RAAF to buy AN/ASG-34 IRST Pods for its F/A-18F Super Hornet Strike Fighters

Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation raises concerns over of the US Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet IRST Block II

By Dario Leone
Jan 26 2023
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The F/A-18 Super Hornet Infrared Search and Track (IRST) Block II operational testing is delayed until 2QFY24 due to hardware and software delivery delays.

The Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) has raised concerns with the operational testing schedule of the US Navy’s F/A-18 Infrared Search and Track (IRST) Block II program, Alert 5 first noted.

According to FY22 DOT&E Annual report ‘F/A-18 Infrared Search and Track (IRST) Block II operational testing is delayed until 2QFY24 due to hardware and software delivery delays.

‘To be operationally effective, the IRST Block II program needs to resolve several deficiencies existing from previous IRST versions, as well as those noticed during Block II developmental testing (DT) of prototype systems. Additionally, the Navy must improve the Super Hornet’s operating software and correct existing deficiencies to enable IRST to be an effective contributor to aircraft fi re control solutions. The IRST Block II prototype pod demonstrated tactically relevant detection ranges against operationally relevant targets during initial DT events. However, integration into the overall F/A-18E/F software solution must convert long-range target detections into stable system tracks to facilitate weapons employment. The ability of the Navy and the contractor to fi x the critical issues on schedule is the most significant performance risk to successful IOT&E.

‘IRST Block II prototype systems used in DT demonstrated reliability well below the Navy’s requirements. Additionally, the prototype systems do not possess fault detection and identification, which makes troubleshooting and fault correction verification detection difficult for maintainers and aircrew. The production representative versions of the system slated for use in IOT&E are delayed, which creates uncertainty for maintenance process maturity and reliability growth and could negatively affect suitability during IOT&E.’

FY22 DOT&E Annual report also provides recommendations to the US Navy to fix the F/A-18 Super Hornet IRST Block II problems:

VFA-103 F/A-18F print
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‘The Navy should:

‘1. Address the known IRST Block II and Super Hornet operating hardware and software deficiencies.

‘2. Continue to test unproven capabilities in developmental testing to prepare the system for IOT&E in order to adequately demonstrate operational effectiveness, suitability, and survivability.’

As already reported, Boeing and the US Navy flew an F/A-18 Super Hornet equipped with a Lockheed Martin AN/ASG-34 IRST Block II pod for the first time in late 2019.

The IRST Block II is a critical component of the Block III Super Hornet.

The IRST is a passive, long-range sensor incorporating infrared and other sensor technologies for highly accurate targeting.

The IRST Block II not only gives the F/A-18 improved optics and processing power, significantly improving pilot situational awareness of the entire battle space, but also gives Navy fighters extended range and increasing survivability. The IRST Block II technology will help the Navy maintain its advantage over potential adversaries for many years.

Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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