The Royal Australian Air Force and Australia’s defence industry have come together to celebrate a decade of operating the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler platforms.
While highly contentious when first announced by former defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon as an intermediate option to prevent a “capability gap” between the retirement of the RAAF’s F-111 and delivery of the fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growlers have emerged as a key capability in the RAAF arsenal.
The first RAAF Super Hornet was completed in 2009 and first flew from Boeing’s factory in St Louis, Missouri, on 21 July 2009.
RAAF crews began training in the US in 2009. The RAAF’s first five F/A-18Fs arrived at their home base, RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland, on 26 March 2010 and were joined by six more aircraft on 7 July 2010.
Following the arrival of another four aircraft in December 2010, the first RAAF F/A-18F squadron was declared operational that month.
The Royal Australian Air Force operates 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets, which ensure that Australia’s air combat capability edge is maintained until the full introduction of the F-35A Lightning II.
The F/A-18F Super Hornets are based at Number 1 Squadron at RAAF Base Amberley. After achieving final operational capability in December 2012, they have participated in a range of exercises and operations, including:
- Exercise Pitch Black in the Northern Territory;
- Exercise Bersama Shield on the Malaysian Peninsula; and
- Operation Okra in the Middle East.
Industry partner and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) Boeing has supported the operation and sustainment of the aircraft under the Boeing-led Air Combat Electronic Attack (ACEA) Sustainment Program (ACEASP).
ACEA sustainment sees Boeing leverage both local industry expertise and OEM capabilities from Boeing to provide logistics, maintenance, engineering and operational and capability upgrade management services for the RAAF Super Hornets and Growlers.
ACEASP program manager Chris Gray said, “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. 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.”
This was reinforced by RAAF Air Vice-Marshal Catherine 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 F/A-18F Super Hornet is larger than the F/A-18A/B Hornet. The aircraft’s increased wing area allows it to carry more stores (mounted devices) on its additional hardpoints.
The twin-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet can undertake:
- air interception;
- air combat;
- close air support of ground troops; and
- interception of enemy supply lines including shipping.
Meanwhile, the Growler is based on the F/A-18F Super Hornet airframe, and is fitted with:
- additional avionics;
- enhanced radio frequency receivers;
- an improved communications suite; and
- ALQ radio-frequency jamming pods which enable it to jam enemy systems.
The purchase of the EA-18G Growler included the aircraft, required mission and support systems, training and ongoing support to effectively develop and operate a Growler capability. The EA-18G Growler is an electronic attack aircraft. It is capable of disrupting, deceiving or denying a broad range of military electronic systems, including radars and communications.
Eleven EA-18G Growlers are operated by No. 6 Squadron based at RAAF Base Amberley and operate in conjunction with air, land and sea forces. Initial operational capability was declared in April 2019.
Story by Stephen Kuper