The first Boeing F/A-18F+ for the RAAF, A44-213, made its first flight at St Louis on September 23.
The aircraft is the first of 12 to be modified with specific wiring, conduits and avionics racks for conversion to the EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft. They have been internally given the ‘+’ suffix by Boeing Australia management.
While no decision has been made by the government to convert some or all of these aircraft to the EA-18G configuration, US government approval has been granted for such a conversion, and the production line modifications made to the 12 aircraft will allow for a relatively easy conversion if and when required.
“Incorporating the ability to introduce an electronic attack capability on 12 RAAF Super Hornets as they are produced in St Louis provides maximum flexibility for our Air Force in the future,” said GPCAPT Steve Roberton, Officer Commanding 82 Wing. “Ultimately, if a decision to incorporate an electronic attack option is pursued, it will further expand the broad capability of an already formidable Super Hornet weapon system.”
“Besides giving the RAAF the potential of introducing electronic attack capability in the future, producing these 12 aircraft with this configuration from the outset also reduces cost when compared with retrofitting at a later date,” added Carolyn Nichols, Australian Super Hornet program manager for Boeing.
The RAAF paid about $40 million to have the electronic attack mission changes to the 12 aircraft incorporated on the production line in St Louis, a modification that required a new Engineering Change Proposal (ECP) and may be adopted by the US Navy for its next multi-year procurement (MYP III) batch of 124 Super Hornets, a contract for which is due to be signed once the US FY011 defence budget has been passed.
A44-213 is the first RAAF Super Hornet to wear 6SQN markings, and is expected to be delivered along with A44-214 by the end of the year.