Boeing has completed prototype modifications on two Royal Australian Air Force F-18 Hornet fighters as part of the service's ongoing upgrade programme. The aircraft are the first to be modified to the 2.2 configuration, with this including the installation of the multifunction information distribution system/Link 16 tactical datalink; joint helmet mounted cueing system; tactical aircraft moving map display, and a modified countermeasures dispensing system.

Flight tests of the prototypes are poised to start at the US Navy's China Lake facility, California, with these set to continue until November. Modifications to the remainder of the RAAF Hornet fleet will be conducted by Boeing Australia at RAAF Williamtown, north of Sydney, with low-rate production to begin by early 2006. Boeing Australia last year completed updating the full fleet with the Raytheon APG-73 multimode radar under the 2.1 phase.

Decisions on whether to fit the aircraft with the BAE Systems Australia-developed ALR-2002 or Raytheon ALR-67 radar warning receiver are expected to be made in the near future.

Last December, the Australian Defence Materiel Organisation also launched a separate competition to equip the F-18s with new targeting pods, under a restricted contest between the Northrop Grumman/ Rafael Litening II; Raytheon ATFLIR and Lockheed Martin Pantera. A source selection is expected later this year.

Source: Flight International