse that trend and has apparently decided that revitalizing St. Louis begins with accepting the inevitable and moving on to new opportunities.

So while giving up the new production Super Hornet is not a very happy moment for Boeing Defense & Space, being clear about the when and how of the change heralds a change in how the unit operates.