The US Navy (USN) has begun the process of upgrading its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet to the latest Block 3 standard, with a contract award to Boeing to incorporate the Block 2 Infrared Search and Track System (IRST) onto the combat aircraft.
The cost-plus-incentive-fee contract, which was announced by the Department of Defense (DoD) on 25 May, is valued at USD89 million and covers the initial design and development, procurement of prototyping hardware, technical risk reduction efforts, integrated product support, and technical reviews of the Block 2 IRST with the F/A-18E/F to support the system through the preliminary design review. Work is expected to be completed in April 2020.
The USN's Super Hornets already field an IRST in the guise of the podded AN/ASG-34. This system, which was developed by Lockheed Martin, with assistance from Boeing and General Electric, is not integrated into the aircraft but is instead housed in a modified centreline drop tank that is carried on the centreline hardpoint. With this system, the Super Hornet is able to identify and track aircraft from their thermal signature (either through the engine or the aerodynamic heating of the airframe). Not being integrated, the AN/ASG-34 is very much an interim solution prior to the navy adopting an internal system.
The Block 2 IRST is one of a number of enhancements for the Super Hornet that the USN is set to incorporate under its Block 3 plan to take the aircraft's service life out to the end of the 2040s. Block 3, which was previously known by Boeing as the Super Hornet International Roadmap and then as the Advanced Super Hornet, is built around a new more powerful processor than the one currently fitted to the aircraft.
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