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F/A-18E Spiral Development

Spiral development is being invoked as the preferred current method of procuring weapon systems. Some of its distinguishing features, such as a cyclic approach for incrementally growing a system's degree of definition and implementation, can be found in the archives chronicling the Navy's development of the F/A-18 strike fighter, with particular attention to this aircraft's most recently enhanced variants-the singleseat F/A-18E and the dual-seat F/A-18F Super Hornets.

The phased, spiral approach of the Super Hornet's electronic warfare capability is designed to increase survivability in proportion to the evolving threat. Other systems and subsystems of the F/A-18A/B/C/D/E/F will be of equal interest to future spiral developers. The General Electric F400-GE-400 engine powered the original F/A-18 aircraft. On later model F/A-18C/D aircraft it was replaced by the F400-GE-402, the enhanced performance engine. Profiting from lessons learned in designing an engine for the A-12 program, General Electric developed a larger and even more powerful engine for the F/A-18E/F, the GE-414-400.

Block I

On 29 December 2003 the U.S. Navy awarded Boeing a multiyear procurement contract valued at $8.6 billion for the production of an additional 210 F/A-18 Super Hornets. Under the terms of the multiyear contract, the Navy will purchase 42 aircraft in each of the fiscal years 2005 through 2009. The agreement provides the Navy with the flexibility to increase the quantity of aircraft on order by as many as six aircraft per year. Deliveries for aircraft purchased in the second multiyear begin in fiscal year 2007.

F/A-18 E/F aircraft through Lot 25 are all Block 1 aircraft. One of the more interesting subsystems of the F/A-18E/F is its Integrated Defensive Electronic Countermeasures suite. An outgrowth of the countermeasure systems that evolved on the F/A-18A/B/C/D versions, it in turn will continue its spiral through a phased approach. Its Block 1 includes a proven jammer, the ALQ-165 - an operationally successful jammer incorporated in late model F/A-18C/D aircraft and now also included in the F/A-18C/D aircraft flying with the air forces of allied nations. Additional protection is provided by the ALE-50 towed decoy.

The improved LOT 25 Super Hornet had its first flight in August 2002, ahead of schedule, and with a long list of upgraded or new features. Thanks to the efforts of the Navy/Boeing Team the fleet has the foundation for significant warfighting improvements. F/A-18E/F aircrews will appreciate the new suite of state-of-the-art displays, but the biggest benefit to the fleet is the increased software and hardware capacity. These improvements will allow the Super Hornet to easily incorporate future warfighting improvements like the active electronically scanned array (AESA) and the advanced crew station (ACS). Thanks to higher order language (HOL) operational flight programs (OFPs) software upgrades can be incorporated with ease.

The delivery of the LOT 25 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet was two months ahead of production schedule in spite of the challenges the team had to overcome. Engineers had to coordinate five major computers, running in real time, as well as integrate and test a completely new set of pilot displays. The Advanced Mission Computers and Displays (AMC&D) replaced the Digital Mission Computer. With AMC&D came the Digital Expandable Color Display (DECD), which replaced the center display Multi Purpose Color Display. Other features include the Signal Data Computer (fuel system computer, an interface computer between several analog aircraft systems and the digital mission computer), the digital engine control computer, and the stores management computer upgrade.

The team made major use of commercial-off-the-shelf components and modules in the upgraded avionics. The hardware also includes a new one gigabit-per-second state-of-the-art high-speed serial interface between the mission computers. The team rewrote over two million words of legacy assembly language software code into the higher order C++ language and added necessary new capabilities in support of the new avionics. This required not only the normal testing for new systems but also a complete regression test of functionality in the aircraft.

The team surmounted a wide range of issues typical of a very large, integrated, real-time system - an incredible accomplishment to complete early. (This may well be a software industry first for a project of this size.) It took all members of the F/A-18 Team to deliver this result. The team included leadership from PMA265, PMA209, the Boeing production crew, Boeing suppliers, the China Lake/Boeing software team, and the China Lake and Patuxent River flight test teams.

Block II

Beginning with Lot 26 (FY03), production transitioned to Block 2 with a re-designed forward fuselage and provisions to incorporate Block 2 equipment including Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, Advanced Crew Station (ACS), 8x10 Display, Fiber Channel Network Switch, and Digital Video Map Computer. Advanced Mission Computers and Displays (AMC&D) upgrades the mission computers from an assembly language based system to an open architecture higher order language and were introduced beginning with Lot 25. In Block 2, the ALQ-165 will be replaced by the ALQ-214 radar frequency countermeasures system, a "techniques generator" that determines an appropriate signal to counter an attacking missile.

With AESA, the APG-79 radar, the Navy intends to enhance E/F capabilities in all warfare areas: aircraft lethality, survivability, and signature characteristics. Because of the potential significance of AESA, DOT&E placed it on oversight for both OT&E and LFT&E. AESA Milestone B occurred in February 2001. Milestone C was planned for December 2003 with operational evaluation (OPEVAL) beginning in February 2006 and an initial operating capability in FY07.

Advanced Targeting and Designation Forward-Looking Infrared System (ATFLIR) represents the latest generation of technology in infrared targeting capabilities, including Navigation Forward-Looking Infrared (NAVFLIR), laser spot tracker (LST), air-to-air laser ranging, electronic zoom, geographic-point targeting, and Electro-optics. It will combine the functions of three legacy pod systems (TFLIR, NAVFLIR, and LST) into one pod. This next-generation technology is designed to provide three fields of view, incorporate a larger detector array, and allow flight operations up to 50,000 feet altitude.

When the Super Hornets first came online, they were a game changer, with the Block IIs Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar as well as larger displays, upgraded sensors and avionics, and increased range and capability to employ an arsenal of precision weapons that delivered advanced lethality and mission flexibility for the service. The robust airframe was built with an open mission systems architecture, which has enabled easy integration of new weapons and technologies. The Block II Super Hornet serves as the Navys responsive aircraft, fully capable across the full mission spectrum which includes: air superiority, fighter escort, reconnaissance, aerial refueling, close air support, air defense suppression, and day/night precision strike. This aircraft has stood strong as the backbone of the Navys carrier air wing, and has proven itself repeatedly during numerous operations where it has been the preeminent platform performing multiple missions, sometimes rapidly reconfiguring on the fly. Even though it is substantially larger roughly 7,000 pounds heavier and a 50 percent higher range, the Super Hornet delivered with fewer parts and lower maintenance demands than its predecessor, the Hornet. The service took delivery of the final Block II Super Hornet, closing out a run of 322 one-seater F/A-18Es and 286 two-seated F/A-18Fs, on 17 April 2020.

Block III F/A-18XT Advanced Super Hornet

In January 2015 the F/A-18 Super Hornet infrared search and track (IRST) system, developed and integrated by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, received approval from the U.S. Navy to enter low-rate initial production. The IRST system consists of Lockheed Martins IRST21 sensor, the GE Aviation FPU-13 Fuel Tank Assembly and the Meggitt Defense Industry Environmental Control unit. The system demonstrated its production readiness through a series of extensive assessments and reviews, including flight tests.

This see first, strike first capability can be used in a variety of threat environments and is a game changer for our warfighters as we combat future adversaries, said U.S. Navy F/A-18 program manager Capt. Frank Morley. IRST was expected to deploy on the F/A-18 Super Hornet in 2017.

IRST21 is the next generation of Lockheed Martins legacy IRST sensor system, which accumulated more than 300,000 flight hours on the U.S. Navys F-14 and international F-15 platforms. The long-range IRST21 sensor uses infrared search and track technology to detect, track and enable the Super Hornet to engage threats with air-to-air weapons. Lockheed Martin and Boeing have proven the maturity of the IRST21 sensor and the IRST system and are poised to get this advanced capability out to the fleet to support Navy carrier strike group objectives, said Ken Fuhr, fixed wing program director at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.

In addition to detecting airborne threats, IRST significantly enhances multiple target resolution compared to radar, providing greater discrimination of threat formations at longer ranges. Data from the IRST21 sensor is fused with other on-board F/A-18 sensor data to provide maximum situational awareness to the warfighter.

In Block 3, the ALE-50 was replaced by the ALE-55 fiber-optic towed decoy. With this combination, the ALQ-214 will generate an optimal signal to counter the incoming threat, to be transmitted by the ALE-55 towed decoy.

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Page last modified: 01-07-2021 17:55:32 ZULU