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Role Of Military Planes Declines In Boeing's Defen

Mon Apr 07, 2008 12:59 pm

Seattle Times Aerospace Reporter Dominic Gates had an interesting front page article on the future role (or lack thereof) military aircraft has at Boeing.

Boeing once built massive fleets of World War II and Cold War military planes. But right now, the world's biggest airplane builder can't boast even a single prime contract to supply the U.S. military's next generation of fighters, bombers, tankers and transport planes.

Last month's loss of the Air Force tanker contract to Northrop Grumman and its European partner, if it stands, further weakens Boeing's already diminished role in producing future warplanes.

"The Boeing Co. morphed," said Wall Street analyst Joe Campbell of Lehman Brothers. On the defense side, building airplanes "is not even what they're known for anymore," he said.

In recent years, Boeing's defense unit has shifted focus from planes to big-ticket electronic-hardware systems: satellites, missile defense, networked warfare and border-surveillance projects.

It's no accident, however, that Boeing's military division — the 71,000-employee Integrated Defense Systems (IDS) — now doesn't have airplanes in its name.

IDS delivered just 84 airplanes last year, including 16 big C-17 transport airplanes and 44 fighter jets. Boeing's commercial side, by contrast, delivered 441 airplanes.

For the next generation of military planes, Boeing is the prime contractor on just one program: the Navy's P-8 submarine hunter.

But apart from that, Boeing's defense division could wind up more a parts maker than a plane maker.

Having lost the fighters and the tankers, what's the next big hope for IDS? In January, Boeing announced it will team with Lockheed to compete for the right to build the next-generation U.S. bomber for service around 2018.

Even if Boeing wins, that aircraft won't be based on a commercial plane.

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