The first two operational Block III Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets have been delivered to the US Navy.
The first of a build run of 78 new aircraft, the jets were delivered to Naval Air Station (NAS) China Lake in California where they will undergo tactics development, and techniques and procedures for the Block III’s new capabilities.
The Block III features new advanced cockpit system with a 10×19 inch touchscreen display, the Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT), and Distributed Targeting Processor-Networked (DTP-N). The TTNT/DTP-N combination provides a core networking and processing capability similar to those of the F-22 and F-35, allowing the aircraft to seamlessly integrate with these aircraft and other current and future air and ship-borne sensors.
The RAAF has also ordered DTP-N kits for its 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets and 12 EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, but it yet to formalise any arrangements to upgrade these jets to a full Block III configuration.
There were also plans to integrate conformal fuel tanks (CFTs) on the aircraft’s upper fuselage but, despite offering about 20 per cent more range and freeing up wing stations for additional stores, the US Navy has elected not to proceed with the CFT option. The Block III upgrade also includes subtle radar cross section (RCS) improvements, and a strengthened structure to give a 10,000 hour service life.
“If you think about where the capabilities are going in the future, it’s certainly around the airframe, certainly around the survivability piece, stealth technology piece,” Boeing’s vice president of F/A-18 and EA-18G projects Jen Tebo told media on September 23. “But the meat and potatoes in the future are really going to be around the networking and the mission systems, and this sets up the Super Hornet to be the risk-reducer and the bridge to get to Next Gen Air Dominance.”
In a separate Boeing release, The US Navy’s F/A-18 and EA-18G program manager, Capt Jason Denney said, “The fleet needs capabilities to keep its edge. Getting the first operational Block III in our hands is a great step forward in supporting our capability and readiness goals.”
The US Navy is also planning to conduct a service life extension program (SLEP) of most of its current Block II Super Hornets, and this will include many of the Block III capability improvements and structural enhancements. Boeing will operate three lines at its St Louis facility – one for the new-build jets, and two for SLEP upgrade work.