Improved forward fuselage paves way for Block 2 avionics upgrade to increase capability

Boeing has begun delivering F/A-18E/F Super Hornets with redesigned forward fuselages to the US Navy. The enhanced forward fuselage has fewer parts, reduces production cost and paves the way for the Block 2 avionics upgrade that will significantly increase the aircraft's capability.

The redesigned nose is required to accommodate the major element of the Block 2 upgrade, the Raytheon APG-79 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. Flight testing of the AESA has begun in a modified F/A-18F and Boeing has received a $49.5 million contract for low-rate initial production of eight APG-79s for installation beginning in 2005. Initial operational capability (IOC) is planned for 2006.

The first Block 2 element to become operational is the Raytheon ASQ-228 advanced target forward-looking infrared (FLIR) pod, which has just passed operational evaluation (opeval) with a full-rate production decision planned for later this month.

The initial pod has FLIR and laser designator: electro-optical camera, laser spot tracker, air-to-air laser ranging and navigation FLIR will be added next year, says Boeing F/A-18 deputy programme manager Chris Chadwick.

Other elements of the Block 2 upgrade include advanced mission computer and displays. The mission computer, 125 x 125mm (5 x 5in) displays and fibre-optic network will be introduced beginning in 2005, and from 2006 a large 205 x 255mm display will be installed in the rear cockpit of two-seat F/A-18Fs. This is part of the advanced aft crew station, which decouples the front and rear cockpits and enables the pilot and weapon-system operator to perform different tasks, says Chadwick.

Of the other Block 2 elements, the joint helmet-mounted cueing system is already deployed with two F/A-18E/F squadrons. The Link 16 multifunction information distribution system is also deployed, and operational Super Hornets are equipped with Block 1 of the BAE Systems integrated defensive electronic countermeasures system. This uses the Raytheon ALE-50 towed decoy. IOC for Block 2, with new ALQ-214 jammer, is planned for next July, says Chadwick, while Block 3, with ALE-55 high-power fibre-optic owed decoy, is scheduled for opeval in December 2005.

The Block 2 F/A-18E/F is the basis for the EA-18G electronic attack version of the Super Hornet, for which Boeing expects to receive a $1.5 billion system development and demonstration contract in December.

The US Navy plans to buy 90 EA-18Gs, with IOC planned for 2009, and the first 56 will be included in the second Super Hornet multi-year procurement, which covers 42 aircraft a year for five years beginning with Lot 27 in 2005. Multi-year will save $1 billion over annual procurement, says Chadwick.

Source: Flight International