The US Navy is very interested in exploring the possibility of adding conformal fuel tanks onto the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, sources says. Test flights are scheduled for later this year. The Navy doesn’t deny it, but they’re not able to talk about it yet because the data is proprietary to Boeing and Northrop Grumman. The tanks would enable the jet to carry about 3,500lbs more gas in addition its internal fuel (and drop tanks if required), extending the Super Hornet’s range.
Extended range would be an important factor for operations in the Pacific theatre, but some analysts suspect that there might be more to it. The Navy might be hedging its bets against further delays on the Lockheed Martin F-35 program or it might even be preparing for the eventuality that it will have to abandon the stealthy single-engine fighter entirely.
The Navy is already working on a series of other upgrades to the Hornet including adding an infrared search and track sensor and fusing the aircraft’s sensor data.
Here is a Boeing presentation on the F/A-18E/F international variant.
While Boeing is working to reduce the Super Hornet’s signature for future international variants, the F/A-18E/F already has a fair number of features built-in to reduce its radar cross section. This is an excerpt from the jet’s Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization (NATOPS) manual which describes some of those features.