Can the Unstealthy F/A-18 Take on China's J-20 and Russia's Su-57?

By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Travis K. Mendoza - This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 110606-N-TU221-408 (next).This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyri
July 26, 2019 Topic: Technology Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: F-18J-20Su-57StealthU.S. Air ForceRussiaChina

Can the Unstealthy F/A-18 Take on China's J-20 and Russia's Su-57?



Lockheed Martin said that $100 million will be spent “developing advanced software, performing hardware upgrades and delivering prototypes.”

As we have recently reported Lockheed Martin has secured two contracts from Boeing to upgrade its IRST21 sensor system for use on the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet.


As reported by The National Interest, the new upgraded long-wave infrared search and track (IRST) system will give the Super Hornet the ability to detect and track new adversary stealth aircraft such as the Chinese Chengdu J-20 or the Russian Sukhoi Su-57 at extended ranges. Furthermore with the IRST21 a typical U.S. Navy carrier air wing (CVW) will have a sensor that cannot be disrupted by increasingly capable enemy electronic warfare systems.

“The U.S. Navy’s strategic block upgrade program enables us to continue advancing our technology and rapidly deliver it to the warfighter,” Paul Lemmo, vice president of Fire Control/Special Operations Forces Contractor Logistics Support Services at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, said. “We are excited to implement the Block II (contracts) upgrades and enhance IRST21’s performance.”

Lockheed Martin said that $100 million will be spent “developing advanced software, performing hardware upgrades and delivering prototypes.”

“These efforts will further enhance IRST21’s proven detection, tracking and ranging capabilities in radar-denied environments,” the company said in a statement. “Compared to radar, IRST21 significantly enhances the resolution of multiple targets, enabling pilots to accurately identify threat formations at longer ranges. This ‘see first, strike first’ capability empowers pilots with greater reaction time, improving survivability.”

Noteworthy Boeing is currently developing the upgraded Block III Super Hornet and the ability to engage stealthy airborne targets is one of the selling points of the new aircraft and should keep the Super Hornet relevant into the 2040s.

“That IRST sensor is a key capability Super Hornet brings to the carrier air wing that nobody else has,” Dan Gillian, Boeing’s F/A-18 and EA-18G program manager told The National Interest. “It is a counter-air, counter-stealth targeting capability.”

As we have already explained this IRST21 upgrade is just one of the several improvements the U.S. Navy has planned for its Super Hornet fleet. In April the service has awarded to General Electric (GE)a $114.8 million contract aimed to install new engines on its F/A-18 Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler aircraft.

The new engine could be the so called General Electric’s enhanced performance engine (EPE), that would increase the F414-GE-400’s power output from 22,000 lbs to 26,400 lbs. EPE development commenced in 2009 and features several improvements over the standard F414-GE-400, including greater resistance to foreign object damage, reduced fuel burn rate, and potentially increased thrust of up to 20%.

However unlike Boeing’s previous Advanced Super Hornet concept that was revealed in 2013, the new Block III aircraft is a more modest proposition that is designed to support the rest of the air wing including the Lockheed Martin F-35C Joint Strike Fighter, Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and the EA-18G Growler under the service Naval Integrated Fire Control Counter Air construct (NIFC-CA).

Nevertheless the Block III takes the existing upgrade path for the Super Hornet—including biennial hardware and software upgrades—and expands upon those. Indeed, some of the existing planned upgrades to the jet’s powerful Raytheon AN/APG-79 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, AN/ALQ-214 Integrated Defensive Electronic Countermeasures (IDECM) Block IV suite and the Lockheed Martin AN/ASG-34 Infrared Search and Track pod—the IRST21 sensor—are part of the Block III package.

This article by Dario Leone originally appeared on The Aviation Geek Club in 2017.

Image: Wikimedia