A big leap forward?
As new adversary fifth-generation stealth fighters such as the Russian Sukhoi Su-57 PAK-FA and the Chengdu J-20 emerge from development, the United States Navy is working on developing and fielding new capabilities that will allow naval aviators to defeat the threat.
The key is Boeing’s new F/A-18E/F Block III Super Hornet—and the advanced new technologies incorporated into the jet—combined with the upgraded capabilities of the Boeing/Lockheed Martin Infrared Search and Track (IRST) Block II pod. By upgrading older platforms with new datalinks, massively increased processing power and new sensors, Boeing and the Navy have found a way to negate the threat to carrier aviation from emerging low observable threat platforms. “IRST—infrared search and track long range counter-stealth targeting technology,” Dan Gillian, Boeing’s vice president of F/A-18 & EA-18 Programs for Strike, Surveillance and Mobility, told reporters on May 23. “This is filling a gap for the carrier air wing, bringing that sensor back to the carrier air wing in a networked kind of way.”
Boeing is well into the development of the new Block III Super Hornet, Gillian said. The production of the first six new build Block III jets is expected to start in fiscal year 2018 with production transitioning fully onto the new variant in 2019. The fleet should start receiving their first operational Block III aircraft in 2020 and the jet should deploy onboard a carrier by 2022, Gillian said.