Hawaiian Vampires

AIR TEST and Evaluation Squadron 9 (VX-9) ‘Vampires’ deployed eight Super Hornets to Kaneohe Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH) on January 24. VX-9 conducts operational test and evaluation (OPEVAL) of specific sub-systems and weapons for Navy and Marine Corps combat aircraft. During the four-week deployment VX-9 flew mock air combat missions to conduct OPEVAL of H4 high-order language software suite and the AN/APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar. Follow On Test and Evaluation (FOT&E) including the IDECM Block 3 and dual cockpit Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) was also undertaken to prove the efficacy of new modes and determine whether the improvements actually enhance combat capability.

The Hawaiian detachment comprised three F/A-18Es and five F/A-18Fs, all equipped with the APG-79 AESA radar, including three brand new Lot 30s. Some of the aircraft were fitted with dual cockpit JHMCS.

The APG-79 first underwent OPEVAL with VX-9 between July 15 and November 30, 2006. The OPEVAL report, released in March 2007, stated that the APG-79 was effective and suitable for training but fell short for combat due to significant reliability problems. During OPEVAL the APG-79 suffered from a radar hang-up. The system repeatedly crashed and stopped running after ten minutes of flying, around ten times on each flight.

Approximately 90% of the latest H4 software suite is being fielded to fix the problems with AESA: the remaining 10% provides capability improvement to the Block II Super Hornet.

VX-9 started loading H4 into its Super Hornets in mid-May 2007 and has since taken part in various joint exercises, including the USAF Weapons School Mission Employment phase at Nellis AFB, Nevada. A combined H4 and APG-79 test effort started late last year.

H4 brings DTED 2 (Digital Terrain Elevation Data), a high-resolution elevation dataset which gives landform, slope, elevation and/or terrain roughness, used to increase the accuracy of targeting precision weapons such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition.

The Block 3 version of ALQ-214 IDECM (Integrated Defensive Electronic Countermeasures) is also supported by H4. This integrates the ALE-55 towed decoy and the ALR-67(V)3 digitally cued radar-warning receiver.

Lot 30 Super Hornets are equipped with advanced crew station, fibre-optic data network, advanced mission computer, ANAV (an advanced navigation system that replace the inertial navigation system and the GPS receiver) and DMD (Digital Memory Device), which is a solid-state recorder and data transfer device used to load data into the cockpit. ANAV and DMD can only be run with H4 software.

Hawaii allowed VX-9 to conduct OPEVAL and FOT&E in high humidity, capricious weather, clouds, squalls, and a littoral environment, not generally encountered over the land ranges at VX-9’s home station of NAWS China Lake, California, in the Mojave Desert.

VX-9 generally conducted two missions per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, in a mix of air-to-air (against Hawaii Air National Guard F-15s) and air-to-ground missions. Two test missions involved simulated surface water attacks against US Navy ships off the coast of Hawaii. US Air Force KC-l0s air-refuelled the VX-9 Super Hornets on the flights to and from Hawaii.

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