Boeing has delivered the first production Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet to the U.S. Navy. The aircraft, an F/A-18F two-seater, was flown on September 27 from the factory at Lambert Field in St. Louis, Missouri, to the Navy’s main aircraft test center at Patuxent River, Maryland. It will undergo tests with VX-23 before being allocated to a front-line squadron. The first of two Block III aircraft intended for initial tests made its maiden flight on June 4, 2020, and both aircraft have been at Patuxent River since.
“The fleet needs capabilities to keep its edge,” said Captain Jason “Stuf” Denney, U.S. Navy F/A-18 and EA-18G program manager. “Getting the first operational Block III in our hands is a great step forward in supporting our capability and readiness goals.”
The Navy has 78 new-build Block IIIs on order as part of a March 2019 multi-year contract, comprising 61 F/A-18E single-seaters and 17 F/A-18Fs. Key features of the Block III are a 10,000-hour airframe, wide-area cockpit display, radar signature reductions, and improved networking capability. It features an open mission systems architecture that will allow it to be more easily upgraded as new capabilities and threats emerge, using an app-based approach to technology insertion.
“The hardware upgrades are complete,” said Jen Tebo, Boeing’s v-p for the F/A-18 and EA-18 programs. “Today we are maximizing the open hardware and software and developing the apps to keep Block III ahead of future threats. We are giving Navy pilots the tools to make the fastest and most informed decisions possible now and in the future.”
In addition to the new-build aircraft, Boeing is also upgrading existing Block II Super Hornets to a similar standard as part of its Service Life Modernization (SLM) program. Two lines in St. Louis and San Antonio, Texas, are involved in SLM work, which not only includes installing Block III systems but also in extending service life from 6,000 to 10,000 hours.
In other Boeing defense news, on September 28 the company announced the receipt of an order for five P-8 Poseidons for Germany to replace the navy’s P-3C Orion maritime patrollers. The acquisition had been approved by the German parliament in June.