More Super Hornets will soon arrive on American flattops, and they’ll be the most advanced to date.
Here Come the Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet
The United States Navy’s venerable Super Hornet is getting upgraded yet again. Here’s what we know.
The first Hornets entered service with the United States Navy and Marine Corps in the early 1980s. McDonnell Douglas designed the multi-mission naval fighter from the outset to perform several missions, replacing several specialized Navy airplanes like the F-14 Tomcat, the A-6 Intruder, and the A-7 Corsair.
About 15 years later, the Navy’s larger and more capable Super Hornet replaced the original Hornet. The evolutionary design centers around the Super Hornet’s airframe, approximately a fifth larger than the original Hornet.
Consequently, the Super Hornet can carry about a third more fuel than its predecessor, which gives the newer airplane greater range and endurance. The new Super Hornets can also refuel themselves via a buddy supply system, and although not a stealthy aircraft, incorporates measures that reduce the airplane’s radar cross-section.
Super Hornet Block III: What Can They Do?
The new Super Hornets will bring new capabilities to the Navy fleet with them and ensure that for now at least, the F/A-18 will remain the mainstay of the Navy’s aircraft carrier-based air power.
The new Block III Super Hornets conducted “shake, rattle and roll testing,” which imitates the flight deck of an aircraft carrier at sea and validates the fighter’s ability to function during catapult assisted launch and cable arrested landings which generate huge amounts of force and can stress airframes not designed for naval operations.
“Improvements making Block III the most lethal and survivable F/A-18 in operation include an advanced cockpit with new, aircrew-configurable displays, advanced networking, radar signature enhancements, and a 10,000-hour service life,” the Navy explained. “Additionally, the Block III’s design provides expeditious growth capacity and enables ease of integration of future technologies, allowing the Super Hornet to outpace adversaries in today’s dynamic threat environment.”
According to Boeing Super Hornet material, the Block III standard will be offered in both single-seat E model and the two-seat F models, though it is unclear what mix of the two the Navy would like. Additionally, Boeing promotional material mentions that the new airframes are compatible with conformal fuel tanks that can carry 3,500 pounds of additional fuel and reduce drag. However, previous reporting suggests the Navy will not equip their new fighter with the tanks.
The Navy is slated to accept 78 brand-new Block III-standard Super Hornets, with the manufacturer Boeing delivering two new airplanes per month until 2024.
A Navy Capitan involved with the new Super Hornet project praised both the Block III standard and the effort to field the new fighter, explaining that “the development and integration of Block III capabilities, to include both hardware and software, has been a complex undertaking.”
“With the simultaneous efforts to integrate these capabilities into our new production aircraft as well as develop the retrofit kits and technical directives for incorporation into Block II aircraft during Service Life Modification, the Naval Aviation Enterprise team, as well as our industry partners, have performed tremendously to bring these capabilities online safely and efficiently.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and Defense Writer. He lives in Berlin and covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society.