Raytheon Missiles & Defense works closely with the Navy and the Naval Air Station Fallon, home to the real-life TOPGUN fighter training school in Fallon, Nevada, to continually improve precision weapons carried on the F/A-18.
They include the AMRAAM missile, a medium-range weapon that is undergoing what’s known as an F3R, or form, fit and function refresh, to address new threats. Its integration with active electronically scanned radar – specifically, the AN/APG-79 radar made by Raytheon Intelligence & Space – has given it the ability to engage targets farther than crews can see.
“(The radar) can see almost everything out there – track it and pass on that information to the AMRAAM so that it can pick a target out of the sky,” said Kelley, a former commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic.
Hardware and software updates like the Software Improvement Program-3 will also improve the weapon’s guidance, range and performance.
The StormBreaker smart weapon “takes the smart weapon capability to a new level,” Kelley said. It can see through dust, fog, smoke and rain and glide more than 40 miles to strike moving targets on land or at sea. The Super Hornet will be the second fighter jet to add the network-enabled weapon when it reaches initial operating capability.
The AIM-9X SIDEWINDER missile has long been favored by fighter pilots like Kelley because it's what they call a “fire-and-forget” weapon; they can launch it from afar and let the seeker do the rest.
“The SIDEWINDER provides the Super Hornet with a dogfight … short-range weapons that compliment onboard sensors’ queuing systems to make a lethal combination for would-be foes,” Kelley said. “The ability to be so flexible in an air combat maneuver environment is truly impressive.”
The latest variant features upgrades including a redesigned fuze and a digital ignition device that allows better ground handling and in-flight safety.
And while the Tomahawk cruise missile isn’t technically part of the F/A-18, anyone who saw Top Gun: Maverick knows the important role it can play in clearing the way for the Super Hornet and other fighter jets to carry out their missions. The system launches from ships and submarines, and it can strike with precision from 1,000 miles away – even in heavily defended airspace. The latest variant will feature upgraded navigation and communication, as well as the ability to hit moving targets at sea and a new programmable warhead that will expand Tomahawk’s long-range land attack capability.