Defining U.S. Navy TacAir Choices

By Bill Sweetman
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

Auto-land is important in terms of airframe life, because the number of catapult engagements or “traps,” which impose severe, specific stresses, is a limiting factor on aircraft service life. After the X-47B's first launch from the carrier George Bush in May, senior Navy officers indicated that the service was looking at automatic landing—and higher-fidelity guidance for manual landings—to reduce the number of “field carrier landing practice” missions and actual arrests needed to maintain pilot proficiency.

Consequently, the Super Hornet and Growler out-of-service date has moved beyond 2035. This boosts the case for upgrades such as General Electric's proposed new engine and Boeing's conformal fuel tanks and stealth enhancements (AW&ST May 27, p. 24), both because there is a longer payoff period and the aircraft will be facing more demanding threats. The Growler, in particular, can benefit from conformal fuel tanks and more power, because it routinely operates at high-weight, high-drag conditions with ALQ-99 jamming pods and external tanks.

The Navy has a somewhat different mix of missions from the U.S. Air Force, leading to some differences in philosophy. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert raised eyebrows last summer with a commentary in the U.S. Naval Institute's Proceedings magazine that appeared to cast doubt on the value of stealth. However, its real focus was on the use of payloads—missiles and sensors—to add capability to existing platforms.

That trend is apparent in Navy anti-surface warfare (ASuW) developments, which include sensors and so-called “net-enabled” weapons—missiles that take advantage of other sensors to find and hit targets, but that can still function if communications are down. The Raytheon Advanced Airborne Sensor radar, carried on the new Boeing P-8A maritime patrol aircraft, is designed to detect, classify and identify sea targets at long range and hand them off to a net-enabled weapon.

The new ASuW weapons include a planned program for an air- or sea-launched weapon to replace Boeing's Harpoon and Standoff Land Attack Missile-Extended Range. Candidates could include Raytheon's Joint Standoff Weapon-Extended Range. A longer-term program is the Navy/Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile based on the Lockheed Martin AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile but with a seeker combining passive radio-frequency sensing with an imaging infrared terminal sensor. Tests of the sensor started in May 2012 and continued through the early part of this year, with the first of three live firings due this summer.

These are standoff weapons that do not expressly require a stealthy platform, particularly since the “shooter” can approach the target without using radar to detect it, having been cued by the anti-aircraft system or another off-board asset.

F-35C vs Advanced Super Hornet
F-35CAdvanced Super Hornet
Initial ops capability20192018
Acquisition cost, fiscal 2012$115 million$88-92 million
ConfigurationCleanCFTs / Weapon Pod
Active electronic warfareForward aspect X-bandAll-round, multi-band
Towed decoyNoYes
Weights / Loadings
Ops Empty Weight34,800 lb.32,650 lb.
Internal / conformal fuel19,750 lb.18,450 lb.
Internal weapon load4,700 lb.2,700 lb.
Estimated takeoff weight61,000 lb.55,000 lb.
Thrust, Intermediate / Max27,000 /43,000 lb.29,500 /44,000 lb.
Thrust, Int / Max (contingency)NA35,400 / 52,800 lb.
Wing area, gross680 sq. ft.500 sq. ft.
Wing area, net376 sq. ft.400 sq. ft.
Ratios / Performance
Thrust / weight, Int / Max0.44 / 0.700.54 / 0.80
Thrust / weight, Int / Max (contingency)NA0.63 / 0.96
Wing loading, gross / net90 / 162 lb. / sq. ft.110 / 138 lb. / sq. ft.
Fuel fraction0.320.34
Max mach1.61.6
Acceleration, Mach 0.8–1.2greater than 100 sec.less than 50 sec.
G limit7.57.5

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