Boeing delivers the first Super Hornet Block IIIs to the US Navy

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Navy this month accepted Boeing’s first two Block III F / A-18 Super Hornet jets, the company said on September 27, kicking off a process that will create a better-connected, more lethal fighter fleet.

Boeing will build 78 new aircraft in total in the Block III configuration, which includes an advanced cockpit system built around a touchscreen; Tactical Targeting Network Technology, or TTNT; and Distributed Targeting Processor-Networked, or DTP-N.

The network will help link all aircraft and ship sensors in the battlespace to create a better operational picture for smarter targeting decisions, and the new processor has 17 times the computing power of the valuable mission computer, Jen Tebo, Boeing’s vice president of F / A-18 and EA-18G, told reporters on September 23. Tebo added that the new open-design processor can support future upgrades and capabilities.

The Block III jets are also built for 10,000 flight hours compared to 6,000 hours for previous jets, and they’ve been made more stealthy and tougher with additional treatments that reduce their radar cross section, Tebo explained.

“If you think about the future of capabilities, it’s definitely around the airframe, certainly around survivability, stealth technology. But the meat and potatoes in the future will really be around the network and mission systems, and that sets up the Super Hornet to be the risk reducer and the bridge to get to Next Gen Air Dominance, ”he said. she said, referring to the upcoming Navy fighter program which is in the early stages of planning.

Boeing is scheduled to deliver the new aircraft at a rate of about two per month.

At the same time, the Navy is putting its Block II Super Hornets through a life extension program, and all planes undergo these upgrades – intended to repair airframe wear and extend jets by 6 000 to 10 000 flight hours. – will receive upgrades to the Block III configuration. Tebo said if the Navy put all of its Block II planes under the modification program, the service would have more than 500 total Block III planes – new and improved – which would continue to infiltrate the fleet into the 2030s. .

Boeing delivered two test planes to the Navy last year, and the service tested the new systems and performed carrier suitability tests with the new cockpit, said Kevin McLaughlin, director of programs for Tactical aircraft of the Navy at Boeing. With the delivery of these first two operational Block III jets, the Navy can send them to China Lake, Calif., To develop tactics, techniques and procedures for the new capabilities, which will allow pilots to receive more information than before and to work in coordination with more troops in the region.

Additionally, he said, pilots from the first operational squadron to receive Block III jets will travel to St. Louis, Missouri this fall to begin learning the new systems in the simulators at Boeing’s facilities there. .

McLaughlin, himself a career Navy F-18 pilot, said the touchscreen cockpit system would be a particularly big improvement. Older jets have three small screens, each showing only certain information; the new cockpit has a large touchscreen that can be configured like the previous screen, so pilots are more comfortable at first looking at a familiar screen, but they can also be reconfigured to highlight the most relevant information. most important for a particular mission.

Tebo said the screen will incorporate future capabilities such as artificial intelligence and decision aids. Previously, the Super Hornets received upgrades roughly every two years, but the open mission system on Block III will allow the Navy, Boeing or a third party to develop upgrades or new capabilities.

By the end of the year, Tebo said, the Navy will have started sending jets off the production line to operational squadrons.

The Block III jets will be ready to accept the infrared detection and tracking detection system that will go online around the same time the aircraft is ready for its first operational job. The jets will also be ready to accept a compliant fuel tank – which Boeing originally introduced as part of the Block III design – if the Navy decides to complete the tank design and purchase that capacity, Tebo said.

Boeing’s approach to modernizing the Navy’s fleet increases jet capacity while reducing risk in the next stage of modernization, Tebo added.

The EA-18G Growler electronic attack jet is undergoing a modernization effort that adds TTNT, DTP-N, and satellite communication, she said. Boeing will use these same upgrade kits and use them for the Super Hornet life modification as well as the Block III upgrade effort, adding the advanced cockpit and materials needed to expand the airframe. 4000 hours. Once this effort is proven, the Growlers will receive upgrades to a Block II configuration with the advanced cockpit, which Tebo said Boeing will be able to install effectively through Super Hornet work.

“There’s a lot of learning going on between the two platforms,” she said, all of the learning ultimately informing the company’s work on the upcoming next-generation fighter Air Dominance.

During the same event, Tebo also addressed the overseas sales opportunities that Boeing is pursuing. Switzerland chose the F-35 over the F-18 earlier this year, she said, but the company is still hopeful that Canada or Finland will select the Super Hornet.

Canada, which reportedly buys 88 jets, is a partner nation of the F-35, but it is already commissioning Super Hornets and is involved in the industrial base of the F-18.

Along with Finland, the Growler is also part of Boeing’s offering, and Tebo said the EA-18G could be the differentiator that helps the company win a contract.

Additionally, Germany plans to purchase Super Hornets and Growlers to replace its aging Tornado fighter-bombers as well as to upgrade its multirole Eurofighters, but Tebo said the timing was unclear. Boeing is continuing talks with Germany until the country’s leaders are ready to sign a deal.

Megan Eckstein is the naval war reporter for Defense News. She has been covering military news since 2009, focusing on US Navy and Marine Corps operations, procurement programs, and budgets. She has reported on four geographic fleets and is happiest reporting stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumnus.

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