RAAF Super Hornet fleet completes first major upgrade program

written by australianaviation.com.au | November 18, 2016
Super Hornets from 1 Squadron at RAAF Base Darwin during Exercise Pitch Black 2016. (Defence)
Super Hornets from 1 Squadron at RAAF Base Darwin during Exercise Pitch Black 2016. (Defence)

The Royal Australian Air Force’s F/A-18F Super Hornet has completed its first major upgrade, with the work finished on budget and two weeks ahead of schedule by the Electronic Attack Enterprise team that consists of the RAAF, the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG), Boeing Defence Australia and Raytheon Australia.

This work represents the first stage of the Super Hornet spiral upgrade program under which the fleet of 24 aircraft is set to receive incremental capability upgrades, the RAAF said in a statement, in parallel with the US Navy’s upgrade program.

The 12-month ‘Increment 1’ program has delivered updates to the aircraft training system, as well as to software and hardware. This includes the installation of GPS navigation protection, a distributed targeting system to enable precision targeting and an upgraded solid state recorder for the cockpit.

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Five separate structural modifications to improve fatigue life and eliminate hazards were incorporated with the hardware upgrades.

Group Captain Jason Agius, OC Air Combat and Electronic Attack System Program Office, said the program demonstrates that the support capability is mature and integrated.

“The completion of Increment 1 was essentially a coming of age for the Super Hornet support system,” he said. “It was the first time we brought together every element of the support system from program management, logistics and engineering through to training and deeper maintenance. The project’s completion on budget and ahead of schedule is a testament to how well it worked.

“As prime contractor, Boeing Defence Australia exhibited ingenuity and innovation in foreseeing and addressing challenges. They used their knowledge to add value and insight at every stage, and worked in close partnership with both Air Force and training system services provider Raytheon to guarantee the program’s success.”

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Final operational capability for the RAAF’s Super Hornet fleet was announced in December 2012.

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26 Comments

  • Raymond

    says:

    The benefits of working in tandem with the USN…

  • Craigy

    says:

    I see the US State Department has approved the sale of 32 F18E and 8 F18F to Kuwait. Also they have approved 72 F15QA for Kuwait as well I wonder if there will be a follow up sale in the future for growlers as well

  • Fabian

    says:

    Great !

  • Mick181

    says:

    Wouldnt be surprised to see Supers now returning to the Middle East ops.

  • Craigy

    says:

    Sorry the 72 F15s are for Qatar

  • paul

    says:

    Pretty awesome jet i reckon.

  • Hayden Roberts

    says:

    I dont see why they will need to be replaced in about 5 years, the F-111s lasted 37 years.
    hmmm, super hornets last ten years, F-111s last almost four times that! besides what will happen to all the ACOs after all the RAAF two seat hornets are replaced by single seat F-35s! 42 pilots will be separated from their 42 ACO partners. 141 pilots to fill the 100 F-35 seats.

  • Fabian

    says:

    The super hornet will keep on flying to at least 2035. Their fate will be decided then

  • Jason

    says:

    Hayden – initially the Super Hornet was acquired as a 10-year ‘bridging’ capability, but things have changed and they will now be in RAAF service for 20+ years. Because of this, they are being rolled into the US Navy ‘flight path’ spiral upgrade program.

    No sure where you got “42 SCO”s from, but ACOs will be retained for future roles on other platforms such as P-8, E-7, G550 etc, or as UCAS AVOs. Plus Growler will be around a lot longer.

  • Jason

    says:

    I’m also curious about the $US21bn cost of 72 F-15s for Qatar and $US14bn cost for 40 Super Hornets…compared to $AUD15bn (~$US11bn) for 72 F-35As including new bases, training, spares, GSE, simulators etc for Australia.

    Where are the F-35 haters and their hyper-cost projections now!?

  • Mick181

    says:

    Hayden no replacement has yet been ordered for the Supers, and i don’t expect an order before the FOC on the F-35s, mid 2020s, then we may see a decision but Fabian is probably close to the mark.

  • Hayden Roberts

    says:

    phew!

  • ULISES VELEZ

    says:

    the raaf super-hornets fleet ready at any time.

  • BJ

    says:

    When the time comes, the 12 “pre-wired” F/A-18F’s will be converted to E/A-18G’s, leaving us 12 F/A-18F’s ass an OCU for the Growler squadrons. Super Hornet will be in Australian service until at least 2025, longer if the additional 18 Super’s are bought off the back of the Kuwaiti deal

  • Jason

    says:

    Wow BJ, some pretty deep insight there…

    I doubt we’ll ever operate 24 Growlers, let alone 12 Fs solely as a OCU!

  • Mick181

    says:

    BJ the plan to convert the pre-wired aircraft was shelved when the 12 all new Growlers were ordered, they will stay as Super Hornets keeping the fleet at 24 aircraft.

  • paul

    says:

    Jason,i would probably think the 72 F-35s we r getting will cost more than 15b.I have no proof of this,but i will think it will be closer to 20-25 b mark.

  • BJ

    says:

    Originally when the F-35 wasn’t delayed again and the F/A-18F’s were meant to serve an “interim’ 10-12 year service, The idea to pre-wire the jets was undertaken to enable them to be more valuable to enable them to be resold to the US Navy. Then when they took on the mantel of 12-18 year service life, they ordered the 12 extra E/A-18G’s, with the plan to have 24 F/A-18F’s for strike and the 12 E/A-18G’s for the electronic attack.

    Now, they look to have a 18-24 year service life with us, longer if the extra 18 jets are bought/leased for 75 squadron.

    If the decision is taken down the line to eventually acquire the extra 28 F-35, and depending on when they are acquired, leaves some options for the super hornet fleet. having 24 in the strike role would be a waste, if you could have a 18/18 mix of F models and G models in two squadrons, or 12 F models in a OCU/FAC>strike unit and 2 x 12 G model squadrons.

    As enquires have been made for another 8-12 Growler Conversion kits (at a cost of up to $360 million), we are either examining the option, or intend to have a spare Growler kit for each Growler.

  • Craigy

    says:

    According to Flight Global, Canada is now seeking to purchase 18 F18 Super Hornets as an interim fighter capability while they run an open competition for 5 years and an in service date of the late 20s after cancelling the contract for the F35s. Question is will Canada now loose its F35 part manufacturing contracts?

  • paul

    says:

    BJ,are we getting any more supers for 75SQN?

  • Jason

    says:

    Paul – what are you basing your cost projection on?

    The published budget for Air 6000 Phases 2A/B/C is about A$18bn, and that includes the last tranche of up to 30 F-35As to replace the Super Hornets, or whatever else they’ll buy.

  • Jason

    says:

    BJ – the 12 F/A-18Fs that were ‘pre-wired’ for Growler conversion will likely remain as F/A-18Fs. The additional buy of 12 Growlers was in reality an order for 12 more Super Hornets, as the intent was always to have 12 Growlers but converting the F/A-18F+s would have meant a loss of 12 strike aircraft, and it was easier to order Growlers off the line than to have the conversions done.

    You guys keep talking about enquiries being made for additional Super Hornets and/or Growlers for the RAAF, but this has not appeared in any media, US DoD public documentation, ADF public documentation, or Australian Government budget papers. So either you’re deeply embedded in the RAAF and are breaking several laws by revealing this, or you’re just pissing in the wind hoping some of it will hit the wall.

    Unless something drastic happens to the JSF program at this late stage, the RAAF will not be getting any more F/A-18Fs or EA-18Gs.

  • John N

    says:

    Jason,

    Agree 100% with your reply to BJ.

    There is NO published, or otherwise, plan to increase either the Rhino or Growler fleets, and there appears to be a lot of ‘peeing in the wind’ going on too.

    And as you point out, if BJ was in the ‘know’ then the last thing he would be doing is talking about something in the public domain that isn’t in the public domain, and would be breaking a lot of laws doing so too (not good for future Defence job opportunities if found to be talking ‘out of school’)..

    The people that I know that are ‘in the know’ say this to me too, and those same people, if BJ’s suggestions were true, they would say ‘no comment’ in the first place.

    Tells you something doesn’t it?

    Cheers,

    John N

  • paul

    says:

    Jason,i was partly basing my cost projections on the 6000 report.As we know these will blow out as usual.Just a hunch.

  • Chris

    says:

    Jason, the RAAF is looking at a squadron of F/A-18E’s (single seat) to be ready to replace the first batch of Classic Hornets that are to retire in 2018.
    What we do with these airframes once F-35 is in service I don’t know, but I saw this announced by the RAAF at the International Fighter Conference (or whatever it was called) held in London only a month or so back.
    I see us building a solid two-tier (hi-low) fighter force lead by Growlers and Lightning II’s on day 1 with Supers bringing up the rear as protected bomb trucks with a pre-cleared run. This makes sense.
    Bring in the fully networked battle space thanks to Project Jericho, and with it E-7’s, P-8’s, KC-30’s, AWD’s. New Frigates, LHD’s, New Subs, Triton, Reaper and JOHRN – all seeing what everyone else can see, I’d say we’re in good shape as a middle power.
    Super fits in beautifully and will be a mature asset by the time F-35 reaches IOC.
    They’re not going anywhere.

  • BJ

    says:

    Jason, I am involved in a capacity to comment on various costings that are made to and for the ADF. Some of these costings are solicited, and some are unsolicited. No laws broken and no pissing in the wind. I gauge the seriousness and likelihood of proposals being proceeded with by the amount of interest and subsequent correspondence on the matter.

    As per the Canadian announcement and Kuwaiti deal, a serious change has occurred in the legacy hornet fleet world wide. The USMC intends to regenerate 80 legacy hornets, and has subsequently purchased a large part of the spares that were produced/being held for them, and also placed a hold on any nations acquiring hornet related parts from AMARG. Suddenly the cost of maintaining legacy hornets until 2025 as planned by many airforces skyrocketed, and spares sources scarce.

    Part of the Kuwaiti deal is a buy back of their legacy hornets (to be cannibalised to support the Finnish and Swiss fleets), while Canada acquires 18 Super Hornets, so they can retire the 18 oldest legacy hornets and cannibalise them to maintain their remaining aircraft for longer.

    That is why the same option is being examined here in Australia. 12-18 extra Super Hornets, mostly single seaters, to replace 75 squadrons legacy jets. This allows the RAAF to retire its 14 oldest legacy birds to cannibalise for spares, and consolidate the legacy jets at Williamtown.

    Given the sudden increase in spares cost, reduced cost of the Super Hornet airframes by tacking them onto the Kuwaiti and Canadian purchases, and leveraging the existing Super Hornet fleet, logistics and training pipeline, the cost to the RAAF is expected to be minimal, but will require upfront expenditure to acquire the airframes.

    Personally, I think its 50/50 if the RAAF does it. If the 10 year cost is close enough, he government wont have much trouble selling it to the public, as Defence purchases are generally viewed favourably.

    Given the instability in the world, strengthening our fleet even just this bit may be a very smart insurance policy.

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