The U.S. Navy is upgrading its fleet of F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets.
As reported by Popular Mechanics, the Navy will modernize its Super Hornet flees to the new Block III standard. Among other things, the new Super Hornet Block IIIs will have improved on-board electronics, radar, range and weapons systems, improving its versatility as a multirole fighter jet in the U.S. military.
One of the biggest improvements of the Block III Super Hornet is an application of low-observable paint to improve the jet’s stealth capabilities. While this doesn’t make it invisible, experts say the new coating will reduce its radar cross signature, allowing it to sneak past enemy radars undetected. When the Super Hornet was originally developed, it had a lower radar cross signature than the legacy Hornet. However, this new coating improves its radar cross signature even further, giving it stealth-like capabilities that rival the U.S. military’s modern F-35C.
The other major improvement, as previously noted, is the additional of Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFTs). Reports indicate that the presence of these external fuel tanks can extend the Block III Super Hornet’s range by approximately 120 miles. And when used in conjunction with the MQ-25 Stingray, it can allow the Block III Super Hornet to engage in combat from long distances — far away from the carrier from which it launched.
“The initial focus of this program will extend the life of the fleet from 6,000 to 9,000 flight hours,” Mark Sears, Boeing program manager, said in a statement last week. “Each of these jets will fly another 10 to 15 years, so making them next-generation aircraft is critical.”
The U.S. Navy says it will purchase the first set of two dozen Block III Super Hornets in 2019, with a projected delivery date of 2020. Once the new jets become rolling it, the Navy will begin to rotate out the older jets in favor of the Block III Super Hornets.
Originally designed by McDonnel Douglas during the mid-1990s, the Super Hornet is a multirole fighter jet with twin engines that can take off and land from a sea-based carrier. It’s equipped with a 20 mm rotary cannon and can carry both air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. The Super Hornet also have five external fuel tanks for additional fuel storage. Using these tanks, it can essentially be converted into a lightweight and maneuverable air refueling system, providing fuel to other jets and airborne assets of the U.S. military and its allies.