Northrop Grumman has a principal role in the design and production of the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, the U.S. Navy's frontline carrier-based strike fighter.
As principal subcontractor to The Boeing Company, Northrop Grumman produces the F/A-18's aft/center fuselage section and vertical tails and integrates all associated subsystems at its facility in El Segundo, Calif.
Northrop Grumman has delivered nearly 1,800 fuselage "shipsets" since the F/A-18 program began in the 1970s. The first A/B Hornet model entered service with the Navy in 1983.
The A/B evolved into the C/D Hornet in the 1980s and now the Super Hornet. This aircraft will remain the backbone of U.S. naval aviation strike warfare well into the 21st century. F/A-18's are also operated by the air forces of Australia, Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain and Switzerland.
The Super Hornet was introduced into the Navy fleet in 2000. Compared to previous versions, it has greater range and payload, more powerful engines and provisions for advanced avionics and weapons systems.
The primary feature of the Super Hornet upgrade is a modification of the airframe. Structural changes increased the aircraft's internal fuel capacity to extend mission radius. The changes include a slightly longer fuselage and an additional 100 square feet of wing surface area. The larger wing improves flight characteristics and allows two additional external weapons stations for a variety of air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons.
The horizontal tails and leading-edge wing extensions also were enlarged to maintain the F/A-18's excellent handling qualities. For aircraft carrier operations, these aerodynamic factors provide an increase in the amount of payload that can be brought back to the ship.
Survivability improvements include new defensive electronic systems, a fuel protection system and increased use of advanced composite materials.
Other Super Hornet upgrades include mission computer improvements with very high speed integrated circuit (VHSIC) technology, reconnaissance capability and development of a lightweight internal cannon to replace the M61-A1 20mm Gatling gun.
The F/A-18's radar has been upgraded with a next-generation APG-73 system provided by the Raytheon Company. The active electronically scanned array (AESA) increases the speed and memory of the radar's signal and data processor.
The Super Hornet builds on the F/A-18's reputation as the Navy's safest and most reliable tactical carrier aircraft, and the Navy has recognized it as a model acquisition program.
The Navy and the Super Hornet industry team won the National Aeronautic Association's 1999 Collier Award for designing, manufacturing, testing and introducing into service "the most capable and survivable carrier-based combat aircraft."