The F/A-18 SUPER HORNET E/F is part of Boeing's Global Strike portfolio, like the F-15 or EA-18G GROWLER. The US Navy (USN) is receiveing new F/A-18s at least until 2020, at the same time there are plans to extend the life of airframes in the forces. From 6,000 to 9,000 flying hours, at the same time there should be an upgrade to advanced capabilities. Another goal is reducing the costs per flight hour. According to Boeing, the F/A-18 has the lowest costs per flying hour under the tactical attack aircrafts, around $ 20,000 per hour (for the US fleet).
So far, the USN has not decided on a replacement of the F/A-18, so there will be a mix of F/A-18 and F-35 for a long while. At the moment there is a production rate of two per month. The USN bought 564 SUPER HORNETs and 160 EA-18G GROWLERs. Originally there was a requirement of 88 GROWLERs, but missions driven up the requirements.
The F/A-18 is designed to operate in the harsh maritime environment and fly out of aircraft carriers. The F/A-18 E/F is a new airplane with nee technology, e.g. AESA radar, a 360° protection, new weapon capabilities and much more.
There will be a production of 28 SUPER HORNETS for Kuwait – the contract is not signed yet though, FMS sale is still running. Canada, India (for the aircraft carrier) and Finland (60 SUPER HORNETS) are other candidates, Australia is a receiving customer.
The Australian airframes could be upgraded to a GROWLER later. The Kuwait and Canadian (18 SUPER HORNETS) airplanes will not have this option or did not asked for. According to Boeing, “Kuwait will get the most advanced SUPER HORNET,” with the BLOCK III version.
This includes the Raytheon AESA radar upgrade, advanced cockpit system, IRST Block I & II, conformal fuel tanks, IDECM Block IV and an enhanced engine (from General Electric with 18% more performance and a better reliability). It will offer battle-space situational awareness, long range counter stealth targeting, bigger range, increased acceleration and room for growth. “Block III” is the USN term, the other customers can choose from these options.
Deliveries could start 2020. According to the USN flight planning, Block III might not be the last variants. Every two years there is a software upgrade to integrate new capabilities (e.g. sensors or effectors). A wide band data link will be one of the main enablers for the future, to built up a tactical network (e.g. with F-35). Some of the new upgrades can/will also be part of an F/A-18 E/F upgrade.
Boeing stated: “The F/A-18 don’t try to be a F-35, but they can operate as a package, they can go so far together and stay the same time.”
The HORNET brings a lot of payload and different sensors in to be relevant.
The advanced EA-18G GROWLER is offering a full spectrum dominance. It has the AESA upgrade, an open architecture/advanced computing (DTP-N), next generation jammer, ALQ-218 upgrades, the Advanced Tactical Data Link (TTNT), the enhanced engine and the conformal tanks. Modification program will start next year and enhance the life time from 6,000 to 9,000 flying hours, the new airplanes coming out from production from FY2019 will already have a life of 9,000 flying hours.