Paris Air Show: New sting planned for Hornet
Boeing is looking to take its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block III, based on the heritage of a 1970s platform, decades into the future with a strategy to make it more easily upgraded and improve its operational envelope while it flies alongside the latest generation of stealthy F-35 fighter aircraft.
The US Navy (USN) has funding to procure aircraft in the FY17 budget and there is a programme of record for procurement in FY18 and beyond; while the company believes there are sales opportunities into the 2020s.
Additionally, the company is standing up a programme of record to extend the life of those aircraft already in service.
According to the company, the USN are ‘utilising or over-utilising the aircraft at a higher rate than they might have anticipated… So, we are extending the life of the airframes, currently rated at 6,000 hours to 9,000 hours’.
According to a company official there is a ‘robust set of upgrades for many years to come [and] the aircraft can provide low cost capability at $20,000 an hour which is significantly less compared to many others.’
‘We will be in the USN until the 2040s. The navy’s F-35 plan does not replace the Super Hornet and it will look like a roughly 50/50 fleet. We offer the end solution and if you are going to be in the aircraft for a long time you are going to need to buy aircraft and they have agreed to that.’
Two aircraft are being rolled off the line each month and that level of manufacture can be ramped up if required. The company is on contract for the 12 earmarked for FY16 and 14 in FY17 and numbers have not been finalised for FY18.
Kuwait is set to come online for 28 advanced Super Hornets but nothing has been signed yet as the foreign military sale request is still being processed.
Boeing has responded to Finland’s Request for Information for as many as 60 aircraft but the country may yet purchase aircraft as a ‘bridge buy’ to support aircraft already in service.
India is another sales opportunity but unusually will need to be launched off a ski jump and while this was possible with older Hornets this will need to be validated for the new version.
The company’s Super Hornet Block III is planned to go into production in FY19 with deliveries in 2020 and officials are arguing that the changes are a step change for the platform over early variants.
One example of this improvement is the active electronically scanned array APG-79 radar which can see twice as far as previous mechanical radars and in some situations three or four times as far, according to the company.
As well, high-definition displays provide pilots with a better understanding and imaging of the data collected.
The Block III aircraft is fitted with the distributed targeting processor – networked which sits outside operational fight programme (OFP).
‘The way we integrate it into the aircraft it sits outside the internal operating system,’ a company official said.
‘You’ve got an open architecture multi-level security computing system that is not tied to the software development cycle of the aircraft which is five years. If you are trying to put a new release onto the OFP at best case you are five years away getting it to the fleet and even further back with budgeting system and if the software tape is full it is even further back.
‘DTP-N is plug-and-play, it is an iPhone sitting outside the OFP. It is important for the Growler [based on the Hornet]. Think what the pilot is doing in a very dynamic environment, the pilot needs new sensors and new capability very rapidly. Someone designs a new weapon, you can plug it in and you are good to go.’