Canada's plans to buy the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet may be off the table, but details of the originally requested configuration show a Raytheon-made targeting pod's grip on the Boeing fighter is under pressure from a Lockheed Martin alternative that was long considered incompatible.
Though a dispute between Boeing and Bombardier has thrown cold water on the Canadian deal, the potential sale would have put Lockheed Martin’s AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods onto the F/A-18s. The shift from ATFLIR toward Sniper began more than a decade ago, with a Lockheed Martin flight test aboard a Super Hornet that stoked a US Navy review of its targeting pods. Due to budget constraints, the study never materialized into a request for proposals, and the navy continues to fly Raytheon’s Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) on its Super Hornet fleet.
Though sequestration has stalled the new pod effort, Sniper remains high on the US Navy’s desired capabilities list, says Don Bolling, director of business development at Lockheed missiles and fire control. Lockheed already fields Sniper on Canada’s current fleet of CF-18s, following a 2007 upgrade that involved no aircraft modifications. Last May, Lockheed announced a Sniper delivery to the Kuwait Air Force’s F/A-18C/D Hornet fleet.
In 2015, Sniper flew its first successful flight aboard a US Navy F/A-18F at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California. Lockheed flew the pod on the Super Hornet’s centerline, whereas ATFLIR rides on the aircraft’s cheek station.
Under an internal research and development programme, Lockheed designed a prototype adapter unit that allowed Sniper to mount to the F/A-18E/F. Following several foreign military sales, Lockheed is refining the adapter design, in conjunction with Boeing and the navy, a navy spokesman tells FlightGlobal. The Sniper pod’s internal environmental control system, which regulates cooling, is independent from the aircraft’s environmental control system. A two-way data link module, located inside the adapter, relies on the aircraft ECS for cooling air, the navy spokesman says.
The CF-18 adapter is a different design which fits the outer mold-line on the legacy F/A-18A-D Hornets. The US Navy’s Super Hornet has a square inlet while the older F/A-18C/D model has a rounded inlet, which requires a different mounting structure, Bolling says.