Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet

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F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
Top view of gray jet fighter banking away from camera. Under the fuselage is an external fuel tank
A U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornet conducts a mission over the Persian Gulf in September 2005
Role Carrier-based multirole fighter
National origin United States
Manufacturer McDonnell Douglas
Boeing Defense, Space & Security
First flight 29 November 1995
Introduction 1999
Status In service
Primary users United States Navy
Royal Australian Air Force
Produced 1995–present
Number built 500 as of April 2011[1]
Program cost Total procurement: US$48.09 billion (through FY2011)[2]
Unit cost
US$60.9 million (2014 flyaway cost)[3][N 1]
Developed from McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet
Variants Boeing EA-18G Growler

The Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet and related twin-seat F/A-18F are twin-engine carrier-capable multirole fighter aircraft variants based on the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. The F/A-18E single-seat and F/A-18F tandem-seat variants are larger and more advanced derivatives of the F/A-18C and D Hornet. The Super Hornet has an internal 20 mm M61 rotary cannon and can carry air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface weapons. Additional fuel can be carried in up to five external fuel tanks and the aircraft can be configured as an airborne tanker by adding an external air refueling system.

Designed and initially produced by McDonnell Douglas, the Super Hornet first flew in 1995. Full-rate production began in September 1997, after the merger of McDonnell Douglas and Boeing the previous month. The Super Hornet entered service with the United States Navy in 1999, replacing the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, which was retired in 2006; the Super Hornet serves alongside the original Hornet. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), which has operated the F/A-18A as its main fighter since 1984, ordered the F/A-18F in 2007 to replace its aging F-111 fleet. RAAF Super Hornets entered service in December 2010.

Development[edit]

Origins[edit]

The Super Hornet is an evolutionary redesign of the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. The Super Hornet's unique wing and tail configuration can be traced back to an internal Northrop project P-530, c. 1965; this had started as a substantial rework of the lightweight F-5E with a larger wing, twin tail fins and a distinctive leading edge root extension (LERX).[5] Later flying as the Northrop YF-17 "Cobra", it competed in the United States Air Force's Lightweight Fighter (LWF) program to produce a smaller and simpler fighter to complement the larger F-15 Eagle. The Navy directed that the YF-17 be redesigned into the larger F/A-18 Hornet to meet a requirement for a multi-role fighter to complement the larger F-14 Tomcat serving in air superiority and fleet defense interceptor roles. The Hornet proved to be effective but limited in combat radius. Its design was expanded in the Super Hornet, which has an empty weight slightly greater than the F-15C.[6]

The concept of an enlarged Hornet was first proposed in 1980s, which was marketed by McDonnell Douglas as Hornet 2000. The Hornet 2000 concept was an advanced F/A-18 with a larger wing and a longer fuselage to carry more fuel and more powerful engines.[7] In January 1988, the Hornet 2000 study was officially announced.[8] At the same time, U.S. Naval Aviation faced a number of problems; the McDonnell Douglas A-12 Avenger II, which was intended to replace the obsolete Grumman A-6 Intruder and LTV A-7 Corsair II, was cancelled after the program ran into serious problems. The end of the Cold War led to a period of military budget cuts and considerable restructuring.[9] The Navy considered updating an existing design as a more attractive approach to a clean-sheet program. As an alternative to the A-12, McDonnell Douglas proposed the "Super Hornet" (initially "Hornet II" in the 1980s), an improvement of the successful early F/A-18 models,[8] which could serve as an alternate replacement for the A-6 Intruder. At the same time, the Navy needed a fleet defense fighter to replace the canceled Navy Advanced Tactical Fighter (NATF), which would have been a navalized variant of the Air Force's Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.[7]

Testing and production[edit]

F/A-18F Super Hornet (left) and a F/A-18A Hornet (right)

The Super Hornet was first ordered by the U.S. Navy in 1992, in part to replace the F-14 Tomcat; all naval combat jets were on Hornet variants until the introduction of the F-35C Lightning II.[10] The Navy retained the F/A-18 designation to help sell the program to Congress as a low-risk "derivative", though the Super Hornet is largely a new aircraft. The Hornet and Super Hornet share many characteristics, including avionics, ejection seats, radar, armament, mission computer software, and maintenance/operating procedures. The initial F/A-18E/F retained most of the avionics systems from the F/A-18C/D's configuration at the time.[7]

The Super Hornet first flew on 29 November 1995.[7] Initial production on the F/A-18E/F began in 1995. Flight testing started in 1996 with the F/A-18E/F's first carrier landing in 1997.[7] Low-rate production began in March 1997[11] with full production beginning in September 1997.[12] Testing continued through 1999, finishing with sea trials and aerial refueling demonstrations. Testing involved 3,100 test flights covering 4,600 flight hours.[8] The Super Hornet underwent U.S. Navy operational tests and evaluations in 1999,[13] and was approved in February 2000.[14]

The Navy considers the Super Hornet's acquisition a success, meeting cost, schedule, and weight (400 lb, 181 kg below) requirements.[15] While having the same general layout and systems, the Super Hornet differs in many ways from the original F/A-18 Hornet. The Super Hornet is informally referred to as the "Rhino" to distinguish it from earlier "legacy" Hornets and to prevent confusion in radio calls. This aids safe flight operations, as the catapult and arresting systems must be set differently for the heavier Super Hornet. (The "Rhino" nickname was earlier used by the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, which was retired from the fleet in 1987.)

Four F/A-18Fs of VFA-41 "Black Aces" in a trail formation. Note the AN/ASQ-228 ATFLIR pods on the first and third aircraft, and a buddy store tank on the last aircraft

As of 2014, the U.S. Navy flies both the F/A-18E single-seater and F/A-18F two-seater in combat roles, taking the place of the retired F-14, A-6 Intruder, Lockheed S-3 Viking, and KA-6D. An electronic warfare variant, the EA-18G Growler, replaces the EA-6B Prowler. The Navy calls this reduction in aircraft types a "neck-down". In the Vietnam War era, the Super Hornet's roles were performed by a combination of the A-1/A-4/A-7 (light attack), A-6 (medium attack), F-8/F-4 (fighter), RA-5C (recon), KA-3/KA-6 (tanker) and EA-6 (electronic warfare). It is anticipated that $1 billion in fleetwide annual savings will result from replacing other types with the Super Hornet.[16]

In 2003, the Navy identified a flaw present in the under wing pylons across the Super Hornet fleet which required remedial repairs, or would otherwise decrease the aircraft's service life. As of 2007, changes to rectify the problem on newly manufactured airframes had been implemented, and existing aircraft would also receive modifications from 2009 onwards.[17]

Improvements and changes[edit]

The Block II Super Hornet incorporates an improved Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, larger displays, the joint helmet mounted cuing system, and several other avionics replacements.[18][19] Avionics and weapons systems that were under developement for the prospective production version of the Boeing X-32 were used on the Block II Super Hornet.[20] New-build aircraft received the APG-79 AESA radar beginning in 2005.[18] In January 2008, it was announced that 135 earlier production aircraft were to be retrofitted with AESA radars.[21]

In 2008, Boeing discussed the development of a Super Hornet Block III with the U.S. and Australian military, featuring additional stealth capabilities and extended range.[22] In 2010, Boeing offered prospective Super Hornet customers the "International Roadmap", which included conformal fuel tanks, enhanced engines, an enclosed weapons pod (EWP), a next-generation cockpit, a new missile warning system, and an internal infra-red search and track (IRST) system.[23][24] The EWP has four internal stations for munitions, a single aircraft can carry a total of three EWPs, housing up to 12 AMRAAMs and 2 Sidewinders.[25][26] The next-generation cockpit features a 19 x 11 inch touch-sensitive display.[27] In 2011, Boeing received a US Navy contract to develop a new mission computer.[28]

In 2007, Boeing stated that a passive Infrared Search and Track (IRST) sensor would be an available future option. The sensor, mounted in a modified centerline fuel tank, detects long wave IR emissions to spot and track targets such as aircraft;[29] combat using the IRST and AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles is immune to radar jamming.[30] In May 2009, Lockheed Martin announced its selection by Boeing for the IRST's technology development phase,[31] and a contract followed in November 2011.[32] As of September 2013, a basic IRST would be fielded in 2016 and a longer-range version in 2019; sequestration cuts in 2013 could cause two years of delays.[30] An F/A-18F performed a flight equipped with the IRST system in February 2014, and Milestone C approval authorizing low-rate initial production (LRIP) was granted in December 2014.[33]

An F/A-18F Super Hornet named the "Green Hornet", during a supersonic test flight in 2010.

Boeing and Northrop Grumman self-funded a prototype of the Advanced Super Hornet.[34] The prototype features a 50% reduction in frontal radar cross-section (RCS), conformal fuel tanks (CFT), and an enclosed weapons pod.[35][36] Features could also be integrated onto the EA-18G Growler; using CFTs on the EA-18 fleet was speculated as useful to releasing underwing space and drag margin for the Next Generation Jammer.[37][38] Flight tests of the Advanced Super Hornet began on 5 August 2013 and continued for three weeks, testing the performance of CFTs, the enclosed weapons pod (EWP), and signature enhancements.[39] The U.S. Navy was reported pleased with the Advanced Super Hornet's flight test results, and hopes it will give lawmakers options in future procurements.[40]

In March 2013, the U.S. Navy was considering the widespread adoption of conformal fuel tanks, which would allow the Super Hornet to carry 3,500 lb (1,600 kg) of additional fuel. Budgetary pressures from the F-35C Lightning II and Pacific region operations were cited as reasons supporting the use of CFTs. Flight testing demonstrated CFTs could slightly reduce drag while expanding the combat radius by 260 nautical miles.[41] The prototype CFT weighed 1,500 lb, production CFTs are expected to weigh 870 lb. Boeing stated that the CFTs do not add any cruise drag but acknowledged a negative impact imposed on transonic acceleration due to increased wave drag. General Electric's enhanced performance engine (EPE), increasing the F414-GE-400's power output from 22,000 lb to 26,400 lb of thrust per engine, was suggested as a mitigating measure.[42] In 2009, development commenced on several engine improvements, including greater resistance to foreign object damage, reduced fuel burn rate, and potentially increased thrust of up to 20%.[43][44]

Boeing has conceptualized a Super Hornet hybrid, to be equipped with the EA-18G Growler's electronic signal detection capabilities, giving it the ability to engage targets seen using the receiver; Boeing's concept did not include the ALQ-99 jamming pod. Growth capabilities could include the addition of a long-range infrared search and track sensor and new air-to-air tracking modes.[45]

In September 2014, Boeing is addressing the realistic possibility that the Super Hornet production line may close in 2017. Because orders for the F-15 have also dwindled, Boeing is readying plans to close its St. Louis factory that makes both fighters. Chris Chadwick, president of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, told the Wall Street Journal that, although "we're still solidly behind them," the company may decide by April 2015 whether to shut down both assembly lines and close the factory.[46]

Design[edit]

Overview[edit]

Two aircraft flying high above clouds, transferring fuel through a pipe to which the lower aircraft is connected.
An F/A-18F refueling an F/A-18E over the Bay of Bengal, 2007

The Super Hornet is largely a new aircraft. It is about 20% larger, 7,000 lb (3,200 kg) heavier empty weight, and 15,000 lb (6,800 kg) heavier maximum weight than the original Hornet. The Super Hornet carries 33% more internal fuel, increasing mission range by 41% and endurance by 50% over the "Legacy" Hornet. The empty weight of the Super Hornet is about 11,000 lb (5,000 kg) less than that of the F-14 Tomcat which it replaced, while approaching, but not matching, the F-14's payload and range.[47][N 2]

The Super Hornet, unlike the previous Hornet, is designed so it can be equipped with an aerial refueling system (ARS) or "buddy store" for the refueling of other aircraft,[48] filling the tactical airborne tanker role the Navy had lost with the retirement of the KA-6D and Lockheed S-3B Viking tankers. The ARS includes an external 330 US gal (1,200 L) tank with hose reel on the centerline, along with four external 480 US gal (1,800 L) tanks and internal tanks, for a total of 29,000 lb (13,000 kg) of fuel on the aircraft.[48][49] On typical missions a fifth of the air wing is dedicated to the tanker role, which consumes aircraft fatigue life expectancy faster than other missions.[50]

Airframe changes[edit]

Comparisons between rectangular and oval jet engine intakes.
Rectangular Super Hornet vs oval Hornet air intakes

The forward fuselage is unchanged, but the remainder of the aircraft shares little with earlier F/A-18C/D models. The fuselage was stretched by 34 in (86 cm) to make room for fuel and future avionics upgrades and increased the wing area by 25%.[51] However, the Super Hornet has 42% fewer structural parts than the original Hornet design.[52] The General Electric F414 engine, developed from the Hornet's F404, has 35% additional thrust over most of the aircraft's flight envelope.[51][53] The Super Hornet can return to an aircraft carrier with a larger load of unspent fuel and munitions than the original Hornet. The term for this ability is known as "bringback". Bringback for the Super Hornet is in excess of 9,000 lb (4,100 kg).[54]

Other differences include approximately rectangular intakes for the engines and two extra wing hard points for payload (for a total of 11), retaining previous hardpoints on the bottom centerline, wingtips, and two conformal fuselage positions.[55] Among the most significant aerodynamic changes are the enlarged leading edge extensions (LEX) which provide improved vortex lifting characteristics in high angle of attack maneuvers, and reduce the static stability margin to enhance pitching characteristics. This results in pitch rates in excess of 40 degrees per second, and high resistance to departure from controlled flight.[56]

Radar signature reduction measures[edit]

Survivability is an important feature of the Super Hornet design. The U.S. Navy took a "balanced approach" to survivability in its design.[57] This means that it does not rely on low-observable technology, such as stealth systems, to the exclusion of other survivability factors. Instead, its design incorporates a combination of stealth, advanced electronic-warfare capabilities, reduced ballistic vulnerability, the use of standoff weapons, and innovative tactics that cumulatively and collectively enhance the safety of the fighter and crew.[58]

Two jet aircraft flying over clouds during dawn/dusk. The one in the foreground is perpendicular to the camera; the second further away is banking left while releasing orange flares
Two U.S. Navy F/A-18E Super Hornets fly a combat patrol over Afghanistan in 2008. The aircraft in the background is deploying infra-red flares

The F/A-18E/F's radar cross-section was reduced greatly from some aspects, mainly the front and rear.[7] The design of the engine inlets reduces the aircraft's frontal radar cross-section. The alignment of the leading edges of the engine inlets is designed to scatter radiation to the sides. Fixed fanlike reflecting structures in the inlet tunnel divert radar energy away from the rotating fan blades.[59]

The Super Hornet also makes considerable use of panel joint serration and edge alignment. Considerable attention has been paid to the removal or filling of unnecessary surface join gaps and resonant cavities. Where the F/A-18A-D used grilles to cover various accessory exhaust and inlet ducts, the F/A-18E/F uses perforated panels that appear opaque to radar waves at the frequencies used. Careful attention has been paid to the alignment of many panel boundaries and edges, to direct reflected waves away from the aircraft in uniformly narrow angles.[7]

It is claimed that the Super Hornet employs the most extensive radar cross section reduction measures of any contemporary fighter, other than the F-22 and F-35. While the F/A-18E/F is not a true stealth fighter like the F-22, it will have a frontal radar cross-section an order of magnitude smaller than prior generation fighters.[59] Additional RCS reduction measures can be installed on an as-needed basis.[60]

Avionics[edit]

Initially, the Super Hornet's avionics and software had a 90% commonality with that of the F/A-18C/D fleet at the time.[53] Differences include a touch-sensitive, up-front control display; a large liquid-crystal multipurpose color display; and a fuel display.[53] The Super Hornet has a quadruplex digital fly-by-wire system,[61] as well as a digital flight-control system that detects and corrects for battle damage.[56] Initial production models used the APG-73 radar, later replaced by the APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA).[18][19] The AN/ASQ-228 ATFLIR (Advanced Targeting Forward Looking InfraRed), is the main electro-optical sensor and laser designator pod for the Super Hornet. The communications equipment consist of an AN/ARC-210 VHF/UHF radio[62] and a MIDS low volume terminal for HAVE QUICK, SINCGARS and Link 16 connectivity.

The defensive countermeasures of Block I aircraft includes the AN/ALR-67(V)3 radar warning receiver, the AN/ALE-47 countermeasures dispenser, the AN/ALE-50 towed decoy and the AN/ALQ-165 Airborne Self-Protect Jammer (ASPJ). Block II aircraft replace the ALQ-165 with the AN/ALQ-214 Integrated Defensive Countermeasures (IDECM) system, consisting of internally mounted threat receivers and optional self-protection jammers. Interior and exterior lighting on the Block II was changed to allow the use of night vision goggles (NVG). The older ALE-50 decoys are being replaced by ALE-55 towed decoys, which can transmit jamming signals based on data received from the IDECM.[63] The improved AN/ALQ-214 jammer was added on Block II aurcraft.[19]

Block II aircraft were fitted with the APG-79 AESA radar, capable of executing simultaneous air-to-air and air-to-ground attacks, and providing higher quality high-resolution ground mapping at long standoff ranges.[64] The AESA radar can also detect smaller targets, such as inbound missiles[65] and can track air targets beyond the range of the aircraft's air to air missiles.[66] VFA-213, the first Super Hornet squadron to fly AESA-equipped Super Hornets, became "safe for flight" (independently fly and maintain the F/A-18F) on 27 October 2006.[67] The first Super Hornet upgraded with the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) was delivered to VFA-213 on 18 May 2007.[68] The JHMCS provides multi-purpose situational awareness, which includes high-off-bore-sight missile cuing. The Shared Reconnaissance Pod (SHARP) is a high-resolution, digital tactical air reconnaissance system that features advanced day/night and all-weather capability.[69] The Multifunctional Information Distribution System low volume communication terminal is being upgraded with the MIDS-JTRS system,[70] which will allow a tenfold increase in bandwidth as well as compatibility with the Joint Tactical Radio System standards.[71]

Operational history[edit]

United States Navy[edit]

F/A-18E Super Hornet launching from Abraham Lincoln

The Super Hornet achieved initial operating capability (IOC) in September 2001 with the U.S. Navy's Strike Fighter Squadron 115 (VFA-115) at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California.[15] VFA-115 was also the first unit to take their F/A-18 Super Hornets into combat. On 6 November 2002, two F/A-18Es conducted a "Response Option" strike in support of Operation Southern Watch on two surface-to-air missile launchers at Al Kut, Iraq and an air defense command and control bunker at Tallil air base. One of the pilots, Lieutenant John Turner, dropped 2,000 lb (910 kg) JDAM bombs from the Super Hornet for the first time during combat.[72]

In support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq War), VFA-14, VFA-41 and VFA-115 flew close air support, strike, escort, SEAD and aerial refueling sorties. Two F/A-18Es from VFA-14 and two F/A-18Fs from VFA-41 were forward deployed to the Abraham Lincoln. The VFA-14 aircraft flew mostly as aerial refuelers and the VFA-41 fighters as Forward Air Controller (Airborne) or FAC(A)s. On 6 April 2005, VFA-154 and VFA-147 (the latter squadron then still operating F/A-18Cs) dropped two 500-pound (230 kg) laser-guided bombs on an enemy insurgent location east of Baghdad.[73]

Video of F/A-18F taking off

On 8 September 2006, VFA-211 F/A-18F Super Hornets expended GBU-12 and GBU-38 bombs against Taliban fighters and Taliban fortifications west and northwest of Kandahar. This was the first time the unit had participated in an active combat capacity using the Super Hornet.[74][75]

During the 2006–2007 cruise with Dwight D. Eisenhower, VFA-103 and VFA-143 supported Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and operations off the Somali coast. Alongside "Legacy Hornet" squadrons, VFA-131 and VFA-83, they dropped 140 precision guided weapons and performed nearly 70 strafing runs.[76]

In 2007, Boeing proposed additional F/A-18E/Fs to the U.S. Navy in a multi-year contract.[77] As of October 2008, Boeing had delivered 367 Super Hornets to the U.S. Navy.[78] On 6 April 2009, Defense Secretary Gates announced that the Department of Defense intended to acquire 31 F/A-18s in FY2010.[79] Congress requested the DoD study a further multi-year contract so that a projected fighter shortfall could be averted;[80] in 2006, the Navy was 60 fighters below its validated aircraft requirement.[81] The FY2010 budget bill authorized a multiyear purchase agreement for additional Super Hornets.[82][83] A multi-year contract was finalized on 28 September 2010, reported as saving $600 million over individual yearly contracts, for 66 Super Hornets and 58 Growlers to mitigate a four-year delay in the F-35 program.[84]

F/A-18Fs being refueled over Afghanistan in 2010

On 7 August 2014, U.S. defense officials announced they had authorizated to launch bombing missions upon Islamic State forces in northern Iraq. The decision to take direct action was made to protect U.S. personnel in the city of Irbil and to ensure the safety of transport aircraft making airdrops to Yazidi civilians. Early on 8 August 2014, two Super Hornets took off from the USS George H.W. Bush and dropped 500 lb laser-guided bombs on a "mobile artillery piece" the militants had been using to shell Kurdish forces defending the city.[85][86] Later that day, four more aircraft struck a seven-vehicle convoy and a mortar position.[87]

Royal Australian Air Force[edit]

On 3 May 2007, the Australian Government signed a A$2.9 billion contract to acquire 24 F/A-18Fs for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) as an interim replacement for aging F-111s.[88] The total cost with training and support over 10 years is A$6 billion (US$4.6 billion).[89] The order was controversial. Air Vice Marshal (ret.) Peter Criss, a former Air Commander, said he was "absolutely astounded" that $6 billion would be spent on an interim aircraft,[90] and cited evidence given by the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that the Super Hornet Block I's specific excess power is inferior to the MiG-29 and Su-30 being operated, or ordered, by multiple air forces in South East Asia.[91] Air Commodore (ret.) Ted Bushell stated that the F/A-18F could not perform the assigned role, and that the F-111 was suitable for the strategic deterrent/strike role until at least 2020.[90] It was claimed the F/A-18F purchase may ease additional Australian Super Hornet sales, particularly if the F-35 program ran into more difficulty.[92]

An RAAF F/A-18F shortly after it first arrived in Australia

A review was announced on 31 December 2007, by the new Australian Labor government, as part of a wider review of the RAAF's combat aircraft procurement plans. The main reasons given were concerns over operational suitability, the lack of a proper review process, and internal beliefs that an interim fighter was not required.[93] On 17 March 2008, the Government announced that it would proceed with plans to acquire all 24 F/A-18Fs.[94] Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said that the Super Hornet was an "excellent aircraft";[94] he also indicated that costs and logistical factors contributed to the decision: the F-111's retirement was "irreversible"; "only" the F/A-18F could meet the timeframe and that cancellation "would bring significant financial penalties and create understandable tensions between the contract partners."[95][96]

The Block II package aircraft offered to the RAAF include installed engines and six spares, APG-79 AESA radars, Link 16 connectivity, LAU-127 guided missile launchers, AN/ALE-55 fiber optic towed decoys and other equipment.[97] The government has also sought U.S. export approval for Boeing EA-18G Growlers.[98] On 27 February 2009, Fitzgibbon announced that 12 of the 24 Super Hornets would be wired on the production line for future modification as EA-18Gs. The additional wiring would cost A$35 million. The final decision on conversion to EA-18Gs, at a cost of A$300 million, would be made in 2012.[99]

A RAAF Super Hornet at the 2013 Avalon Airshow

The first RAAF Super Hornet was completed in 2009 and first flew from Boeing's factory in St. Louis, Missouri on 21 July 2009.[100] RAAF crews began training in the USA in 2009. The RAAF's first five F/A-18Fs arrived at their home base, RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland, on 26 March 2010;[101] and were joined by six more aircraft on 7 July 2010.[102] Following the arrival of another four aircraft in December 2010, the first RAAF F/A-18F squadron was declared operational on 9 December 2010.[103]

In December 2012, the Australian government sought information from the United States about the cost of acquiring a further 24 F/A-18Fs., which may be purchased to avoid a capability gap due to F-35 program delays.[104] In February 2013, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Australia for up to 12 F/A-18E/F and 12 EA-18G Growler aircraft with associated equipment, training and logistical support.[105] In May 2013, Australia announced they would retain the 24 F/A-18F instead of converting them, and will order 12 new EA-18Gs.[106]

On 24 September 2014, eight RAAF F/A-18Fs, along with a tanker, an early warning aircraft, and 400 personnel arrived in the United Arab Emirates to take part in operations against Islamic State (IS) militants. The F/A-18Fs were ready to commence attacks once ordered.[107] On 5 October 2014, the RAAF officially started combat missions over Iraq, with a pair of F/A-18Fs armed with GPS guided bombs and a KC-30A refuelling aircraft; they returned safely to base without attacking targets.[108][109] On 8 October 2014, an Australian Super Hornet conducted its first attack against IS forces, dropped two bombs on an ISIL facility in northern Iraq.[110]

Potential operators[edit]

The United States Marine Corps has avoided the Super Hornet program and their resistance is so high that they would rather fly former Navy F/A-18Cs that have been replaced with Super Hornets. This is said to be because they fear that any Super Hornet buys will be at the cost of the F-35B STOVL fighters that they intend to operate from amphibious ships.[111] As a concession, the Marine Corps has agreed to eventually equip five Marine fighter-attack squadrons (VMFA) with the F-35C carrier variant to continue to augment Navy carrier air wings as they currently do with the F/A-18C.[112]

An F/A-18F at Avalon Airport, 2007

Boeing offered Malaysia the Super Hornets as part of a buy-back package for its existing F/A-18 Hornets in 2002. However, the Super Hornet procurement was halted in 2007 after the government decided to purchase the Sukhoi Su-30MKM instead. But Chief Gen. Datuk Nik Ismail Nik Mohamaed of the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) indicated that the air force had not planned to end procurement of the Super Hornets, instead saying that it needed such fighters.[113] In a separate deal, the RMAF's MiG-29 will be replaced in 2015. The F/A-18F Super Hornet is one of the leading contenders for the MiG-29 replacement MRCA program. Under the program, the RMAF is looking to equip three squadrons with 36 to 40 new fighter aircraft with an estimated budget of RM6 billion to RM8 billion (US$1.84 billion to US$2.46 billion). The other competitors are the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale and Saab JAS 39 Gripen.[114]

Boeing proposed the Super Hornet to the Brazilian government. It was reported that the Super Hornet was selected as one of three finalists in Brazil's fighter competition in October 2008. Brazil has put forward an initial requirement for 36 aircraft, with a potential total purchase of 120 examples.[78][115] However news of NSA's spying activity on Brazilian leaders has caused animosity between Brazil and the US.[116] Brazil eventually dropped the Super Hornet from its final list and selected the Saab JAS 39 Gripen in December 2013.[117]

In 2008, the Royal Danish Air Force was offered the Super Hornet.[118] The Super Hornet is one of three fighter aircraft in a Danish competition to replace 48 F-16AM/BMs.[119][120] The other contenders are Lockheed Martin's F-35A Joint Strike Fighter and the Eurofighter Typhoon. Denmark is a level-3 partner in the JSF program, and has invested US$200 million so far. The final selection is to be in mid-2015 where 24 to 30 fighters are expected.[121] In April 2014, the Danish Ministry of Defence handed over a Request for Binding Information (RBI) that specifically listed the F/A-18F two-seat variant.[122]

F/A-18F Super Hornet taxis to the runway for takeoff at Aero India 2011

For India's MMRCA competition, Boeing offered a customized variant called F/A-18IN, which included Raytheon's APG-79 AESA radar.[123] In August 2008, Boeing submitted an industrial participation proposal to India describing partnerships with companies in India.[124] The Indian Air Force (IAF) extensively evaluated the Super Hornets and conducted field trials in August 2009.[125] However, in April 2011, the IAF rejected F/A-18IN's bid in favor of the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale.[126]

On 10 March 2009, Boeing offered the Super Hornet for Greece's Next-Generation Fighter Program.[127]

On 1 August 2010, The Sunday Times reported that the British government was considering canceling orders for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and buying the Super Hornet instead for its Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers. It was stated that this would save the UK defense budget about £10 billion. An industry source suggested that the Super Hornet could be ski jump launched without catapults.[128] The UK has reverted to a STOVL aircraft carrier equipped with F-35B fighters.

The United Arab Emirates has asked for information on the Super Hornet.[129]

Boeing stated that the "stealth characteristics" of the Super Hornet were ignored in Canada's sole source selection of the F-35.[130] In April 2012, Canada was reviewing its plans to procure the F-35 and may consider buying the Super Hornet instead.[131] In September 2013, Boeing provided Canada with cost and capability data for its Advanced F/A-18 Super Hornet, suggesting that a fleet of 65 aircraft would cost $1.7 billion less than a fleet of F-35s. The Advanced Super Hornet builds upon the existing Super Hornet, which is an improvement of the current CF-18 Hornet. The U.S. Navy buys Super Hornets for $52 million per aircraft, while the advanced version would add $6–$10 million per aircraft, depending on options selected.[132]

In early 2011, Bulgaria was considering the F/A-18 Super Hornet, among other aircraft, as a replacement for its MiG-21 fleet.[133]

Boeing offered the Super Hornet to the Swiss Air Force as a replacement for Swiss F-5E Tigers, then withdrew from the competition.[134]

On 12 March 2014, Belgian newspaper De Morgen reported that Boeing is in talks with the Belgian Defence ministry about the Super Hornet as a candidate to replace Belgium's aging F-16 fleet.[135]

Poland is planning to purchase 64 multirole combat aircraft from 2021 as part of that country's modernization plans. The new fighters will replace the Polish Air Force's fleet of Sukhoi Su-22M4 ground attack aircraft and Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter aircraft. The planned open tender procedure could include the F-35 Lightning II, JAS 39 Gripen E/F, the newest variants of Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale, and Boeing's F/A-18E/F Advanced Super Hornet.[136][137][138][139][importance?]

Boeing is working with Korean Airlines to offer the Advanced Super Hornet to the Republic of Korea Air Force as an alternative to their KF-X fighter program. Although a fighter based on the Super Hornet would save money, downgrading the program would not give South Korean industry as much knowledge as it would from developing a new fighter.[140]

Variants[edit]

Operators[edit]

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet operators 2010
Bottom view of jet fighter in-flight releasing bright orange flares
A VFA-11 F/A-18F Super Hornet performing evasive maneuvers during an air power demonstration
A VFA-122 F/A-18F pulling a high-g maneuver at the NAS Oceana "In Pursuit of Liberty" air show, 2004
Australia Australia
United States United States
  • United States Navy
    • Pacific Fleet
    • Atlantic Fleet
      • VFA-11 "Red Rippers" (F/A-18F)
      • VFA-31 "Tomcatters" (F/A-18E)
      • VFA-32 "Swordsmen" (F/A-18F)
      • VFA-34 "Blue Blasters" (F/A-18E)
      • VFA-81 "Sunliners" (F/A-18E)
      • VFA-103 "Jolly Rogers" (F/A-18F)
      • VFA-105 "Gunslingers" (F/A-18E)
      • VFA-106 "Gladiators" (Fleet Replacement Squadron, operates F/A-18A/B/C/D/E/F)
      • VFA-136 "Knighthawks" (F/A-18E)
      • VFA-143 "Pukin' Dogs" (F/A-18E)
      • VFA-211 "Fighting Checkmates" (F/A-18F)
      • VFA-213 "Black Lions" (F/A-18F)
    • Test and Evaluation Units
      • VX-9 Vampires (Air Test and Evaluation Squadron, operates F/A-18E/F and other aircraft)
      • VX-23 Salty Dogs (Air Test and Evaluation Squadron, operates F/A-18E/F and other aircraft)
      • VX-31 Dust Devils (Air Test and Evaluation Squadron, operates F/A-18E/F and other aircraft)
      • NSAWC (Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center), F/A-18F, also operates other aircraft)
    • Future F/A-18E/F squadrons (All to be Pacific Fleet squadrons)[143]

Each United States Navy squadron has a standard unit establishment of 10 or 12 aircraft.

Specifications (F/A-18E/F)[edit]

Three view projection of the Super Hornet
An F/A-18F parked on the flight deck of aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower, as the ship operates in the Arabian Sea, December 2006
Three different color schemes for F/A-18E
Three different color schemes for F/A-18F

Data from U.S. Navy fact file,[15] others[144][145]

General characteristics

  • Crew: F/A-18E: 1, F/A-18F: 2
  • Length: 60 ft 1¼ in (18.31 m)
  • Wingspan: 44 ft 8½ in (13.62 m)
  • Height: 16 ft (4.88 m)
  • Wing area: 500 ft² (46.5 m²)
  • Empty weight: 32,081 lb (14,552 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 47,000 lb (21,320 kg) (in fighter configuration))
  • Max. takeoff weight: 66,000 lb (29,937 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofans
    • Dry thrust: 13,000 lbf (62.3 kN) each
    • Thrust with afterburner: 22,000 lbf (97.9 kN) each
  • Internal fuel capacity: F/A-18E: 14,400 lb (6,780 kg), F/A-18F: 13,550 lb (6,354 kg)
  • External fuel capacity: 5 × 480 gal tanks, totaling 16,380 lb (7,381 kg)

Performance

Armament

Avionics

Notable appearances in media[edit]

Jane's Combat Simulations released a simulator based on the F/A-18E Super Hornet titled "Jane's F/A-18" in 2000. The Super Hornet is the main carrier jet in the film Behind Enemy Lines.

See also[edit]

Related development
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
Related lists

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "... the Pentagon would get $495 million to buy nine Boeing Co. F/A-18E/F fighters..." The average was 80.4 million in 2010.[4]
  2. ^ "It (Super Hornet) has only 36 percent of the F-14's payload/range capability."

Citations[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]

  • Donald, David. "Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet", Warplanes of the Fleet. London: AIRtime Publishing Inc, 2004. ISBN 978-1-88058-889-5.
  • Elward, Brad. Boeing F/A-18 Hornet (WarbirdTech, Vol. 31). North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press, 2001. ISBN 978-1-58007-041-6.
  • Elward, Brad. The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet & EA-18G Growler: A Developmental and Operational History. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. 2013. ISBN 978-0-76434-041-3.
  • Holmes, Tony. US Navy Hornet Units of Operation Iraqi Freedom. London: Osprey Publishing, 2004. ISBN 978-1-84176-801-4.
  • Jenkins, Dennis R. F/A-18 Hornet: A Navy Success Story. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000. ISBN 978-0-07134-696-2.
  • Winchester, Jim. The Encyclopedia of Modern Aircraft. San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1-59223-628-2.

External links[edit]