Boeing delivered the first of 78 contracted Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighters to the US Navy on Aug. 31, 2021. The new Super Hornets built was ferried to Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland, for continued developmental testing. The next few Block III jets to leave the production line will head to VX-9, at Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake, California, to start training for operational testing, during which the aircraft will undergo evaluation in scenarios that mimic operational missions. Block III gives the Navy the most networked and survivable F/A-18 built with a technology insertion plan that will outpace future threats.
“The fleet needs capabilities to keep its edge,” said Capt. Jason “Stuf” Denney, US Navy F/A-18 and EA-18G program manager, in a Boeing news release. “Getting the first operational Block III in our hands is a great step forward in supporting our capability and readiness goals.”
Block III’s new adjunct processor translates to a fighter that will do more work and in far less time increasing a pilot’s situational awareness. The jet is ready to receive apps-based solutions that will allow upgrades to the aircraft throughout its life span.
“We invested in Block III technology and developed the capabilities in partnership with the US Navy to meet its emerging requirements,” said Jen Tebo, Boeing vice president of F/A-18 and EA-18G programs. “The hardware upgrades are complete. Today we are maximizing the open hardware and software and developing the apps to keep Block III ahead of future threats. We are giving Navy pilots the tools to make the fastest and most informed decisions possible now and in the future.”
US Navy capabilities include the advanced cockpit system with a 10-inch-by-19-inch touch screen display, enhanced networking, open mission systems, reduced radar signature and a 10,000-hour airframe.
Since accepting delivery of Block III test jets last summer, VX-23 and VX-31, at NAWS China Lake, have put the latest configuration of the multi-mission strike fighter through its paces.
“The new aircraft has successfully completed Carrier Suitability Testing, and a comprehensive evaluation of the new Block III mission system components is now underway,” said Bob David, the F/A-18 & EA-18G Program Office’s (PMA-265) Assistant Program Manager for Test and Evaluation, in a NAVAIR news release.
VX-23 conducted shake, rattle and roll testing, which mimics the aircraft carrier environment to ensure the aircraft and each new system installed can withstand the intense forces of both a catapult-assisted launch and a ship-based arrested landing. The Block III test jet successfully completed this multi-test point challenge in January.
“Scrutinizing these new systems in a test environment ahead of fielding to our warfighter is very important and allows the Navy to make sure the delivered system meets the requirements provided to the manufacturing contractor and that our fleet is receiving an effective, interoperable and sustainable aircraft that will support the mission,” David explained.
The comprehensive testing conducted by the Navy, to date, provides a high level of risk reduction, allowing refinements to be made and integrated into the production jets’ hardware and software updates. Developmental and operational testing will continue through early summer next year.
Boeing will continue to deliver Block III capabilities to the Navy through the mid-2030s from three lines. One new build production, and two Service Life Modification lines extending the life and eventually upgrading Block II Super Hornets to Block III. The first aircraft delivered will complete the US Navy flight test program before deploying to a squadron.
Photo: The first operational Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet lifts off over Lambert International Airport in St. Louis. (Boeing Photo)
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