Boeing has given an F/A-18 a new lease on life after delivering the first Super Hornet under the Service Life Modification program to the U.S. Navy. The second SLM jet will deliver by the end of the month, and Boeing will deliver the third F/A-18 in April. The initial Super Hornets delivered from the program will extend the service life from 6,000 to 7,500 flight hours. Future modification plans in the early 2020s will enable the jets to fly 10,000 hours and incorporate the new Block III capabilities.
There are now 15 Super Hornets in the SLM program on production lines in St. Louis and San Antonio. It takes 18 months to complete modifications on an F/A-18, although that time will be driven down to one year as the program progresses. Boeing will deliver five more Super Hornets this year. The Block III conversion will include enhanced network capability, conformal fuel tanks, an advanced cockpit system, signature improvements and an enhanced communication system. The updates are expected to keep the F/A-18 in active service for decades to come.
The contract will include the following in support of comprehensive service life modifications to the Super Hornets to maximise aircraft in-reporting status, and return aircraft to the fleet with increased service life and capability: aircraft inspections and physical verification of fleet usage; warranty and non-warranty modifications; repairs incident to modification; recurring and non-recurring engineering efforts; logistics; project management; parts, kits, and associated materials; and data.
SLM was initiated in 2018 and is anticipated to continue for the next 20-plus years, with the schedule of inductions increasing in the next few years until the steady induction rate of 40 aircraft per year is reached. Banagan said that SLM was designed with a “learn as you go approach,” with throughput and efficiency expected to improve. The current turnaround time of 18 months, from induction to return, is expected to be reduced to 12 months by fiscal year 2023.