Name A More Iconic Duo Than the F-35 and F/A-18 Super Hornet
Key Point: The navy has judged that a mixed force is better suited to its current needs.
In June, the U.S. Navy released a budget allocating $264.9 million towards upgrading its roughly six hundred FA-18E and F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler fighters to the new Block III standard, which includes some of the enhancements proposed for the Advanced Super Hornet. This is intended to coincide with a service-life extension program (SLEP) meant to increase the type’s flight hours from six thousand to nine thousand. The first of the upgraded aircraft are expected to enter service in 2019, and the Pentagon is now talking about keeping its Super Hornet fleet active through 2046.
A few days later, the Navy also announced plans to purchase an additional eighty Super Hornets over the next five years for $7.1 billion. All in all, it would seem that Boeing has successfully redirected defense dollars away from the expensive new F-35 stealth fighter by emphasizing the lower price of maintaining the Super Hornet fleet.
However, it would be mistaken to say the Super Hornet proved it could replace the F-35. In fact, the Block III upgrade should help the Super Hornet team up with the stealthier Lightning when taking on tougher opponents.
The single seat F/A-18E and two-seat F/A-18F are larger, higher-performing evolutions of the 1980s-era F/A-18 Hornet attack plane. Though comparable in many respects to such excellent fourth-generation fighters as the F-15 Eagle, the Super Hornet has a lower maximum speed and is slightly less agile due to the engineering compromises necessary for taking off and landing on Navy carrier’s. On the plus side, the Super Hornet does come with more modern avionics and a unique advantage baked into its airframe: a reduced radar cross section estimated to be around one square meter from the front, a fraction of that of an F-15 and one of the lowest on any fourth-generation jet fighter.
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