Boeing is making further improvements to the F/A-18E/F, and evaluating a more powerful version of the Super Hornet’s GE F414 powerplants. A new core and a new fan that could deliver 20 percent more thrust are under investigation by Boeing and General Electric. Boeing F/A-18 program manager Bob Gower said that no change to the aircraft’s inlets would be required to increase mass flow. The core has already run in a test cell. The move is aimed at boosting international sales, and India could be the main target for the enhanced powerplant. Meanwhile, a less ambitious set of F414 improvements that would reduce fuel consumption and increase durability are already under contract to the U.S. Navy.
The Navy has also signed up for an infrared search and track (IRST) system that is expected to enter service in 2013. The Lockheed Martin system is added to the front of the F/A-18’s centerline tank and is already flying on a development aircraft at NAS Patuxent River. It provides a completely passive form of target location and identification, noted Gower. He added that the sensor still has an adequate field-of-view, despite the unusual location.
According to Gower, Boeing has devised an “airborne electronic roadmap” that could meld some capabilities of the dedicated EA-18G Growler version with the F/A-18E/F. It would also exploit the electronic attack potential of the aircraft’s APG-79 AESA radar. The company will brief more details on this roadmap at the upcoming Paris Air Show.