The Australian Government will sell up to 46 former Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A/B Hornets to Quincy, Illinois-based Air USA, minister for defence industry Melissa Price announced on March 5. Air USA is a provider of training services to various U.S. government agencies and operates a fleet of Aero L-39 and L-59 Albatros, BAE Systems Hawk, Dassault Alpha Jet, and Mikoyan MiG-29 aircraft.
“The Classic Hornet aircraft will be used to provide training services to the United States Air Force,” Price said. “The work to prepare these aircraft and components for sale will provide 24 direct industry jobs [at RAAF Base Williamtown, north of Sydney], while Air Force transitions to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.”
Although the exact number of aircraft to be sold to Air USA is yet to be announced, Price said that the aircraft will be prepared for delivery over the coming three or four years. At its peak, the RAAF had three operational F/A-18A/B fighter squadrons and an operational conversion unit, but the legacy fighter is due to be withdrawn from service by the end of 2021.
Australia is replacing its 71 surviving F/A-18A/B Hornets—known as "Classic" Hornets in RAAF service—with 72 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters. Some Hornets have already been retired and transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force, which is buying up to 25 aircraft as an interim fighter capability while Ottawa decides on its next-generation fighter program.
Australia’s F/A-18s are some of the most advanced legacy Hornets in service today, having undergone an incremental enhancement program known in Australia as the Hornet Upgrade Programme. These upgrades included replacement of the original radar with Raytheon’s AN/APG-73, integration of equipment including Saab’s BOL countermeasures dispensing system, the Elta EL-L/8222 electronic countermeasures (ECM) pod, Northrop Grumman’s AN/AAQ-28(v) Litening AT (advanced targeting) pod, and MBDA ASRAAM within-visual-range missiles. The fleet also underwent limited structural refurbishment during this period and, in addition, 10 aircraft were subject to a fuselage center barrel replacement program with L-3 MAS in Canada.
In related news, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) announced on February 29 that it has signed an AUD330 million ($218.5 million) contract with Raytheon Australia for the delivery of Joint Adversarial Training and Testing Services (JATTS). The eight-year contract will consolidate three existing contracts, comprising Jet Air Support (currently provided by Air Affairs Australia using Learjet aircraft); Air Towed Targets/Services; and Electronic Warfare Training Services, currently supplied by Raytheon and also including two specially-modified Learjets.
The consolidation of the three existing contracts will see Raytheon Australia become the capability steward, or prime contractor, with Air Affairs and Air Target Services supplying services as sub-contractors. The new JATTS contract has a provision to enhance training capability over time to meet the needs of fifth-generation platforms currently being acquired by the ADF, such as the F-35A.