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 flies over the USS Harry S. Truman in 2007
Role Carrier-based multirole fighter
National origin United States
Manufacturer McDonnell Douglas
Boeing Defense, Space & Security
First flight 29 November 1995
Introduction 2001 (IOC)[1]
Status In service
Primary users United States Navy
Royal Australian Air Force
Produced 1995–present
Number built 600 as of October 2018[citation needed]
Program cost Total procurement: US$48.09 billion (through FY2011)[2]
Unit cost
US$70.5 million (2017 flyaway cost)[3]
Developed from McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet
Variants Boeing EA-18G Growler

The Boeing F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet 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. Low-rate production began in early 1997 with full-rate production starting 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 2001, 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-111C 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).[4] 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 McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle; the YF-17 lost the competition to the YF-16.[5]

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 and more expensive Grumman F-14 Tomcat serving in fleet defense interceptor and air superiority roles. The Hornet proved to be effective but limited in combat radius. The concept of an enlarged Hornet was first proposed in the 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.[5][6]

The end of the Cold War led to a period of military budget cuts and considerable restructuring. At the same time, U.S. Naval Aviation faced a number of problems. The McDonnell Douglas A-12 Avenger II was canceled in 1991 after the program ran into serious problems; it was intended to replace the obsolete Grumman A-6 Intruder and LTV A-7 Corsair II.[7] 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 previous F/A-18 models,[6] which could serve as an alternate replacement for the A-6 Intruder. The next-generation Hornet design proved more attractive than Grumman's Quick Strike upgrade to the F-14 Tomcat, which was regarded as an insufficient technological leap over existing F-14s.[8]

VFA-143 "Pukin Dogs" F-14B and F/A-18E in 2005

At the time, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat was the Navy's primary air superiority fighter and fleet defense interceptor. Then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney described the F-14 as 1960s technology, and drastically cut back F-14D procurement in 1989 before cancelling production altogether in 1991, in favor of the updated F/A-18E/F.[9][10] The decision to replace the Tomcat with an all-Hornet Carrier Air Wing was controversial; Vietnam War ace and Congressman Duke Cunningham criticized the Super Hornet as an unproven design that compromised air superiority.[8][11] In 1992, the Navy canceled the Navy Advanced Tactical Fighter (NATF), which would have been a navalized variant of the Air Force's Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.[5] As a cheaper alternative to NATF, Grumman proposed substantial improvements to the F-14 beyond Quick Strike, but Congress rejected them as too costly and reaffirmed its commitment to the less expensive F/A-18E/F.[12]

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.[13] 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.[5] The design would be expanded in the Super Hornet with an empty weight slightly greater than the F-15C.[14]

The Super Hornet first flew on 29 November 1995.[5] 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.[5] Low-rate production began in March 1997[15] with full production beginning in September 1997.[16] Testing continued through 1999, finishing with sea trials and aerial refueling demonstrations. Testing involved 3,100 test flights covering 4,600 flight hours.[6] The Super Hornet underwent U.S. Navy operational tests and evaluations in 1999,[17] and was approved in February 2000.[18]

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

With the retirement of the F-14 in 2006, all of the Navy's combat jets have been Hornet variants until the F-35C Lightning II enters service.[13] The F/A-18E single-seat and F/A-18F two-seat aircraft took the place of the F-14 Tomcat, A-6 Intruder, Lockheed S-3 Viking, and KA-6D aircraft. An electronic warfare variant, the EA-18G Growler, replaces the EA-6B Prowler. The Navy calls this reduction in aircraft types a "neck-down". During 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 was anticipated that $1 billion in fleetwide annual savings would result from replacing other types with the Super Hornet.[19] The Navy considers the Super Hornet's acquisition a success, meeting cost, schedule, and weight (400 lb, 181 kg below) requirements.[1]

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.[20][21] Avionics and weapons systems that were under development for the prospective production version of the Boeing X-32 were used on the Block II Super Hornet.[22] New-build aircraft received the APG-79 AESA radar beginning in 2005.[20] In January 2008, it was announced that 135 earlier production aircraft were to be retrofitted with AESA radars.[23]

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.[24] 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.[25][26] 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.[27][28] The next-generation cockpit features a 19 x 11-inch touch-sensitive display.[29] In 2011, Boeing received a US Navy contract to develop a new mission computer.[30]

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

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;[31] combat using the IRST and AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles is immune to radar jamming.[32] In May 2009, Lockheed Martin announced its selection by Boeing for the IRST's technology development phase,[33] and a contract followed in November 2011.[34] 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.[32] 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.[35]

Advanced Super Hornet[edit]

Boeing and Northrop Grumman self-funded a prototype of the Advanced Super Hornet.[36] The prototype features a 50% reduction in frontal radar cross-section (RCS), conformal fuel tanks (CFT), and an enclosed weapons pod.[37][38] 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.[39][40] 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.[41] The U.S. Navy was reportedly pleased with the Advanced Super Hornet's flight test results, and hopes it will provide future procurement options.[42]

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 range by 260 nautical miles.[43] The prototype CFT weighed 1,500 lb, while 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.[44] 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%.[45][46]

In 2014, Boeing revealed a Super Hornet hybrid concept, equipped with the EA-18G Growler's electronic signal detection capabilities to allow for targets engagement using the receiver; the 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.[47]

In September 2014, Boeing readied plans to close its St. Louis production lines for the Super Hornet and F-15 in 2017. Chris Chadwick, president of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, told the Wall Street Journal that, although "we're still solidly behind them," the company could have decided by April 2015 whether to shut down both assembly lines and close the factory, but chose to keep the Super Hornet line going.[48] Due to various Pentagon contracts, Boeing had enough orders to keep things running into 2017 to give Boeing the opportunity to firm up more international orders.[49][50][needs update]

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 Hornet and Super Hornet share many characteristics, including avionics, ejection seats, radar, armament, mission computer software, and maintenance/operating procedures.[5] The Super Hornet is largely a new aircraft at 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.[51][N 1] As the Super Hornet is significantly heavier than the "legacy" Hornet, the catapult and arresting systems must be set differently. To aid safe flight operations and prevent confusion in radio calls, the Super Hornet is informally referred to as the "Rhino" to distinguish it from earlier Hornets. (The "Rhino" nickname was previously applied to the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, which was retired from the fleet in 1987.)

The Super Hornet, unlike the previous Hornet, is designed to be equipped with an aerial refueling system (ARS) or "buddy store" for the refueling of other aircraft,[52] 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.[52][53] 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.[54]

Airframe changes[edit]

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

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%.[55] However, the Super Hornet has 42% fewer structural parts than the original Hornet design.[56] The General Electric F414 engine, developed from the Hornet's F404, has 35% additional thrust over most of the aircraft's flight envelope.[55][57] The Super Hornet can return to an aircraft carrier with a larger load of unspent fuel and munitions than the original Hornet; this ability is known as "bringback", which for the Super Hornet is in excess of 9,000 lb (4,100 kg).[58]

Other differences include intake ramps 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.[59] 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.[60]

Radar signature reduction measures[edit]

The Super Hornet's S-duct-like air intake partially conceals engine blades from radar waves

Survivability is an important feature of the Super Hornet design. The U.S. Navy took a "balanced approach" to survivability in its design.[61] This means that it does not rely on very low-observable technology, i.e. stealth. Instead, its design incorporates a combination of signature reduction, advanced electronic-warfare capabilities, reduced ballistic vulnerability, the use of standoff weapons, and innovative tactics that collectively enhance the safety of the fighter and crew in an affordable manner.[61][62]

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.[5] 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.[63]

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.[5]

The Super Hornet employs reportedly the most extensive radar cross section reduction measures compared to other modern fighters, other than the F-22 and F-35 as of 2004. While the F/A-18E/F is not a stealth fighter like the F-22, it will have a frontal radar cross-section an order of magnitude smaller than prior generation fighters.[63] Additional changes for reducing RCS can be installed on an as-needed basis.[64]

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.[57] Differences include an up-front Touchscreen control display; a large multipurpose color liquid-crystal display; and a fuel display.[57] The Super Hornet has a quadruplex digital fly-by-wire system,[65] as well as a digital flight-control system that detects and corrects for battle damage.[60] Initial production models used the APG-73 radar, later replaced by the AN/APG-79 active electronically scanned array (AESA).[20][21] 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[66] and a MIDS-JTRS 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 devices. 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.[67] The improved AN/ALQ-214 jammer was added on Block II aircraft.[21]

Block II aircraft were fitted with the AN/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.[68] The AESA radar can also detect smaller targets, such as inbound missiles[69] and can track air targets beyond the range of the aircraft's air-to-air missiles.[70] 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.[71] The first Super Hornet upgraded with the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) was delivered to VFA-213 on 18 May 2007.[72] The JHMCS provides multi-purpose situational awareness, which includes high-off-boresight missile cuing. The Shared Reconnaissance Pod (SHARP) is a high-resolution, digital tactical aerial reconnaissance system that features advanced day/night and all-weather capability.[73] The Multifunctional Information Distribution System low volume communication terminal is being upgraded with the MIDS-JTRS system,[74] which will allow a tenfold increase in bandwidth as well as compatibility with the Joint Tactical Radio System standards.[75]

Development of Block III avionics upgrades has been underway as of April 2019.[76]

Operational history[edit]

United States Navy[edit]

F/A-18E Super Hornet launching from the 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.[1] 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 dropped 2,000 lb (910 kg) JDAM bombs from the Super Hornet for the first time during combat.[77]

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.[78]

F/A-18F take-off, in-flight refueling and landing on the USS Carl Vinson.

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.[79][80]

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.[81] The Super Hornet can operate from the French carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91).[82]

In 2007, Boeing proposed additional F/A-18E/Fs to the U.S. Navy in a multi-year contract.[83] As of October 2008, Boeing had delivered 367 Super Hornets to the U.S. Navy.[84] On 6 April 2009, Defense Secretary Gates announced that the Department of Defense intended to acquire 31 F/A-18s in FY2010.[85] Congress requested the DoD study a further multi-year contract so that a projected fighter shortfall could be averted;[86] in 2006, the Navy was 60 fighters below its validated aircraft requirement.[87] The FY2010 budget bill authorized a multiyear purchase agreement for additional Super Hornets.[88][89] 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.[90]

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

On 7 August 2014, U.S. defense officials announced they had been authorized 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, two Super Hornets took off from the 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.[91][92] Later that day, four more aircraft struck a seven-vehicle convoy and a mortar position.[93]

On 18 June 2017, a U.S. Navy F/A-18E shot down a Syrian Air Force Su-22 fighter-bomber that allegedly had bombed a position held by U.S.-supported Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Tabqa; according to the Syrian government the Su-22 was bombing a position held by Islamic State. This was the first aerial kill of a manned aircraft by an American fighter since 1999, the first kill by a Super Hornet, and the third kill by F/A-18 aircraft.[94] The shoot-down was executed by Lieutenant Commander Michael "MOB" Tremel, a pilot assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 87 aboard the carrier George H.W. Bush. An E-3 Sentry issued several warnings to the Su-22, and after it dropped bombs near SDF fighters Tremel independently made the call to shoot down the aircraft based on established rules of engagement. The Super Hornet first fired an AIM-9X Sidewinder which missed, then fired an AIM-120 AMRAAM which hit; the entire encounter lasted eight minutes.[95]

In 2018 Boeing was awarded a contract to convert nine single-seat F/A-18E Super Hornets and two F/A-18F two-seaters for Blue Angels use, the converted aircraft are due to be completed by 2021.[96]

Royal Australian Air Force[edit]

On 3 May 2007, the Australian Government signed an 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.[97] The total cost with training and support over 10 years was expected to be A$6 billion (US$4.6 billion).[98] 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,[99] 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.[100] 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.[99] 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.[101]

An F-111C (at left) with one of the RAAF's first two F/A-18Fs.[102]

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.[103] On 17 March 2008, the Government announced that it would proceed with plans to acquire all 24 F/A-18Fs.[104] Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said that the Super Hornet was an "excellent aircraft";[104] 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."[105][106]

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.[107] The government has also sought U.S. export approval for Boeing EA-18G Growlers.[108] 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.[109]

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

The first RAAF Super Hornet was completed in 2009 and first flew from Boeing's factory in St. Louis, Missouri on 21 July 2009.[110] RAAF crews began training in the U.S. in 2009. The RAAF's first five F/A-18Fs arrived at their home base, RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland, on 26 March 2010;[111] and were joined by six more aircraft on 7 July 2010.[112] Following the arrival of another four aircraft in December 2010, the first RAAF F/A-18F squadron was declared operational on 9 December 2010.[113]

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.[114] 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.[115] In May 2013, Australia announced they would retain the 24 F/A-18F instead of converting them, and will order 12 new EA-18Gs.[116] In June 2014 Boeing was awarded the contract for the 12 EA-18Gs, and the first EA-18G for Australia was rolled out on 29 July 2015.[117][118]

A RAAF Super Hornet at the 2013 Avalon Airshow

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.[119] 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.[120][121] On 8 October 2014, an Australian Super Hornet conducted its first attack against IS forces, dropping two bombs on an ISIL facility in northern Iraq.[122] In 2017, the Royal Australian Air Force replaced the No. 6 Squadron RAAF Super Hornets with EA-18G and transferred No. 6's Super Hornets to No. 1 Squadron RAAF.[citation needed]

Kuwait Air Force[edit]

In May 2015, it was reported that the Kuwait Air Force was planning to order 28 F/A-18E/Fs with options for an additional 12.[123] However, in June 2015 it was reported that Kuwait was considering a split purchase between the Eurofighter Typhoon and the F/A-18E/F.[124] On 11 September 2015, Kuwait signed an agreement for 28 Eurofighter aircraft.[125] In November 2016, a proposed sale to Kuwait of 32 F/A-18E and 8 F/A-18F fighters, armaments, associated equipment, and conformal fuel tanks was approved by the U.S. State Department and Congress was notified.[126][127]

In June 2018, the Kuwaiti Government ordered 22 F/A-18Es and 6 F/A-18Fs. The value of the contract was US$1.5 billion. All of the aircraft are scheduled to be delivered by January 2021.[128]

Potential operators[edit]

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

Canada[edit]

The Super Hornet is considered a contender to replace the CF-18 Hornet, a version of the F/A-18A and B models, operated by the Royal Canadian Air Force. Like the older Hornet, the Super Hornet's carrier-capable design would be well-suited to the potential use on rugged forward operational airfields of Northern Canada, while the Super Hornet's extended range would remove its predecessor's main deficiencies. Due to design commonalities, training and integration would be straightforward in transitioning to the Super Hornet.[129]

In 2010, Canada decided on sole source selection of the F-35A. Boeing claimed the Canadian government ignored the Super Hornet's radar cross-section characteristics during the procurement process.[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 Super Hornet design. The U.S. Navy buys Super Hornets for $52 million per aircraft, while the advanced version would cost $6–$10 million more per aircraft, depending on options selected.[132]

As a result of the 2015 Canadian federal election, the new Liberal government indicated that it would launch a competition to replace the Canadian CF-18 fleet. During the election, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau stated that his government would not buy the F-35. However, there has been no public refusal to buying the F-35 since the election.[133] On 22 November 2016, the Liberal government announced its intention to immediately acquire 18 Super Hornets on an interim basis.[134] A letter of request by the Canadian government was issued 14 March 2017 for 18 Super Hornets.[135] In September 2017, the U.S State Department granted Canada permission to buy 10 F/A-18E Advanced Super Hornets and 8 F/A-18F Advanced Super Hornets (or EA-18G Growlers) along with supporting equipment, spare parts, spare engines, logistics, and armaments. The agreed cost for the 18 jets totaled CA$1.5 billion, or about CA$83.3 million per aircraft. The cost of supporting equipment, training, spare parts, spare engines, and weapons increased the acquisition total to CA$6.3 billion.[136]

However, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned that pending Super Hornet sale to Canada along with a possible sale of another 70 fighters was adversely affected by Boeing's actions against competitor Bombardier Aerospace of Montreal.[136] These included a complaint to the U.S. government about Bombardier selling CSeries passenger aircraft to Delta Air Lines at unduly low prices. As a result, in late September 2017, the U.S. Department of Commerce proposed a 219% tariff on CSeries aircraft to be imported into the U.S. On 16 October 2017, Airbus and Bombardier Aerospace announced a partnership on the CSeries program, with Airbus acquiring a 50.01% majority stake, and will produce the CSeries (since then renamed Airbus A220) at their Mobile, Alabama factory.[137][138][139][140][141][142] In January 2018, the U.S. International Trade Commission unanimously determined that the "U.S. industry is not materially injured or threatened" and no tariffs will be issued.[143][144]

On 8 December 2017, amid reports that the Canadian Government had reached an agreement with Australia for the purchase of 18 used F/A-18 Hornets, instead of buying new models,[145] Boeing released a statement stating: "The Boeing Company respects the Canadian government's decision and applauds the government's continued use of a two engine fighter solution, which is a critical part of their northern Arctic border defense, NORAD cooperation, and coast to coast to coast security... Although we will not have the opportunity to grow our supply base, industrial partnerships and jobs in Canada the way we would if Canada purchased new Super Hornets, we will continue to look to find productive ways to work together in the future." Boeing has confirmed its bid for the Advanced Fighter Program, likely offering a mix of 88 F/A-18E/F Advanced Super Hornets (Block III) and Boeing EA-18G Growler.[146][147]

Finland[edit]

In June 2015, a working group set up by the Finnish MoD proposed starting the so-called HX Fighter Program to replace the Finnish Air Force's current fleet of F/A-18C/D Hornets, which will reach the end of their service life by the end of the 2020s. The group recognises five potential types: Boeing F/A-18E/F Advanced Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and Saab JAS 39 Gripen.[148] In May 2016 the Pentagon announced that two US manufacturers will respond to the information request regarding the fighter acquisition: Boeing with the Super Hornet, and Lockheed Martin with the F-35.[149]

The request for information concerning the program was sent in early 2016; the five responses were received in November 2016. A call for tender will be sent in spring 2018 and the buying decision is scheduled to take place in 2021.[150]

Germany[edit]

The German Minister of defence was considering finding a temporarily solution to replace outdated Tornado for different mission types: Interdiction, Nuclear weapon carrier, electronic warfare and reconnaissance. Boeing offered 90 F/A-18E/F Advanced Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler aircraft to Germany for the Tornado IDS and ECR replacement program.[151]

Malaysia[edit]

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.[152] 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.[153]

Spain[edit]

Spain is looking for 68-72 fighters to replace F/A-18A/B Hornet. Possible participants of the tender will be Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Boeing F/A-18 E/F Advanced Super Hornet, Lockheed F-35 Lightning II.[154]

Switzerland[edit]

Boeing first offered the Super Hornet to the Swiss Air Force as a replacement for Swiss F-5E Tigers, then announced it was withdrawing from the competition on 30 April 2008.[155]

The Swiss Air Force is currently in the process of seeking a replacement for its current fleet of Northrop F-5 aircraft, which were scheduled to be replaced by the Saab Gripen, but this was blocked by Swiss voters in 2014.[156]

In March 2018, Swiss officials named contenders in its Air 2030 program: The Saab Gripen, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-35. The program has a budget of US$8 billion but includes not only combat aircraft but also ground-based air defense systems.[157][158]

In October 2018, it was reported by Jane's that the Swiss Air Force may be limited to purchasing a single-engine fighter for budgetary reasons. However a bidder representing a European company bidding on the plan stated that Swiss Air Force pilots are "so enamoured of their Hornets that they will be inclined to select another two-seat fighter".[159]

The F/A-18E/F is due to perform demonstrations for Swiss personnel at Payerne Air Base at the end of April 2019. The aircraft will be evaluated in a series of eight flights, which will be contrasted to flights performed by other bidders.[160]

Others[edit]

The United Arab Emirates was reported to have asked for information on the Super Hornet in 2010.[161]

In early 2011, Bulgaria was considering the F/A-18 Super Hornet, among other aircraft, as a replacement for its MiG-21 fleet.[162] After initially selecting the Saab Gripen, the newly elected governing coalition has restarted the program and indicated that the Super Hornet is again under consideration. The decision is expected by July 2018.[163] In December 2018, the Bulgarian Ministry of Defence selected the offer for 8 F-16V from the United States for an estimated 1.8 billion lev ($1.05 billion) as the preferred option, and recommended the government to start talks with the US.[164]

In 2014, 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.[165]

Failed bids[edit]

Belgium[edit]

On 12 March 2014, Belgian newspaper De Morgen reported that Boeing is in talks with the Belgian Ministry of Defence about the Super Hornet as a candidate to replace Belgium's aging F-16 fleet.[166]

In April 2017, Boeing announced it would not compete with its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in the competition, citing it "does not see an opportunity to compete on a truly level playing field", hinting that the program may be biased.[167][168]

On 25 October 2018, Belgium officially selected the offer for 34 F-35As to replace the current fleet of around 54 F-16s.[169][170]

Brazil[edit]

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.[84][171] However news of NSA's spying activity on Brazilian leaders has caused animosity between Brazil and the US.[172] Brazil eventually dropped the Super Hornet from its final list and selected the Saab JAS 39 Gripen in December 2013.[173]

Denmark[edit]

In 2008, the Royal Danish Air Force was offered the Super Hornet.[174] The Super Hornet was one of three fighter aircraft in a Danish competition to replace 48 F-16AM/BMs.[175][176] The other contenders were the 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 was originally planned to be in mid-2015 where 24 to 30 fighters were expected.[177] 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.[178] In December 2015, the decision was postponed to 2016, with details of the final order pending political negotiations.[179] In May 2016, the Danish minority government recommended to parliament that 27 F-35A fighters should be procured instead of 38 Super Hornets.[180][181]

India[edit]

For India's MMRCA competition, Boeing offered a customized variant called F/A-18IN, which included Raytheon's APG-79 AESA radar.[182] In August 2008, Boeing submitted an industrial participation proposal to India describing partnerships with companies in India.[183] The Indian Air Force (IAF) extensively evaluated the Super Hornets and conducted field trials in August 2009.[184] However, in April 2011, the IAF eliminated the F/A-18IN from the competition which was eventually won by the Dassault Rafale.[185]

In October 2016, it was reported that India had received three unsolicited bids to replace its MiG-21 and MiG-27 aircraft, including the Super Hornet.[186]

It was reported in February 2018 that the Indian Naval Air Arm is interested in procuring the Super Hornet as the main carrier-based strike fighters for the Vishal-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers under development for the Indian Navy.[187]

Poland[edit]

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: Boeing's F/A-18E/F Advanced Super Hornet, the newest variant of JAS 39E/F Gripen, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and the F-35 Lightning II.[188][189][190][191]

According to the announcement made by the Armament Inspectorate on 23 November 2017, Poland has initiated the procedure to acquire new fighter aircraft for the Polish Air Force.[192] On 22 December 2017, five entities have expressed their will to participate in the market analysis initiative concerning the potential procurement of new fighter aircraft, referred to as "Harpia" (harpy eagle). Companies that expressed their interest in the Multi-Role Combat Aircraft portion of the initiative include: Saab AB with Gripen NG, Lockheed Martin with F-35, Boeing Company with F/A-18, Leonardo S.p.A. with Eurofighter Typhoon and Fights-On Logistics with second hand F-16s.[193]

On 28 May 2019, Polish Defense Ministry sends formal request to buy 32 F-35A.[194]

United States Marine Corps[edit]

The United States Marine Corps has avoided the Super Hornet program over fears that any Super Hornet buys will be at the cost of the F-35B STOVL fighters that they intend to operate from amphibious ships. Resistance is so high that they would rather fly former Navy F/A-18Cs.[195] In 2011, the Marine Corps 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 do with the F/A-18C.[196]

Others[edit]

On 10 March 2009, Boeing offered the Super Hornet for Greece's Next-Generation Fighter Program.[197]

On 1 August 2010, The Sunday Times reported that the British government was considering canceling orders for the F-35B 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.[198] The UK has reverted to a STOVL aircraft carrier equipped with F-35B fighters.

Variants[edit]

  • F/A-18E Super Hornet: single seat variant.
  • F/A-18F Super Hornet: two-seat variant.
  • NEA-18G: Two F/A-18Fs modified as prototypes of the EA-18G Growler.[199]
  • EA-18G Growler: Electronic warfare variant of the F/A-18F to replace the U.S. Navy's Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler.
  • Advanced Super Hornet: Variant of the F/A-18F Super Hornet with Conformal Fuel Tanks (CFT) and has a further reduced radar cross section (RCS), with the option of a stealthy enclosed weapons pod and built-in IRST21 sensor system.

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
Kuwait Kuwait
United States United States
  • United States Navy
    • Pacific Fleet squadrons
    • Atlantic Fleet squadrons
      • VFA-11 "Red Rippers" (F/A-18F)
      • VFA-31 "Tomcatters" (F/A-18E)
      • VFA-32 "Swordsmen" (F/A-18F)
      • VFA-37 "Ragin Bulls" (F/A-18E)
      • VFA-81 "Sunliners" (F/A-18E)
      • VFA-83 "Rampagers" (F/A-18E)
      • VFA-87 "Golden Warriors" (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-131 "Wildcats" (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 squadrons
      • 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)
    • Warfighting Development Centers
      • NAWDC (Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center, operates F/A-18E/F and other aircraft)
    • Flight Demonstration squadrons
      • U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron / Blue Angels (will eventually operate F/A-18E/F)
        • To begin transition to F/A-18E/F in Q2 FY2021[204]

Each U.S. Navy deployable "Fleet" VFA squadron has a standard unit establishment of 12 aircraft.

Notable accidents[edit]

  • On 6 April 2011, a U.S. Navy F/A-18F from VFA-122 Tactical Demonstration team crashed, killing both crew members. The crash occurred when the crew attempted to perform a loaded roll with too much speed and insufficient angle-of-attack. The loaded roll has since been removed from the Navy's F/A-18F flight demonstration routine.[205]

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 the F/A-18E
Three different color schemes for the F/A-18F


Data from U.S. Navy fact file,[1] others[206][207][208]

General characteristics

  • Crew: F/A-18E: 1 (pilot), F/A-18F: 2 (pilot and weapon systems officer)
  • 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)
  • Internal fuel capacity: F/A-18E: 14,700 lb (6,667 kg), F/A-18F: 13,760 lb (6,241 kg)
  • External fuel capacity:Up to 4 × 480 gal tanks, totaling 13,040 lb (5,914 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

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 F/A-18F Super Hornet is featured in the Battlefield 3 single player mission: "Going Hunting". It is also featured as a player operated vehicle in Battlefield 3's multiplayer.

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. ^ "It (Super Hornet) has only 36 percent of the F-14's payload/range capability."

Citations[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]

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External links[edit]