The US Navy says it is pleased with results of recent flight tests of a Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet that had been upgraded with conformal fuel tanks and an external weapons pod -- a configuration Boeing calls the "Advanced Super Hornet."
Captain Frank Morley, F/A-18 programme manager for the USN, says on 7 April that the tests give lawmakers additional options as they consider whether to add orders for Super Hornets or A/E-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft to the US military's fiscal year 2015 budget.
"The measures we were able to get on signature reduction and flying quality were spot on predications," Morley tells reporters during a press briefing at the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space Exposition near Washington, DC. "It helps better inform decisions made through the budget bills and provides options as needed."
Conformal fuel tanks added to the upper fuselage of Super Hornets and belly-mounted external weapons pods are two primary upgrades that Boeing is pitching as its Advanced Super Hornet.
The Advanced model can also be improved with better engines, avionics and weapons systems, including an upgraded radar and improved infrared search-and-track abilities, Boeing has said.
The Advanced Super Hornet designation will be applied to new aircraft and existing aircraft that have been upgraded, Boeing has said.
The US government's fiscal year 2015 budget, which is currently working through Congress, does not include money for more Growlers or Super Hornets, but the USN expressed interest in additional aircraft by adding 22 Growlers to an unfunded list of priorities sent to lawmakers in recent weeks.
Morley says Growler's electronic jamming and other capabilities are critical to the "blue kill chain", the process by which friendly military forces identify, track, target and fire upon enemy forces. They are equally effective in disrupting the enemys ability to do the same against US forces, he adds.
"Given the environment we are [moving] into, that type of airplane plays a major role," Morley says. "You could use a lot of them. You could continue to [identify] places where they could [be of] benefit."
The USN intends to operate Super Hornets through the 2030s, Morley says.
Boeing has been seeking additional orders for Growlers or Super Hornets so as to keep its production line in St. Louis running.
Unless it receives more orders, the line will run out of aircraft to build by the end of 2016, Boeing has said.
If Congress adds 22 Growlers into next fiscal years spending bill, the line would continue running until the end of 2017, Mike Gibbons, Boeing's vice president of the F/A-18 programme, says during the press conference.
Gibbons adds that Growlers are the only aircraft that provide a broad spectrum of electronic protection, allowing fighters and other aircraft to penetrate enemy airspace that is guarded by multiple layers of electronic defence.