LONDON - Boeing officials say they can continue production of the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G through 2017 with only 12 of the aircraft suggested by Congress rather than at the roughly 24 they previously said were required to keep the St. Louis production line afloat.

The company is currently at a 48-per-year rate and already had plans to go to 36, and eventually 24, annually as a reflection of waning interest from customers in the Pentagon and globally. Work is slated through 2016 now, including what the president included in his fiscal 2015 budget proposal.

But Chris Chadwick, president of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, said he is studying options to rephase some of the existing U.S. Navy orders, delaying some deliveries, to allow for those 12 aircraft suggested by Congress for an add in fiscal 2015 to carry the line through 2017. The Navy included a request for 22 additional jets in its unfunded priorities list, prompting Congress to add them to the president’s budget.

He made his comments during a pre-Farnborough air show roundtable with reporters in London July 13. The Super Hornet is at the show this week and conducting flying displays.

Chadwick says he does not yet know how many aircraft the Navy could accept later than planned.

The goal is for Boeing to maintain its price on the F/A-18 Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler to bolster its case to compete against the significantly more expensive F-35B and C. The Super Hornet costs about $52 million with engines; the Growler is about $9 million more.

The latest F-35As are targeted at a cost of $98 million not including Pratt and Whitney’s F135 engine; Lockheed Martin officials are shooting for a per-unit cost with engines of less than $80 million in 2019 after making investments in production improvements and a ramp-up in the buy rate.

The company has done this previously for its C-17 production line. The company finally announced closure of that line last year after reducing its production rate slowly to keep pace with the dwindling market.

Meanwhile, Chadwick says he is eyeing customers for the 10 C-17 white tails in the Middle East and India. “It is just a matter of time” to get them sold, he said. “In the next six months, it ought to materialize pretty clearly.”