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Super Hornet’s RAAF service extended until at least 2030

written by Adam Thorn | January 8, 2024

RAAF FA-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler aircraft at RAAF Base Darwin. (Defence, LAC Sam Price)

The Super Hornet is set to continue flying for the RAAF until at least 2030 after the federal government agreed to a new $600 million deal to upgrade and sustain its fleet.

The five-year contract with Boeing Defence Australia, which also covers sister aircraft the Growler, will effectively extend the life of a fleet that had been thought to be retired in 2027.

It will also likely shut down speculation as to whether Australia will exercise its right to buy more F-35s to add to its current planned fleet of 72.

Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy, said, “The Albanese Government knows the most valuable Defence asset we have are our people.

“That’s why we’re investing in over 350 highly skilled local jobs and delivering on our commitment to ensure Australia has a robust Defence industry.”

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The introduction of the Super Hornet proved hugely controversial after it was declared a stopgap between the retirement of the F-111 and the delayed arrival of its true successor, the fifth-generation F-35.

However, the fighter has proved to be hugely popular globally, even starring in the last Top Gun movie.

Today, Australia has 24 Super Hornets with more powerful engines, bigger fuel capacity and the ability to carry more modern weapons than its predecessor.

The Growler, meanwhile, is a variant of the Super Hornet but differs in several key areas. In place of the nose-mounted gun, it carries two ALQ-218 tactical jamming receivers (TJR) pods on its wingtips and up to five ALQ-99 jammers on centre-line and wing stations.

This technology allows it to both shut down enemy defences if it senses they’re tracking it or proactively jam them anyway using its radar. It can even detect specific frequencies and comms devices by locating their emitters.

The fleet is operated by No. 6 Squadron and based at RAAF Base Amberley. The first only arrived in 2017, and the RAAF is the only air force outside the US to own any.

The news of a sustainment deal comes after Australian Aviation reported last year how the RAAF quietly replaced an EA-18G Growler that caught fire in 2018.

Australia had an original fleet of 12, and it was only confirmed to replace the written-off jet in 2021 at a reported cost of $170 million.

The original was damaged beyond repair while taking off over the Nellis Test and Training Range in Nevada in preparation for the start of Exercise Red Flag 18-1.

As it approached rotation speed, it suffered what Defence described at the time as a “malfunction”, with the crew forced to conduct a high-speed abort.

The two crew stayed with the aircraft until it came to rest off the side of Nellis’ eastern runway and were able to climb out of the jet and get clear of the flames.

Engine component failure was subsequently identified as the most likely cause of the catastrophic engine failure that sparked the incident.

As a result of the right-hand side engine’s failure, the RAAF placed a temporary operational pause on all F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler flying. Both aircraft types, operated by 82 Wing, are powered by GE F414 engines.

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