An F-15EX fighter jet taxis to its parking spot at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Nov. 8, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jaima Fogg)

WASHINGTON — Boeing has agreed to buy a St. Louis-area facility from GKN Aerospace that supplies critical parts for the Boeing F-15 and F/A-18 fighter jets, a lifeline for the aerospace giant’s fighter production that also ends contentious litigation between the two parties.

The transaction would see GKN’s F-15 and F/A-18 operations immediately transition to Boeing, according to a Boeing press release. Additionally, Boeing has agreed to hire 550 GKN employees, the bulk of GKN’s workforce at the site located in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, Mo.

“Boeing is growing across the region with a healthy backlog of current programs while also seeking future opportunities,” Steve Parker, senior vice president & chief operating officer of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said in the release. “This agreement allows us to not only deliver for our customers, but also gives the highly skilled GKN workforce the opportunity to bring their immense talents to bear in support of the warfighter and the St. Louis defense and aerospace industry. This is a win-win-win for those employees, Boeing, and the broader St. Louis community.”

GKN and its parent company, the British firm Melrose Industries, previously planned to shutter the Hazelwood facility by the end of the year, citing profitability woes. Boeing responded with a lawsuit in December 2022, arguing that GKN was violating an agreement to supply parts for the F-15 and F/A-18, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The agreement to buy the factory would end litigation between the two parties, according to a Boeing spokesperson. The spokesperson also told Breaking Defense that the facility employed roughly 600 people, some of whom retired or opted to seek work outside Boeing. While GKN supplies many of Boeing’s competitors in the defense world, the Hazelwood plant is a “Boeing only supplier” that supports F-15 and F/A-18, which will remain the focus of operations there, the spokesperson said.  

The Hazelwood factory’s closure could have threatened Boeing’s fighter programs, which are based in the St. Louis area. The F-15EX — Boeing’s newest variant of the F-15 fighter equipped with a modernized radar and new electronic warfare suite, among other features — is a key product for the company’s international business, particularly for customers like Israel that could buy up to 50 in a potential multibillion-dollar deal with the US. And, following a recent agreement with the US Navy, Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet line will now be extended until 2027

In a brief statement, GKN said that “Last year, the companies began discussing the potential to return the site to Boeing to avoid closure of the facility. A deal has now been completed and the site has returned to Boeing ownership. The sale secures the future of the facility for the employees and we wish everyone at St. Louis very well for the future.”

The factory’s acquisition by Boeing actually brings it back under the planemaker’s ownership, as Boeing had spun off the facility to GKN in 2001. It’s also the second time in recent months that Boeing has moved to buy a struggling supplier that it used to own, following the company’s recent announcement that it would seek to acquire aerostructures maker Spirit Aerosystems. 

The two moves could help Boeing stabilize some operations at its defense business as the company toils to get fixed-price development programs on track. Boeing, which reported its first quarter earnings for 2024 on Wednesday, turned a $151 million profit in the quarter while incurring $222 million in losses between the KC-46A tanker and T-7A trainer programs.

Despite wrestling with a new safety crisis on its commercial side that has upended the company, and a loss this week on a high-profile Air Force drone contract, the planemaker is still pressing ahead with a planned multibillion-dollar expansion of its St. Louis area operations as it eyes more next-gen aircraft opportunities.