Boeing F-18 assembly line in St. Louis could close

ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)– The Boeing assembly line that produces F-18 fighter jets in St. Louis could close within 2 1/2 years, unless Boeing gets more orders for the super hornet jet.

Congress and the president are giving St. Louis a slim hope fighter jet production will continue.

The US Navy decided a few years ago to phase out its F-18’s on aircraft carriers in favor of the Lockheed-Martin F-35. The argument was the F-35 would be a stealthier, 21st century fighter. But with the F-35 behind schedule, over budget, and plagued with problems, congress and the president want the Navy to hedge its bets.

Since 1978, St. Louis workers have produced hundreds of variations of the F-18. In 36 years, no F-18 has ever been shot down in combat. But that production line shuts in 2016 without more orders. In the federal budget bill signed last week, congress and the president set aside $75 million, as a sort of down-payment on more F-18s. The budget bill requires the Navy to decide this year whether to order 22 more F-18’s.

The reason is that the Northrop-Grumman F-35 fighter, a stealthy fighter designed to replace the F-18, has turned into a major headache. It can’t fly in bad weather. The complicated camera system feeding displays in the pilot’s helmet has never worked. The F-35 joint strike fighter is no good as a fighter, outmaneuvered in tests by much older Russian and Chinese jets. In fact a new Pentagon report finds over 700 separate problems with the F-35, which has already cost $400 billion and could end up costing over a trillion.

And even though the Navy says it doesn’t want any more F-18’s, the new budget orders them to take another look, given the F-35’s mammoth problems. Will this be enough to save the St. Louis production line? Maybe, maybe not.

Both of Missouri’s senators okayed the extra money to study building more F-18’s. And some in congress want the F-35 program cancelled completely in favor of lots more F-18’s, until a new joint strike fighter can be designed. And the dogfight to determine the F-18’s fate will be in the halls of congress and the pentagon.