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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.

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. Block II production incorporated the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, improved sensors and avionics, increased range, and capability to employ an arsenal of precision weapons. F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block II hardware includes the APG-79 radar (Lots 26+), Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infrared pod, Multifunctional Information Distribution System for Link 16 tactical datalink connectivity, Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System, and IDECM. The software enables the F/A-18E/F to perform single-pass multiple targeting for GPS-guided weapons, and allows for the use of off-board target designation, improved datalink for target coordination precision, and the implementation of air-to-ground target aim points.

F/A-18E/F (production Lot 25+) Block 2 aircraft use high-order language software. The Navy completed operational testing of SCS H14 in January 2020, SCS H14+ in 1QFY21, and planned to begin operational testing of SCS H16 for Block II aircraft in early 2021. SCS H16 for F/A-18E/F Block II will introduce the following capability upgrades and enhancements: AESA electronic protection improvements, NIFC improvements, NEW improvements, IRST Block II integration, IDECM improvements, and mission planning improvements. The Navy plans for the same capabilities, as well as an Advanced Network, to be included in Block III SCS H16.

F/A-18 E/F Block II Super Hornet, in service since 2001, incorporated a number of capabilities-enhancing technologies over the course of the last 20 years, the Block II iteration has earned a reputation as the backbone of the Navy’s carrier air wing and a workhorse within the fleet. The final F/A-18E/F Block II production aircraft was delivered to the Service in April 2020. DOT&E approved the F/A-18E/F SCS H14 TEMP on February 1, 2019. The Navy operationally tested SCS H14 in accordance with the DOT&E-approved TEMP, completing in January 2020. DOT&E approved the SCS H14+ test plan in June 2020. H14+ testing was executed in accordance with the test plan in August 2020.

Developmental challenges resulted in the Navy delaying the start of operational testing of System Configuration Set [SCS] H16 for Block II aircraft from September 2020 to January 2021; however, integrated testing began 1QFY21. DOT&E approved the Block II SCS H16 TEMP and test plan in 1QFY21, and the Navy planned to conduct an Operational Test Readiness Review in 2QFY21. Fleet release of SCS H16 was anticipated 4QFY21. SCS H16 will introduce the following capability upgrades and enhancements: AESA electronic protection improvements, NIFC improvements, net-enabled weapons (NEW) improvements, Infrared Search and Track (IRST) Block II integration, Integrated Defensive Countermeasures (IDECM) suite improvements, and mission planning improvements.

DOT&E completed its assessment of SCS H14 operational testing and published a classified operational test report in June 2020. Analysis validated SCS H14 improvements to the F/A-18E/F’s operational capability. The AESA radar did not meet reliability requirements. The Navy’s data were not sufficient to assess F/A-18 E/F performance. The Service operational test agencies needed to fully embrace existing data collection and analysis techniques to adequately account for emerging threat impacts on the rapidly evolving operational environment. The Navy planned for the requirement to conduct an end-to-end, multiple AIM-120 missile test to demonstrate the AESA radar’s ability to support this required capability; however, resource limitations precluded execution.

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 Martin’s 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 Martin’s legacy IRST sensor system, which accumulated more than 300,000 flight hours on the U.S. Navy’s 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.

There are a number of enhancements to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet that will sustain its lethality well into the 21st-century. Upgrades include critical growth capability, enhanced survivability, and the ability to land on carriers with a greater quantity of unexpended ordnance without exceeding maximum landing weight.

The latest iteration, Block III, brings several new capabilities to the fleet and enables the F/A-18 to remain the backbone of carrier-based aviation power projection. Improvements that make Block III the most lethal and survivable F/A-18 in operation include increased service life of 10,000 flight hours and reduced radar signature, accompanied by a new avionics suite that brings the Common Tactical Picture into the cockpit; an advanced cockpit system, with large touchscreen displays for improved user interface; and more powerful computing through the Distributed Targeting Processor Network and Tactical Targeting Network Technology. Additionally, the Block III’s design provides expeditious growth capacity and enables ease of integration of future technologies, allowing the Super Hornet to outpace adversaries in today’s dynamic threat environment.

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block III acquisition includes the purchase of new aircraft and the retrofit of Block II airframes. Improvements planned include an Advanced Network Infrastructure that consists of a Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT) and a Distributed Targeting Processor-Networked (DTP-N), a second Generation 5 radio, high-definition video recording, Advanced Cockpit System, Common Tactical Picture, reduced radar cross section, and airframe extension to 10,000 flight hours.

The F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet will undergo comprehensive testing by the U.S. Navy prior to production and operational service. The Boeing Company delivered two F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet test jets to the U.S. Navy in June 2020, with production to follow successful testing and a contract in place to provide 78 new-build F/A-18 Block III jets to the Service through 2024.

The U.S. Navy accepted delivery of the first new-production Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet on 31 August 2021. The first of 78 new Super Hornets built by The Boeing Company was ferried to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, for continued developmental testing. The next few Block III jets to leave the production line headed to VX-9 at Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake, California, to start training for operational testing, during which the aircraft will undergo evaluation in scenarios that mimic operational missions. Since accepting delivery of Block III test jets, VX-23 and VX-31, at NAWS China Lake, put the latest configuration of the multi-mission strike fighter through its paces.

“The new aircraft has successfully completed carrier suitability testing, and a comprehensive evaluation of the new Block III mission system components is now underway,” said Bob David, the F/A-18 & EA-18G Program Office’s assistant program manager for test and evaluation. VX-23 conducted shake, rattle and roll testing, which mimics the aircraft carrier environment to ensure the aircraft and each new system installed can withstand the intense forces of both a catapult-assisted launch and a ship-based arrested landing. The Block III test jet successfully completed this multi-test point in January 2021.

“Scrutinizing these new systems in a test environment ahead of fielding to our warfighter is very important and allows the Navy to make sure the delivered system meets the requirements provided to the manufacturing contractor and that our fleet is receiving an effective, interoperable and sustainable aircraft that will support the mission,” David said.

The comprehensive testing conducted by the Navy provided a high level of risk reduction, allowing refinements to be made and integrated into the production jets’ hardware and software updates. Developmental and operational testing would continue through early summer 2022. Boeing was contracted to deliver two Block III aircraft, per month, through the end of calendar year 2024.




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Page last modified: 29-03-2022 17:21:48 ZULU