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The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet was not supposed to live this long. But with the latest slippages in the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program and aging fighter forces worldwide, Boeing talks about stretching production to 1,000 aircraft and keeping the line open to the end of the decade, despite the recent loss in India’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft competition. The program is close to 700 aircraft, including 41 additional U.S. Navy aircraft announced this year to mitigate JSF delays.
Active campaigns include Brazil and Denmark. A Middle Eastern customer—possibly Kuwait—has expressed interest. The Super Hornet is Boeing’s candidate for the next Japanese fighter order, competing with the Eurofighter Typhoon and JSF. The idea of another Super Hornet buy is being mooted in Australia, which could face a front-line fighter gap if the JSF slips further. Boeing says a number of JSF partners have asked for information on the Super Hornet.
Boeing’s strategy is not to initiate comparisons with JSF, although Boeing Military Aircraft President Chris Chadwick called Lockheed Martin on the mat in May for what he termed “fundamentally untrue” statements about the Super Hornet’s price. However, Boeing never talks about its product without pointing out that it offers “date and cost-certain” capabilities and that all Super Hornets and Growlers have been delivered on cost, and on or ahead of schedule. Recently, Chadwick suggested that the JSF “might become a niche fighter” on the international market because of its cost.
More details have emerged about the “international roadmap” features that have been disclosed piece-by-piece over the past year. The most visible are the conformal fuel tanks (CFT) above the body and the low-radar-cross-section (RCS) centerline weapons pod. Those are to be wind tunnel-tested this year, with a decision on a flight-test program to follow.
The CFTs carry 3,200 lb. of fuel. Boeing says they have no net drag at cruising speed, because they reduce trim drag enough to offset their added frontal area. As a result, a configuration with CFTs and a centerline tank delivers as much range as a three-tank configuration today. The weapon pod carries four AIM-120 missiles, a 2,000-lb. bomb or two 500-lb.-class weapons.
Transonic acceleration and specific excess power, particularly when temperatures at altitude are high, were criticized on the Super Hornet when it entered service. A roadmap option is an enhanced-performance engine (EPE) variant of the General Electric F414, offering up to a 20% thrust boost. That would take the EPE to 26,500 lb. of thrust, giving it the best thrust/weight ratio of any fighter engine—almost 11:1. It has a new core, based on demonstrations conducted with U.S. government funds in 2004 and 2006, and a redesigned fan and compressor. A third test engine was run in 2010.
GE says that it has developed 17 new or derivative engines successfully from the same technology readiness level. Unfortunately, India did not accept that argument.
Also on the roadmap menu is a spherical-coverage missile-approach warning system and an infrared search-and-track (IRST) system in a chin pod. Boeing and Lockheed Martin are working on a repackaged, updated version of the AAS-42 IRST (originally developed in the 1980s for the Grumman F-14D) for the Navy’s Hornet fleet, carried in a modified fuel tank. Boeing is open to other options for the international aircraft. (Japan, for instance, has its own domestic IRST technology on the F-15J Kai upgrade.)
Inside the cockpit, a new option is a big-screen display comprising an 11 X 19-in. panel, which could be flight-tested next year. Based on commercial technology, the panel is a hedge against obsolescence and a potential cost-saver as well as offering options for new display formats. A low-profile head-up display using digital LCD projection eliminates the big optical box that previously ruled out a panoramic display.
Boeing has been taking a working model of the big-screen cockpit to trade shows and bases worldwide, both to promote it and to get pilot reactions to conceptual display formats.
Although Boeing is careful to keep the “international” label attached to the new options, they are all designed for retrofit to Block 2 aircraft, all but 24 of which belong to the U.S. Navy. And while the modified aircraft will not directly match the F-35C in signatures, it closes the gap in RCS and range (with the CFTs), is lighter and more powerful, and current estimates say it will be less expensive to buy and operate.
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The Navy’s Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) successfully completed its first test on the EA-18G Growler in China Lake, Calif. May 25.
A combined government/industry team conducted the EA-18G captive carry flight test in parallel with the ongoing AARGM Integrated Test & Evaluation phase on the FA-18 C/D aircraft. Captive carry tests are simulated launches where the weapon stays on the aircraft. The team gathers information from sensors on the weapon to evaluate AARGM performance.
“AARGM is a very capable weapon performing a complex mission. VX-31 and VX-9 have done a superb job of carrying and testing the weapon on FA-18C/Ds as well as Super Hornets,” said Cmdr. Chad Reed, deputy program manager for Anti-Radiation Missiles within the Direct and Time Sensitive Strike program office (PMA-242).
A complement to the existing AGM-88C High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM), AARGM provides the warfighter with a supersonic, air-launched tactical missile to be carried on the FA-18C/D, and Italian Air Force Tornado electronic countermeasures/reconnaissance aircraft.
“AARGM has the potential to be a superb compliment, a force multiplier, in fulfilling current Growler missions,” Reed added.
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In support of Operation Odyssey Dawn, the U.S. Navy EA-18G Growlers from coalition bases and the U.S. Marine Corps’ AV-8B Harriers was launched last March 20 aboard USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) to enforce citizens from further harm.
According to the report, the Growlers provide electronic warfare support over Libya while Harriers from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) conduct strikes against Muammar Gaddafi’s ground forces and air defenses, joining an international effort to halt an offensive against the Libyan populace.
“Protecting the innocent and conducting combined operations are what we are designed to do,” said Col. Mark J. Desens, commanding officer of 26th MEU.
The EA-18G Growlers has the capability to operate autonomously or as a major node in a network-centric operation and will provide accurate emitter targeting for employment of onboard suppression weapons such as the High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM).
On the other hand, the AV-8B Harrier was designed primarily to improve upon the performance and handling qualities of the AV-8A/C. It was a new design, with composite structures, a bigger wing, higher engine thrust and reliability, and state-of-the-art avionics.
“Our forces are doing both as part of the U.S. commitment to protect Libyan citizens,” added Col. Desens.
- global security.org
Original Article: Navy, Marine Corps Aircraft Strike Libya
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A recent report by the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) says that while the U.S. Navy has continued to make improvements to its F/A-18 electronic attack variant (EA-18G Growler), the service has yet to prove the aircraft is suitable for operations.
At the same time, DOT&E notes another Navy electronic warfare aircraft, the EA-6B Prowler, is suitable, despite testing limitations faced by the program.
DOT&E notes “suitability problems” that were identified during Growler testing in 2008. The Navy conducted Verification of Correction of Deficiencies (VCD) testing on the EA-18G from September 2009 to January 2010 to resolve those issues.
“The VCD test results did confirm significant progress on improving suitability, but additional development and testing are needed,” DOT&E notes in its most recent report, released in January. “The EA-18G is operationally effective, but still not operationally suitable.”
In DOT&E’s parlance, “operationally effective” simply means the system can perform its mission. “Operationally suitable” means the system will be practical and supportable in the field.
As far as the Navy is concerned, the Growler’s initial operational test and evaluation proved it is both operationally effective and suitable. “From what we understand, DOT&E included items outside the specific scope of [the] test for the EA-18G program into its findings,” the service says in a statement. “Although these items were outside the scope of the development program, they are items DOT&E felt important enough to address from a Department of Defense perspective.
“No program ever enters IOT&E [initial operational test and evaluation] perfect or ends without identification of anomalies,” the Navy says. “None of the anomalies were showstoppers.”
Prime contractor Boeing acknowledges seeing “software anomalies” during testing. Company spokesman Philip Carder says “the majority of those anomalies were resolved through a previously planned system software update.”
DOT&E agreed the Navy has been making improvements. “The VCD test results provide strong evidence that aircraft software stability is improving,” DOT&E says. “But additional development and flight testing is required to confirm the problems have been resolved.”
The scheduled testing for the first quarter of this year should provide the Navy an opportunity to “assess efforts to fix these suitability issues, particularly with the latest software load that indicated significant progress with fixing maintainability problems,” DOT&E says.