Boeing & US Navy Show Off Manned – Unmanned Teaming with Super Hornet Test Flights 

F/A-18 Block III Photo Credit: Boeing

On 15 July, Boeing and the U.S. Navy pulled off an act straight out of Top Gun. They have successfully completed a series of test flights of manned-unmanned teaming or MUM-T flight tests on its existing Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet.

This demonstrates the future of aerial warfare whereby manned and unmanned aircraft works seamlessly. This fits perfectly into the ecosystem of future aerial warfare. 

Boeing’s system engineers linked Block III’s Super Hornet adjunct processor, also known as the Distributed Targeting Processor – Networked (DTP-N), along with a third-party remote control team with UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles).

Boeing also created new software for the DTP-N specific, to enable it to run with a third-party tablet or remote control team. The impressive software development tablet/remote connection to the unmanned fighter means that Boeing can now conduct any complex unmanned flight test without exceeding a period of 6 months. 

Ben LeGrand, Boeing director of Mission Systems, said: “Block III Super Hornet is executing on its guarantee of hardware – installed today – that is ready to receive the software of the future. Block III Super Hornet will integrate third-party systems and software with minimal modifications.”

Moreover, Boeing joined with the F/A-18 & EA-18G Program Office (PMA-265), Air Test and Evaluation Squadrons (VX) 23 and 31, Naval Air Warfare Center-Weapons Division at China Lake, California and a third-party vendor on the demonstration flight. This joining of such parties allowed the test flight to be successful.

During the test flight period, super hornet pilots keyed the commands into the tablet, which were transmitted through the hardware of Block III. This procedure is standard in controlling any unmanned vehicle. The UAVs were all controlled and executed by F/A-18 pilots during the 2 week testing period.  

Scott Dickson, Boeing’s director for Multi-Domain Integration, said; “This successful MUM-T demonstration represents a significant step toward the Navy’s vision for Distributed Maritime Operations. It highlights the potential of unmanned concepts to expand and extend the Navy’s reach.”

“As part of a Joint All-Domain Command and Control network, teams of UAV conducting ISR missions led by the latest Super Hornets equipped with network-enabled data fusion and advanced capabilities would provide warfighters across the Joint Force with significant information advantage.”

The Super Hornet, or the F/A-18, is one of the most iconic fighter jets on the market. Despite its age, this tranche features one of the largest digital touch screens in the fighter jet market. These capabilities and hardware show that the fighter jet itself is compatible with operating anywhere, and can respond to any possible threats given to the pilot.

The Super Hornet is also capable of conducting future-proof missions, as shown here with its unmanned flying capability. Thanks to its impressive processing power and its electronic suite. 

Mark Sears, Boeing vice president and program manager of F/A-18, EA-18G programs stated: “Future fighter pilots will be the quarterback of the skies, orchestrating commands and controlling UAVs from the integrated Block III touch-screen cockpit.”

“Block III Super Hornet is the bridge to the future and is a risk reducer for the Navy that is delivering on teaming, networking and interoperability now.”

This project demonstrates that combined manned and unmanned missions are possible and are here to stay. Unmanned missions are the way forward as this will drastically reduce casualties at times of combat.

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