The latest Hornet buzz

The McDonnell Douglas/Northrop and now currently Boeing-produced F/A-18 Hornet series have been around since 1974, making it a 46-year-old platform.

The Northrop YF-17/pre-production F-18. U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archive 428-GX-K-118818. Photographed by PH2 James C. Brown

Originally pitched to the Air Force to replace their fleet of F-4 Phantoms and A-7 Corsairs, a job that went to the F-16, the Navy chose the YF-17 runner-up as the fast mover to replace their own A-4 Skyhawk and remaining F-4s (as well as the A-6 Intruder and A-7 once the A-12 program tanked in the 1980s). Entering preproduction in 1978 and gaining IOC in the early 1980s, the zippy F-18A/B single-seat and C/D twin-seaters held down the last days of the Cold War for the Navy and Marine Corps then went on to see combat in the original Gulf War, over Bosnia, and in the post-9/11 sandbox excursions.

Likewise, Northrop dropped its export F-20 Tigershark, an updated F-5E with new avionics and combat systems, in favor of selling the F-18 overseas and found success with Australia, Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain, and Switzerland– pretty successful for a carrier aircraft!

The 2015 CF-18 Hornet Demonstration Aircraft unveiled at a ceremony held at 3 Wing Bagotville in Saguenay, Québec on 27 March 2015. Image: LS Alex Roy, Atelier d’imagerie Bagotville BN01-2015-0186-005

With the U.S. Navy (and someday the Marines) shedding the F-18C/D model in favor of the altogether larger and more capable F-18E/F Super Hornet and putting the EA-6B Prowler in the boneyard in favor of the EA-18G Growler variant, other countries that have Baby Hornet experience have been looking at the Super Hornet to upgrade as well. For instance, Kuwait ordered 22 F/A-18Es and 6 F/A-18Fs to replace their older F-18C/Ds while Australia has picked up 24 F/A-18Fs for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to replace their aging F-111s, while F-35s will be replacing the F-18Cs.

Retired Ozzy F-18s coming home

Speaking of Australia, it was just announced that workers at RAAF Base Williamtown will service and prepare up to 46 retired F/A-18 Classic Hornet aircraft that will be sold to air combat training company Air USA.

Caption: Flying Officer Chris Baker from RAAF No. 3 Squadron, prepares his F/A-18C jet for takeoff at the start of a night mission out of RAAF Base Darwin. NATO Exercise Pitch Black 2008 (PB08)  

The Classic Hornet aircraft will be used to provide training services to the United States Air Force and will be prepared over the next three to four years.

Minister for Defence Industry, the Hon Melissa Price MP, said the work will provide employment certainty for workers in the NSW Hunter region.

“The work to prepare these aircraft and components for sale will provide 24 direct industry jobs while Air Force transitions from the Classic Hornet to the F‑35 Joint Strike Fighter,” Minister Price said.

Meanwhile in Germany…

The West German Luftwaffe in the 1970s was one of a quartet of forces to include the West German Navy’s Marineflieger, the British Royal Air Force and the Italian Aeronautica Militare to go all in for a variant of the Panavia Tornado swing-wing strike fighter. While the Marineflieger is now helicopter-only, the RAF has retired their Tornados and the Italians are in the process of doing the same, Berlin is still fielding the old bird, which left production more than 20 years ago.

Note German Great War ace Max Immelmann on the tail.

This amounts to some 85 Tornado IDS strike planes and 28 Tornado ECR SEAD/EW aircraft. While perhaps the most logical replacement would be more Eurofighter Typhoons, of which the Luftwaffe is already fielding 140, it now looks like the Tornados will be replaced with a mix of 78 to 90 Tranche 3 Typhoons, 30 FA-18E/F Super Hornets and 15 EA-18G Growlers.

As noted by Forbes, the Hornets and Growlers will be acquired because Eurofighter does not currently have B-61 nuclear bomb-certified (drawn from NATO stocks) Typhoons or a SEAD variant of the same available any time soon.

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