As starts go, it’s hard to imagine how things could have got much worse for the F/A-18F Super Hornet before it entered RAAF’s fleet. Then Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon was certainly not a fan. “I have made it clear,” he thumped in 2008, “that in the end, if the advice comes to me from the review that the Super Hornet is not up to job, I would have no hesitation in cancelling it.”
It was one of many bad write-ups the aircraft suffered after it was declared a stopgap between the retirement of RAAF’s Classic Hornets and the delayed arrival of their true successor, the fifth-generation F-35. What was the point, critics argued, of a freelance fighter in our fleet? It’s a testament to the Super Hornet’s quality that those bad headlines were largely binned from history after representing Australia with such distinction fighting Daesh in Iraq years later.
But such controversy always felt unfair in the first place. True, the F/A-18F Super Hornet was the semi-successor to the F/A-18A/B Hornet, but its more powerful engines, bigger fuel capacity and ability to carry more modern weapons make it far more adept at air combat. Meanwhile, its half-brother, the Growler, is even smarter with next-generation technology allowing it to jam enemy communication systems. Today, RAAF has 24 Super Hornets and 11 Growlers, which have also participated in Exercise Pitch Black in the Northern Territory and Exercise Bersama Shield on the Malaysian Peninsula. Both models are operated out of RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland after arriving in 2010 and achieved final operational capability in 2012.
For avgeeks, though, the thick-skinned Super Hornet is perhaps most admired for its chameleon-like upgrades over the years since its introduction two decades ago. For instance, the latest iteration, the Block III, now boasts a 40 per cent increase in service life, new sensors to detect enemies at greater distances, and an iPad-style touchscreen cockpit. No wonder the US Navy alone has a fleet of more than 600, while Australia’s celebrated its 10th-anniversary last year.
Not bad, you’d argue, for a temporary worker.