Like its larger F-15 Eagle stablemate, Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet has undergone something of a renaissance in recent times. Deals concluded with the U.S. Navy to build 78 Block III Super Hornets in a multi-year procurement and to retrofit the existing fleet to the new standard have not only underlined the confidence that the Navy has in the type, but also keeps Super Hornet-related production work going until at least 2033.
Now becoming the baseline production variant, the Block III brings together a range of new capabilities and upgrades that makes the aircraft a considerable advance over its predecessors, not least of which is an airframe life extension from 6,000 hours to 10,000 hours.
The most visible aspect of Block III is the addition of conformal fuel tanks (CFTs) that add around 120 nm more range. CFTs are to be part of Block III new production from the outset, as is an advanced cockpit station with a 10- by 19-inch wide-area touchscreen display. Satellite communications are also installed, along with an advanced tactical datalink. A long-wave infrared search and track sensor is added to permit passive engagements and to augment the e-scan radar. All existing Super Hornets are capable of receiving the Block III upgrade.
The revitalized Super Hornet is currently being offered for six competitions around the world with a combined requirement for more than 350 aircraft. Three of those competitions are in Europe, including new fighter competitions in Finland and Switzerland—both “legacy” Hornet operators—where detailed evaluation is under way. The third European competition is in Germany, where the Super Hornet is pitched against the Eurofighter Typhoon in a head-to-head battle.
Recently, Boeing received approval to offer the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare/defense suppression derivative as part of its proposal to Finland, having earlier supplied this version to Australia alongside regular Super Hornets. It is likely that approval will be granted to offer the Growler to Germany, too.
Elsewhere the Super Hornet is on order for Kuwait, and is being pitched in India for both air force and navy requirements, the latter entailing a carrier capability. Another “legacy” Hornet operator, Canada, has a requirement for 88 new fighters. A final request for proposals is expected next month.