F/A-18E/F SUPER HORNET, USA
The US Navy F/A-18 E and F Super Hornet maritime strike attack aircraft, manufactured by Boeing, flew for the first time on November 29 1995. The Super Hornet is about 25% larger than its predecessor, the F/A-18C/D, but contains 42% fewer structural parts. The single-seat F/A-18/E and the two-seat F/A-18/F fly greater ranges with heavier payloads, have more powerful engines and provide greater survivability.
The first low-rate initial production aircraft was delivered in December 1998, and all twelve of the first batch were delivered by November 1999. In February 1999, the US Navy placed an order for 30 Super Hornets, in addition to the twelve already ordered. Following successful completion of operational evaluation, in June 2000 the USN ordered 222 fighters to be produced over the next five years. The first full-rate production aircraft was delivered in September 2001. Over 200 aircraft have been delivered. A second multi-year contract was signed in January 2004 for 42 aircraft to be purchased between 2005 and 2009. Total requirement is for at least 545 aircraft.
In July 2002, the F/A-18E/F began its maiden operational deployment on board USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72). In November 2002, the aircraft made its combat entry, striking air defence sites in Southern Iraq with Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM). The aircraft was also deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003.
Improvements scheduled for Block 2 aircraft include a redesigned forward fuselage which has fewer parts and changes to the aircraft's nose to accommodate the Raytheon APG-79 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. The first aircraft was delivered in September 2003. The aircraft is also being fitted with new mission computers, fibre-optic network, Raytheon AN/ASQ-228 ATFLIR targeting pod, Boeing Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System and Raytheon AIM-9X next generation Sidewinder air-to-air missile. Initial Operating Capability is scheduled for 2006.
Kuwait has plans to acquire up to 20 F/A-18E/F aircraft from 2005. Malaysia's request for a foreign military sale (FMS) of up to 18 Super Hornets has been put on hold for budgetary and other reasons.
The US Navy has approved System Development & Demonstration (SD&D) for an electronic attack version of the Super Hornet, the EA-18G, to replace the EA-6B Prowler. The EA-18G will incorporate the Improved Capability III (ICAP III) suite developed for the Prowler. Two SDD aircraft are to be delivered. Requirement is for 90 aircraft, with first flight scheduled for September 2006 and initial operating capability in 2009.
The cockpit in the F/A-18E/F is equipped with a touch-sensitive control display, a larger multi-purpose liquid crystal color display, which shows tactical information, two monochrome displays and a new engine fuel display. The aircraft retains the mission software and a high proportion of the avionics found in the C/D models.
The cockpit also has a color digital map and the pilots are equipped with night-vision goggles. The zero/zero ejection seat is the SJU-5/6 from Martin Baker Aircraft Company Ltd in the UK.
The Super Hornet has 11 weapon stations which include two additional wing store stations and will support a full range of armaments including AIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, guided air-to-ground weapons such as Harpoon, SLAM/SLAM-ER, GBU-10, HARM and Maverick; and free-fall air-to-ground bombs, Mk-76, BDU-48,Mk-82LD, Mk-82HD and Mk-84. The aircraft can also carry the GPS/inertially guided JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition), JSOW (Joint StandOff Weapon) and JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile).
Boeing is the prime contractor for the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) for the Super Hornet, to be fitted to Block 2 and retrofitted to Block 1 aircraft. Vision Systems International (jointly owned by Kaiser and Elbit) is the major subcontractor. JHMCS is currently in full-rate production. Deliveries of full-rate production systems are to begin in 2005, although the system has been deployed operationally during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The F/A-18E/F new lightweight gun system is the General Dynamics M61A2, which has a switchable firing rate of 4,000 or 6,000 shots per minute and a fully integrated linkless ammunition feed system.
The BAE Systems Information & Electronic Warfare Systems (IEWS) (formerly Sanders) AN/ALQ-124 Integrated Defensive Countermeasures system (IDECM) provides a coordinated situation awareness and manages the on-board and off-board deception countermeasures, the expendable decoys, and signal and frequency control of emissions. The IDECM system includes the ALE-47 countermeasures dispenser, the ALE-50 towed decoy and the AN/ALR-67(V)3 radar warning receiver. IDECM began operational evaluation in December 2002 and was successfully deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The BAE Systems Integrated Defense Solutions (formerly Tracor) ALE-47 countermeasures dispenser system is capable of dispensing chaff cartridges, flares, and the POET and GEN-X active expendable decoys. The ALE-50 Towed Decoy, from Raytheon E-Systems, provides long-range detection and extremely fast deployment against most radar-guided threats. The Raytheon AN/ALR-67(V)3 radar warning receiver intercepts, identifies and prioritises threat signals, which are characterised in terms of frequency, amplitude, direction and pulse width.
The Super Hornet is equipped with the APG-73 radar manufactured by Raytheon. The APG-73 radar has an upgraded processor with increased speed and memory capacity in comparison to the AN/APG-65, which was installed on the earlier builds of the Hornet. The modes of the APG-73 include air-to-ground tracking, air-to-air velocity search mode, range while search and track while scan.
Raytheon's AN/APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) fire control radar will increase the F/A-18's air-to-air target detection and tracking range and provide higher resolution air-to-ground mapping at longer ranges. The AN/APG-79 AESA entered low-rate initial production (LRIP) in September 2003 and is planned to replace the AN/APG-73 from 2006.
The aircraft will be fitted with the Raytheon AN/ASQ-228 ATFLIR (Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared) precision targeting pod. ATFLIR consists of a 3-5 micron staring focal plane array targeting FLIR, BAE Systems Avionics high-powered diode-pumped laser spot tracker, BAE Systems Avionics navigation FLIR and CCD TV camera. Initial Operating Capability (IOC) was achieved in April 2003 and the system is now in full-rate production.
US Marine Corps aircraft are being fitted with the Northrop Grumman Litening AT Advanced Targeting pod, with 540 x 512 pixel FLIR, CCD TV, laser spot tracker, infrared laser marker and infrared laser rangefinder / designator.
F/A-18F aircraft also being fitted with the Raytheon SHARP multi-function reconnaissance pod, set to replace USN Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod (TARPS), currently flown on the F-14 Tomcat. SHARP is capable of simultaneous airborne and ground reconnaissance and has sensors manufactured by Recon/Optical Inc. 16 LRIP (low-rate initial production systems) have been ordered and the first was delivered in April 2003. The system is deployed on aircraft operating from USS Nimitz and USS Kitty Hawk carriers.
The aircraft's power is provided by two F414-GE-400 turbofan engines from General Electric. The engines are an advanced derivative of the GE F404 engines installed on the Hornet. The air inlets have been enlarged to provide increased airflow into the engines. The engines each provide 22,000lb thrust, with afterburn giving a maximum speed in excess of Mach 1.8.
The structural changes to the airframe on the F/E variant of the aircraft increase the internal fuel capacity by 3,600lb, a 33% higher fuel capacity than the F-18C/D variant. This extends the mission radius by up to 40%.