|Looks impressive, but it's missing a few very important things...|
As I mentioned early on, I consider similar systems to be equally effective. This is so the discussion doesn't get bogged down in minutiae. The Rafale's SPECTRA suite may in fact be overwhelmingly better than anything else out there, but without hard evidence, I cannot present it as such. Also, discussion in this area is often the most liveliest, so I will leave it to you guys to decide which individual systems are best.
Also, comparisons are done with no regard to pricing and costs. This is done for two reasons: 1) There are simply too many variables in this department. 2) It dispels the argument that "Our military deserves the best, regardless of cost." As we all know, you don't always get what you pay for.
Most frustratingly, comparisons can only be done on known commodities. If I start including every single possible future concept, things would simply get out of hand. Comparing hypotheticals is a fool's errand. The challenge here is distinguishing between a simple concept and a concrete future pathway. The Super Hornet straddles a blurred line here.
The F/A-18E/F is a very known commodity. It has been in service for years and there is plenty of information out there regarding its development, performance, and service history. Out of all the fighters being considered to replace the CF-18 Hornet, the Super Hornet is the one that would be easiest to estimate costs and capabilities under RCAF operation.
The Advanced Super Hornet (ASH), or "Block III" is different story, however.
Boeing, to its credit, has funded a working mule of the Advanced Super Hornet with mock-up conformal fuel tanks (CFTs) and Enclosed Weapon Pods (EWP). This is far from what the Block III could be however. Boeing also wants to add upgraded engines, built-in IRST, updated avionics and modernized cockpits.
This is a similar upgrade path as that taken by Saab for the Gripen "NG" (E/F models). In effect, it transforms the fighter into an entirely new aircraft. Upgraded engines alone are enough to improve thrust-to-weight numbers, along with speed, time-to-climb, payload, and multiple other performance numbers. In effect, an Advanced Super Hornet should be considered an entirely new and different aircraft.
An Advanced Super Hornet with upgraded engines, improved avionics, better sensors, CFTs, and EWPs would likely be faster, stealthier, deadlier, and longer-legged by a considerable amount over the current model. But by how much? That is the question. None of these upgrades is considered a "sure thing" and so far no current Super Hornet customer is investing into this. In all, this leaves too many questions and hypotheticals surrounding the Advanced Super Hornet.
Playing by those rules, I would have to take the same consideration for the F-35, adding some of the future upgrades planned for that aircraft. This includes greatly enhanced ECM/EW capability, six internal AMRAAMs, and even the mythical CUDA missile.
|IRST/center-line fuel tank|
There are other, less ambitious Super Hornet improvements being studied, however. These include a combination IRST/center-line fuel tank and a "hybrid" Super Hornet/Growler that incorporates the Growler's ALQ-218 sensors on the Super Hornet. These concepts look promising, but they would likely have not changed the outcome of the Super Hornet's match-up against the F-35 in Fighter Jet Fight Club.
Then again... Is it not good enough that the Super Hornet, as it stands today, almost had a tied score with a fighter that costs twice as much? Also, there is a pretty good chance that an Advanced Super Hornet would have handily won.