PATUXENT RIVER NAS, Maryland – US Navy air combat experts are asking electro-optical engineers from the Boeing Co. to procure 19 Airborne Infrared Search and Track (IRST) systems to help Navy fighter jets detect enemy aircraft without using radar.
Naval Air Systems Command officials at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Maryland announced a $43.5 million order from the Boeing Defense, Space & Security segment in St. Louis to purchase the 19 IRST pods, 15 spare parts for IRST pods, 34 fuel tank assemblies, 34 sensor assembly structures and special tooling, non-recurring engineering, sustainment support and data.
This infrared sensor avionics will be carried on board Navy aircraft such as the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet jet fighter-bomber. The Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control segment in Orlando, Florida designs the IRST, which allows the F/A-18E/F to detect, track, and attack enemy aircraft without making its presence known.
The Super Hornet IRST fighter aircraft is a long-wave infrared detection sensor system that targets enemy aircraft in conditions where the Super Hornet cannot use its radar.
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The system uses infrared search and track technology to detect and provide military-grade tracking solutions on potentially hostile aircraft. The Navy and Boeing first flew the IRST Block II pod on an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in late 2019. The IRST is a long-range passive sensor incorporating infrared and other sensor for precise targeting.
This order represents the last IRST pod assemblies for the US Navy, officials said.
The IRST Block II gives the F/A-18 improved optics and processing power, dramatically improving pilot situational awareness, Boeing officials say. The Block II variant will be delivered to the US Navy in 2021, reaching initial operational capability shortly thereafter.
The IRST Block II is part of the Super Hornet Block III upgrades to keep the F/A-18 in active service for decades to come. Block III upgrades also include improved network capability, longer range with compliant fuel tanks, an advanced cockpit system, signature upgrades, and an improved communications system.
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The IRST fits in front of the Super Hornet’s center fuel tank. Three years ago, Navy leaders approved a restructured program that forgoes full-rate production of Block I sensors and moves directly to the Block II system.
The IRST passive search system consists of a long wave passive infrared receiver, a processor, an inertial measurement unit and an environmental control unit. The infrared receiver, processor, and inertial measurement unit fit inside the sensor, which attaches to the front of the aircraft-mounted fuel tank on the BRU-32 bomb rack.
The Navy developed the IRST Block I using components from the F-15K/SG aircraft infrared receiver, which is based on the IRST design of the now-retired Navy F-14 Tomcat jet fighter. IRST Block II includes infrared receiver improvements and updated processors. The Navy intends to produce 170 IRST systems.
Even in the midst of electronic attacks or heavy RF and infrared countermeasures, the IRST provides autonomous tracking data that increases pilot reaction time and improves survivability by enabling first-look and first-look capability. shooting, according to Lockheed Martin officials.
Related: Boeing and Lockheed Martin to Build Stealth Infrared Search and Track (IRST) Avionics for the F-15C Jet Fighter
Infrared sensors like the IRST detect the heat from an aircraft’s engine exhaust or even the heat generated by the friction of an aircraft as it passes through the atmosphere. Unlike radar, infrared sensors do not emit electronic signals and do not reveal their presence to adversaries.
This capability can allow Super Hornet pilots to identify enemy aircraft at long range and allow them to fire their air-to-air missiles at their maximum range.
Data from the IRST system can be stand-alone or merged with the Super Hornet’s other onboard sensor data. Lockheed Martin is also developing an IRST pod that can be mounted on the F-15C and F-16 jet fighters.
On this order, Boeing will perform the work in St. Louis and is expected to be completed by April 2026. For more information, contact Boeing Defense, Space & Security online at www.boeing.com/company/about -bds, Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control at www.lockheedmartin.com, or Naval Air Systems Command at www.navair.navy.mil.
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