You’re Boeing and you’re still making Super Hornet strike fighters, but the US market for new F/A-18 E and Fs and their EA-18G Growler cousins won’t last much longer. Those 600+ US Navy aircraft will be around for many years to come, however, and the export market is only beginning to be tapped. So how you do keep your tried-and-true aircraft on the cutting edge?
Boeing’s answer: a package of upgrades that can be bought together or separately, added on to existing aircraft or ordered in advance. Together, the package is known as the Advanced Super Hornet (ASH), a collection of system upgrades and add-ons intended to extend the Super Hornet’s performance envelope.
The company and its top sub-primes, including Northrop Grumman, General Electric and Raytheon, are still developing all the features, but Boeing modified an assembly-line two-seat F/A-18F this summer for flight tests of two of the most visible enhancements – conformal fuel tanks and a new enclosed weapons pod, both part of an effort to reduce the aircraft’s radar cross section, particularly when viewed from head-on.
A group of reporters, Defense News among them, were flown by Boeing at company expense out to St. Louis, Mo., late in August to witness a flight demonstration of the prototype aircraft. Also in attendance were representatives from Denmark and Brazil, two countries holding fighter competitions that Boeing would dearly love to win.
Neither the fuel tanks nor the weapons pod were operational, as the primary goal of these initial flight tests was to gauge the flight characteristics of the mods and to measure their signatures. Boeing flew the aircraft out of its facility at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, then out to the Navy’s test field at Patuxent River, Md., where, according to a Boeing official, “the Navy will own all the test data.”
All the ASH upgrades are being developed at company expense; the Navy, which has no requirement for the addons, is watching “with interest,” according to an official.
Specific prices have yet to be calculated for the ASH package, but Boeing officials estimate a full suite would run about $6 million to $8 million for a new aircraft, around $9 million for upgrades to an existing plane.
Read our story for more on the Advanced Super Hornet.
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