17 January 2017
In the mid-2000s, Lockheed Martin resurrected its 1990s-era AN/AAS-42(V) IRST (Infrared Search and Track) system from the US Navy F-14D Tomcat fighter, initially for South Korea and Singapore’s new F-15Ks and F-15SGs, as part of their Sniper/Tiger Eyes/IRST suite. More recently, Saudi Arabia also bought an upgraded AAS-42 system for their new F-15SA and F-15SA conversion aircraft, as part of their Sniper ATP/LANTIRN ER/IRST suite.
Lockheed Martin is also developing a newer-technology system for the US Navy’s Navy Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST) system for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (Lot 26 and up), which is being procured in two Blocks, with Block I MS C achieved in December 2014 and LRIP beginning now. IOC is scheduled for 1QFY19. Total procurement objectives are 78 Block I systems and 92 Block II systems, as well as 78 “Block I to Block II” conversion kits.
The podded Navy IRST system consists of Lockheed Martin’s new IRST21 sensor, the GE Aviation FPU-13 Fuel Tank Assembly, and the Meggitt Defense Industry Environmental Control unit. For the Navy’s Super Hornet, the IRST21 is mounted in the nose section of the F/A-18E/F’s centerline fuel tank, allowing 330 gallons of fuel to be carried as well.
In December 2016, the US Navy placed an order with Boeing for the procurement of 12 LRIP IRST systems for the F/A-18 Super Hornet. The Navy IRST is expected to deploy on the F/A-18 Super Hornet in 2017.
The US Air Force has also been looking to buy an IRST for F-15s and F-16s, with the current USAF Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST) program planned as a partial procurement for F-15C/Ds only. There is currently no program or funding for F-16s, even though this could eventually result in massive international sales….
Lockheed Martin is offering the Air Force (though Boeing will apparently actually choose the system) a version of the new Saudi Arabian AAS-42, which Lockheed has dubbed Legion, for the F-15 centerline station. In late 2015, Northrop Grumman offered its Open Pod, for either wing or centerline mounting, with sensors and other work by Selex ES, who produced the Pirate IRST LWIR sensor for Eurofighter, and has developed the Skyward-G sensor for the new Saab Gripen E/F (Skyward-G has been repackaged for the Open Pod). Finally, Boeing’s Phantom Works has reportedly developed an IRST sensor (as a supplementary system) for the USAF’s F-15 Talon HATE pod.
Finally, this report in the Military Electronics Briefing also forecasts speculative new Future IRST Systems. When these will ramp up is uncertain, especially if there are development delays for current Navy and USAF programs, but eventually, better, smaller, and maybe even cheaper IRSTs will be produced.
We forecast the total IRST market available to US manufacturers will ramp up to $1 billion per year by the middle of next decade, possibly doubling to $2 billion annually in the decade to follow.