F/A-18 Super Hornet assembly stalls in 2027 amid customer scarcity

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In light of dwindling orders, Boeing, the eminent American aeronautics company, has decided to cease production of its F/A-18 Super Hornet multirole carrier-based fighter by 2027. The most recent order came from the US Navy on March 19, which requested 17 F/A-18s for a sum of $1.3 billion. Production of these aircraft must be completed by spring 2027 – these will be the final F/A-18s to roll off the production line. Without this additional order, Super Hornet production would have ground to a halt in 2025. 

Photo credit: US Navy

A change in production direction is on the horizon, as announced by Boeing’s Vice President for Combat Aircraft, Mark Sears, to the US media. The St. Louis plant, responsible for F/A-18 production, will gradually transition to producing new units. They’ll achieve this by slowing down the F/A-18’s production cycles, freeing up resources to be assigned to other exciting initiatives such as the F-15EX fighter, the T-7A trainer, and the unmanned MQ-25 Stingray tanker aircraft.

The F/A-18 will continue to fly

Let’s not overlook the fact that the ceasing production of the F/A-18 Super Hornet is far from its complete retirement in the US Navy. For a considerable time to come, it will continue to be their primary aircraft carrier. Therefore, the imperative is to upgrade the existing fleet to the Block III version, with the process scheduled to be complete by 2030. 

In the long run, the F/A-18 Super Hornet is destined to be replaced by either the F-35 or another next-gen aircraft. When this happens, it will signify the end of an illustrious career for the F/A-18. To jog your memory, the F/A-18’s first flight was way back in 1978, and in its significantly revamped Super Hornet avatar, it’s been aloft since 1995. 

Looking back, the emergence of the F/A-18 Super Hornet in the US Navy was largely due to budget constraints. In the past days of the 1980s, the Pentagon’s ambition was to equip their aircraft carriers with the stealth attack craft A-12 Avenger. But when this development was axed, it effectively spelled doom for McDonnell Douglas and paved the way for the cost-effective development of the Super Hornet.

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F/A-18 operational history

The Super Hornet’s operational journey is decorated with numerous battles. Its first taste of action came in 2002, during Operation Southern Watch in Iraq, where it was instrumental in enforcing a no-fly zone in the southern part of the nation. The Iraq War, which commenced in 2003, saw extensive utilization of the Super Hornet, offering air dominance and crucial ground support for US and allied forces. 

Away from the Middle Eastern terrain, the F/A-18 Super Hornet has served a spectrum of missions across the globe. It played a pivotal role in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, executing airstrikes against Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives. The Super Hornet found its mark in the 2011 Libyan Civil War, delivering precision attacks on military targets. 

Photo credit: Pixabay

In more recent times, the Super Hornet’s participation has extended to ongoing missions against ISIS operatives in Iraq and Syria. It has also been stationed in the South China Sea as part of the US Navy’s Freedom of Navigation operations. The Super Hornet is projected to continue its service with the US Navy until at least 2040, with upgrades prepared to ensure that the aircraft remains at the forefront of naval aviation. 

Since its inception, the F/A-18 Super Hornet has earned accolades for its adaptability, reliability, and performance. It has proved its prominence in a multitude of roles that include air superiority, day/night precision-guided munition strikes, fighter escort, close air support, adversary air defense suppression, maritime strike, reconnaissance, forward air control, and tanker missions. Its capability to adapt to diverse missions has established the Super Hornet as a priceless asset in the US Navy’s arsenal.

You should know about the F/A-18:

Photo credit: Pixabay

Designed as a multirole aircraft capable of enduring all conditions, the F/A-18 Super Hornet is a supersonic, twin-engine combat vehicle. Its purpose is to serve as both a fighter and attack aircraft. This model, an advanced version of the F/A-18C/D Hornet, is larger and incorporates more refined features, thanks to the efforts of McDonnell Douglas, now known as Boeing. The Super Hornet took its inaugural flight in 1995 and was enlisted in the service of the United States Navy by 1999. 

Taking a closer look at its specs, the Super Hornet towers at 60.3 feet in length, holds a stature of 16 feet, and stretches its wings to a span of 44.9 feet. It can take off at a maximum capacity weight of 66,000 pounds and withstand g-forces of up to 9. Remarkably, its wing area enjoys a 25 percent increase compared to the F/A-18C/D, allowing for expanded range and payload capacity. 

The power propelling the Super Hornet is derived from a pair of F414-GE-400 turbofan engines, crafted by the masterminds at General Electric. Each engine radiates a thrust of 22,000 pounds, enabling the Super Hornet to attain a top speed of Mach 1.8, equivalent to 1,190 miles per hour. Additionally, it can elevate to an operational ceiling of 50,000 feet.

Photo by Nicholas Avis / NAVAIR

F/A-18 avionics and armament

Equipped with state-of-the-art avionics, the Super Hornet utilizes an APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array [AESA] radar for enhanced detection and tracking capabilities. It also boasts an AN/ASQ-228 ATFLIR guidance pod, providing day/night and infrared imagery, along with an AN/ALR-67[V]3 radar warning receiver as part of its varied threat detection suite. 

On an average interdiction mission, the F/A-18 Super Hornet can cover a distance of approximately 1,275 nautical miles. However, when considering mid-air refueling options, the aircraft’s range considerably expands. This flexibility enables it to conduct long-range strikes or maintain prolonged station-keeping. 

Photo credit: The Drive

Proving its versatility in multiple roles, the Super Hornet’s armory can accommodate a plethora of both air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. For aerial combat, it can equip itself with weapons such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-120 AMRAAM, and AIM-7 Sparrow missiles. On the other hand, in-ground attack scenarios, it may carry an array of bombs and missiles, including the AGM-88 HARM, AGM-154 JSOW, and GBU laser-guided bombs. Additionally, the aircraft is outfitted with an integrated 20mm M61 Vulcan cannon.

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