The Navy accepted the first new operational Boeing [BA] Block III F/A-18E/F Super Hornets last month, the service and company said Sept. 27.

The aircraft was delivered to Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., for continued developmental testing on Aug. 31.

The Navy said the next several new Block III Super Hornets will travel to VX-9, at Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake, Calif., to start training for operational testing. During this period, the aircraft will be evaluated in scenarios mimicking operational missions. The Navy plans for Boeing to deliver 78 total new Block III Super Hornets. 

Last year, Boeing delivered the initial two Block III Super Hornet test aircraft for flight testing, which were used for carrier suitability and integration testing of all Block III mission system components with VX-23 and VX-31 (Defense Daily, June 17, 2020).

The Block III Super Hornets feature several improvements including conformal fuel tanks to add 100-120 nautical miles of range, extending its lifespan from 6,000 to 10,000 flight hours, smaller radar signature, enhanced network capabilities, upgrades to the Lockheed Martin [LMT] Block II Infrared Search and Track System (IRST) sensor, upgrades to the Active Electronically Scanned Array, enhanced communication system, new datalinks and computer, enhanced engines, and the advanced cockpit system.

“The fleet needs capabilities to keep its edge. Getting the first operational Block III in our hands is a great step forward in supporting our capability and readiness goals,” Capt. Jason Denney, Navy F/A-18 and EA-18G program manager, said in a statement.

The Navy is also upgrading existing Block II Super Hornets via the Service Life Modernization effort in two steps: adding total flight hours up to 7,500 and then upping that to 10,000 hours along with the remaining Block III upgrades.

The Navy said since the initial test jets were delivered, the Navy has been testing the new capabilities.

“The new aircraft has successfully completed Carrier Suitability Testing, and a comprehensive evaluation of the new Block III mission system components is now underway,” Bob David, the F/A-18 & EA-18G Program Office’s (PMA-265) Assistant Program Manager for Test and Evaluation, said in a statement.

The Navy noted VX-23 conducted tests mickicking the carrier environment to make sure the aircraft can withstand catapult-assisted launches and arrested landings.

The service argued this kind of comprehensive testing will reduce risk, allowing further refinements to be made and integrated to the production aircraft’s hardware and software updates.

Boeing said the Block III aircraft is also ready to receive apps-based solutions, allowing the software to be updated throughout its life span.

“Scrutinizing these new systems in a test environment ahead of fielding to our warfighter is very important and allows the Navy to make sure the delivered system meets the requirements provided to the manufacturing contractor and that our fleet is receiving an effective, interoperable and sustainable aircraft that will support the mission,” David added.

Developmental and operational testing is set to continue through early summer 2022. Boeing is contracted to deliver two Block III Super Hornets every month through the end of calendar year 2024.

Boeing said the single production line producing new Block III aircraft and two production lines extending existing Block II aircraft in the SLM work will continue to deliver capabilities through the mid-2030s.