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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

The U.S. Navy’s Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet Is Loaded Full of Weapons

Super Hornet
PHILIPPINE SEA (Sept. 29, 2021) An F/A-18E Super Hornet assigned to the “Golden Dragons” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 192 prepares to launch off the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), Sept. 29, 2021. The Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group is on a scheduled deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability through alliances and partnerships while serving as a ready-response force in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Isaiah Williams) 210929-N-IW069-1057

Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet, Explained

How do you achieve more stealth characteristics on a non-stealthy fighter plane? Start with the external weapons and create a rounded “enclosed weapons pod” (EWP) to reduce the radar signature. That’s what the U.S. Navy and designers did with the Block III F/A-18 Super Hornets. The early Super Hornets had munitions under the wing on pylons that created a radar return. Now Block III has the weapons pod to carry 2,500 pounds of ordnance. The enclosed weapons pod has four internal stations for munitions, a single Block III Super Hornet can carry a total of three EWPs.

Super Hornet: Many Weapons Choices

The Block III Super Hornet’s weapons pod gives it the ability to carry missiles and bombs in a manner that reduces the chances of radar lock. The airplane can already employ “the shorter-range Sidewinder air-to-air missile, the AMRAAM or Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, Joint Standoff Weapon, the Small Diameter Bomb and the Mk-84 general-purpose bomb, among others,” according to Warrior Maven. Like Block II,  Block III Super Hornet can also carry the AGM-65 Maverick missile, the AGM-84 Harpoon ship-killing missile, and the AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missile. It has a 20mm M61 rotary cannon.

Super-Duper Hornet On the Way

The Navy intends to buy 78 all-new Block III Super Hornets for $4 billion through 2024 plus converting the 550 other Super Hornets to the Block III standard. This will make the Super “Duper” Hornet one of the most advanced non-stealth warplanes in the world. 

Neat Solutions to Improve the Old Cockpit

Look inside the cockpit for further improvements. Gone are the old-school screens, knobs, and gauges. Now naval aviators will use a 10×19 inch iPad-like touchscreen. This is part of the upgraded Advanced Cockpit System to relay more information easily to the pilots.

Better Mission Computer

Do you want to do a software update without making changes to the hardware? There’s a mission computer and data link called the Tactical Targeting Network Technology that is 17-times more powerful than the Block II computer. This system improves situational awareness. The new infrared search and track system can give pilots an extended sensor range and better survivability. 

Stealth Characteristics to Resist Radar Lock

It’s also tougher to get a radar lock on the Block III. While it is not completely stealthy, enabling the airplane to “disappear,” it will be able to “delay engagement,” according to the National Interest.    

Block III will also have a longer lifespan than Block II, which is 66-percent longer or comprised of 10,000 hours of service life.  

Super Hornet Has Much to Brag About

The Block III Super Hornet will be a fierce fighter for the navy. It starts with more weapons in a pod that has stealth characteristics. The cockpit will have that up-to-date touchscreen. The main computer is noteworthy for its power and versatility. It will be tougher for the enemy to lock it down on the radar. It can also spot adversaries from farther away.

Look for Advanced Networking

Boeing vice president Jen Tebo, who is responsible for the Super Hornet program, said, “If you think about where the capabilities are going in the future, it’s certainly around the airframe, certainly around the survivability piece, stealth technology piece. But the meat and potatoes in the future are really going to be around the networking and the mission systems.”  

Mating the Block III Super Hornet with the F-35C gives the Navy extensive firepower. The F-35C can fly deep into enemy airspace undetected, while the Block III flies in the background in reserve to fire stand-off missiles. They should have a happy marriage and give the navy a boost to its carrier operations while competing with next-generation fighters from China.

Now serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.