Boeing has revealed it is developing a range of enhancements for the Super Hornet, including conformal fuel tanks, more powerful engines, an advanced cockpit and a weapons pod.
Shelley Lavender, vice president and general manager of Boeing’s global strike business, detailed the enhancements, collectively described as a “roadmap for the international market”, at the Farnborough Airshow on July 20. The suite of enhancements will be available for both new build export Super Hornets and retrofit to existing Block 2 Super Hornets, including Australia’s, and appears to position Boeing to take advantage of any further missteps with the Joint Strike Fighter program.
Most notable of the enhancements is the fuel tank shaped weapons pod that is designed to carry internally up to four AIM-120 Amraams or other weapons under the aircraft’s centreline hardpoint station. Carrying weapons in an enclosed pod, and the shoulder mounted conformal fuel tanks – which would increase range in the order of 10 per cent – are evidently aimed at significantly reducing the aircraft’s radar signature, compared to carrying external weapons and traditional underwing fuel tanks. Other options include Boeing’s “Next Generation” fighter cockpit with large colour touch screens, 20 per cent more powerful GE F414 Enhanced Performance Engines, spherical missile and laser warning receivers, and an internal IRST sensor mounted in the nose.
Boeing has not detailed the cost of the improvements, but says the Next Gen cockpit could be available for fitting to Super Hornets around 2013-15, while the other capabilities could be available in the 2015-17 timeframe.