(Adds details on separate helicopter program)
By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy’s fiscal 2016 budget plan would pay for 492 manned and unmanned aircraft, including 13 F-35 fighter jets built by Lockheed Martin Corp , but omits any funding for Boeing Co F/A-18 fighters or EA-18G electronic attack jets.
Last year, the Navy also omitted EA-18G jets, or Growlers, from its base budget request, but later told Congress on an “unfunded priority list” that it wanted $2.1 billion to buy 22 more of the planes, given the growing threat of electronic attacks.
Lawmakers ultimately funded 15 of them in the fiscal 2015 budget passed by Congress, which is expected to maintain Boeing’s production line for the jets in St. Louis through the end of 2017, pending a revised contract with the Navy.
It was not immediately clear if the Navy would submit such a request to Congress this year, but Boeing is expected to kick off a major lobbying effort to press for more orders, said Jim McAleese, a Virginia-based defense consultant.
Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney said during an earnings call last week that he expected continued demand for the F/A-18 and EA-18G planes, which are based on the same airframe.
“We’ve regained momentum on F-18s,” he said, citing a “good chance” that production could continue to the end of the decade.
Boeing spokeswoman Caroline Hutcheson said the company would keep pressing for continued production given its confidence that both models offered important capabilities to the U.S. military.
One defense official said it was not certain if the services would be allowed to submit unfunded “wish lists” to Congress this year, given that the administration is already asking for more funding than permitted under congressional budget caps.
A second official said the services would likely give lawmakers some form of the unfunded priorities lists, but it was unclear if they would be broad or more limited as they were during the tenure of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
The Navy’s budget plan also funds 29 MHR-60R helicopters in fiscal 2016, the final year of a multi-year procurement deal with United Technologies Corp’s Sikorsky Aircraft unit and Lockheed, which is a joint contract with the U.S. Army.
Last year, the Navy zeroed out funding for the helicopters to reflect the lack of money for the overhaul of an aircraft carrier that would carry them. This budget plan funds the carrier work and the aircraft. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal. Editing by Andre Grenon)