Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, MD – February 8, 2020 – The first Service Life Modification (SLM) F/A-18E/F Super Hornet rolled off the production line in St. Louis, marking a major milestone for the U.S. Navy. After undergoing Department of Defense operational readiness review inspections, the jet was released to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106 on Jan. 21, fully mission capable, and successfully completed a functional flight check within just three business days of arrival.
“In light of recently achieving our mission capability goal, this SLM jet delivery comes at the perfect time where the focus has now shifted to sustaining our aircraft,” said Capt. Jason Denney, F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Office Manager (PMA-265).
The first SLM jet underwent various inspections, modifications and repairs before being restored to mission capable status. These modifications extended the service life for this jet to 7,500 flight hours. Currently, 15 aircraft have been inducted into SLM with another two inductions scheduled in the month of February. Prior to undergoing SLM, Super Hornets’ service life is 6,000 flight hours.
“The Super Hornet is and will continue to be the backbone of the U.S. Navy carrier air wing for decades to come,” said SLM Integrated Product Team (IPT) Lead Sarah Banagan. “This first SLM jet delivery is a critical milestone paving the way for enhanced aviation readiness in support of the Naval Defense Strategy (NDS) by delivering ready, relevant and reliable FA-18 E/F Super Hornet aircraft to the warfighter.”
Beginning in December 2022, SLM kits will reach full maturity, extending the Block II Super Hornet’s service life to 10,000 flight hours and incorporating Block III capabilities. These include enhanced network capability, reduced radar cross-signature, and an enhanced communication system. Incorporation of the full kits increases the lethality, longevity and interoperability of the Super Hornet platform, Banagan explained.
SLM was initiated in 2018 and is anticipated to continue for the next 20-plus years, with the schedule of inductions increasing in the next few years until the steady induction rate of 40 aircraft per year is reached. Banagan said that SLM was designed with a “learn as you go approach,” with throughput and efficiency expected to improve. The current turnaround time of 18 months, from induction to return, is expected to be reduced to 12 months by fiscal year 2023.
As SLM ramps up over the next two years, the mission capable rates will hold steady with delivery on new Block III aircraft from the production line. In March 2019, the Navy awarded Boeing a multi-year contract to build 78 new F/A-18E/F Block III Super Hornets fit to fly for 10,000 service hours, which provides the fleet with the latest advances while SLM continues to mature.