The US Navy's latest Super Hornet contract is on hold due to rising costs.

Negotiations over the Navy’s latest batch of Super Hornets have stalled due to the rising price of the fourth-generation aircraft, USNI News has learned.

The contract for the Navy to buy the last 20 F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets from Boeing is deadlocked.

«The Navy continues to work with Boeing on the contract for the 20 Super Hornet aircraft added by Congress. “Ongoing negotiations cannot be discussed at this time,” Capt. Michael Burks, program manager for the F/A-18 and EA-18G office at Naval Air Systems Command, said in a statement.

In previous fiscal years, Congress approved and authorized about $1.15 billion, which, with the Navy’s estimate of $55.7 million per plan, means the service could purchase 20 Super Hornets.

“We are committed to ensuring warfighter readiness and supporting our US Navy customers. “We continue to work with the US Navy on a path forward,” a Boeing spokesperson said in an email.

But Boeing’s estimate for the Super Hornets has become more expensive, with the price approaching the cost of an F-35C, USNI News understands. In the latest contract for lots 15 to 17 with Lockheed Martin, the cost of an F-35C is about $102.1 million, Breaking Defense reported earlier this year.

Several years ago, the Navy sought to end the Super Hornet line early so that funding could be used to develop the Next Generation Air Dominance Program and other aviation needs. But Congress, concerned about previous problems with the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter Program, added more Super Hornets in both fiscal year 2022 and fiscal year 2023.

«That contract was for 20 aircraft. There are not going to be 20 airplanes because it has taken us a long time to reach a final determination on that contract. The dollar number won’t be that big, but those plans have to be built,” Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), vice chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee, said earlier this month. Air and ground tactical forces at the Defense Forum of the US Naval Institute in Washington.

The deadlock in negotiations comes at a time of difficulty for Boeing’s defense business. Defense sector losses in 2023 were higher than any other year between 2014 and 2021, Reuters reported in October.

In an interview this week, Wittman said that although the Navy and Boeing have made progress in negotiations on the technical data package, the high cost of the plane remains an issue.

«We know that throughout that period, there have been inflationary pressures. We’ve seen it all over the Pentagon. So that brings us to the point of a figure that would be less than 20 in the final purchase agreement,” Wittman said.

“The longer it goes on, the more problematic I think the situation will be,” he said of the negotiations.

The goal was for the additional 20 Super Hornets — 12 acquired in fiscal 2022 and eight in fiscal 2023 — to be delivered by the 2025 deadline, but due to ongoing contract negotiations, Wittman said that likely won’t be possible.

A few years ago, Navy officials questioned the viability of the Super Hornets and whether their aging airframe could withstand future threats until the 2050s when newer jets would still be flying.

The fourth-generation Super Hornets are based on the design of the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet of the 1970s. When the Navy tried to end the Super Hornet line after fiscal year 2021, lawmakers saw a hot production line.

If the Navy wants to buy F-35Cs instead of the Super Hornets, the service would have to ask Congress to reprogram the money, Wittman said. Lawmakers added the Super Hornets because the F-35Cs weren’t being built fast enough at the time, but Wittman acknowledged that circumstances may have changed.

«We are not going to start it on our own. The reason Congress did the 20 was as a gap measure to make sure that we had these aircraft to keep these air wings fully operationally capable,” Wittman said.

Mallory Shelbourne