The US Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command (the contracting authority) has placed a potential $1.17 billion contract with Boeing to develop Kuwait’s Super Hornet baseline configuration.
It has also commissioned some long-lead items for the 22 Kuwaiti F/A-18E single-seater and six F/A-18F two-seat trainer variants that are due for delivery by 2022.
These items, valued at $275.9 million, are understood to include radar warning receivers and some weapons.
Work on the Kuwaiti Super Hornets will be divided mostly between St Louis, Missouri; Goleta, California; and El Segundo, California.
The US Navy’s Naval Air Warfare Center weapons division at China Lake has also placed a contract with Boeing to procure an H12K system configuration set for software development, modification, integration and testing of the F/A-18E/F aircraft configured for the Kuwait Air Force (KAF).
At much the same time, Harris Corporation secured a contract for 30 digital video map computers for the Kuwaiti Super Hornets.
To train pilots for the Block III F/A-18E/F Super Hornet multirole fighters, Kuwait has ordered two tactical operational flight-trainers (TOFTs), according to a notice released on the US Federal Business Opportunities website on June 18 2018.
Boeing will supply one legacy TOFT that has been modified for the Super Hornet and one new Super Hornet TOFT, and will provide training for an initial batch of 26 pilots.
The first TOFT will be delivered to a US location – probably NAS New Orleans – to support initial aircrew training, which is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2021.
The sale of F/A-18 Super Hornets to Kuwait was originally announced in November 2016 but was held up by a delay in obtaining US State Department approval. By then, Kuwait had ordered 28 Typhoons (in April 2016), with the same mix of 22 single-seat and six two-seat aircraft. This led to some confusion as to whether Super Hornets or Typhoons would replace Kuwait’s fleet of 34 legacy F/A-18C/D Hornets, some 40 of which had been delivered from October 1991.
The Kuwaiti order was originally expected to be for a total of 40 Super Hornets, including an initial batch of 28 aircraft, and with options on 12 more. The approved order also included 12 Lockheed Martin AAQ-33 Sniper and 14 Raytheon ASQ-228 ATFLIR targeting pods.
In the event, it soon became clear that Kuwait would order 28 examples of the Typhoon and 28 Super Hornets, expanding its fighter force and re-establishing a two-type frontline force.
Before the introduction of the original Hornet, Kuwait had operated a mixed fleet of Dassault Mirage F1CKs and Douglas A-4KU Skyhawks.
With an expected delivery date in the early-2020s, Kuwait’s new Super Hornets are likely to be to the new US Navy Block 3 standard.
Before its fiscal year 2019 budget release, when the US Navy decided to buy 110 Block III Super Hornets over the next five years, the Kuwaiti deal was seen as a potential lifeline for Boeing’s Super Hornet production line, which might otherwise have been forced to close.
For many years, Kuwait did little to update or upgrade its legacy Hornets, whose air-to-ground capability was largely limited to the delivery of ‘dumb’ iron bombs, but this has changed in recent years.
The aircraft were used extensively during coalition air policing duties over southern Iraq on Operation Southern Watch, and, more recently, they have operated as part of the Arab coalition combating Houthi and Al Qaeda forces in Yemen.
About 12 Kuwaiti F/A-18Cs have been rotationally deployed to Saudi Arabia for this operation, which has reinforced the need for greater air-to-ground capabilities, enhanced interoperability and modernised air-to-air capabilities. As a result, the Kuwaiti Hornets have been modernised in recent years, and have gained new capabilities.
Kuwait ordered 43 joint helmet-mounted cueing systems for its legacy Hornets in 2012. In January 2017, Congress approved a sale to Kuwait of the AIM-120C7 AMRAAM air-to-air missile, while 14 Lockheed Martin Sniper ATP targeting pods were ordered in May 2017. These are both expected to be used by the F/A-18C/D ‘heritage Hornets’ initially, before then being transferred to the new Super Hornets and Typhoons.
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