Home » Air » F/A-18 Fleet Receives Advanced Targeting Sensor

F/A-18 Fleet Receives Advanced Targeting Sensor

by Kris Osborn on March 18, 2014

130511-N-RG587-182The Navy is in the early phases of outfitting 170 F/A-18E/F Block II fighter jets with a next-generation infrared sensor designed to locate air-to-air targets in a high-threat electronic attack environment, service officials said.

The Infrared Search and Track, or IRST, system will be installed in coming years by operational squadrons flying F-18s, Navy officials said.

“The IRST system is a passive, long-range sensor that searches for and detects infrared emissions. The system can simultaneously track multiple targets and provide a highly effective air-to-air targeting capability, even when encountering advanced threats equipped with radar-jamming technology,” Capt. Frank Morley,  program manager, F-18 and EA-18 Growler said in a written statement.

The IRST technology was specifically engineered with a mind to the fast-changing electromagnetic warfare environment and the realization that potential future adversaries are far more likely to contest U.S. dominance in these areas.

“The IRST provides the Super Hornet an alternate air-to-air targeting system in a high threat electronic attack environment.  The requirement for an IRST on the Super Hornet is the direct result of recent advancements of threat electronic warfare systems,” Morley said.

The IRST system — which recently completed its first flight on board an F-18 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. — is passive and therefore harder to detect than some radar technologies which give off radiation, Navy officials said.

The IRST technology, designed by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, is designed to search for heat signals over long distances, providing the aircraft with key targeting information.

“We continually evolve the aircraft to outpace future adversaries,” Tim Adrian, IRST F/A-18 program manager, Boeing, said in a written statement.  “When radar isn’t an option, this upgrade allows operators to locate targets and deploy the best weapon for the mission.”

The IRST system is being developed under a $135 million contract awarded in 2011 and is currently planned to be deployed by 2017, a Boeing statement said.

The technology was tested last year on a Boeing King Air Test Aircraft, the statement added.

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{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance March 18, 2014 at 12:46 am

So the F-18 will have similar senor to the MiG-29. YAWN!!!

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@Earlydawn March 18, 2014 at 12:53 am

Completely different generations of IRST technology.

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blight_ March 18, 2014 at 12:25 pm

They also had HMD. Not knocking the Soviets, but comparing equipment to equipment is comparing a "tank" (M4 Sherman) to a "tank" (Pzkw V Panther).

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ronaldo March 18, 2014 at 1:12 am

Yes, this is much closer to the F-35 technology.

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Rest March 18, 2014 at 1:49 am

Translation …. something that doesn't work.

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CharleyA March 18, 2014 at 11:24 am

Yup, at 1/3 the cost, flying years before the F-35C. Sound like a good deal.

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blight_ March 18, 2014 at 12:23 pm

"This is much closer to the DAS that is part of the design that must be be just right for the three bears".

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Charles James Haas April 2, 2014 at 3:11 pm

This is closer to the EOTS, not the DAS.

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William_C1 March 18, 2014 at 2:44 am

Is this the one incorporated into an external fuel tank? I've got to question the wisdom of that design. Or are they putting the sensor under the nose as proposed as part of that Super Hornet "roadmap"?

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CharleyA March 18, 2014 at 11:34 am

It is part of the roadmap, planned years ago, currently funded, and on budget and schedule. The yet to be funded ASH has a derivative of the same sensor mounted in the fuselage. Mounting the sensor on the C-EFT allows it to be swapped between high lot Super Hornets, like the TCS was on F-14s back in the day.

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William_C1 March 19, 2014 at 12:13 am

Sucks if you need to drop that fuel tank however.

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blight_ March 19, 2014 at 9:11 am

The electronics probably don't do so well when dropped from a couple thousand feet.

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CharleyA April 10, 2014 at 7:07 pm

The CT always stays on, except in the rarest of circumstances. This is not WWII.

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Jacob June 18, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Still,you have a pilot that accidentally drops the tank or it blows up,what then?

NakedWeasel March 18, 2014 at 6:22 am

Only one I've seen is the Stealth Hornet's fuel tank IRST. What is it about that setup that makes you uneasy?

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Bobby March 18, 2014 at 6:41 am

Since the Infrared Search and Track Technology is still in the prototyping stages the unit was mounted on a 330 gal fuel tank and centerline mounted. But in the previously held 2013 Dubai Show, Boeing said that it will be plans to incorporated internally mounted Lockheed Martin infrared search-and-track system under a Super Hornet nose as part of a “multi-ship/multi-spectral” demonstration of data sharing with the Navy, involving an E-2D Hawkeye airborne early-warning aircraft. Participating aircraft will share data from multiple sensors using Rockwell Collins’ tactical targeting network technology (TTNT) waveform, which supports high data-rate, long-range communications.

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blight_ March 18, 2014 at 10:04 am

Waiting for a Common Support Aircraft, v2 to replace Hawkeye and Greyhound, and perhaps bring some fixed wing ASW back to the carrier (mini-Poseidon?)

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BlackOwl18E March 18, 2014 at 6:49 am

This article doesn't specify if they are using the fuel tank mounted IRST when it mentions that they are equipping them to Super Hornets. i would think if they are equipping them to Super Hornets they would be using the version mounted under the nose from Boeing's Advanced Super Hornet program. If not, then I think this article might be incorrectly worded and the Navy is really just buying 170 of the fuel tank mounted IRST systems.

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Chris March 18, 2014 at 10:30 am

They are going with the fuel tank option so as not to have to modify any of the Super Bugs structure or existing wiring to save costs. The downside is that it will affect radar signature and maneuverability in a potential conflict. Apparently they are looking at options for upgrading our existing fleet of teen-series USAF fighters as well.

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CharleyA March 18, 2014 at 11:43 am

They always fly with the CT, so using the CT mounted sensor won't change the current signature appreciably. The ASH with the weps pod and CFTs has the fuselage mounted sensor. We'll eventually see at least some of the ASH features adopted by the fleet (likely the CFTs,) but the other features would be more affordable on new-build or SLEP aircraft.

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blight_ March 18, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Heh. In the old days old aircraft were exported for sale and new-build aircraft purchased to keep production lines open. But I guess we're done with trying to keep production lines open…now it's about upgrades as long as possible. Additionally, the market for aircraft has contracted especially as the price has ballooned.

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Chris March 18, 2014 at 4:21 pm

If the F/A-18 were to be engaged by an enemy fighter it would immediately dump it's tanks. All I was pointing out is that in the event of actual combat, they would have to make a decision between more maneuverability and no IRST or less maneuverability and retain IRST. Seems like a silly option as opposed to just mounting it on the fuselage somewhere.

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Rest March 18, 2014 at 7:22 pm

The F-18 was not designed to dog fight. It doesn't stand much of a chance against say the SU-30 or J-10. Either run or eject.

Dfens March 18, 2014 at 9:31 am

Maybe this is a sign the surface Navy has learned that the future doesn't involve big radars pumping out a "here I am, shoot me" message to all the world? Nah, too much to hope for.

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blight_ March 18, 2014 at 10:04 am

IRST will be pretty neat for the ground role, not just air to air. Or spotting hot ships against a cold ocean.

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Dfens March 18, 2014 at 11:52 am

Passive sensors are where it's at now even in radio frequencies.

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blight_ March 18, 2014 at 11:59 am

I'm curious about a battlefield implementation of passive radar. All the ones I've seen use background emitters like TV stations et al that will probably get whacked in wartime. I did see something about using satellite signals, but there's too many caveats with satellites, plus the fact that they will be so much dust in space against an actual nation-state.

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Dfens March 19, 2014 at 9:31 am

In land based situations you can use the radio waves that are produced by everything from cell phones to FM radio towers to illuminate targets. It's not quite so easy to do that in the middle of an ocean, but still as you mentioned there are other wavelengths where ships light themselves up, and there's visible spectrum light during the day.

Radar works well for munitions with slow closing speeds, but sweeping that beam through space takes time, and the faster you sweep it, the less illumination it provides. It's not a lot different from looking for a iceberg in the dark with a spot light.

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Cataldo March 19, 2014 at 11:50 am

In italy we had a tradition about, Aulos from selex works with a bunch of background source emitters, and there is a commercial version backed on FM right now on the shelf. For future militay use is not difficult to image a kind of strategic disperse background sources to activate, in case of a wide attack on the whole spectrum of emitters.

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Hialpha March 20, 2014 at 10:49 pm

They already have a FLIR pod strapped to the forward cheek. It is a great IR sensor primed for A/G roles.

That being said, it'd be really nice if they integrated the capability somehow into a single component.

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Robbie March 18, 2014 at 12:24 pm

F-14 redux….

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blight_ March 18, 2014 at 1:29 pm

Upgrade it before you kill it?

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john March 18, 2014 at 12:34 pm

This proposed IRST sensor is an upgraded version of the one the F-14D used for many years.

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Taylor March 18, 2014 at 7:26 pm

Might work better against stealth aircraft.

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hibeam March 18, 2014 at 7:33 pm

EA-18 Growler? Really? We have pilots out there who have to tell women in bars that they fly the Growler? That's gotta hurt.

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JohnnyRanger March 18, 2014 at 10:49 pm

Ha. Try telling them you're an infantryman. Growler wins. EVERY. TIME,

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Hialpha March 20, 2014 at 10:52 pm

Something wrong with the Growler — aside from the name?

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AussieREMF March 21, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Try googling "growler"

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hibeam March 18, 2014 at 8:13 pm

We have already installed ARSTBTN on our whole military so this IRST will not be needed. Every one is our bestest friend ever now.

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blight_ March 19, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Of interest to readers of Nature http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v507/n7492/fhttp://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v507/n7492/f

"The next generation of radar systems will need to be highly automated and use software-defined signal generation and detection for flexible operation in surveillance and wireless communication applications. However, the necessary analogue-to-digital conversion poses serious technical limits for conventional microwave electronic components. That makes photonic radar an attractive option, well suited to digital operation. Until now photonics-based generation and detection of radio signals have generally been studied separately. Here Paolo Ghelfi et al. combine the individual components to produce a functioning, complete photonic radar system. The system's effectiveness and precision are demonstrated in a field trial involving the detection of passing aircraft."

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hibeam March 19, 2014 at 7:37 pm

Gamma Ray Radar is the coming thing. GRR. It supports a very rapid scan rate. GRRR. We can put it on the Growler.

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Hialpha March 20, 2014 at 10:56 pm

This is a really nice future growth step for the SH family in light of what's coming down the pipe in Russia and China over the next 10 years. Too long without this capability already.

The sensor fusion in this aircraft is pretty impressive in a practical way. The only problem is trying to train guys to fully exploit all the tools available to them in the cockpit without being overwhelmed.

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IRST March 27, 2014 at 5:20 pm

But it's on a huge centerline fuel tank that can't be jettisoned. Won't that hurt maneuverability if they get in a dogfight? If the enemy is within IRST range you're probably already in a dogfight. Seems like they would be better off mounting this on the airframe

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Praetorian March 18, 2014 at 8:29 pm

It's not like the SuperHornet needed the IRST. The Su-27 family has a radar cross section of a barn.

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Chris March 18, 2014 at 11:15 pm

Your right… It was designed to Fight / Attack. Just because it isn't an F-22 and was purpose-built for dog fighting doesn't mean it isn't an implausability. I was just pointing out the obvious design flaw is all.

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Hialpha March 20, 2014 at 11:01 pm

Rest — you can win a fight long before you hit the merge, providing that you have the ROE to employ BVR. In BVR I'd take the SH over any Flanker or Fulcrum series 100% of the time.

For a WVR fight, I'd still take the SH because A) it's 'merican dammit, and b) my training to use the weapons on SH to my advantage beats their crappy missiles and smoky engines — however high-thrust they are.

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Rest March 18, 2014 at 9:51 pm

If you wanna exaggerate, say it has the rcs of the earth. Doesn't change a thing about the clear edge the Flankers have against the F-18s and others in the teen series.

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JohnnyRanger March 18, 2014 at 10:45 pm

Rest…Restore Palestine? Is it really you? If so…go away again.

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