U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) has indicated that it intends to modify another 45 Super Hornets to the Block III configuration.
Last month, Boeing was awarded a contract to modify four jets to the new configuration.
According Flight Global, NAVAIR says the potential contract will cover modifications to up to 15 aircraft in fiscal year 2019 and a maximum of 30 aircraft in FY2020. The modifications are designed to extend the fighter’s airframe life from 6,000-9,000h, adding up to 10 years of service.
Boeing will also convert existing Block II Super Hornets to a new Block III configuration starting in the early 2020s. 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.
These 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 Growlerunder 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.
Boeing plans to modify between eight and 12 aircraft at its St Louis, Missouri site this year, before opening a second modification line in San Antonio, Texas, in 2019.
Flight Fleets Analyzer shows the U.S. Navy has an active fleet of 541 F/A-18E/Fs. In addition to modifying its existing fleet, the ser.vice is buying 24 new Super Hornets for a sum of $1.8 billion in FY2018.
Photo credit: Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin V. Cunningham / U.S. Navy
Artwork courtesy of AircraftProfilePrints.com
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