FARNBOROUGH, England — The Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet program is working closely with the Office of Naval Research to explore technological enhancements to extend its service life well into the 2030’s and beyond, service officials said at the Farnborough International Airshow.
Alongside upgrades to the platform that are already underway such as targeting improvements and experimentation with conformal fuel tanks and an external weapons pod, the Navy is planning upgrades to the plane’s sensors, radar and computer systems, said Capt. Frank Morley, program manager for the F/A-18 and EA-18G Growler.
While the Navy is making progress with existing modifications to the platform, the service is also looking into slightly longer-term surface-warfare upgrades to the aircraft such as improving the active electronically scanned array radar and forward looking infrared radar technologies, Morley said.
In particular, one effort involves research into a technology known as the “Magic Carpet,” a series of flight control algorithms developed by the Navy to improve control of the airplane as it maintains a glide slope and lands on the deck of a carrier, Morley explained.
“When you land on a carrier it is all about lag time. It is about precision – you correct and then re-correct to maintain a precise glide slope. You are in this continual correction mode which requires a lot of efficiency to do it well. If you are able to use flight controls, you can cut the lag out of that to a much greater extent,” Morley added.
With the flight control algorithms, pilots will need a lot less time to become efficient at landing on the carrier deck. Depending upon how things progress with this technology, operational squadrons may push to make it a program of record, he said.
“If we can cut down the amount of time we spend practicing to land on a carrier, those hours can now be used for other things — more time for training on complex weapons systems,” he said.
Meanwhile, this research and technological development is happening in tandem with ongoing upgrades to the plane. There are near term efforts such as the ongoing initiative to outfit 170 F/A-18E/F Block II fighter jets with a next-generation infrared sensor designed to locate air-to-air target in a high-threat electronic attack environment.
Infrared search and track, or IRST, system, is a long range sensor that searches for and detect infrared emissions, Navy officials said. Slated to be operational by 2017, the system can simultaneously track multiple targets and provide a highly effective air-to-air targeting capability.
“The story of F-18 has been one of evolutionary development throughout its lifetime. This is no different now as we continue to evolve Super Hornet and pace the threat,” Morley said.