Boeing [BA] delivered the first F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet to the Navy under Service Life Modification (SLM) updates, the company said Thursday.

The SLM is part of the Navy’s effort to upgrade Super Hornets to a Block III version, which will increase the aircraft service life from 6,000 to almost 10,000 flight hours, add conformal fuel tanks, upgrade to the new Lockheed Martin [LMT] Block II Infrared Search and Track System sensor, upgrade the active electronically scanned array radar, add new datalinks and computer, enhance engines, and deliver a new cockpit display.

Artist’s impression of an F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet Block III (top) alongside a Block II (bottom). (Image: Boeing.)

The first part of SLM work on current Super Hornets is extending service life from 6,000 to 7,500 flight hours. In the following years Boeing plans to further extend the flight life to 10,000 hours and incorporate the other Block III improvements

Boeing said the second SLM aircraft will be delivered by the end of February and the third will deliver in April. The company expects to deliver five more Super Hornets this year overall.

Boeing currently has 15 Super Hornets in the SLM production lines in St. Louis and San Antonio, Texas. It takes the company 18 months to work on these initial modifications, but Boeing said that time will improve to 12 months as the program progresses.

“SLM is going to provide a critical resource for the Navy to re-capitalize on long-serving aircraft to return them to the fleet in a near new condition. It will reduce burden on our maintainers, our supply system and our depot level assets within the enterprise,” Capt. Stephen May, PMA-265 co-lead for E/F/G Air Vehicles, said in a statement.

In March 2018, the Navy announced in a contract modification for SLM in FY 2019 that it expected to induct up to 15 Super Hornets for SLM improvements in FY 2019 and up to 30 in FY 2020 (Defense Daily, March 29, 2018).

As of last May, during the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space exposition, Boeing said seven Block II F/A-18 E/Fs for SLM were inducted into its St. Louis facility and in June the first San Antonio aircraft was set to arrive. Ultimately, Boeing plans to modify 40 Block II Super Hornets per year (Defense Daily, May 7, 2019).

At the event a Boeing official also noted SLM efforts combined with new build Block III Super Hornet contracts guaranteed Block III production will last through 2033.

The Navy currently has over 500 Block II F/A-18 E/F aircraft in its inventory.