Compared to a Lockheed Martin F-35C, a Block III Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet will be able to detect and track stealth aircraft at long range by their heat emissions and carry a full load of external weapons for significantly longer distances, says Boeing programme manager Dan Gillian.

By filling these two claimed capability gaps, Boeing believes it can preserve the F/A-18E/Fs presence on aircraft carrier decks well into the 2040s and extend a once-threatened production line in St. Louis, Missouri, far into the 2020s.

Although US president Donald Trump once tweeted that he had ordered Boeing to offer a Super Hornet upgrade that would be “comparable” to the stealthy F-35C, the Chicago-based manufacturer prefers to use the term “complimentary”.

“We’ve designed the Block 3 Super Hornet to be viable in the future in the high-end fight just like the navy’s planning to use it as complimentary with F-35, [EA-18G] Growler and [Northrop Grumman E-2D,” Gillian says.

The Block III Super Hornet, like the Block II, will come equipped with IRST21, a centreline pod with an infrared telescope.

In making such claims, Gillian calls into question direct statements made by his competitor, particularly in regard to the air-to-air infrared search and track (IRST) capability of the F-35C.

Lockheed advertises the electro-optical targeting system on all F-35s is designed with air-to-air IRST modes, although it also used to track ground targets.

When asked about the F-35’s EOTS sensor, Gillian quickly replied that the system is for “medium-range air-to-ground.” He declined to comment directly about Lockheed’s claims that it can perform air-to-air tracking as well. .

As for the F-35, Lockheed vice-president for business development Jack Crisler defends the IRST capability of EOTS, though doesn’t offer specifics.

“We have an an IRST capability,” he says. “There will be some Block 4 capability added to that.”

He also questions the relevance of the Super Hornet’s range with a full load of weapons under-wing.

“If you’re loaded up with bombs like that,” he asks, “are you going to be able to go into an [area denied] environment?”