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.
  • Lance

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

    • Completely different generations of IRST technology.

    • blight_

      They also had HMD. Not knocking the Soviets, but comparing equipment to equipment is comparing a “tank” (M4 Sherman) to a “tank” (Pzkw V Panther).

  • ronaldo

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

  • William_C1

    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”?

    • CharleyA

      It is part of the roadmap, planned years ago, currently funded, and on budget and schedule. The yet to be funded ASH has a derivative of the same sensor mounted in the fuselage. Mounting the sensor on the C-EFT allows it to be swapped between high lot Super Hornets, like the TCS was on F-14s back in the day.

      • William_C1

        Sucks if you need to drop that fuel tank however.

  • NakedWeasel

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

  • Bobby

    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.

    • blight_

      Waiting for a Common Support Aircraft, v2 to replace Hawkeye and Greyhound, and perhaps bring some fixed wing ASW back to the carrier (mini-Poseidon?)

  • BlackOwl18E

    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.

    • Chris

      They are going with the fuel tank option so as not to have to modify any of the Super Bugs structure or existing wiring to save costs. The downside is that it will affect radar signature and maneuverability in a potential conflict. Apparently they are looking at options for upgrading our existing fleet of teen-series USAF fighters as well.

      • CharleyA

        They always fly with the CT, so using the CT mounted sensor won’t change the current signature appreciably. The ASH with the weps pod and CFTs has the fuselage mounted sensor. We’ll eventually see at least some of the ASH features adopted by the fleet (likely the CFTs,) but the other features would be more affordable on new-build or SLEP aircraft.

        • blight_

          Heh. In the old days old aircraft were exported for sale and new-build aircraft purchased to keep production lines open. But I guess we’re done with trying to keep production lines open…now it’s about upgrades as long as possible. Additionally, the market for aircraft has contracted especially as the price has ballooned.

        • Chris

          If the F/A-18 were to be engaged by an enemy fighter it would immediately dump it’s tanks. All I was pointing out is that in the event of actual combat, they would have to make a decision between more maneuverability and no IRST or less maneuverability and retain IRST. Seems like a silly option as opposed to just mounting it on the fuselage somewhere.

          • Rest

            The F-18 was not designed to dog fight. It doesn’t stand much of a chance against say the SU-30 or J-10. Either run or eject.

          • Praetorian

            It’s not like the SuperHornet needed the IRST. The Su-27 family has a radar cross section of a barn.

          • Chris

            Your right… It was designed to Fight / Attack. Just because it isn’t an F-22 and was purpose-built for dog fighting doesn’t mean it isn’t an implausability. I was just pointing out the obvious design flaw is all.

          • Hialpha

            Rest — you can win a fight long before you hit the merge, providing that you have the ROE to employ BVR. In BVR I’d take the SH over any Flanker or Fulcrum series 100% of the time.

            For a WVR fight, I’d still take the SH because A) it’s ‘merican dammit, and b) my training to use the weapons on SH to my advantage beats their crappy missiles and smoky engines — however high-thrust they are.

  • Dfens

    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.

  • blight_

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

  • Robbie

    F-14 redux….

    • blight_

      Upgrade it before you kill it?

  • john

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

  • Taylor

    Might work better against stealth aircraft.

  • hibeam

    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.

  • hibeam

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

  • blight_

    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.”

    • hibeam

      Gamma Ray Radar is the coming thing. GRR. It supports a very rapid scan rate. GRRR. We can put it on the Growler.

  • Hialpha

    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.

  • IRST

    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