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U.S. Navy Approves Production for Super Hornet IRST

The U.S. Navy has approved low-rate initial production (LRIP) for the infrared search and track system (IRST) developed and integrated by Boeing and Lockheed Martin for the F/A-18 Super Hornet, according to a Boeing release.

The IRST is comprised of Lockheed Martin’s IRST21 sensor and Meggitt Defense Industry environmental control unit mounted at the front of a GE Aviation FPU-13 fuel tank assembly. The IRST is mounted on the centerline pylon of the aircraft. The system demonstrated production readiness after an extensive series of assessments, reviews, and flight tests, according to the release.

IRST graphic

The IRST system consists of Lockheed Martin’s IRST21, a Meggitt Defense Industry environmental control system, and GE Aviation FPU-13 fuel tank. Lockheed Martin image

“Lockheed Martin and Boeing have proven the maturity of the IRST21 sensor and the IRST system and are poised to get this advanced capability out to the fleet to support Navy carrier strike group objectives,” said Ken Fuhr, fixed wing program director at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.

“This ‘see first, strike first’ capability can be used in a variety of threat environments and is a game changer for our warfighters as we combat future adversaries,” said U.S. Navy F/A-18 program manager Capt. Frank Morley. The Navy plans to deploy the IRST aboard Super Hornets in 2017.

IRST21 is a development of Lockheed Martin’s legacy IRST sensor system, which flew aboard Navy F-14s as the AN/AAS-42 IRST, and international F-15 aircraft, accumulating more than 300,000 flight hours. The long-range IRST21 sensor enables the Super Hornet to detect, track and engage enemy aircraft with air-to-air weapons without using its radar. IRST significantly enhances multiple target resolution compared to radar, according to the release, and provides greater discrimination of threat formations at longer ranges. The data from the IRST21 sensor can be fused with other on-board F/A-18 sensor data to provide maximum situational awareness.

IRST in flight

The IRST pod shown in flight. The adapted 480-gallon tank will still hold 330 gallons of fuel as well as the sensor fit at the front. Lockheed Martin photo

“This ‘see first, strike first’ capability can be used in a variety of threat environments and is a game changer for our warfighters as we combat future adversaries,” said U.S. Navy F/A-18 program manager Capt. Frank Morley. The Navy plans to deploy the IRST aboard Super Hornets in 2017.

“The IRST system is another example of how we continue to evolve Super Hornet capabilities to ensure it outpaces future adversaries,” said Tim Adrian, F/A-18 IRST program manager at Boeing.