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Boeing Touts 'Evolution' of Its Upgraded Fighters

 - November 12, 2011, 7:18 AM
Thanks to the latest multi-year buy by the U.S. Navy, production of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is assured through 2016.

Boeing Military Aircraft (BMA) has stepped up its campaign to sell more F-15 and F-18 fighters, and has issued a strong warning against overreliance on leading-edge platforms such as the F-35 Stealth Fighter

(produced by competitor Lockheed Martin). “The evolutionary approach is best…it’s hard to manage a revolution,” said Rick McCrary, BMA international business director.

McCrary advises customers to focus instead on tactics, techniques and procedures, and the effects that they wanted to create. The F-35 program was “going down the same path” as the B-2 and F-22 programs, McCrary claimed. He also pointed out that although both Russia and China are developing stealth fighters, the Su-30/35 series represented the real threat because they were being progressively upgraded and could be fielded in large numbers. In any case, Russia’s PAK-50 “is more like an Su-35 than an F-22,” according to his assessment.

Critics may say that Boeing’s argument is self-serving, but McCrary and colleagues believe that the upgrades already made or pending on the F-15 and F-18 prove their point. For instance, the tripling in radar range offered by active electronically scanned arrays (AESAs) provides a capability that McCrary likened to “having a rifle in a pistol fight.” New capabilities offered by the smaller transmit/receive modules on second- and third-generation AESAs had hardly been exploited. Various technologies (such as high off-boresight missiles, infrared search and track sensors, new digital electronic warfare systems and updated cockpits ensure that the F-15 and the F-18 (see below) are evolving to meet today’s challenges and provide the required effects, McCrary claimed. “We have a long-term, cost-effective plan,” he added.

Super Hornet’s Prospective Customers and Upgrade Plans

Thanks to the latest multi-year buy by the U.S. Navy, production of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is assured through 2016, at an average cost below $60 million in 2010 prices. In the Middle East region, Boeing is eyeing requirements in Kuwait (an existing operator of F/A-18C/Ds), Qatar and the UAE. All have received Super Hornet briefings from the U.S. government.
Further afield, Japan is likely to choose between the F/A-18E/F, the F-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon next month. Malaysia is another F/A-18D operator that might upgrade to the E/F. The “Super” is also competing for Brazil’s on-again, off-again new fighter requirement. Although it is an F-35 international partner, Denmark has not yet formally committed to the Lightning II, and will resume an evaluation of alternatives next month.
Boeing has described the following potential upgrades to the F/A-18E/F for future international sales:

  • conformal fuel tanks
  • 20 percent more thrust from the F414 engines
  • spherical missile/laser warning system
  • enclosed weapons pods on the wings and centerline
  • next-generation cockpit
  • internal IRST (infrared search and track sensors).


If you're fine with operating only 65% of the capability of the F-35 at 95% of the price...

The basic design of a F-18 is nearly 40 years old and the things Boeing is doing is the equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig as the aerial wars in the next decade will be against Russian PAK FA T-50 and Chinese J-20 stealth fighters; thus, in combat where life can mean the difference of a couple of seconds, the F-35 Lightning II gives US pilots the best chance of aerial superiority.

It's a viable proposition with radar-absorbing materials, body sculpting and with the latest electronics. F-35 has payload/range limitations if it ever deploys.

Neither the F-35 nor the Super Hornet will be able to stand up to emerging threats. That is the job of the F-22.
The Super and F-35 can only qualify as second-tier fighter aircraft. Also of interest, the Block II Super brings more value to a joint coalition commander than the Just So Failed.
Failure for the F-35 program is only a matter of time. It is unaffordable, and too weak. We do not need that lack of ability at any price.

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