The Breakdown | Explaining Southern California's economy
Business & Economy

900 jobs in El Segundo at stake if Super Hornet fighter jet program ends

Two U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets of Strike Fighter Squadron 31 fly a combat patrol over Afghanistan, Dec. 15, 2008.
Two U.S. Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets of Strike Fighter Squadron 31 fly a combat patrol over Afghanistan, Dec. 15, 2008.
SSgt. Aaron Allmon/USAF

Listen to

Download this 1.0MB

President Obama's proposed budget did not include funding for more F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets. About 900 people work on the military airplane at a Northrop Grumman facility in El Segundo. 

Boeing is the prime contractor on the Super Hornet and the E/A-18 Growler, a version of the plane that specializes in electronic warfare.  Boeing assembles the final products in St. Louis, but Northrop's El-Segundo facility is responsible for building about 40% of each plane.  The 900 workers there represent roughly 5% of Northrop's workforce in Southern California

Robert Kleinhenz, Chief Economist with the LA County Economic Development Corporation said since the early 1990s, the Los Angeles area  has lost tens of thousands of aviation and aerospace jobs.  Despite that, he says, the industry is still robust in the region and big defense contractors like Northrop have many other projects in the region.

"So if one particular program is reduced in scope or if it's cut altogether, at least some of the personnel will likely be retained and shifted to other programs," Kleinhenz said. 

In addition to sub-contracting on the Super Hornet, Northrop Grumman employees in Southern California also work on F-35 Lightning II.   Northrop is also the prime contractor for the unmanned Global Hawk and Triton aircraft, and the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter. 

Analyst Richard Aboulafia with the Teal Group said the region's workforce is shifting from building airplanes to developing technologies like navigation systems.

"It's so much more important to be delivering high value electronics and components to the supply chain than it is to  try to come up with some concept for a new plane that might not have much of a chance on the market," Aboulafia said. 

In a statement, Boeing called the Super Hornet and Growler “the backbone of the Navy’s carrier air wings today” and vowed to fight for more funding as the budget process continues.

“Given the importance of maintaining a robust tactical naval aviation fleet, Boeing intends to work with the Congress to add such funding during Capitol Hill consideration of the FY15 budget,” the statement said. “If funding to extend production of those aircraft isn’t provided, unique industrial capabilities will be lost, and the U.S. will be solely dependent on one tactical aircraft manufacturer for years to come.”

The loss of "unique industrial capabilities" is an argument Boeing has made about another major aircraft the U.S. military stopped ordering :  the C-17 Globemaster, produced in Long Beach. Last September, Boeing announced it didn't have enough orders to keep production going  and therefore would shut down the Long Beach facility in 2015.  

As for the Super Hornet and Growler, Boeing has enough orders to keep production going until late 2016.