The first of the last

Boeing has delivered the first aircraft of its final batch of Super Hornets and Growlers -- unless something changes.

Three major defense programs or platforms — so far — have hit milestones this week on their way out of production or out of service:

Lockheed Martin’s final F-22 Raptor flew for the first time, Flight’s Steve Trimble and Dave Majumdar reported.

The Navy identified the first four of the seven cruisers it will decommission to save money, unless Rep. Buck McKeon can save them: They’re the USS Cowpens; USS Anzio; USS Vicksburg; and USS Port Royal, and they’ll all go away on March 31, 2013, according to a Navy administrative message.

And Boeing announced Thursday it has delivered the first aircraft of the final multi-year batch of F/A-18Es and Fs and E/A-18Gs — unless, of course, the Navy Department were to decide to buy more of them. Here’s what the company said:

Boeing has completed delivery of the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft acquired through the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G Multi-Year Procurement (MYP) III contract, ahead of schedule. Aircraft G-57, an EA-18G Growler, was the first of 148 F/A-18E/Fs and EA-18Gs that the Navy will purchase through the contract. The aircraft was delivered to the Navy on Jan. 26 and arrived at its home base at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island on Jan. 30.

On Sept. 28, 2010, the Navy awarded Boeing the MYP III contract for delivery of 66 F/A-18E/Fs and 58 EA-18Gs, to be purchased through 2013. The Navy has since expanded the contract with the addition of 24 F/A-18E/Fs. The Navy has the option to procure up to 194 F/A-18E/Fs and EA-18Gs under the MYP III contract terms.

It goes on:

Boeing delivered 210 Super Hornets to the Navy during MYP I, which spanned fiscal years 2000 through 2004. The company then received a second multi-year contract that included 213 F/A-18E/F and EA-18G aircraft, and spanned fiscal years 2005 through 2009. Through fiscal year 2009, 44 more aircraft were added to MYP II, including 24 F/A-18Fs acquired by the Royal Australian Air Force under a Foreign Military Sales agreement with the U.S. Navy.

Procuring aircraft through the first two multi-year contracts generated $1.7 billion in savings for the Navy. The MYP III contract is projected to generate more than $605 million in savings, for total savings of more than $2.3 billion across the three F/A-18E/F and EA-18G contracts.

The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a low observable, multirole aircraft that performs virtually every mission in the tactical spectrum, including air superiority, day/night strike with precision-guided weapons, fighter escort, close air support, suppression of enemy air defenses, maritime strike, reconnaissance, forward air control and tanker missions. Boeing has delivered more than 480 F/A-18E/Fs to the U.S. Navy. The F/A-18E/F has logged more than 166,000 combat flight hours supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Boeing EA-18G Growler is the only air combat platform that delivers full-spectrum airborne electronic attack capability along with the targeting and self-defense capabilities derived from the F/A-18E/F Block II Super Hornet. A derivative of the two-seat F/A-18F Block II, the EA-18G’s highly flexible design enables warfighters to operate either from the deck of an aircraft carrier or from land-based airfields. The EA-18G was a critical platform employed during NATO operations in Libya in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011. The EA-18G logged more than 7,000 combat flight hours supporting operations in Libya.

Not sure about the Super Hornet being “low observable,” but let’s leave that aside for now — did you catch the bit where it described the Navy’s “option” to increase its aircraft buy? That could mean the potential for a trickle of new airplanes beyond today’s projected end of production, so Growler G-57 might not be the first of the last after all.