Infrared search and track system for Navy F/A-18 jet fighter enters full-scale development

PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md., 14 Jan. 2010. The Boeing Co. in St. Louis is beginning full-scale development of the infrared search and track (IRST) sensor system for the U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet jet fighter-bomber, which will enable the Hornet to detect and track enemy aircraft at long ranges without the use of radar.

Jan 14th, 2010

Posted by John Keller

PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Md., 14 Jan. 2010. The Boeing Co. in St. Louis is beginning full-scale development of the infrared search and track (IRST) sensor system for the U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornet jet fighter-bomber, which will enable the Hornet to detect and track enemy aircraft at long ranges without the use of onboard radar systems.

The F/A-18 E/F IRST is a passive, longwave infrared heat-seeking sensor system that searches for, detects, and tracks enemy aircraft at long ranges, even in the presence of electronic jamming that might disrupt radar systems.

Officials of the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., announced their intention Wednesday to award a contract to Boeing to test and integrate the IRST into the F/A-18 E/F block II aircraft.

This contract formally moves the F/A-18's IRST system into the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase. The Lockheed Martin Corp. Missiles and Fire Control segment in Dallas is under subcontract to build the F/A-18's IRST system for Boeing, which is the prime contractor for the Hornet aircraft.

Engineering and manufacturing development, which military officials used to call full-scale development, is the last step before full production. Navy leaders expect to start fielding the IRST on Hornet jets by 2012

The beauty of the IRST is its ability to conceal its presence from enemy sensors, unlike radar systems that emit detectable RF energy that not only can give away its presence, but also provide a target for anti-radiation missiles. The IRST also is immune to electronic jamming.

Information from the IRST can stand alone or be fused with other sensor data to enhance situational awareness to help F/A-18 pilots with first-look, first-shoot capability. The IRST also provides the F/A-18E/F mission computer with track file data on all targets as well as infrared imagery.

The F/A-18E/F's IRST mounts to the forward section of the aircraft's centerline fuel tank, not only to make the most of the sensor's wide field of view, but also to preserve the jet's 330 gallons of fuel.

The IRST subsystems consist of a sensor head that houses a three-axis inertially stabilized gimbal that scans the optics and detector assembly; a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) processor that hosts the algorithms and digital recorder; and an air-to-liquid heat exchanger.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin plan to provide the Navy with 150 F/A-18E/F IRST systems. Similar IRST technology was used on the Navy's now-retired F-14D jet fighter that operated aboard U.S. aircraft carriers and accumulated more than 200,000 flight hours, Lockheed Martin officials say.

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