Boeing Defense has delivered the final Block II variant of its F/A-18E Super Hornet multirole fighter to the US Navy.
The aircraft – c/n E322 – was handed over on April 17 and concludes the production of 322 single-seat F/A-18E and 286 two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornets for the service.
E322 will depart Boeing’s production line and arrive at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana, Virginia. There, it will be operated by Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-34 'Blue Blasters'.
The notable differences between the Block I examples and the Block II variant are that the latter features the APG-79 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, has larger cockpit displays, upgraded sensors and avionics, along with having increased range and the ability to employ a wider range of munitions. The new-build airframes were produced with an open mission systems architecture, which enables the Block II Super Hornet to be easily integrated with new weapon systems and technologies.
After the first F/A-18E/Fs achieved initial operational capability (IOC) in 2001, the type has quickly grown to become the backbone of the US Navy’s Carrier Air Wing (CVW) operations, capable of performing air superiority, fighter escort, reconnaissance, buddy-buddy aerial refuelling, close air support (CAS), air defence suppression and day/night precision strike operations.
CAPT Jason Denney, programme manager of the F/A-18 and EA-18 Program Office (PMA-265), said: “Delivery of this last production Block II Super Hornet is hardly the end of an era, but rather a stepping stone along the path to continuously evolving our platforms to meet the Navy’s ever-evolving needs… Block III delivery is just steps behind and the production lines won’t miss a beat, with the first two US Navy Block III test jets delivering in the next two months, followed by delivery of 24 [F/A-18E/F] aircraft over the next year for our international customer, Kuwait.”
The US Navy has ordered 72 Block III Super Hornets for roughly US$4bn, which will be delivered over the coming years – starting this spring. Following this, early examples will undergo testing at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, and at Naval Air Weapons System (NAWS) China Lake, California. The latest F/A-18E/F variant offers a reduced radar cross-section, a 10,000-flight hour lifespan, enhanced network infrastructure and an advanced cockpit system.
“Though we’ve done tremendous work to meet readiness requirements, we know continual forward momentum is needed to sustain that readiness, while maintaining our tactical advantage to be more lethal and survivable than our potential adversaries… The solid partnership with Boeing for the Block III production and modification [programmes] ensures the Super Hornet will remain not only relevant, but ready to fight in today’s dynamic global environment and well into the future”, Denney added.