These Super Hornets will have enhanced network capability, conformal fuel tanks, an advanced cockpit system, signature improvements and an enhanced communication system once they are upgraded
On Mar. 1, 2018 Boeing has been awarded a contract to modernize the U.S. Navy F/A-18 fleet, extending the life of existing Super Hornets from 6,000 to 9,000+ flight hours. Furthermore starting in the next decade, the aerospace giant will also convert existing Block II Super Hornets to a new Block III configuration.
These jets will have enhanced network capability, more powerful engines, conformal fuel tanks, an advanced cockpit system, signature improvements and an enhanced communication system once they are upgraded.
According the company news release, the updates are expected to keep the F/A-18 in active service for decades to come.
However, as we have already explained unlike Boeing’s previous Advanced Super Hornet concept that was revealed in 2013, the new Block III aircraft is a more modest proposition that is designed to support the rest of the air wing including the Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter, Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and the EA-18G Growler under the service Naval Integrated Fire Control Counter Air construct (NIFC-CA).
Nevertheless the Block III takes the existing upgrade path for the Super Hornet—including biennial hardware and software upgrades—and expands upon those. Indeed, some of the existing planned upgrades to the jet’s powerful Raytheon AN/APG-79 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, AN/ALQ-214 Integrated Defensive Electronic Countermeasures (IDECM) Block IV suite and the Lockheed Martin AN/ASG-34 Infrared Search and Track pod—the IRST21 sensor—are part of the Block III package.
“The initial focus of this program will extend the life of the fleet from 6,000 to 9,000 flight hours,” said Mark Sears, SLM program director. “But SLM will expand to include Block II to Block III conversion, systems grooming and reset and O-level maintenance tasks designed to deliver a more maintainable aircraft with an extended life and more capability. Each of these jets will fly another 10 to 15 years, so making them next-generation aircraft is critical.”
The indefinite-delivery contract is for up to $73 million. Work begins in April on an initial lot of four aircraft at Boeing’s St. Louis production center. An additional production line will be established in San Antonio, Texas in 2019. Additional follow-on contracts could be awarded over the next 10 years.
The U.S. Navy fleet consists of 568 Super Hornets.
Photo credit: Boeing
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