Navy Weighs F-18 Upgrade

The Navy is considering a Boeing and Northrop Grumman-engineered fuel tank upgrade to its fleet of F/A-18 and EA-18G

Aircraft to extend the range of the multi-role aircraft and enable them to stay in the air longer on attack and electronic warfare missions.

The Boeing-Northrop innovation now being considered by the Navy is called Conformal Fuel Tanks, or CFT. It is an effort which engineers two new 3,500 gallon fuel tanks aligned along the contours of the aircraft to decrease the overall weight of the fighters and increase the payload or weapons capacity, Dan Gillian, F/A-18 and EA-18G Vice President, Boeing, told Scout Warrior in an interview.

“CFT applied to the Super Hornet can function in a strike role or air-to-air combat air patrol role. They create a longer range of 120 nautical miles to a strike mission and allow for longer time on station by about 25 to 30 minutes,” Gillian said.

The Navy has not formally committed to integrating the Conformal Fuel Tanks but remain engaged with Boeing about the possibilities.

Nonetheless, Gillian explained that the CFT’s also provide substantial value to the EA-18G Growlers because the reduced drag afforded by the new tanks creates much less drag for the aircraft, allowing it to reach higher altitudes. Reaching higher altitude for an electronic warfare aircraft allows it to jam and identify signals from a much wider field of view, Gillian explained.

In addition, by the early 2020s the Growler will be configured with a new technology called the Next-Generation Jammer – a new jamming technology which will allow the electronic warfare platform to jam signals on more frequency and jam multiple signals at the same time.

While the F-18 is not a stealth aircraft, the conformal shape of the fuel tanks also slightly contributes to stealthy characteristics of the fighter, making it slightly less observable to enemy radar or reducing what’s called the “radar signature.”

Finally, the CFTs will allow the Super Hornet to carry, and therefore deliver, more bombs for attack because the platform will be lighter and carry less drag, Gillian added.

“This evolutionary capability is being brought to the platform at the right time with low risk and at the lowest price. We’ve spent some money and the government has spent some money. This fits with the story of growing capability going into the airplane,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the Navy hopes to increase the size of its F/A-18 fleet by as much as two squadrons to accommodate for some delays in the delivery of the services’ F-35C – a first-of-its kind carrier-launched stealth fighter. The Navy's F-35C is slated to become operational by 2018.

Congressional defense committees have added 12 new F/A-18s to the 2016 budget, however conference on the Hill among the committees will still need to be finalized or formally approved.

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