Advanced IRST Programs on the March

 - November 29, 2018, 5:11 AM
A development Legion Pod is seen on the centerline pylon of an F-15C Eagle. (photo: Lockheed Martin)

Last week, Orlando-based Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control was awarded contracts for ongoing development, integration, and production activities that will see the company’s advanced IRST21 infrared search and track system applied to the Boeing F-15C Eagles of the U.S. Air Force, and in improved form on the U.S. Navy’s Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The contracts were awarded by Boeing, acting in its role as prime aircraft contractor.

On November 27, Lockheed Martin received a 28-month engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract to integrate, test, and qualify the Legion Pod on the F-15C. Boeing selected the Lockheed Martin solution in September 2017 and received a U.S. Air Force order to proceed this August. At the heart of the Legion Pod is the ASG-34 IRST21 sensor, which can passively track aerial targets as an alternative and adjunct to the fire control radar. The sensor offers advanced target discrimination capabilities and targeting-quality accuracy. The pod itself can also carry other sensors and can be applied to other platforms, such as the F-15E and F-16.

At the same time as the EMD contract, Lockheed Martin received a second award from Boeing covering the Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) of 19 Legion Pods. Issuing EMD and LRIP orders simultaneously is an indication of the system’s technological maturity. EMD systems are expected to be available for trials and evaluation early next year, with the first LRIP pods planned for delivery (with spares) in 2020. A total complement of around 130 pods is planned for the F-15C fleet.

The IRST21 sensor is mounted in the nose of the Super Hornet's centerline external fuel tank. (photo: Lockheed Martin)

The day before receiving the Legion Pod orders, Lockheed Martin received a $108 million contract for phase II of the IRST21 program for the F/A-18E/F Block II Super Hornet, to complete the development, platform integration, flight test, and qualification of the upgraded system. This introduces enhancements to detection, tracking, and ranging capabilities, improving the air combat abilities of the Super Hornet in challenging and radar-denied environments. IRST21 is already carried by the F/A-18E/F, mounted in the nose of the centerline fuel tank. The Block II system received the go-ahead in May 2017.