RAAF chief welcomes 1st F/A-18F, but says 'no more'

Washington DC
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Air Marshal Mark Binskin welcomed the first of 24 Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornets ordered by the Royal Australian Air Force in an 8 July unveiling. However, he also made it clear that no additional orders for the type should ever be necessary.

The stand-up of the RAAF's first operational F/A-18F unit is expected in March-April 2010, allowing the service to finally retire its remaining General Dynamics F-111s. The new aircraft will also ease the transition to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, 100 of which should arrive from the middle of the next decade.

The Australian government agreed to buy the Super Hornets in March 2007, after weight problems forced Lockheed to delay the availability of its first F-35s by more than two years.

If Boeing continues to hope for an expanded Super Hornet order in the event of further delays to the JSF, Binskin delivered a tough message shortly after the F/A-18F unveiling event at Boeing's St Louis facility in Missouri.

There will be no "Plan B" if Lockheed encounters further problems with the F-35, he said. "Sorry, Bob, but no," Binskin said, half-jokingly, as he addressed Bob Gower, Boeing's vice-president for F/A-18.

But the RAAF is keen to expand the capability of the F/A-18Fs currently under order. The last 12 of its 24 aircraft will be pre-wired for conversion to the US Navy's EA-18G Growler jammer mission, although a decision on whether to order the electronic warfare equipment is years away.

Binskin supports the idea of converting the aircraft, noting: "It's the final part of the air combat capability that we [currently] rely on our coalition partners."

He says the RAAF has no interest in an improved version of the General Electric F414 engine. In May, Boeing disclosed plans to launch an engine performance enhancement upgrade that could improve thrust by 20%, or extend lifecycle maintenance costs.

Binksin, meanwhile, says he is "confident" in Lockheed's ability to overcome development problems with the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, which the RAAF has ordered for integration with its Super Hornets and legacy F/A-18A/Bs.