Last production F / A-18E Block II
Boeing recently completed production and delivery of the Block II F / A-18E / F Super Hornet fighter-bombers. Now the construction of aircraft of the new version of Block III is launched. The first vehicles of this series left the assembly shop a few days ago, and will soon begin service in one of the US Navy squadrons. More will soon follow.
The F / A-18E / F Block II project was created in the first half of the two thousandth, and in 2005 serial production started. Boeing regularly supplied new aircraft to the customer, but now their production has stopped. The last vehicle of the 2nd series was handed over to the Navy a few weeks ago.
On April 17, the F / A-18E Aircraft Handover Act was signed with the serial number “E322”, completing the Block II series. To date, the vehicle has been transferred to the 34th fighter-bomber squadron of naval aviation and is preparing for full service.
One of the first Block III aircraft
From 2005 to 2020, the manufacturing company transferred 322 single-seat F / A-18E aircraft and 286 double-seat F / A-18F aircraft to the Navy. By the time the production of the 2nd series was completed, Boeing and related enterprises rebuilt production chains and began construction of the first fighters of the next modification.
In March 2019, the US Navy and Boeing signed a contract for the construction and delivery of new F / A-18E / F aircraft of the new Block III series. The agreement provided for an early start of production with the supply of equipment in 2020-2024. The Pentagon wants to receive 78 aircraft of the new series. The bulk of the deliveries, 61 units, will be made up of single-seat F / A-18E fighters. Double “F” ordered in the amount of 17 pieces.
The total cost of the contract is approx. $ 4 billion. Thus, the average cost of a 3-series machine reaches $ 51.3 million. In comparison, the production of the F / A-18E / F Block II cost less than 50 million.
On May 8, Boeing removed the first two F / A-18Fs of the new series from the assembly shop. After testing, they will be handed over to the customer for commissioning and full operation. Acceptance will take place within two months.
Image of F / A-18F from promotional material
In parallel with the production of new Block III aircraft, the existing Block II will be modernized. Starting this year, the Navy plans to annually place orders for the repair and upgrade of fighters from stock. Until 2033, all combat aircraft of the previous series will undergo such modernization. This will make it possible to increase the combat effectiveness of naval aviation without large expenditures on the construction of the required number of aircraft of the latest modification.
Features of the series
The Block III modification is distinguished by significant changes in the airframe, general aircraft systems and avionics. The improvements are aimed at increasing the main tactical, technical and operational characteristics. Newly built aircraft will initially have all these qualities, and the former Block II will receive them as a result of overhaul.
Due to modifications of the airframe and individual systems, the resource growth from 6 to 10 thousand flight hours is ensured. Some reduction in effective scattering area is provided. Above the fuselage, 3500 lb (1589 kg) conformal fuel tanks are installed in addition to the 6,200-6600 lb internal fuel tanks, which provides an increase in flight range without noticeable degradation of aerodynamics.
The main features of the Block III modernization
A deep modernization of the onboard electronics complex has been carried out. New satellite communication devices have been introduced into the avionics. Improved networking capabilities related to data exchange. The sighting and navigation system was able to work with suspended containers of infrared reconnaissance. Some of the existing units have been retained, but with an increase in the main characteristics. A “glass cockpit” has been formed. It is based on a 19×10 inches (482×254 mm) liquid crystal screen that occupies most of the dashboard.
The combat load and the range of weapons used have not changed, the F / A-18E / F version of “Block-3” can carry the same weapons as Block II. At the same time, suspended containers, new means of communication and control, etc. simplify its use and increase the overall fighting qualities.
Takeoff and landing characteristics remained at the level of previous modifications and ensure full operation on aircraft carriers. Additional fuel allows you to increase the range and / or duration of the flight, load, etc.
Between 2005 and 2020, Boeing and its subcontractors built more than 600 F / A-18E / F Block II aircraft in two versions. Some of this technique has been lost or scrapped in the intervening years. According to open data, 540 aircraft of this type remain in service, of which approx. 400 units ready for use.
New cockpit equipment
In the new 3-series, only two aircraft are ready so far. Now they are being tested and will return to service only in the summer. After that, over the next few years, the construction of several dozen more vehicles is expected – a total of 78 units.
For the foreseeable future, the share of Block III aircraft will gradually grow – both through the construction of new ones and through the modernization of the existing Block II. The current plans of the Pentagon provide for the formation of a fleet of 618 aircraft of the latest modification, but this will take 12-13 years. As a result of these works, carrier-based aircraft will remain without aircraft of the 2nd series.
Aircraft for export
The main customer of the F / A-18 fighter-bombers of all modifications has always been the US Navy, but a significant amount of such equipment was sent to foreign customers. The new Super Hornet is hardly an exception.
The creation of the Block III project, namely some of the modernization components, was partially funded by Kuwait. In March 2018, the country ordered 28 aircraft of two modifications: 22 single “E” and 6 double “F”. The contract provides for the construction of equipment that combines instrumentation and the capabilities of “blocks” II and III. The contract will begin shortly.
Aircraft F / A-18E / F Block II on the deck of an aircraft carrier
Germany is being considered as a potential customer. The Bundeswehr Air Force plans to abandon the outdated Panavia Tornado aircraft, and their place may be taken by the American F / A-18E / F, incl. the latest version of Block III. Boeing also participates in tenders for the Indian Air Force and Navy, but they are still far from completion, and their result is difficult to predict.
Thus, from the point of view of the manufacturing company, the F / A-18E / F Block III project is already successful. A major Pentagon manufacturing contract has been won and upgrades are pending. There is a foreign order for “hybrid” aircraft. Even if Germany or India are unwilling to buy planes, Boeing will not be left without a profit.
High priority project
It is well known that the carrier fleet and carrier-based aircraft are one of the main instruments of the US armed forces. Their development is emphasized, and the results of this approach can be seen right now. Just a few days ago, tests began on carrier-based fighter-bombers of the new series, and in the near future they will begin service in the Navy.
According to the Pentagon’s plans, by the mid-thirties, the entire fleet of F / A-18E / F aircraft will correspond to the newest Block III modification, which has significant advantages. This will improve the combat qualities of individual aircraft, aviation groups of an aircraft carrier, the Navy and the armed forces as a whole. Thus, the recent roll-out of a pair of production aircraft turns out to be a major event for both the customer and the manufacturer.