US Navy receives first upgraded F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III
Boeing has delivered the first improved F/A-18 Super Hornet to the US Navy with two more to follow by the end of April. The Block III upgrades of the tactical fighter are part of a Service Life Modification that will extend the aircraft's service life from 6,000 to 7,500 flight hours and, in the next few years, to 10,000 hours to keep it in service for decades to come.
The US military's modernization involves not only building state-of-the-art new systems, but also upgrading successful old ones. It's an approach that should see the venerable B-52 bomber flying until the 2040s when its basic structure starts to fail, and it is how the US Navy and the US Marine Corps plan to keep the fourth-generation Super Hornet, which first entered service in 1995, in active service and capable of going up against fifth-generation adversaries.
As part of this, Boeing is not only building a new tranche of Block III Super Hornets but is also modifying 15 older versions to Block III standards. According to the company, it takes between 12 and 18 months for each upgrade, with four planes scheduled to be ready by the end of this year.
The upgrades are not only structural but also include an improved IRST Block II infrared sensor pod; conformal fuel tanks that can carry 3,500 lb (1,600 kg) of additional fuel while reducing drag and extending operational range by 260 nm (300 mi, 480 km); an Advanced Cockpit System for tracking and targeting multiple targets using a touch screen display; and enhanced networking capabilities that enable the handling more data in real-time so multiple planes can share reconnaissance and targeting information.
"SLM is going to provide a critical resource for the Navy to re-capitalize on long-serving aircraft to return them to the fleet in a near new condition," says Captain Stephen May, PMA-265 co-lead for E/F/G Air Vehicles. "It will reduce burden on our maintainers, our supply system and our depot-level assets within the enterprise."