Boeing Steals Lockheed's Thunder (Er, Lightning)

To hear Defense Secretary Gates tell it, pretty soon the United States is going to have an all-Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) Air Force. More particularly, an Air Force fielding multiple variants of the Lockheed F-35 Lightning II fighter jet -- and precious little else.

But not if Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) has anything to say about it.

Dogfight over America
Boeing, as you know, is the contractor bleeding the most from the defense cuts that Gates proposed last month. Yet (at the risk of mixing some metaphors) Boeing's showing that this old dog still has a few tricks up its sleeve.

For instance, the F-35 might be a great plane and all, but it's going to be quite a while before we've built enough of them to patrol across the globe. In the meantime, aircraft carrier decks are gonna look as empty as a General Motors Hummer showroom -- unless we find a stopgap while waiting for the new F-35s to land.

Enter Boeing and its F/A-18 Hornet. According to Boeing, both the U.S. Navy and several foreign nations urgently needed to replace aging fighters. They cannot wait for Lockheed to ramp up F-35 production. Solution: Secretary of the Navy nominee Ray Mabus called last week for the purchase of 89 new F/A-18 fighter jets (and EA-18 Growlers) over the next three years.

Boeing hopes this total will increase even further, and the Navy captain acting as the F/A-18 program manager praised Boeing in a recent Reuters article for delivering F/A-18s "on cost and ahead of schedule," which suggests this hope has some basis. Meanwhile, Boeing hopes to make additional F/A-18 sales abroad, as India, Greece, Denmark, Brazil, Canada, Japan, and Kuwait all consider buying the plane.

If Boeing succeeds, Lockheed could wake up one day to find that the trillion dollars in F-35 revenues it expected to reap over the next few decades aren't there anymore -- that they've already been spent buying Boeing toys. Bad news for Lockheed. Grand news for Boeing and key subcontractors like General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) (NYSE: GE  ) and Raytheon (NYSE: RTN  ) .

In further bullish Boeing news ...
Nor is Lockheed the only victim of Boeing poaching. Remember how Boeing was horning in on EADS' military transport market in Europe last year? Well, that too was confirmed yesterday. Boeing now has the green light to build the two C-17s in question for this "government-to-government sale." Total take: About $400 million.

Gates is putting the kibosh on further C-17 purchases by the U.S., of course. But who knows? If international sales can extend the F/A-18's lifespan, I'll bet they can do the same for the C-17.

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Fool contributor Rich Smith owns shares of Boeing. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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