The US Navy has embarked on an incremental programme to add sensor fusion capabilities to its fleet of Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, the first of which began operational testing earlier this year.
"MSI [Multi-Sensor Integration] Phase I will be released to the fleet with Software Configuration Set H8E in the 2013 timeframe and incorporates sensors for the air-to-ground mission," the US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) says. "The H8E System Configuration Set software block upgrade for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler began operational test in July 2012."
The MSI Phase I activity begins the process of fusing information generated by the Super Hornet's air-to-surface-oriented sensors with data entered into the system from off-board sources such as data-links.
But Phase I is only the beginning, as the USN is planning to further enhance the F/A-18E/F's sensor fusion capabilities with the next increment of MSI.
"MSI Phase II improves upon the design from Phase I and incorporates air-to-air [A/A] in to the overall systems architecture," NAVAIR says. "Software algorithm development continues to correlate multiple ground and surface tracks from on-ship to off-ship sensor sources and to begin integration with the common tactical picture." It will also expand track and correlation from emitting targets and tracks, to "improve lethality against stationary or moving targets," according to USN budget documents.
Phase II is set to be incorporated into fleet Super Hornet squadrons with the release of the H10E software set. "MSI Phase II is currently flying in developmental test aircraft and will be fielded in fiscal year 2014," NAVAIR says.
The next phase will add counter-electronic attack (CEA) and an enhanced air-to-air tactical picture, according to the USN. "MSI Phase III utilizes previous MSI upgrades and combines them in H12 System Configuration Set with display improvements to enhance A/A and CEA sensor integration," the document reads.
The USN envisions firmware upgrades for the displays which would allow the aircraft's processors to be fully utilised. Those would be coupled with improved display symbology and crew vehicle interface. MSI Phase III capability would be common to the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G. Boeing has previously suggested that its large area display could be considered for incorporation into the navy's Super Hornet fleet as part of those improvements.
In addition to MSI, the USN is working to add single-ship geolocation and specific emitter identification capabilities to the Super Hornet to better enable the F/A-18E/F to attack enemy air defence systems, according to budget justification documents. The service plans to "continue software algorithm development to enhance target identification and location" through 2013.