The U.S. Navy is welcoming its next generation multi-mission tactical fighter by taking delivery of the first Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet test jets this month, as part of its continuing effort to improve aircraft lethality, survivability, interoperability and sustainability in an ever-evolving threat environment. Like every aircraft slated for the fleet, The Boeing Company-produced two-seat model (F287) and single-seat (E323) will undergo comprehensive testing. At Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX-23) will perform shore-based carrier testing and focus mainly on the hardware and aeromechanical aspects of test with the F model. At VX-31, located at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California, teams will examine software functionality and network architecture. Once testing is complete at VX-23, the two-seated model will ferry to VX-31 to complete Block III flight testing.
While the jet’s exterior appearance is largely unchanged, Block III’s increased service life of 10,000 flight hours and reduced radar signature are accompanied by a new avionics suite that brings the Common Tactical Picture into the cockpit. Aircrew will also find an Advanced Cockpit System, with large touchscreen displays for improved user interface and more powerful computing through the Distributed Targeting Processor Network and Tactical Targeting Network Technology. F/A-18 & EA-1G Program Manager (PMA-265) Capt. Jason Denney recalled Block III started as an unconventional acquisition program in support of maintaining improved aviation readiness and speed to the fleet initiatives as the Navy revamped its roadmap.
After leveraging nearly two decades worth of cost and production data, the award-winning NAVAIR contracts team was able to expeditiously award a roughly $4 billion multiyear procurement contract to Boeing in March 2019. For taxpayers, this provides significant cost savings in the form of bulk purchasing and long-range planning that capitalizes on existing production lines that will allow the Navy to acquire a minimum of 24 strike fighters each year through fiscal year 2021. In addition to the Block III delivery, Boeing will also perform Service Life Modification (SLM) to hundreds of Block II Super Hornets that extend their service lives and integrate Block III capabilities. The first squadron deployment of Block III Super Hornet is anticipated in mid-2023, with a plan in place to have two Block III squadrons, composed of new production and Block IIs that have undergone SLM, accompanying each Carrier Air Wing by 2027.