Super Hornet fights for survival

Rejections by India and more recently Brazil – combined with the looming end to a multi-year procurement deal for the US Navy – mean that the pressure is mounting on Boeing to secure extra orders for its versatile Super Hornet.

As things stand, the last F/A-18E/F or EA-18G Growler will roll off the line in St Louis, Missouri before the end of 2016, with the USN and Royal Australian Air Force the buyers so far. As you can read in my colleague Jon Hemmerdinger’s report on the situation, that’s not a major problem for the manufacturer for now, but Washington finding funds for more in its fiscal year 2015 budget planning is described as a “critical” requirement.

Boeing has a proven multi-role aircraft available for a reported $52 million that it’s really struggled to shift internationally. From a long list of legacy Hornet operators, only Australia has gone for the new model, although fellow users Canada, Kuwait and Malaysia are now considering their future fighter options. Other potential buyers include Denmark.

Advanced Super Hornet

The big question is whether the raft of Advanced Super Hornet (Boeing image above) options now on the table – including engine and radar enhancements, conformal fuel tanks, a belly-mounted external weapons bay and infrared search and track sensor – will make a difference? If these proposals fail to attract new buyers, as was the case with the stealthed-up F-15SE unsuccessfully pitched to South Korea, then we could see a second Boeing production line shut down, after its last C-17s are delivered next year.

We can expect some serious lobbying in Congress if the FY2015 proposal doesn’t include more F/A-18s, but any move to “plus-up” would have to be at the expense of other procurements: maybe even a few F-35s? But might a few Super Hornets creep into the FY2015 bill anyway? A pre-solicitation note for 36 more was withdrawn last October, supposedly after being “accidentally” posted online.


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8 Responses to Super Hornet fights for survival

  1. jetcal1 19 February, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    Time to reestablish the reserve VFA squadrons again and give them some new build units as a hedge against the F-35.

  2. Firefox 24 February, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

    Super Hornet was a stopgap solution – and any international buyers simply go for better Su-30s. Australia decision to buy SH was political, and so was USN decision to buy Super Hornets (no fly-off against other type, no competition, sold as “upgraded” F/A-18C. Super Hornet started as a political move, and so it will end. Obsolete bodydesign with nothing special, Boeing must have seen this one coming. Damn Bugs!

    • jetcal1 27 February, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

      I don’t disagree completely. Too bad politics shapes peacetime procurement.

      • Steve 8 March, 2014 at 9:11 am #

        If you went to the Avalon Airshows in 2003 and 2005 you would have seen US Navy F18E being demonstrated – with the commentator stating that this was RAAF preferred option of any delay to the JSF.
        The F-18E has something like 70% commonality with the classic Hornets with all the logistic advantages that gave.
        It was not a political decision!!
        That story was made up by a Sydney Morning Herald reporter who obviously did not attend the airshows mentioned even though he was supposed to be a defence reporter.

  3. puppethead 26 February, 2014 at 10:58 pm #

    Not so sure why the Super Hornet is so reviled – I mean, what are the alternatives? The Tomcats were unsustainable, and the only other Western carrier-capable fighter in production is the Rafale – an unlike US purchase. As an Australian, I’m quite happy to have them (and can’t wait to get the Growlers) – despite its capabilities, our F-111s were never war-capable: we never invested in decent EWSP for them, and the rest of their avionics were archaic. At least the F-18Fs are to the same standard as the US Navy’s, and hence we now have 4 fighter squadrons ready for battle (I excuse 6 Sqn due to their current main role of conversion training).

  4. Naval Aviator 2 March, 2014 at 3:55 am #

    puppethead has got it right! Firefox, if you assume Russian Su-30 is “better” then the entire rest of the world would and should buy them. The big problem with them is they are Russian! The countries that have gone down that path, while they have a great air show aircraft, have likely regretted the unreliability and high cost of maintaining the aircraft. The Russians do make great performing aircraft, but the warfighting systems and avionics available in a US fighter like the Block II Super Hornet are far beyond what the Russians have to offer. If the US decides to stop ordering F/A-18 Super Hornets, the USN will be short of aircraft come 2019 when they are still trying to fix yet another unforeseen problem with the F-35C. The smart thing is to keep the line open until the F-35C reaches the fleet. That was the original plan when the F-35 was due to be on fleet aircraft carrier decks in 2015. So much for that plan….

  5. Glen 2 March, 2014 at 5:52 am #

    I am a huge fan of the super hornet. I think its the best in its class which think is a better aircraft than the F35 which.I think is far too expensive and has far too many teething problems and I do wonder how much longer before it is finally in service and combat ready unlike the Super Hornet which is available right now.

  6. Super Rhino 5 March, 2014 at 7:55 pm #

    Hi Glen, I’m a huge fan of the Rhino too.

    I think the Super Hornet is the most capable and underestimated airplane ever.
    The F-35C prototype exist just to justify the USAF and Marines versions, as part of the “one single airplane for all” story.

    Without the Growlers to protect them from L-Band radars the F-35 can go as far as any other airplane today, in the air any Russian or Chinese E/O-IRST sensor will detect it too.

    The USNavy is just waiting, to help the F-35 program not to collapse, but at the end they really know what’s the way of the future.

    I’m pretty sure you will enjoy this videos I made dedicated to the Rhino

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