RAAF F/A-18s become a ‘kill web’ getting the Block III update

In a deal that cements their longstanding partnership, Boeing has secured an A$600 million extension from Australia. This five-year contract enables Boeing to continue assisting the Royal Australian Air Force’s [RAAF] F/A-18F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers. 

RAAF F/A-18s become a 'kill web' getting the Block III update
Photo credit: RAAF

The Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy, announced the contract which runs through to 2030. This extension, a second in its class, balloons the cumulative value of the support contract to a whopping A$1.2 billion. 

Although the specifics of the upgrade plan remain cloaked in mystery, Conroy has hinted that Boeing will retain the mandate for the “sustainment and upgrade” of both aircraft squadrons. 

Relishing this move, Scott Carpendale — the Vice President and Managing Director of Boeing Defence Australia — praised the resilience of their working relationship with the Commonwealth of Australia, RAAF, and the Australian industry. He emphasized the instrumental role this synergy has played in bolstering Australia’s air combat and electronic attack capabilities. 

Boeing acknowledged its crucial role in forming an elite team that enhances local skills and advocates for broader industry involvement in Australia. 

From inaugurating Super Hornet sustainment in 2010 and Growler sustainment in 2017, Boeing has remained committed to fulfilling the operational aircraft availability needs and executing fleet upgrades. 

US Marine Corps 101st Squadron will no longer train F-18 pilots
Video screenshot

Pat Conroy, the defense industry minister for the Australian Government, starkly pointed out the importance of maintaining state-of-the-art aircraft — and a skilled local workforce — given the escalating global tensions. He underscored how the deal amplifies Australia’s readiness to counter any emerging threats. 

“Securing a strong defence industry is vital in protecting Australians and their assets, and fostering regional equilibrium. I applaud Boeing Defence Australia and all defense industry partners involved in the sustainment and enhancement of the Super Hornet and Growler fleets,” Conroy noted. 

The No. 1 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force [RAAF] oversees 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets. Meanwhile, the No. 6 Squadron — based at the RAAF Base Amberley — manages the Growler fleet within the Royal Australian Air Force [RAAF]. 

F-18 SH redeployment to Kuwait will be carried out by Boeing
Photo credit: Pixabay

This Growler squadron of 12 EA-18G aircraft comes armed with the formidable ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System and the AGM-88 range of anti-radiation missiles, delivering a reliable Airborne Electronic Attack proficiency.

The upgrade

The particulars of the upgrade work outlined by Conroy and Boeing are not entirely clear. Yet, at the Avalon Air Show in 2023, Australia, Boeing revealed that it was in ongoing talks with Canberra about upgrading the Super Hornets to Block III standard. 

Previously adopted by the US Navy’s Super Hornet fleet, Block III upgrades play a critical role by invigorating the aircraft’s data-processing abilities. This technology integrates the aircraft into an extended “kill web” network that synchronizes numerous assets. 

High-load, high-stress operations are at the core of the design of the Block III Super Hornets. Boeing suggests that these aircraft have a cost-efficient per-flying-hour expense with minimal support equipment needs while still maintaining optimal mission readiness. 

Distancing from the Block II cockpit’s complex array of panels and gauges, the Block III version sports an Advanced Cockpit System with a primary, customizable 10.1-inch touch screen. This setup is intended to make information more accessible, enhancing the pilot’s perception of the battlespace. 

Outfitted with superior information gathering and distribution capabilities, Block III brings on board the Tactical Targeting Network Technology [TTNT] data link, designed to aid in information dissemination. 

In terms of operational longevity, Block III has a 66% longer lifespan than its predecessor, Block II, equating to 10,000 flight hours as opposed to Block II’s 6,000-hour endurance. 

Moving on to the Growler aircraft, the revamped contract not only retains existing functionalities but also lays the groundwork for the upcoming upgrade of the EA-18Gs under Project AIR 5349 Phase 6, dubbed Advanced Growler. 

This revamp involves the Next Generation Jammer [NGJ], which is vital for executing the Air Force’s objective of achieving a fully functional and interoperable United States Navy common EA-18G. It will pave the path for successful Airborne Electronic Attack [AEA] operations. 

Broadly, the upgrades will consist of various crucial components such as the collaborative development of the Next-Generation Jammer system in alliance with the United States. 

This partnership aims to progressively supplant the current AN/ALQ-99 system and bring about notable advancements in electronic warfare capabilities. Aircraft alterations that concentrate on augmenting sensor enhancements form a vital part of these upgrades and boost overall performance. 

Furthermore, this project includes restocking the anti-radiation missile arsenal and introducing higher-range, technologically superior anti-radiation missiles, further enhancing Growler’s offensive prowess.

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