The Navy awarded Boeing a $73 million contract to begin upgrading the Super Hornets. Boeing said it would overhaul four fighter jets next month in its St. Louis plant while it builds a new assembly line in San Antonio to modernize the entire fleet.
The full-scale overhaul of the Super Hornet fleet is expected to start in the early 2020s. The twin-engine fighter-bombers are widely used in airstrikes against the Islamic State in the Middle East.
"The initial focus of this program will extend the life of the fleet from 6,000 to 9,000 flight hours," Mark Sears, Boeing program manager, said in a statement last week. "Each of these jets will fly another 10 to 15 years, so making them next-generation aircraft is critical."
A key improvement will be "conformal" fuel tanks, which fit more closely to the aircraft's contour and allow the plane to carry less fuel while reducing drag.
Higher-tech datalink communication systems will be installed along with improved infrared tracking devices and an electronic cockpit touchscreen, said Aviation International News, a trade publication.
Boeing is overhauling the older planes as it begins producing 24 new Super Hornets as part of the proposed 2019 defense budget. Next year's proposed budget calls for an additional 110 Super Hornets to be built by 2023.
The 134 new planes will replace an estimated 140 early-model jets that the Navy aims to scrap because they are too worn to repair and upgrade, defense officials said. The Navy now has roughly 570 Super Hornets.