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US Navy Looks to Retroactively Stealth Up Some Super Hornets

The US Navy is testing out modifications to the F-18 Super Hornet fighter to reduce its radar signature. But there are several limitations.
Photo by Cmdr. Erik Etz

The US Navy is testing out upgrades to improve the stealthiness of the already-operational F-18 Super Hornet. This can be seen as both a hedge against potential problems with the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as well as increasing the ability of the F-18 fleet to operate jointly with the F-35 aircraft.

There are some pretty severe limitations to how stealthy any after-market modifications — such as adding radar absorbent coating in some spots and making things like fuel tanks and weapons stick out less in others — can make the F-18 or any existing non-stealth fighter, however. The radar signature of a jet is driven heavily by the plane’s fundamental geometric shape.


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Altering an existing plane dramatically enough to make significant inroads towards a reduced signature could necessitate an expensive complete redesign of the entire aircraft.

US Marine Corps F-18 Super Hornets (right) escort the new F-35B (left) to Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Yuma, Arizona, in November 2012. This hi-lo mix is used by both the marines and the navy. Photo via Ken Kalemkarian/DVIDS.

As a semi-stealthy counterpart to the F-35, a reduced-signature F-18 could be a critical part of the navy hi-lo mix strategy, which would seek to get around the even higher cost of the F-35 by operating the aircraft in conjunction with each other. However, previous Boeing experiences with stealth upgrades, such as with the F-15 in the Silent Eagle program, have met with limited commercial success, casting doubt on whether or not these old dogs really can learn new tricks.

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Photo via DVIDS