Boeing is formulating a concept for a hybrid variant of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet equipped with the electronic signal detection capabilities of the EA-18G Growler as it seeks to attract orders for new aircraft and upgrades to older models.
The resulting aircraft would resemble an E/A-18G that lacks ALQ-99 jamming pods for electronic attack, preserves the ALQ-218 electronic receiver and adds weapons now only carried by the F/A-18E/F, says Boeing vice-president Mike Gibbons.
“That hybrid just starts with the simple notion of take the sensor suite of the Growler and move it to a basically strike platform and then you grow that platform to take advantage of the fact that you can now see anybody that’s emitting,” Gibbons says.
The growth capabilities would be the addition of a long-range infrared search and track sensor and new air-to-air tracking modes for airborne systems.
Gibbons has recently taken charge of Boeing’s F-15 but previously led the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G programmes.
As Gibbons briefed a group of reporters on both programmes in St. Louis, Missouri on 24 June, the hybrid Super Hornet/Growler concept emerged as he explained why Boeing is so confident that it can extend production of the combined production line for several years despite the current backlog running out at the end of 2016.
Last October, the US Navy prematurely released a draft solicitation document to buy up to 36 more E/A-18Gs, then withdrew the document after it gained attention. Instead, the USN tacked an order for 22 more E/A-18G onto the top of a wish list of unfunded priorities sent to Congress for Fiscal 2015. Congress has met the navy’s request half-way, with the House of Representatives adding 12 E/A-18Gs to next year’s appropriations bill. The Senate has yet to move on its version of the budget bill.
If the House version prevails, the added 12 E/A-18Gs would be combined with previous orders to keep the Boeing assembly line running at an optimal rate of two per month until the end of 2016.
The F/A-18E/F has recently lost bids for fighter deals in India and Brazil, but Gibbons says he remains optimistic that Boeing can attract enough new orders to keep reduction going until after 2020.
“There are a lot of countries flying legacy jets that are getting old – old from a capability standpoint and they need to upgrade to something like this,” Gibbons says, adding, “or old from a fatigue life and they need to be replaced.”
The hybrid concept comes on top of a broad range of upgrades that Boeing has previously proposed with the Advanced Super Hornet.
The upgrades include adding features such as conformal fuel tanks to extend the range, a podded weapons bay to reduce the aircraft’s radar signature and additional sensors and weapons.