A row of models at Boeing's booth at the 2023 Dubai Air Show.

A row of models at Boeing's booth at the 2023 Dubai Air Show. Dubai Air Show

Boeing aims to 'stabilize’ defense business as it pitches Mideast countries

New commercial sales and a NATO purchase cheer company officials after a downbeat earnings call.

DUBAI, UAE—Boeing had a good week. It needed one. 

The Dubai Air Show opened with a whopping win for the company’s commercial business: a $52 billion purchase of widebody airliners from Emirates, followed by other orders, including a rebuy of 737 Maxes by Ethiopian Airlines. And on the defense side, NATO announced yesterday that it would buy six Boeing surveillance aircraft, the E-7 Wedgetail, marking another international win for the program.

That all came just weeks after the company told investors that its defense business was proving harder to turn around than expected amid high-profile program delays and losses on fixed-price contracts. 

At the air show, Boeing is showing “what we've done, what we're doing better, and how we get those capabilities that our customers need on time and at the right price,” said Vince Logsdon, VP of global business development at Boeing Defense, Space, & Security. 

“What we want to do is execute on the programs that we currently are working on, and then that execution helps us to continue to try to sell our products and our capabilities to all of our partners,” Logsdon told Defense One on the sidelines of the show. “Stabilizing the business and executing on the current programs is really paramount.”  

Aiming to boost its revenue in the Middle East, Boeing showed off a host of aircraft at the air show’s static park: the KC-46A tanker, F-15EX fighter, T-7A pilot training system, and the CH-47 Chinook and AH-64 Apache helicopters. 

The KC-46 is Boeing’s attempt to capitalize on “significant interest in more tanking capability” in the region, Logsdon said. 

Boeing is still fixing problems with the tanker, which entered service with the U.S. Air Force four years ago. Two of the program’s six “Category One deficiencies” involve the plane’s Remote Vision System, which allows the boom operator to see the boom through a video feed. The Pentagon labels something as “category one” if it could crash or damage the aircraft, kill its aircrew, or cause some other problems. 

Logsdon said these problems aren’t dampening global interest in the tanker. 

“We're working through those things. Any new aircraft is going to have some glitchy type of things, but we're working through those and we're being very open and honest with our customers and our potential customers on what those are,” he said.  

But before Boeing could sell new tankers to Mideast countries, it would likely compete against Airbus’ A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport, or MRTT. The company will also be up against Airbus in a competition to provide the U.S. Air Force with its next tranche of tankers after Lockheed Martin dropped out of its partnership with Airbus to build tankers for the service. 

“We continue to market and we continue to talk about the wonderful tanker the KC-46 is. We're not necessarily driven by the competition. We're driving our wonderful capability,” Logsdon said of the U.S. competition.  

Boeing is also pushing Mideast countries to place new orders for its F-15 fighter, which is flown by Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Qatar. At the air show, the Qatar version, the F-15QA Advanced Eagle, made its official public debut during a flying demonstration. 

“We wanted to get the airplane out here so that our international partners can see this is not your grandfather's F-15 and really showcasing because we're seeing a lot of international interest in that airframe,” Logsdon said. 

Longtime F-15 customer Israel has expressed interest in buying the F-15EX for years. Those discussions have slowed since Hamas’ October attack and Israel’s retaliation; Boeing is giving the country “space,” Rob Novotny, the company’s director of F-15 business development, told Defense One. “There is a lot of deference right now to Israel given the situation.”

The company also advertised its new T-7A Red Hawk trainer at the show, which Boeing hopes will garner customers from the Middle East “soon,” said Donn Yates, Boeing’s executive director of Air Force fighter and trainer programs. 

Looking beyond the Middle East, Logsdon said European countries are interested in new aircraft as well as modernizing the equipment they have. NATO allies agreed this summer to raise their goal for military spending to 2 percent of national GDP. “Not only are they reaching that 2 percent, but we have other countries doubling that, and some going even further,” Logsdon said. 

As global demand for munitions rises, the company’s small-diameter bombs have been sent to both Ukraine and Israel. But the Air Force has a healthy stockpile of these weapons, and the two countries likely won’t need to compete for these weapons. 

Boeing hasn’t decided if it's going to increase production of these bombs, Logsdon said. 

“It's difficult with weapons when you're looking at scaling up production, because at some point, you may have to scale back down and so that's a lot harder to do and to try to make a business case for that. What we look for on munitions and munition production is to have a definitive need, that's specified by these different countries, right? So we need that piece of paper that says, ‘This is what we're going to do,’ if we're going to scale up our production. Otherwise, you're always chasing the need and that's difficult as a business case to do that,” he said.