Boeing plans to co-fund initial development of an active-array radar for the F/A-18E/F, in the absence of US Navy funding. The move will bridge the gap until the navy can find funding and "...get the radar into the fleet as early as possible," says Paul Summers, manager F/A-18 new product development.

The navy is working to free up development funding for the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar beginning in 2001. To get the programme under way earlier, Boeing plans to hold a radar contest next year. The winner will be required to co-fund work on the radar until navy funding is available. The investment will be recouped later in the programme.

Summers says an AESA will "change the nature of the aircraft". Target detection range will be increased by a factor of two or three, the aircraft's radar signature will be reduced "dramatically" and the system will be capable of both suppressive jamming and passive attack. Boeing believes an active-array radar is essential if the F/A-18E/F is to be competitive with other fighters available for export market early in the next decade.

The AESA " a hard programme to sell, because it's expensive," admits Summers, "but it's a warfighting tool par excellence." The navy has provided enough funding to run the radar competition and Boeing has prepared a request for proposals while it awaits Navy approval for release of the document, he says.

The advanced radar is part of a block upgrade planned for the F/A-18E/F around 2005 (the aircraft will enter service in 2001 with the same avionics as the current F/A-18C/D). Other planned upgrades include new mission computers and displays; an advanced targeting forward-looking infrared pod; and a "missionised" aft crewstation for the two-seat F/A-18F.

By launching development of the AESA before navy funding is available, Boeing hopes to be able to forward-fit a majority of the 548 F/A-18E/Fs planned.

Source: Flight International