Naval Air: February 19, 2000

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SUPER HORNET READY FOR PRODUCTION: The Navy has announced that its new F/A-18E/F Super Hornet has passed its flight tests and is ready for production. The Navy plans to spend $47 billion producing 580 Super Hornets, mostly to replace aging F-14 Tomcats. While the Air Force insists that only the new F-22 Raptor can deal with future enemy fighters, the Navy doesn't think it needs a new wonderfighter, only a larger version of its current F/A-18C Hornet, one with more fuel, weapons, and internal space to add equipment that hasn't been invented yet. While the F-14 is superior to the F/A-18E in dogfighting, the aging Tomcats are expensive to maintain and will have to be replaced by something else eventually, and the F/A-18E will have superior electronics, and is a considerable step up from the marginally effective F/A-18C. The Super Hornet has more range than Hornet, a larger weapons load, and a smaller radar signature. And yet there are concerns. Super Hornet is slow compared to other fighters, and the MiG-29, Su-27, or Eurofighter could chase it down and kill it from behind as it leaves a combat arena. To compensate for this, the Navy plans to arm the plane with ERAAM (an extended-range version of the AMRAAM). This, combined with the plane's superior radar, would allow it to kill an enemy at a distance and not become trapped. Critics complain that ERAAM will not be available when Super Hornet joins the fleet. The Super Hornet's rate of turn is slow and it would be easily out-turned in a dogfight by the MiG-29 or Eurofighter. To compensate for this, the Navy plans to fit the plane with more maneuverable short-range missiles and a helmet-mounted missile cueing system, which would allow the pilot to fire a missile without having to get into just the right position first. --Stephen V Cole


 


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