Boeing is awarded a $112 million contract modification by the U.S. Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) for 16 IRST (Infrared Search and Track) Block II low rate initial production (LRIP) IV units.
Out of the 16 IRST Block II units, four are for the U.S. Navy and 12 are for the government of Australia. The IRST Block II units are to be equipped onboard the U.S. Navy and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter aircraft.
The contract work will be performed in Orlando, Florida (73%); and St. Louis, Missouri (27%), and is expected to be complete by June 2023. Fiscal 2020 aircraft procurement (Navy) funds in the amount of $28 million; and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) funds in the amount of $84 million will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.
IRST is a passive, long-range sensor incorporating infrared and other sensor technologies for highly accurate targeting.
IRST is a generalized case of forward looking infrared (FLIR), i.e. from forward-looking to all-round situation awareness. Such systems are passive (thermographic camera), meaning they do not give out any radiation of their own, unlike radar. This gives them the advantage that they are difficult to detect. However, because the atmosphere and adverse weather attenuates infrared to some extent (although not as much as visible systems), the range of IRST system compared to a radar is limited.
IRST Block II program, in support of Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter aircraft, is specifically intended to provide engineering upgrades, improving the passive long-wave infrared receiver and updating the built-in processors of the current IRST system.
Boeing and the U.S. Navy flew an F/A-18 Super Hornet equipped with an IRST Block II pod for the first time in late 2019. 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.
IRST Block II is a critical component of the Boeing’s Block III Super Hornet fighter aircraft. 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. The updates are expected to keep the F/A-18 in active service for decades to come.