Australia Celebrates Decade of Super Hornet Operations

 - March 26, 2020, 6:40 AM
A pair of No. 1 Squadron F/A-18Fs is seen during the multi-national Pitch Black exercise held in northern Australia. The aircraft carry inert laser-guided bombs. (Photo: Nigel Pittaway)

On March 26 the Royal Australian Air Force marked the 10th anniversary of operations with its fleet of Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet fighters. In the first decade of operations, RAAF Super Hornets deployed to the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) twice, in September 2014 and May 2017, performing strike missions against Daesh/IS forces in Iraq and Syria under the Australian Defence Force’s Operation Okra. The aircraft have also been regular participants in multilateral air combat exercises such as Red Flag in the U.S. and Pitch Black in Australia.

Australia ordered 24 Super Hornets in March 2007 and the first five aircraft touched down at RAAF Base Amberley, southwest of Brisbane, on March 26, 2009. The aircraft were originally acquired as a “bridging capability” under Project Air 5349, to fill the gap between the premature retirement of the RAAF’s General Dynamics F-111C, which occurred in December 2010, and the introduction of the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, a process currently ongoing.

The 24 Super Hornets were initially distributed between two squadrons within No. 82 Wing at Amberley, with one (No. 1 Squadron) being the operational force and the other (No. 6 Sqn) serving as the operational conversion unit for the type. With Australia’s purchase of the Boeing EA-18G Growler airborne electronic attack aircraft under a subsequent phase of Air 5349, all Super Hornets were consolidated into an expanded 1 Sqn in November 2016 and the unit became responsible for both the operational and training roles.

A current trial underway at Amberley has now seen six aircraft transferred to No. 82 Wing Training Flight, which is overseeing the training of Super Hornet pilots and Air Combat Officers (ACOs), once again leaving 1 Sqn with the sole responsibility for combat operations. The unit has recently returned from Red Flag at Nellis Air Force Base where, according to commanding officer Wing Commander Richard Peapell, the Super Hornet—together with 6 Sqn’s Growlers—performed very well against a range of adversaries, including U.S. and British F-35s, RAF Typhoons and USAF F-15s and F-16s.

“The squadron did a fantastic job and the performance of the team was just fantastic, to the point where, between the two Australian squadrons, we actually won most of the awards,” Peapell said. “We were pretty much used it in every role and the jet is very much multi-role; it does do everything, and it does it very well.”

Australia’s Super Hornets were built to the U.S. Navy’s Block II configuration, with the Raytheon AN/APG-79 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and have been upgraded in lock-step with U.S. aircraft over the past decade.

Far from being merely an interim capability, the Super Hornet is a key element of Australia’s air combat capability and the RAAF will fly the aircraft to at least 2030, by which time a decision on the purchase of additional F-35As is expected.

“It’s certainly not going anywhere anytime soon,” Peapell asserted.