Navy seeks to improve F/A-18E/F military jet's ability to search without radar

PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md., 26 Jan. 2015. Electro-optics engineers at the Boeing Co. are equipping additional U.S. Navy carrier-based jet fighters with passive search gear to detect and track enemy aircraft without the use of radar.

Jan 26th, 2015
Content Dam Mae Online Articles 2015 January Hornet Irst 16 Jan 2015
PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md., 26 Jan. 2015. Electro-optics engineers at the Boeing Co. are equipping additional U.S. Navy carrier-based jet fighters with passive search gear to detect and track enemy aircraft without the use of radar.

Officials of the Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., announced a $60.4 million contract to the Boeing Defense, Space & Security segment in St. Louis for six low-rate-initial-production (LRIP) infrared (IR) search and track (IRST) systems for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet jet fighter-bomber.

Although Boeing designs the Super Hornet, the IRST systems for the Super Hornets are designed and manufactured by the Lockheed Martin Corp. Missiles and Fire Control segment in Orlando, Fla. The system is called the IRST21 Sensor System, and fits on the front of the Super Hornet's centerline fuel tank.

The contract is another step toward full-scale production of the Super Hornet's IRST system and installing it on all F/A-18E/F aircraft in the fleet.

Related: Navy asks Boeing to update obsolescent electronic modules in F/A-18 AESA airborne radar

Boeing won a $135 million contract in August 2011 for the engineering, manufacturing, and development (EMD) phase of the F/A-18E/F infrared search and track system. EMD refers to full-scale development, which is one of the last steps before full-scale production.

The contract moves the IRST program from EMD to LRIP, and is the last stage in the IRST system's development before the Navy considers mass-production contracts.

The Super Hornet's IRST is a long-wave infrared detection system that can detect, track, and target enemy aircraft without the use of radar. Infrared sensors are completely passive, while radar emits RF signals that can reveal its presence to the enemy.

Even amid enemy electronic warfare jamming, IRST provides autonomous tracking data that can help the Super Hornet pilot react quickly to the presence of enemy aircraft and enable first-look, first-shoot capability, Lockheed Martin officials say.

Related: Boeing completes F/A-18E/F, EA-18G deliveries ahead of schedule, on budget

Infrared sensors like the IRST detect the heat from an aircraft's engine exhaust or even the heat generated by the friction of an aircraft as it passes through the atmosphere.

The IRST21 system that Lockheed Martin is providing to Boeing helps Super Hornet pilots determine the number of enemy aircraft in the area, even at long range. This ability can enable Super Hornet pilots to fire their missiles at their maximum ranges.

Data from the IRST system can stand alone or be fused with other on-board sensor data situational awareness. On the F/A-18 E/F, it mounts in the nose section of the centerline fuel tank. Lockheed Martin also is developing an IRST pod that can be fitted to the F-15C and F-16 jet fighters.

The IRST21 system is the next generation of the F-14D AN/AAS-42 IRST that accumulated more than 200,000 flight hours aboard U.S. aircraft carriers, Lockheed Martin officials say.

On this contract Boeing will do the work in Orlando, Fla.; St. Louis; Santa Ana, Calif.; and Irvine, Calif., and should be finished by August 2017. For more information contact Boeing Defense, Space & Security online at www.boeing.com/boeing/bds, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control at www.lockheedmartin.com/us/mfc, or Naval Air Systems Command at www.navair.navy.mil.

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