The RAAF’s Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet achieved the milestone of a decade in service on March 26.
The date marks the 10th anniversary of the arrival at RAAF Amberley west of Brisbane of the first five of 24 F/A-18Fs after their trans-Pacific ferry flight from NAS Lemoore in California. The Super Hornets are operated by 1SQN at Amberley, and are complemented by 11 Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft which are operated by 6SQN.
The Super Hornet was initially acquired as a Bridging Air Combat Capability (BACC) through Project AIR 5439 after concerns the RAAF’s F-111C strike fleet was becoming increasingly costly to operate and was experiencing some fatigue issues. At the same time, the replacement F-35 JSF program was experiencing developmental and programmatic delays, and the RAAF determined that the F-111 couldn’t be extended beyond 2010.
Following a rapid study and plan conducted by the RAAF and Capability Development Group (CDG), the plan to acquire the Super Hornets was announced in September 2006 by then Defence Minister Dr Brendan Nelson, and was confirmed at the March 2007 Avalon Airshow.
While other aircraft types were considered, the Super Hornet was available soonest, and the RAAF could leverage its existing relationships with the US Navy, Boeing, General Electric, Raytheon, and other entities that it already worked with on the F/A-18A/B classic Hornet program.
The RAAF achieved an initial operational capability (IOC) for Super Hornet with the delivery of the 12th aircraft in December 2010, and a final operational capability (FOC) in December 2012.
“The 10th anniversary of the arrival of the first tranche of five F/A-18F Super Hornets in-country is a momentous milestone for us,” Boeing’s Air Combat Electronic Attack Sustainment Program (ACEASP) Manager Chris Gray said in a statement. “Ten years of successful operations have been founded on the enduring partnership between Boeing and the RAAF.
“Boeing’s role as platform steward gives us the opportunity to make a vital difference to Australia’s airpower capability,” he added. “We are proud to be maintaining and upgrading the Super Hornet – notching up 10 years as a trusted partner of the RAAF in stewarding the Super Hornet as Australia’s premier frontline air combat capability.”
RAAF Head of Air Force Capability, AVM Cath Roberts added, “Defence’s relationship with Boeing has delivered us a great air combat capability with the Super Hornet, which we have used decisively on exercises and operations. We are very pleased to celebrate this 10th anniversary milestone.”
The RAAF has deployed its Super Hornets on combat operations twice, in September 2014 and again in April 2017 to support coalition operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The Super Hornet has also provided the RAAF a stepping stone to the ‘5th generation’ F-35 by introducing enhanced security requirements and capabilities through its use of the APG-79 advanced electronic scanned array (AESA) radar, low-observable coatings and shaping, enhanced electronic warfare capabilities, and elements of sensor fusion.
Below are photos taken by ADBR Managing Editor Andrew McLaughlin at the arrival of the first five F/A-18Fs in March 2010.