F-18 E/F vs. F-35?

Aviation Week and Defense News, are buzzing this week about a suggestion made by Boeing to buy F-18 E/F Super Hornets instead of Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, and fly the Hornets while waiting for something better than the JSF.

It could be argued that this is just Boeing trying to steal business from their biggest rival in the lucrative fighter market: Lockheed. Although the Super Hornet lacks some of the stealth and proposed systems of the F-35, it has several strong points:

  • The F-18 E/F is a proven aircraft already in production/service
  • Australia already decided to do this, and several other countries are considering Super Hornet purchases in the near future
  • For all it's strengths, the F-35 will only slightly outperform the F-16 it's intended to replace and it probably can't fill the role of the A-10
  • The Super Hornet can perform about the same as the F-35 with some system upgrades
  • By at least one estimate, an F-35 costs at least twice as much as an F-18 E/F

Along with these facts is a very important one: production of the F-35 has already been delayed several years and things aren't getting much better. Boeing seems to be asking, "Why wait another 8+ years for initial operating capability when you can have the F-18 (A realistic and effective solution) now? In the meantime you can be working on the next generation of fighter aircraft."

If the F-22 is current generation what could be next? Well, the Air Force fielded the MQ-9 Reaper with little fanfare, but I think it suggests the direction that tactical fighter and attack aircraft are going. The rumors only involve the Navy buying more F-18's, but the Air Force could certainly consider them as well.

So, what do you think? Should the military wait years for a more expensive aircraft, or buy F-18's now? What would the F-35 bring to a fight 10 years from now that would make it so much better than the F-18? (And if there is anything, is it enough to justify waiting 10 years for an effective replacement?)