The Navy on Friday awarded Boeing [BA] a $152.5 million contract to design, develop, integrate, and test the Infrared Search and Track System (IRST) Block II.

IRST Block II is a Phase II engineering change as a replacement for the IRST Block I to support F/A-18 E/F aircraft. The IRST system is a passive infrared sensor that has a longer range than radar, although it also has to contend with weather and atmospheric interference.

The IRST21 sensor system is mounted on the nose of the F/A-18E/F’s centerline fuel tank. (Image: Lockheed Martin)
The IRST21 sensor system is mounted on the nose of the F/A-18E/F’s centerline fuel tank. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

The Block II uses an upgraded Lockheed Martin [LMT] IRST21 system that will be located in a center pod below the airframe.

Last May, Boeing won an $89 million contract for the initial design and development and to fully incorporate the Block II into the F/A-18. That award covered procurement of prototyping hardware, technical risk reduction efforts, and integrated product support for the IRST Block II (Defense Daily, May 26, 2017).

Then, last October, Boeing won two contracts worth up to $100 million to upgrade the IRST sensor system. That work specifically covered developing advanced software, performing hardware upgrades, and delivering prototypes of upgrades to the system (Defense Daily, Oct. 19, 2017).

The IRST upgrades are part of the larger F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block III program that will also feature conformal fuel tanks adding 100-120 nautical miles in range; a 9,000 flight hour life; 10 percent stealth signature improvements; a new advanced cockpit systems display; a Rockwell Collins [ COL] Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT) data pipe network; and a Distributed Targeting Processor-Networked (DTP-N) onboard computer.

Earlier this summer Boeing executives said during a media event that when combined with the DTP-N and TTNT the IRST will allow pilots to share data and thus compute weapons-quality tracking with location and range of targets, like having depth perception with two eyes (Defense Daily, May 24).

This new work will occur in Orlando, Fla. (86 percent) and St. Louis, Mo. (14 percent) and is expected to be finished by December 2021.

At award time, the Navy obligated $13 million in Navy research, development, test and evaluation funds, with none set to expire this fiscal year.