|"Moreover the LORD thy God will send the hornet among them, until they that are left, and hide themselves from thee, be destroyed." --Deuteronomy 7:20
Modern Translation Here: http://www.flightglobal.com/articles/2007/03/13/212600/ultra-hornet.html
By Graham Warwick
Boeing and the US Navy are poised to expand and exploit the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet's capability for precision engagement and battle management now the upgraded platform is matched to the latest avionics
While debate rages over the hallmarks and advantages of fifth-generation fighters, Boeing is preparing to deliver the next generation of its long-running F/A-18. The F/A-18E/F Block II+ Super Hornet is the culmination of a fundamental upgrade of the multi-role fighter and the foundation for future capability expansion.
Next-generation Super Hornet deliveries to the US Navy will begin later this year when the first aircraft from production Lot 30 rolls off the St Louis, Missouri assembly line. "Lot 30 is the launch point for Block II+," says Kory Mathews, director of F/A-18 programme integration.
Today's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet was developed from the original F/A-18 Hornet in two stages: first an airframe and engine upgrade that scaled the fighter up by 25% to increase range, payload and growth capacity then a multi-phase avionics update that introduced advanced sensors.
Lot 30 is the first time the structural upgrade that produced the F/A-18E/F comes together with the full suite of advanced avionics, and is the jumping-off point for the Capability Flightplan - a roadmap of enhancements planned to be developed and fielded over the next decade.
"We have a robust, well-defined capability roadmap in four main areas: distributed targeting, net-centric operations/battlespace management, sensor integration and advanced weapons," says Mathews. The Flightplan covers fiscal years 2008-2014, and will be updated annually. "It is a living document," he says. "We can add, accelerate or eliminate capabilities."
The launching point for the Capability Flightplan is the avionics architecture implemented incrementally since deliveries of the Block II Super Hornet began in 2005 with production Lot 26, and fully realised beginning with Lot 30.
The architecture backbone is a fibre-optic data network and advanced mission computer (AMC). Block II+ uses the latest Type 3 AMC, produced by General Dynamics Information Systems, with two times the throughput and memory of the Type 2 computer in Block II Super Hornets.
Plugged into this architecture are the new APG-79 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar AAS-46 advanced tactical forward-looking infrared (ATFLIR) pod digital sold-state recorder (DSSR) accurate navigation (ANAV) system and Link 16 multifunctional information distribution system (MIDS).
"Beginning with Lot 30, every aircraft will have AESA," says Mathews. Until then, some F/A-18E/Fs are being delivered with the earlier mechanically scanned APG-73 radar. The US Navy plans to retrofit 135 APG-73-equipped Block II Super Hornets with APG-79, for an eventual total of 415 AESA-equipped aircraft.
The Raytheon AESA brings the capability for simultaneous air-to-air and air-to-ground operation and, starting with Lot 30, two-seat F/A-18Fs will have the advanced crew station, which decouples the front and rear pits. "The front-seater can sanitise the airspace while the rear-seater conducts an air-to-ground campaign," says Mathews. Both crew members will have the joint helmet-mounted cueing system.
Lot 30 also introduces the ANAV box, which replaces the F/A-18's CAINS inertial navigator and MAGR GPS receiver with a tightly integrated system that addresses obsolescence and provides "unprecedented air-to-ground accuracy", says Mathews.
Another step in expanding the Super Hornet's precision attack capability has already been taken with fielding of the digital sold-state recorder. Replacing an analogue pit video recorder, the DSSR brings the capability to grab and store sensor images, and send them over existing communications links - either Link 16 or the ARC-210 digital radio.
"On ingress, the crew can see ATFLIR streaming video in the pit, frame-grab a still image of the target and datalink it to the forward air controller, who looks at the image, annotates it with Blue Force positions and datalinks it back," Mathews says, cutting the time needed to "talk" the aircraft to the target to "low-digit minutes".
With the Lot 30 aircraft as a starting point, the Flightplan lays out a roadmap for expanding the F/A-18E/F's precision-engagement and battle-management capabilities. Much of the focus is on air-to-ground operations, but the Super Hornet is to get an infrared search and track (IRST) sensor to increase air-to-air capability.
Development of the IRST is funded beginning in FY2008, leading to fielding in 2012-13, says Mathews. A targeting, not imaging sensor,