F/A-18 Fleet Receives Advanced Targeting Sensor

130511-N-RG587-182The Navy is in the early phases of outfitting 170 F/A-18E/F Block II fighter jets with a next-generation infrared sensor designed to locate air-to-air targets in a high-threat electronic attack environment, service officials said.

The Infrared Search and Track, or IRST, system will be installed in coming years by operational squadrons flying F-18s, Navy officials said.

“The IRST system is a passive, long-range sensor that searches for and detects infrared emissions. The system can simultaneously track multiple targets and provide a highly effective air-to-air targeting capability, even when encountering advanced threats equipped with radar-jamming technology,” Capt. Frank Morley,  program manager, F-18 and EA-18 Growler said in a written statement.

The IRST technology was specifically engineered with a mind to the fast-changing electromagnetic warfare environment and the realization that potential future adversaries are far more likely to contest U.S. dominance in these areas.

“The IRST provides the Super Hornet an alternate air-to-air targeting system in a high threat electronic attack environment.  The requirement for an IRST on the Super Hornet is the direct result of recent advancements of threat electronic warfare systems,” Morley said.

The IRST system — which recently completed its first flight on board an F-18 at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. — is passive and therefore harder to detect than some radar technologies which give off radiation, Navy officials said.

The IRST technology, designed by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, is designed to search for heat signals over long distances, providing the aircraft with key targeting information.

“We continually evolve the aircraft to outpace future adversaries,” Tim Adrian, IRST F/A-18 program manager, Boeing, said in a written statement.  “When radar isn’t an option, this upgrade allows operators to locate targets and deploy the best weapon for the mission.”

The IRST system is being developed under a $135 million contract awarded in 2011 and is currently planned to be deployed by 2017, a Boeing statement said.

The technology was tested last year on a Boeing King Air Test Aircraft, the statement added.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior and a former associate editor at Military.com.

16 Comments on "F/A-18 Fleet Receives Advanced Targeting Sensor"

  1. So the F-18 will have similar senor to the MiG-29. YAWN!!!

  2. Yes, this is much closer to the F-35 technology.

  3. Is this the one incorporated into an external fuel tank? I've got to question the wisdom of that design. Or are they putting the sensor under the nose as proposed as part of that Super Hornet "roadmap"?

  4. Only one I've seen is the Stealth Hornet's fuel tank IRST. What is it about that setup that makes you uneasy?

  5. Since the Infrared Search and Track Technology is still in the prototyping stages the unit was mounted on a 330 gal fuel tank and centerline mounted. But in the previously held 2013 Dubai Show, Boeing said that it will be plans to incorporated internally mounted Lockheed Martin infrared search-and-track system under a Super Hornet nose as part of a “multi-ship/multi-spectral” demonstration of data sharing with the Navy, involving an E-2D Hawkeye airborne early-warning aircraft. Participating aircraft will share data from multiple sensors using Rockwell Collins’ tactical targeting network technology (TTNT) waveform, which supports high data-rate, long-range communications.

  6. This article doesn't specify if they are using the fuel tank mounted IRST when it mentions that they are equipping them to Super Hornets. i would think if they are equipping them to Super Hornets they would be using the version mounted under the nose from Boeing's Advanced Super Hornet program. If not, then I think this article might be incorrectly worded and the Navy is really just buying 170 of the fuel tank mounted IRST systems.

  7. Maybe this is a sign the surface Navy has learned that the future doesn't involve big radars pumping out a "here I am, shoot me" message to all the world? Nah, too much to hope for.

  8. IRST will be pretty neat for the ground role, not just air to air. Or spotting hot ships against a cold ocean.

  9. F-14 redux….

  10. This proposed IRST sensor is an upgraded version of the one the F-14D used for many years.

  11. Might work better against stealth aircraft.

  12. EA-18 Growler? Really? We have pilots out there who have to tell women in bars that they fly the Growler? That's gotta hurt.

  13. We have already installed ARSTBTN on our whole military so this IRST will not be needed. Every one is our bestest friend ever now.

  14. Of interest to readers of Nature http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v507/n7492/fhttp://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v507/n7492/f

    "The next generation of radar systems will need to be highly automated and use software-defined signal generation and detection for flexible operation in surveillance and wireless communication applications. However, the necessary analogue-to-digital conversion poses serious technical limits for conventional microwave electronic components. That makes photonic radar an attractive option, well suited to digital operation. Until now photonics-based generation and detection of radio signals have generally been studied separately. Here Paolo Ghelfi et al. combine the individual components to produce a functioning, complete photonic radar system. The system's effectiveness and precision are demonstrated in a field trial involving the detection of passing aircraft."

  15. This is a really nice future growth step for the SH family in light of what's coming down the pipe in Russia and China over the next 10 years. Too long without this capability already.

    The sensor fusion in this aircraft is pretty impressive in a practical way. The only problem is trying to train guys to fully exploit all the tools available to them in the cockpit without being overwhelmed.

  16. But it's on a huge centerline fuel tank that can't be jettisoned. Won't that hurt maneuverability if they get in a dogfight? If the enemy is within IRST range you're probably already in a dogfight. Seems like they would be better off mounting this on the airframe

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