In April, BulgarianMilitary.com [BM] analyzed the condition of the Royal Australian Air Force’s [RAAF] aging but still-in-service F/A-18 Hornets.
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Australia, in principle, has no intention of using them [the Hornets] in the future, because it is building a powerful air fleet of F-35 fighters. Although Lockheed Martin’s F-35 continues to have quite a few issues to work out on the aircraft, a survey in the country of kangaroos shows that locals like the new fighters.
Despite high maintenance costs, the RAAF is preparing to mount a major air strike against Chinese fighter jets in an alleged war in the region. What’s more, the RAAF will this year reach full operational readiness of its F-35 squadrons, which literally means “kill rate” in military parlance.
All of this history briefly brings us back to Eastern Europe, where Ukraine continues to wage war against Russia. It looks like this war won’t end soon, or at least not until the end of the year, despite claims of a “freeze on the conflict”. Freezing the conflict means that both sides agree, and at the moment Russia shows no signs of such a desire, at least for now…
So the RAAF F/A-18 Hornets could end up in Ukraine along with 17 more aircraft of the same model. So it is said that Washington, Canberra, and Kyiv are discussing the transfer of 41 F/A-18 Hornets to Ukraine. This is now possible after long-resisting Washington decided to license the re-export of jet aircraft.
Now, many media outlets say that the RAAF may deliver 41 F/A-18 Hornets to Ukraine. But Australia doesn’t have them. It currently has 24 remaining, as it sold 18 fighters to the US’s northern neighbor, Canada. So a year ago, 12 F/A-18A and six two-seat F/A-18B Hornets flew to Ottawa.
Thus, the 18 Hornets from Australia have already been delivered to Canada. The Canadians are said to be looking to buy at least seven more from Australia. It is not clear how far such negotiations have progressed, but in light of the new revelations, it is entirely possible that such a deal will not materialize.
So why is the “world clamoring” that Canberra will supply 41 Hornets, assuming an agreement is reached [I see no reason why Ukraine wouldn’t agree, as it will get them for free I guess]? Most likely, Washington does not want to be a direct exporter of combat aircraft to Ukraine. It will operate through third countries and Australia is a possible contractor. I.e. donation of 17 fighters to the RAAF and their re-export officially from Canberra is a possible scenario.
Of course, in such a developed situation, such a transfer can also be done by purchase and sale. I.e. Australia to buy the missing up to 41 aircraft from the US either at a super preferential price or with an option for Canberra to get a big discount on the next military purchase. Possibilities abound, especially since the US and Australia are on super good terms and these two nations are expected to be adept at defending Taiwan in the event of a supposed military conflict with China.
Australia still flies its aging Hornets, but Canberra is adamant it wants to retire them. I.e. their deployment comes at a super opportune time for Kyiv and President Zelensky’s pleas for air combat equipment to throw at Russian fighter jets that still hold supremacy in Ukrainian skies.
The Australian Hornets are currently based at an RAAF base outside Newcastle. But it should be known – they are all fully operational ready and even have some approvals, which is a bonus for whoever decides to acquire them, even if it is not Ukraine.
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.
Is only Ukraine a possibility? In the interest of the truth, yes, because the situation is such that if they are not put into battle, or bought by a customer, these Hornets will be “mushroom” in the hangar and will not be possible to use. The USA, Australia, Finland, and Kuwait are today the countries that still use F/A-18 Hornets.
Of course, Canberra can struggle to sell them for spare parts, but really to whom after this fighter will be discontinued. I.e. at some point, Finland and Kuwait will find it more profitable to buy a new air platform than to look for second-hand spare parts for their aging Hornets, trying to keep them operationally ready for at least a decade.
In this regard, selling to another country outside of Ukraine is also not a possible option, again due to the first substantiated fact that we commented on a while ago. It remains private military companies, which have always been a good market for such equipment.
In truth, Australia had opportunities to sell its Hornets to private companies, mostly American, but those deals fell through. This is how Ukraine remains. The market simply overprices this as the best alternative, although, for now, it is still not the only option.
Perhaps it will take time to be configured in one way or another for the Ukrainian Air Force or to be “shrunk” by removing some technologies that should not fall into Russian hands. But, after we discovered the aging Hornets in Australia in April, today we are guessing that Ukraine will most likely get them either by the end of the year or next year.
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