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Boeing starts work on IRST for F/A-18E/F

The US Navy has awarded Boeing a $135 million contract to develop an infrared search and tracker (IRST) to integrate in the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet.

The four-year development programme will adapt the Lockheed Martin AAS-42 IRST to mount in the forward section of the F/A-18E/F's centreline fuel tank. The AAS-42 was last operated on board the Grumman F-14D Tomcat.

Immune from most kinds of electromagnetic interference, including jamming, IRST sensors are popular especially onboard non-American fighter designs. The Sukhoi T50 prototypes boast forward and rear-facing IRST sensors integrally attached to the fuselage.

 
 ©Lockheed Martin
But US operators have preferred to integrate IRST sensors into external pods, and the Super Hornet's new system will be no exception.

The forward section of the centreline tank is empty, so integrating the sensor will not reduce its 330gal fuel capacity. That location also allows the IRST sensor to have a nearly unrestricted field of regard in the forward hemisphere except for directly above the nose and canopy.

 
 Photo courtesy of US Navy
The US Navy plans to buy at least 150 IRST pods for the F/A-18E/F, according to Lockheed's marketing materials.

Boeing also has proposed an integrally-mounted IRST sensor for international customers. The "international roadmap" variant of the F/A-18E/F includes a low-observable, faceted window under the nose.

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