Boeing Co expects a decision from a Middle East nation on whether to buy its F/A-18 fighter jet within months, the programme's top international sales executive said on Thursday. He declined to name the country involved but it is widely reported to be Kuwait, which is considering renewing its fleet.
Speaking in Belgium, where another fighter competition is on the horizon, Howard Berry expressed optimism that Boeing would capture enough domestic and foreign orders to avoid F/A-18 production being halted after 2017.
"I am in the midst of competitions around the globe in the international arena," Berry, vice president for international sales of the F/A-18, told reporters.
"We believe our Middle East customer is going to make a decision in the near term ... in the months ahead. Our Danish customer we also believe will be making a near-term decision."
Boeing is stepping up domestic lobbying to extend production beyond 2017 after the U.S. Navy asked Congress to fund 12 F/A-18s not included in the 2016 budget proposal. But it is also dependent on foreign orders.
Success in Kuwait and Denmark is seen as a potentially important step if Boeing is to keep the line open long enough to compete in countries like Belgium, which wants to renew its F-16 fleet from 2020 and where the Lockheed Martin F-35 enjoys some support.
Other European countries are looking at the F/A-18, Berry said. Canada and Malaysia are also in the market.
"I think right now many of us are bullish that we have a number of opportunities that will allow us to extend the line," he said.
However he reiterated that Boeing would make decisions on production by mid-year.
Berry said the F/A-18 was a low-risk option because it was combat-proven, available and affordable and brought none of the cost and schedule uncertainty of newer programmes, in a dig at the delayed and over-budget F-35.
Belgium's tender, expected in the autumn, may also attract other arms firms. France's Rafale team has opened an office in Brussels and the Eurofighter consortium is expected to soon.
Berry downplayed new export momentum for the Dassault-built Rafale, which recently won orders from Egypt and India after years of fruitless foreign sales campaigns.
Asked if that changed the balance of competition in Belgium, Berry said, "I am not so sure, every country is unique. From a Belgian campaign perspective it doesn't keep us up at night."