The Kuwaiti government is preparing to sign an $8.7 billion contract at the end of this month to buy 28 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft from Italy, the Italian Ministry of Defense said Wednesday. However, the deal is a huge blow to the Boeing-made F-18, which had been competing with the Eurofighter for the Kuwaiti contract so it could keep its St. Louis, Missouri, production line open until the turn of the decade.
With fewer domestic orders from the U.S. Navy, which is transitioning to instead using the new F-35 multirole fighter jet, Boeing had been aggressively pursuing new orders from abroad to secure jobs at the St. Louis plant. However Kuwaiti officials said they lost patience with waiting for the U.S. to make a decision on the contract.
"We were trying to acquire the F-18 Super Hornets and replace the existing fleet of F-18s with Super Hornets and Eurofighter Typhoons," said a senior Kuwaiti military official to Defense News. "However, we cannot wait for the American approval and need to update our Air Force now."
As with all foreign defense sales, Congress must approve them before any deal can be finalized. The process, which can take years in some cases, was criticized last week by U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who said the long bureaucratic process was losing the U.S. defense manufacturers' important business and forcing production plants to close.
The deal will also likely be a blow to Pentagon planners who wanted the St. Louis plant to remain open in case the F-35, which has been hit by serious manufacturing delays, is a failure and the U.S. Navy must make last minute orders of the F-18. The Kuwait deal meant that the plant remained open using foreign dollars rather than U.S. currency. Now the Department of Defense will have to make a tough decision about whether it will allow the plant to close or make enough orders that justifies Boeing keeping it open.
The deal represents a major piece of business for the company that overseas sales of the Eurofighter jet and opens up the reinvigorates opportunities in the Middle East where U.S.-built jets have been the import military aircrafts of choice. The Italian and Kuwait governments first signed a tentative deal in September 2015, which would have been scaled back if the Middle Eastern country’s Air Force chose to go with the F-18.