Stoking the Profit Fires

It was clear to defense manufacturers some time ago that some profit margins were shrinking.

Additional funding for these behemoths would have to come from alternative — and possibly creative — revenue streams. As companies have learned in myriad cost-overrun programs (the Navy’s littoral combat ship and the now-defunct presidential helo to name two), the money is in the technology more than the platform. Pile on the uber-techno gear (uncover those client unrealized needs!) and cha-ching!

Better yet, take an older, cost-stabilized platform, repackage it, and fill it with uber-techno toys, et voila! Cash cow.

Boeing seems to have done this (repeatedly) with its aging F-15. According to the company, the latest F-15 iteration, the F-15SE Silent Eagle is “designed to meet the future needs of international customers.” (Boeing forgot to add “…and line our pockets.”)

Mark Bass, F-15 program vice president for Boeing, said, “The innovative Silent Eagle is a balanced, affordable approach designed to meet future survivability needs.

Affordable. These birds come with a $100 million price tag, but feature a coating to shield it from enemy radar, “an internal weapon carriage, new avionics, and a V-tail.” (No Ginsu knives?) The company says it plans to hawk the updated bird to those who already buy the F-15 such as Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and South Korea. (We love seeing Arabs and Israelis buying the same gear.) Word has it Boeing is looking to sell around 200 of the Silent Eagles. The comparable U.S. plane is the Strike Eagle.

This is not Boeing’s first milking of this cow. In 1999, Boeing needed some cash. Greece was the target for a total of 60 aircraft.

This formula has worked for Boeing. The F-15 was produced by McDonnell Douglass and first delivered to the Air Force way back in 1974. The all weather F-15E flew on the scene in 1989. Upgrades have continued to the present and the Air Force plans to keep the F-15C and F15E around until after 2025.

A company has to remain relevant and profitable and Boeing seems to have capitalized off old platforms. How it will perform in the future is anyone’s guess.

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