CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA — Australia is building a powerful combat air fleet of US Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters. Perceiving China as a major threat, largely because of US influence, the Royal Australian Air Force [RAAF] uses its stealth to build authority in the region.
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The big news is expected for the Australian air aces this year. According to preliminary estimates, in 2023 the RAAF will achieve full operational combat readiness [FOC] of its 60 F-35s. “The kill rate” will give extra confidence to the lonely continent, where both citizens and military love their fighters.
The F-35s came to Australia to replace the aging fleet of F/A-18 Super Hornets that had long guarded Australian skies. They are no longer needed and Canberra has phased them out in recent years. Of course, a year ago Australia was able to sell Canada some of its Hornets. 12 F/A-18A and six two-seat F/A-18B Hornets flew to Ottawa to replenish the Royal Canadian Air Force [RCAF]. Canada will need them to maintain operational readiness until Canadian F-35s begin arriving regularly.
But at least 24 F/A-18 Super Hornets remained in Australia’s hangars. They no longer fly and are no longer used for training, but gather dust slowly aging on the ground. These fighters are operationally ready as they flew until two-three years ago. What’s more, the Australian Hornets have undergone a serious modification, which increases their value even more.
Australian Hornets have been upgraded to the A++ level. Under their wings are still armaments worthy of defending Australian territory. We are talking about AIM-120 AMRAAM and ASRAAM air-to-air missiles that can meet any threat coming from the air. There are of course weapons that can attack ground targets, such as the Paveway II, JDAM-ER, AGM-158 JASSM, and Harpoon missiles. The last two are even led by stealth technology.
What can Australia do with them? A sale always seems like a good idea, especially now that the F-35 is more expensive to operate than the F/A-18 and some of the costs have to be covered. Customers for the 24 Australian fighters will always be found, including private military companies. Incidentally, there was a candidate company to buy the remaining Australian fighters, but the deal did not materialize.
The second option is the sale of spare parts. However, there are not many operators in the world. Actually, there are three of them – the USA, Canada, and Kuwait. This could turn out to be a good opportunity after Boeing announced the end of production of the fighter in 2025. But Australia, Canada, and Kuwait are expected to give up the F/A-18 soon. USA too.
There is also a third possibility – Ukraine. Fighters are built to fight. At the moment, only Ukraine can take them as a donation, since the war in Ukraine is not some small conflict, but has a tendency to extend over time, even if it does not go beyond the borders of the current front line.
The F/A-18 could be Washington’s justification for not sending the F-16 Viper to Ukraine. Australian aircraft are in good technical and operational condition. They are fully capable of conducting beyond-visual-range combat as well as air-to-air combat with Russian MiGs or Sukhoi.
Although it will take time to train Ukrainian pilots to fly the Australian Hornets, it will be much less if Australia decides to “get rid” of its aging fighters. So – why not!
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