Boeing announced here yesterday a set of potential enhancements to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet that it will market to export prospects. They include an enclosed weapons pod that is intended to lower the aircraft’s radar cross section. The countries currently evaluating or expressing interest in the Super Hornet include Brazil, Denmark, India, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, and Qatar.
There are six elements to what Boeing calls the “Super Hornet International Road Map.” The first is already under development and was seen by AIN during a visit to St. Louis last month. This is the Next Generation cockpit, which brings to the F-18 the large (11- by 19-inch) one-piece, touchscreen display, seen previously only on the Lockheed Martin F-35. Such a display helps improve the fused presentation of the integrated sensor suite that is already a big Super Hornet feature. The new cockpit could be made available for deliveries in 2013, according to Shelley Lavender, Boeing’s vice-president Global Strike Systems.
The other enhancements would be available from 2015, she said. These include the enclosed weapons pod, which would be carried on the centerline station, and may possibly be partially faired into the fuselage. It is sized for four AIM-120 AMRAAMs, but can also take air-to-ground weapons. According to Mike Gibbons, the Boeing F/A-18 program manager, an element of stealth was already designed into the Super Hornet. “We inserted some offerings from our Joint Strike Fighter proposal, in terms of shaping and materials,” he said in St Louis last month. Stealth on the aircraft is complemented by the active electronic warfare system, he added.
Conformal fuel tanks can straddle the upper fuselage, and confer an additional 10 percent range, according to Lavender. An enhanced performance engine (EPE) version of the GE F414 would provide a 20-percent increase in thrust. India has requested this extra power. The final two enhancements on offer are an internal IRST (infrared search and track) system, carried in the nose, and a spherical missile and laser warning system, housed above and (presumably also) below the airplane.
With a “hot” production line likely to be secured until at least 2015, thanks to the 124 aircraft for the U.S. Navy that are now being negotiated as a third multi-year buy, Boeing is confident of securing future exports of the Super Hornet. To date, only Australia has bought, and deliveries are underway. The price of the aircraft currently being delivered to the U.S. Navy is roughly $54 million, which indicates that the international Super Hornet is “a lower cost platform,” according to Gibbons.