Boeing is to advance a planned service-life extension programme for the US Navy's F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, with the company having been contracted to perform work on an initial four aircraft.
To begin in April at Boeing's St Louis site in Missouri, the modernisation will initially focus on extending airframe life from 6,000h to 9,000h. However, the work will be combined with a wider upgrade for the Super Hornet which is intended to maintain its combat effectiveness until at least into the 2030s.
"In the early 2020s, Boeing will begin installing initial updates to the aircraft that will convert existing Block II Super Hornets to a new Block III configuration," the company says. Also included in this process will be the addition of conformal fuel tanks, signature improvements, an advanced cockpit system and enhanced communication equipment, it adds. Further enhancements will also be made to "deliver a more maintainable aircraft".
"Each of these jets will fly another 10 to 15 years, so making them next-generation aircraft is critical," says Mark Sears, the company's programme director for the modernisation.
Announced by the US Department of Defense on 28 February, the initial four-aircraft deal is valued at $73.2 million, with work due to conclude by April 2020.
Boeing expects to receive numerous follow-on contracts over a 10-year period, and plans to establish a dedicated production line in San Antonio, Texas, to support a fleet-wide modernisation programme. Flight Fleets Analyzer shows the USN has an active fleet of 541 F/A-18E/Fs, with another 22 on order.