Navy Won’t Bite Just Yet on F/A-18 Refinements

FARNBOROUGH, England — Remember Boeing’s pitch about all the high-speed new refinements and capabilities it wants to add to its F/A-18E and F Super Hornets? It has talked about more efficient engines, conformal fuel tanks and even fighters launching their own unmanned aerial vehicles.

The world’s biggest operator of Super Hornets, the U.S. Navy, isn’t quite ready to sign up for all that stuff — yet.

The Navy’s Super Hornet program manager, Capt. Frank Morley, a career Hornet driver and true believer, said at the air show here Monday that the Navy has not signed up for any of Boeing’s next-gen improvements to its Es and Fs. But he phrased his answer to a reporter’s question in a very specific way:

“The U.S. Navy has not committed to any of those yet from a domestic standpoint,” he said. Morley said Boeing had focused so far on advertising its potential Super-Duper Hornet — our phrase, not his — on international customers, but he acknowledged that he has liked what he’s heard.

“We’ll see where things go,” he said. “They’re all enticing in some way.”

Although the Navy is a (reluctant) member of Club F-35, Morley’s presentation reinforced just how much, and for how long, it will continue to depend on the Superbug. The service is going to extend the lives of some of its A and C model Hornets to 10,000 hours, and one of his charts said the Navy would continue to fly some variety of Super Hornets and E/A-18G Growlers until 2040. Another one of his PowerPoint slides, under the heading “Airborne Networking,” included the bullet point: “UAV connectivity.”

So even though the Navy will pass on the Super-Duper today, it may not be long before it begins upgrading its fleet with some of the bells, whistles and toys Boeing keeps dreaming up.

  • Lance

    Strange to see current fighter will fly way till the 2040s and beyond let the classics live.

    • guess

      & yet the B52 will still probably fly on

      • Black Owl

        F/A-18 is a classic. B-52 is an antique. Both are still useful with the advances.

    • RunningBear

      “and one of his charts said the Navy would continue to fly some variety of Super Hornets and E/A-18G Growlers until 2040”

      Recently, the USN was planning on buying 20+ SH in 2012 and 20+ SH in 2013. Those aircraft will not see thirty years in service by 2040, “time keeps flying by! :)”

  • TonyC

    the US Navy has been slow to upgrade the tactical fleet. The F-14A served for years before the F-14B and F-14D were developed. The F-18C/D are now very old too.

    • blight_

      I don’t think the Navy is going to bother spending too much on the legacy Hornets. The Supers are in the bank and JSF is supposed to come in soon, so…

  • blight_

    Legacy Hornet will be out the door, then it’ll be JSF-C and Super Hornet on the flight deck.

    • EW3

      Add in a UAV to the mix.

      For SEAD operations JSF teamed with UAV(s).
      For normal ops F-18 with UAV(s).

      This would reduce the need for JSF on carriers considerably.

      Amphibs would still need JSF.

      • blight_

        It’d be hard to imagine a single-seat JSF trying to operate…everything, all at once.

        • EW3

          The naval UAVs are much more autonomous then predators for example. As I understand it they will land on a carrier deck unaided by man.

          Given that, the JSF can give higher level commands and not have to engage in “flying” the UAV. Think of the JSF pilot as a chess player command his pieces, selecting targets for the UAVs. It’s possible the JSF will not even engage the enemy and it’s weapons will be for defense only.

      • ltfunk2

        JSF cant do sead it has no anti-radiation missile

        • William C.

          AAGRM is planned for integration on the F-35. Also, Raytheon’s T3 will have an anti-radiation mode, although that is more of a technology demonstrator.

        • Johnny Ranger

          No HARM capability? Externally of course?

  • Chops

    They forgot to add the decreased radar signature in the way of stealth redesign and coatings.

    • blight_

      More hypoxia for everyone?

      There’s also careful tuning of the exhaust to minimize IR signature: otherwise anyone with an IRST will see you just fine.

  • Updating the Super Hornets is a good idea.
    Updating the hornets A-C is just throwing good money after bad….

  • Big-Rick

    Nice discussions everyone :-)

    as in all warfare tech, a good offense comes out only to be countered by a good defense only to be countered by a good offense, etc etc.

    So in the end we can sum it all of it up this way
    -stealth is a weapon of today, not tomorrow
    -those will the best electronics (radars, surveillance, IRST, passive and otherwise) will win the day
    -along with the best, longest range, fastest and smartest AA weapons (and other missiles) AND the best tactics/skills will win the war.

    therefore, as great as stealth is today we need to plan for the “after stealth” phase of warfare

  • STemplar

    A bit more of this and the USN will have the ammo it needs along with the rest of the services to face stark reality when it comes to the F35.

    • Black Owl

      Ouch. That was painful to read. $51,143 per flight hour for the F-35A. The Super Hornet is only in the $18,000 per flight hour range. One thing that article didn’t mention was that when asked about the cost estimates per flight hour for the F-35C and F-35B, Lockheed Martin simply “couldn’t find” them. In other words they refused to release them because they are obscenely higher than the F-35A.

      • STemplar

        Regardless, such a hedging statement from another navy man. Greenert’s comments earlier last week. Publicly the USN and services are supporting the F35 but l would imagine behind the scenes there is a lot of angry back and forth over unit and flight hour costs.

        At the end of the day the F35 has too much momentum l would think to be cancelled, but the money does run out at some point. I would expect there will be some sort of truncated buy of all 3 models when it’s said and done.

        • blight_

          187 of you, 187 of you, 187 of you…we have 3x the number of aircraft that emerged from the Raptor program. Well done, everyone!

  • Dfens

    Wouldn’t it be just so damn sad if Boeing had to fund it’s own development of new Hornet capabilities?

    • Chops

      It would be great if Boeing went and devoloped the FA-XX 6th gen fighter on their own and put a lot of this F35 boondoggle behind us.

      • Dfens

        Oh hell yes!

  • Benjamin

    The Navy and the Marine Corps need the F-35 as much as the Air Force needs the F-35A if not more. The F-35 is more a replacement to the A-6/A-7/AV-8 then the F-14 or F/A-18. The F-35B/C is limited to 7G’s, which does not make for a good fighter. The navy needs an attack aircraft that is better capable of penetrating enemy defenses then anything they have now. The F-35B/C with careful planning will be able to operate independantly of other aircraft like the B-2.

  • VDAR

    The same reason why the AF won’t buy F15K and F15SE.

  • crazy

    There’s certainly an argument to be made for upgrading current A/C like the F-18 but they’ll be even easier to detect than newer A/C like the F-35 so any cost advantage per A/C quickly goes away as the number of Hyper Hornets, aircrew, support, etc goes up. The F-35 program is a target-rich environment for critics but the time to cancel passed some time ago. At this point the only bigger waste of money than going forward would be starting over. The fate of future programs and the proper mix of capability deserves serious debate as it appears to be receiving.

  • Chops

    If you look at LMs track record [#1 defense contractor ] yrs. late and the 65 mil. plane is now 150 mil. and they havn’t worked out anywhere near all the problems,then look at Boeings F18 E/F Hornet record–on time and on cost—who do you want to build your next plane of those 2 companies? I would love to see Boeing develop and market the FA/XX concept plane.

  • frankie

    please buy more…..brain from El segundo