Navy’s First Block III Super Hornet Squadron to Deploy in Late 2022
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — The first Block III F/A-18E/F Super Hornet strike fighters are planned for deployment in late 2022, Boeing officials said, while the first two test aircraft will be delivered next year.
Speaking to reporters May 23 in Arlington, Virginia, Dan Gillian, Boeing’s vice president of F/A-18 and EA-18 Programs for Strike, Surveillance and Mobility, said the last six Super Hornets in the fiscal 2019 procurement will be Block III versions. Subsequent production will be Block IIIs, and many Block IIs going through Service Life Modification (SLM) will be upgraded to Block IIIs.
The Block III features structural and mission system improvements that will increase range, improve situational awareness and increase net-enabled warfighting, making the Super Hornet more lethal and able to increase the lethality of other platforms in a carrier air wing and a carrier strike group.
The Block III will feature conformal fuel tanks, being built by Northrop Grumman, above each wing along the fuselage. Use of the tanks will free up wing hard points from external drop tanks for more ordnance and even allow removal of the two in-board hard points for reduced drag and, therefore, increased speed and range. Gilliam said the conformal tanks will add 100 to 120 nautical miles to the Super Hornet’s combat radius.
The Navy’s Preliminary Design Review for the conformal tanks is scheduled for next month.
The Block III also will bring lower radar signature to the aircraft, though not to the extent as does the F-35 Lightning II strike fighter.
The Block III’s Advanced Cockpit System (ACS) will feature a 10-inch by 19-inch color display that will enable the crew to gain greater situational awareness and tactical advantage.
“Think of this as an iPad for your airplane,” Gillian said of the display which will bring touchscreen control to the cockpit.
The first flight of the ACS is scheduled for next year.
The new mission system will include DTP-N (Distributed Tactical Picture – Network), which will have 17 times the computing capability of the Super Hornet’s current mission computer. Also included is TTNT (Tactical Targeting Network Technology), which allows a high throughput of data to other platforms in the network. Satellite communications also are added, enabling longer range communications.
Developed earlier than Block III is the Infrared Search and Track sensor mounted in the nose of a centerline external fuel tank. This passive sensor gives the Super Hornet the capability to detect enemy aircraft, include stealth aircraft. The new mission systems will be greatly enabled by the DTP-N.
The SLM program will bring high-time Super Hornets from 6,000-hour limits to 9,000 hours. Boeing will conduct the SLM in St. Louis and additionally in San Antonio. The Navy plans to put 116 Block II aircraft through SLM.
The first Super Hornet was inducted into SLM two weeks ago with the second due next month, Gillian said, and two more by the end of 2018.
“As we ramp up the SLM program, we’ll be delivering 30 to 40 9,000-hour airplanes off our lines in St. Louis and San Antonio at peak” Gillian said. “In 2022, we’ll start to convert Block IIs to Block IIIs.
“Block III comes online at the tail end of [fiscal] ’18, [production] in late 2020,” Gillian said. “In 2022, we’ll start to do the Block II to Block III conversions [of the SLM aircraft].
“Our requirement is to deliver one squadron of Block III Super Hornets to each carrier air wing by 2024, with a second squadron per carrier air wing by 2027,” he said. “The Navy’s future force structure has all Block III Super Hornets and F-35s.”
Boeing plans to build two Super Hornets per month through 2025.