Last week, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced that the U.S. State Department has approved the sale of equipment, parts, and logistical support for Australia’s fleet of F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler Aircraft for an estimated cost of $1.5 billion.
According to the DSCA press release:
The sustainment efforts will include software and hardware updates, Engineering Change Proposals, System Configuration upgrades, system integration and testing, engine component improvement, tools and test equipment, spare and repair parts, support equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, aircrew trainer devices upgrades, U.S. Government and contractor technical assistance, and other related elements of logistics and program support.
Furthermore, the DSCA website notes:
The proposed sale of follow-on sustainment support and services will enable the Royal Australian Air Force to ensure the reliability and performance of its F/A-18 fleet. The follow-on support will allow Australia to maintain aircraft availability/operational rates, and enhance interoperability with the U.S. and other nations.
The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) acquired 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets, which were bought “commercial-off-the-shelf,” bypassing the usual drawn out acquisition process, in 2011. The planes are expected to be in service beyond 2040, unless the Australian government wants to replace the Hornets with the much anticipated Lockheed-Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) around 2030.
With the last of the RAAF’s F/A-18A/B “Classic” Hornets withdrawn by 2022, the Super Hornets were in fact, purchased as a stopgap measure to avoid a fighter capability gap should the controversial F-35A JSF program face further delays. Australia is acquiring 72 Joint Strike Fighters, the first of which is scheduled to reach final operating capability in 2023.
“The Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18F Super Hornet fleet gives Australia an upgraded air combat capability for both air-to-air and air-to-ground mission until the full introduction into service of the F-35 Lightning II. The twin seat F/A-18F Super Hornet can undertake air interception, air combat, close air support of ground troops and interdiction of enemy supply lines including shipping,” the official website of the RAAF notes.
In May 2013, Canberra also announced that it would purchase 12 Boeing EA-18G Growler aircraft, all of which will be delivered by late 2017. The Growlers are designed to detect, jam and destroy enemy radar emissions.
According to Defense Industry Daily, “the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare version is a derivative of the F/A-18F Block II that removes the internal gun, adds electronics within the aircraft to help it detect and jam enemy radars, and mounts four specialized ECM (Electronic CounterMeasures) pods under the wings.”
Australian F/A-18F Super Hornets are currently flying sorties (Operation OKRA) against ISIS positions in Iraq, dropping laser or GPS-guided 500-pound bombs on targets. The RAAF has also recently received its first range-extended Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) wing kits for its F/A-18 Super Hornet fleet, increasing the JDAM’s range from 24km to 72km.