An advanced infrared targeting pod due to be installed on a future version of the US Navy’s bread-and-butter fighter aircraft has been spotted in recent photos showing the jets in action over the Middle East.
In photos dated September 30, 2020, and posted on the Pentagon’s Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) website, an F/A-18F can be seen carrying the new infrared search and track system (IRST) pod while on patrol. The sensor is the small black button on the front of the plane’s centerline external fuel tank, slung below the fuselage.
As the sensor looks for heat signatures instead of bouncing radar waves off of things, the pod is capable of cutting through all kinds of things that can foul other tracking systems, including stealth technology, which reduces the amount of radar waves an aircraft bounces back for radar to spot them with, as well as jammers, which put out excess electromagnetic interference to drown out the enemy’s radar in return. It can spot low-visibility aircraft and smaller, hard-to-spot craft such as unmanned aerial vehicles, too.
According to the photo caption, the aircraft were on “a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve,” the Pentagon’s operational name for the war against Daesh in Syria and Iraq.
The Drive noted the pod is likely an early test version of the final product, which will be part of a slew of upgrades to the Super Hornet together called Block III. The Navy accepted its first two Block III Super Hornets for testing in June, according to USNI News, and the new version of the jet will probably not enter service until sometime next year. The E-18 Growler, an electronic warfare version of the F/A-18, will also get upgraded to Block III.