The Navy is developing an Infrared Search And Track (IRST) sensor as a means of producing passive, infrared target location and tracking with accuracy sufficient for weapon guidance. This would be useful for combat while remaining “stealthy” and not broadcasting with one’s own radar and for operating in an electromagnetically challenged environment where normal radar operation is degraded. The system is initially intended for the F-18 Hornet.
DOT&E has reported its assessment of the IRST in the 2015 Annual Report.
“The system tested in OA 1 [ed., Operational Assessment 1, conducted in 2014] could not detect and track targets well enough to support weapons employment in an environment that reflects realistic fighter employment and tactics.”
Disturbingly, the unit’s basic design criteria is questionable, according to DOT&E.
“The Key Performance Parameter (KPP) and the derived contract specification for detection and tracking describe only a narrow subset of the operational environments where the Navy will employ IRST. Meeting the KPP (with a narrow reading of the KPP requirement) does not ensure a useful combat capability.”
Who came up with the initial spec????
|IRST Mounted in Nose of Fuel Tank|
Despite this, the Navy granted approval to enter into Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP). This is a growing trend in the Navy, to accept products that fail to meet specs or fail to demonstrate useful combat capabilities. Why are we building and buying a product that is not yet useful?
|IRST Fuel Tank Mount|
All of that aside, an IRST ought to offer a much needed capability for very little impact on aircraft performance (the IRST is mounted in the nose of the centerline fuel tank so fuel/range will be slightly reduced). This is just one more incremental improvement that will help keep the Hornet viable. I just wish the Navy would complete development before entering into production. This is concurrency, again, which will require the initial IRST’s to be remanufactured, eventually.
Update: This is why the DOT&E is so important and why there is tension between the Navy and DOT&E. The Navy is entering into LRIP even though DOT&E testing shows the IRST to be of very questionable combat value. If DOT&E didn't exist, we'd never know about the problems until combat revealed them and the Navy would have already committed to full scale production of a marginally useful system. Why the Navy insists on putting badly flawed and substandard systems into full production is beyond me.