Back to news

April 9, 2018 | International, Aerospace

How stealthy is Boeing’s new Super Hornet?

By:

WASHINGTON — The Block III Super Hornet is getting a marginal increase in stealth capability, but if you're expecting the invisible aircraft of President Donald Trump's dreams, think again.

Building a “stealthy” Super Hornet has been one of Trump's talking points since he was elected to the presidency. During a March trip to Boeing's plant in St. Louis, he claimed the U.S. military would buy Super Hornets with “the latest and the greatest stealth and a lot of things on that plane that people don't even know about.”

Trump was referring to one of the Super Hornet's Block III upgrades slated to be incorporated on jets rolling off the production line in 2020: the application of radar absorbent materials or RAM, also known as stealth coating.

But far from being “the latest and greatest,” the company has already used the exact same materials on the on the Block II Super Hornet to help decrease the chances of radar detection, said Dan Gillian, who manages Boeing's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and E/A-18G Growler programs.

Block III jets will get “a little more” of that coating applied to them, “and in a few different areas to buy a little bit more performance,” Gillian told Defense News in a March interview.

All in all, those improvements will reduce the aircraft's radar cross section by about 10 percent, and with very low risk, he said.

Although the general public tends to think of stealth like the invisibility cloak from Harry Potter or Wonder Woman's invisible plane, stealth is more of a continuum that is enabled and affected by many factors, experts told Defense News.

“It's not a Romulan cloaking device,” said Richard Aboulafia, a Teal Group aviation analyst, referencing a technology from Star Trek that allowed spaceships to be invisible to the naked eye and electro-optical sensors.

“It's about reducing the likelihood that an adversary will see you first. And seconds count, so if it buys a little extra time, then it helps.”

The most important contributors to low observability are the aircraft's shape and the use of LO coatings, with airframe shape commonly seen as twice as important as the coatings, he said.

Stealth fighters from the oddly angled F-117 to the F-22 and F-35, with their rounded edges, were all designed to bounce radar waves away from an aircraft, sometimes at the expense of aerodynamic performance or other attributes, said Brian Laslie, an Air Force historian and author.

That being said, the Super Hornet, with it's external stores and pylons, is not going to replicate the low observability of the joint strike fighter, which was designed from the beginning with stealth in mind.

“But just because it's not a pure LO aircraft doesn't mean that the designers weren't concerned with the radar return,” said Laslie, who added that it's “reasonable” to expect a 10 percent decrease to the aircraft's signature by augmenting Block III jets with additional RAM coating.

Shining a spotlight on the Super Hornet's low observable attributes may have helped sell Trump on future orders, Aboulafia speculated.

“It might be useful in the real world too, but in a much more marginal way,” he said.

One of those benefits, according to Laslie, is that the LO performance upgrade could also enable the Navy to be more flexible in its mission planning. An aircraft can be more or less easily detected by radar depending on how it is positioned or the route used by the plane, so having more radar-absorbing materials on the Super Hornet could give the pilot more options.

“I think what the Navy is doing is trying to maybe reduce enough of the cross section of the F-18 in high intensity combat scenarios,” Laslie said.

“I don't think they're trying to make the F/A-18 a stealth aircraft,” he continued. “But if they can reduce the radar cross section enough that in certain scenarios it is more difficult to pick the Super Hornet up, that would be of benefit to the Navy.”

While the president has done much to focus public attention on the Super Hornet's upcoming LO upgrade, the Block III actually offers a relatively modest increase in stealth compared to earlier concepts floated by Boeing.

In 2013, when the company began evaluating how to attract future sales from the Navy as production slowed, it started promoting an “Advanced Super Hornet” configuration that would have improved the aircraft's signature by 50 percent. That version of the jet included structural enhancements and an enclosed weapons pod, but Boeing ultimately stepped away from that concept.

“Those big compromises you have to make to get the higher levels of stealth like putting your weapons in a bay, we don't think that's a necessary part of the Block III story for the Super Hornet,” Gillian said.

https://www.defensenews.com/digital-show-dailies/navy-league/2018/04/09/how-stealthy-is-boeings-new-super-hornet/

On the same subject

  • Northrop to upgrade aircraft mission computers for US and Bahrain

    July 3, 2019 | International, Aerospace

    Northrop to upgrade aircraft mission computers for US and Bahrain

    Northrop Grumman has secured a contract to perform the technical upgrade of UH-1Y, AH-1Z and UH-60V mission computers for the US and Bahrain. The $104m indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) award will see Northrop Grumman deliver production, retrofit and spare units. Under the Foreign Military Sales Act, these units will be supplied for the US Marine Corps, the Defense Logistics Agency, and Bahrain's military. The company noted that by bringing together several mission computer customers, the contract will help deliver greater cost-efficiency while lowering the logistics footprint. The contract has the potential for placing task or delivery order awards up to the ceiling amount. Northrop Grumman is expected to complete the contract work in December 2023. Northrop Grumman land and avionics C4ISR vice-president James Conroy said: “Northrop Grumman's mission computer delivers mission-critical capability to the warfighter. The system provides improved situational understanding in the rapidly changing threat environment.” The mission computer manufactured by the firm can integrate advanced mission, weapons and video processing capabilities into a high-performance airborne computer. The computer's open architecture enables the centralised display and control of all integrated avionics system functions. These include aircraft performance and flight instruments, on-board sensor and survivability displays, in addition to improved situational awareness and health monitoring information. Furthermore, the mission computer is capable of providing improved capability, commonality, reliability and maintainability to the warfighter. Northrop Grumman will supply up to 503 technical refresh mission computers for the three helicopter models. In 2017, The US Marine Corps fielded the Northrop Grumman's Tech Refresh Mission Computer (TRMC) for the first time on the UH‑1Y and AH-1Z helicopters. Equipment was deployed under the H-1 Upgrade programme that involved replacing the UH-1N and AH-1W helicopters with revamped aircraft. https://www.naval-technology.com/news/northrop-to-upgrade-aircraft-mission-computers-for-us-and-bahrain/

  • Army buys $189M counter drone system but already has plans to replace it

    August 17, 2020 | International, Aerospace, Land, C4ISR

    Army buys $189M counter drone system but already has plans to replace it

    Nathan Strout WASHINGTON - The U.S. Army has invested another $190 million into a counter-small unmanned aircraft system (C-sUAS), but it's determined that the system will need to be replaced by a U.S. Marine Corps alternative. On July 20, the Army announced it was awarding DRS Sustainment Systems $190 million to develop, produce and deploy the Mobile-Low, Slow, Small Unmanned Aircraft System Integrated Defeat System (M-LIDS). While the system will be deployed, it doesn't have a long-term future with the military. Despite the Army investing in the program for years, M-LIDS is a casualty of redundancy. As the Department of Defense has become more concerned by the threat posed by small drones in recent years, the services have each developed their own C-sUAS responses — mobile, stationary and dismounted. Recognizing the redundancy in that approach, the defense secretary delegated the Army to lead the effort to narrow the number of C-sUAS solutions for use by the joint forces. On June 25, the Army's Joint C-sUAS announced it had selected eight C-sUAS for future investment and deployment by the joint forces. M-LIDS didn't make the cut. But then, about a month later, the $190 million M-LIDS contract was announced, “Mobile-LIDS (M-LIDS) was not selected and will be replaced by the next generation mobile system,” said Jason Waggoner, an Army spokesman. In the meantime, “M-LIDS will be deployed with Army units to the CENTCOM area of operations.” M-LIDS would likely be replaced by the Light-Mobile Air Defense Integrated System (L-MADIS), a C-sUAS developed by the U.S. Marine Corps and the only mobile solution approved by the Joint C-sUAS Office. L-MADIS has already been deployed for testing and was reportedly used to down a drone off the coast of Iran last year. The Joint C-sUAS office told reporters in June that the services were conducting an analysis of how many systems would need to be replaced under the new arrangement. However, leaders were not able to provide a timeline for how quickly they expected to replace those systems. The series of announcements in this market came quickly this summer. Two days after the M-LIDS award, the Army announced a contract for one of the C-sUAS solutions that was included on the list for future investment: the Expeditionary-Low, Slow, Small Unmanned Aircraft System Integrated Defeat System (now known as FS-LIDS). The $426 million contract with SRC Inc. provides for the development, production, deployment and support of FS-LIDS, one of three fixed-site solution approved for the joint forces by the Joint C-sUAS Office. “Development of FS-LIDS is complete and systems are being deployed to U.S. forces globally, with a focus in the CENTCOM area of operations,” Waggoner said. “FS-LIDS will remain in use until replaced with newer technologies.” C-sUAS spending hasn't been limited to the Army in recent weeks. On Aug. 10, the U.S. Air Force issued Black River Systems Co. an $89 million contract for an operational C-sUAS open systems architecture. CORRECTION: This story has been updated to show that the Joint C-sUAS Office selected three fixed-site C-sUAS solutions. https://www.c4isrnet.com/unmanned/2020/08/13/army-buys-189m-counter-drone-system-but-already-has-plans-to-replace-it/

  • Aviation Week Forecasts: Western Attack Helicopter MRO By Family 2020-2029

    June 1, 2020 | International, Aerospace

    Aviation Week Forecasts: Western Attack Helicopter MRO By Family 2020-2029

    June 01, 2020 Aviation Week Network forecasts that annual MRO demand for Western-designed attack helicopters will increase 11.1% during this decade, from $4.2 billion in 2020 to $4.6 billion in 2029. Aviation Week defines attack helicopters as rotary-wing aircraft that are unable to carry cargo internally, are armed with a forward-firing cannon of at least 20mm, and which can carry and self-designate targets for anti-tank guided missiles. Ninety percent of MRO demand in 2020 will be generated by just two helicopter families: the Boeing AH-64 Apache and Bell AH-1 Cobra. The AH-64 will see an 8% increase in its MRO demand over the next 10 years from $2.9 billion to $3.2 billion. Overall, the AH-64 will generate 68.6% of the global MRO demand total. The AH-1's MRO demand will drop 12.3% in the next ten years. Despite the decline, the AH-1 still will generate 18.2% of total attack helicopter MRO. The Airbus Tiger will see the largest decline in MRO demand of any attack helicopter. With no probable future export orders on the horizon and an early retirement by Australia, the Tiger's MRO demand will fall 23.5% from 2020 to 2029. The Leonardo AW129 family of attack helicopters could experience a 22.1% growth in its MRO demand over the forecast if TAI and its T129 derivative manages to hold on to its hard won, but now in danger, export orders by securing a non-US export-restricted engine. Open requirements and competitions will produce over a billion dollars of MRO demand in the next decade, a significant boost to any program. Source: Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN) 2020 Military Fleet & MRO Forecast For more information about the 2020 Forecast and other Aviation Week data products, please see: http://pages.aviationweek.com/Forecasts https://aviationweek.com/defense-space/z/aviation-week-forecasts-western-attack-helicopter-mro-family-2020-2029

All news