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US Navy Super Hornet concludes first flight with new infrared search and track pod

A US Navy Super Hornet with the IRST Block II pod fitted to its undercarriage
Photo: Boeing

The US Navy, working with defense contractor Boeing, carried out the first flight of an F/A-18 Super Hornet equipped with a new infrared search & track (IRST) pod in late 2019.

The IRST pod Block II is a critical component of the Block III Super Hornet, a new upgrade designed to keep the F/A-18 in active service for decades to come.

The Block III conversion will include enhanced network capability, longer range with conformal fuel tanks, an advanced cockpit system, signature improvements and an enhanced communication system.

IRST is a passive, long-range sensor incorporating infrared and other sensor technologies for highly accurate targeting.

“The IRST Block II gives the F/A-18 improved optics and processing power, significantly improving pilot situational awareness of the entire battle space,” said Jennifer Tebo, Boeing Director of F/A-18 Development.

Currently in the risk reduction phase of development, IRST Block II flights on the Super Hornet allow Boeing and the navy to collect valuable data on the system before deployment to the fleet. The Block II variant will be delivered to the navy in 2021, reaching initial operational capability shortly thereafter.

“The IRST Block II sensor gives navy fighters extended range and increasing survivability. This technology will help the navy maintain its advantage over potential adversaries for many years,” said Kenen Nelson, Lockheed Martin director of fixed wing programs, supplier of the IRST sensor.