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Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet

Carrier-based Strike Fighter Aircraft

At its inception, the Boeing Super Hornet multirole carrierborne fighter represented the next evolution for the Hornet series that began under the McDonnell Douglas brand label.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 2/20/2020
The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 "Hornet" carrier-borne fighter line of the United States Navy (USN) proved a largely successful replacement for the Vietnam War-era strike fighters and attack platforms when it was introduced in 1983. Both single-seat and twin-seat variants emerged as well as improved variants a short time later. However, the system was not devoid of limitations for its common criticisms included limited operational ranges and limited ordnance-carrying capabilities. This gave rise to an evolution of the mark which became the definitive F/A-18 "Super Hornet" series, a model different enough from the original to be considered a largely new, stand-alone multi-role aircraft. The familiar "F/A-18" designation was retained to help push the product through the American bureaucratic circles.

Origins of the Super Hornet began in the 1980s as a design study undertaken by McDonnell Douglas for an improved F/A-18 even before the original Hornet had entered service. The product gained considerable steam with the USN's loss of the other McDonnell Douglas product - the A-12 "Avenger II", a triangle-shaped, carrier-based stealth bomber - which languished in development and ballooned into an unforgivable monster for the service (its related legal issues were not officially resolved until 2014). Additionally, the expensive and complicated Grumman F-14 Tomcats in use were primarily for fleet defense and did not receive their ground attack capabilities until late in their service careers. The new McDonnell Douglas initiative took the existing F/A-18 airframe and extended its wing mainplanes while lengthening the fuselage for additional internal fuel stores and more advanced flight and combat systems. The nine hardpoints of the original design were now increased to eleven in the new - retaining the original's wingtip rail launchers and underfuselage positions. By and large, the external profile of the F/A-18 Super Hornet mimicked much of the established lines of the original McDonnell Douglas offering just in a larger, heavier, and more advanced package. A key defining physical feature of the Super Hornet is in the redesigned air intakes which are rectangular compared to the original's oval-shaped openings.

Convinced of the merits of this evolved, in-budget "off-the-shelf" solution, the USN contracted for development and ultimate serial production of the Super Hornet in 1992 to which the U.S. Congress approved. First flight of a prototype was on November 29th, 1995 and serial production then followed in 1995 with testing ongoing into 1997. During that year, McDonnell Douglas and Boeing completed a merger which saw Boeing come out on top, with the McDonnell Douglas name held onto as a subsidiary. Therefore, the Boeing brand label is commonly associated with the Super Hornet product today. Service introduction of the F/A-18E/F formally began in 1999.

The F/A-18 Super Hornet today operates on U.S. Navy carriers alongside its original F/A-18 Hornet single-seat and two-seat forms - the A-4 Skyhawks, A-7 Corsairs, A-6 Intruders, F-4 Phantom IIs, and F-14 Tomcats are long-gone and, as a multirole fighter design, the Super Hornet fulfills their myriad of combat roles including all-weather day/night strike, fleet defense, air defense suppression, interception, reconnaissance, Close-Air Support (CAS), and precision strike. Additionally, the Super Hornet has gone on to replace special mission aircraft such as the S-3 Viking and EA-6B Prowler. The Super Hornet - like the Hornet before it - has appeared in two distinct forms - the F/A-18E variant is the single-seat model while the F/A-18F features a crew of two. The "Block II" initiative has added an Active, Electronically-Scanned Array (AESA) radar suite, helmet-mounted targeting, and a revised cockpit instrument panel to promote broader, more modern battlefield usefulness.

Currently there are only two operators of the Super Hornet - the United States Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Australian mounts entered service during 2010 and replaced the outgoing stock of Cold War-era General Dynamics F-111 "Aardvark" long-range strike fighters. To date (2014), approximately 500 Super Hornets have been produced for both parties though the production lines are set to be closed by Boeing sometime in 2014.

The Boeing EA-18G "Growler" series is a Super Hornet-related, special mission variant for the Electronic Warfare Aircraft (EWA) role. It is based on the F/A-18F two-seat model and entered service in 2009 as a successor to the four-seat Northrop Grumman EA-6B "Prowler" series, this based on the Vietnam War-era A-6 "Intruder" strike platform. The "Advanced Super Hornet" is another (Boeing) initiative to interest future Lockheed F-35 "Lightning II" customers in an advanced 4.5th Generation Fighter serving to bridge the gap between existing 4th generation types in service and the new - though delayed and costly - F-35. It remains in development as of 2014.

As finalized, the F/A-18E/F model is powered by 2 x General Electric F414-GE-400 series turbofans. This supplies up to 13,000lbf thrust each engine on dry and 22,000lbf thrust each engine with afterburner engaged. Maximum speed reaches Mach 1.8 (1,190mph) with ranges out to 1,275 nautical miles. Ferry range is 1,800 nautical miles with a combat radius nearing 390 nautical miles. The aircraft's service ceiling is around 50,000 feet and rate-of-climb is listed at 44,890 feet per minute.

Standard armament is a 20mm M61A2 Vulcan Gatling gun with 578 20mm projectiles carried for short-range work. The eleven hardpoints allow for a mixed ordnance carrying capability. The wingtip launches are typically reserved for 2 x AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range missiles. Six underwing hardpoints can carry missiles, bombs, rocket pods, and jettisonable fuel tanks as required. Three under-fuselage hardpoints are also available. Overall capability across all eleven hardpoints is 17,750lbs of external stores. The aircraft also supported the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile and the AGM-65 Maverick missile as well as the AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile and the AGM-88 HARM anti-radar missile. Precision-guided as well as conventional drop ordnance are both cleared. The Super Hornet carries the base original Hughes APG-73 radar kit or the more advanced Raytheon APG-79 (AESA) series radar suite. It is also outfitted with a BAe Systems Electronic CounterMeasures (ECM) system , Northrop Grumman jammer pod, ALR-67 Radar Warning Receiver (RWR), and can tow the ALE-50 or ALE-55 decoy for added defense.

To date, Super Hornets have been fielded over Iraq to secure the "No-Fly Zones" of the north and south prior to the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. The aircraft then returned to these skies to contribute as part of the 2003 invasion force flying air defense and strike missions. External fuel loads and delivery equipment allowed Super Hornets to refuel allied aircraft during the campaign as well. Their combat service then extended to ongoing actions over Afghanistan following the earlier 2001 U.S.-led invasion to root out Taliban forces. Since then, Super Hornets have been directly involved in air strikes against ISIS forces in Syrian and Iraq during the September-October 2014 campaign to slow their advance in the region. Australian Super Hornets have not been idle themselves - having been committed to anti-ISIS actions recently as well. As Australia lacks aircraft carriers, RAAF Super Hornets are land-based systems.

Program Updates

November 2016 - Canada is looking to the Super Hornet as an interim measure for its outgoing fleet of CF-18 fighters and its incoming fleet of Lockheed F-35 strike fighters to cover a growing capability gap.

November 2016: A deal for forty F/A-18E and F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft to Kuwait has been approved by the U.S. State Department.

February 2017 - Boeing is reviving a proposed F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III upgrade for sale to the United States Navy.

June 2017 - June 18th marked the first-ever air-kill for an F/A-18 Super Hornet platform, this being the downing of a Syrian Sukhoi Su-22 over Syria. The weapon is believed to have been either an AIM-9 Sidewinder or AIM-120 AMRAAM missile.

September 2017 - The United States State Department has green-lighted a sale of Super Hornets to Canada. This involves eighteen total aircraft of which ten make up F/A-18E models and the remaining eight are F/A-18F models. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) currently relies on the CF-18 Hornet based in the original F/A-18 Hornet carrier-based fighter. Some 77 CF-18s currently make up the RCAF fleet and are A- and B-model representations.

October 2017 - It was announced that the United States Navy has contracted with Boeing to upgrade its existing E- and F-model Super Hornet fleet to the new, improved IRST21 series sensor package. These will be fitted internally to the centerline fuel store and provide deeper radar "vision" and detection functionality for the 1990s-era naval fighter. Low-rate deliveries of test subjects are set to begin in 2019.

March 2018 - Boeing has announced a Super Hornet Block III initiative that will modernize the F/A-18 family line, making it capable of operating alongside 5th Generation types such as the F-35 Lightning II (carrierbased C-models). Key additions will include a specialized Low-Observable (LO) stealth coating to make the fighter less resistant to enemy radar networks, updated cockpit displays and avionics, an IRST sensor fit, conformal fuel tanks (improving range), and improved communications and processing systems. The proposal is somewhat in line with 2013's Advanced Super Hornet that was not picked up by the United States Navy. Initial procurement of the Next-Gen Super Hornet are expected to begin as soon as 2019 and deliveries are set to start in 2020 to which earlier F/A-18 model marks will be retired and scrapped. Some 110 new Super Hornets are being planned by the service. This will also involve modernizing current-gen Block II aircraft to the newer Block III standard.

April 2018 - It was announced that Super Hornet production will continue into 2025.

April 2018 - Boeing has received its first Super Hornet airframe as it readies for the series' Service Lift Modification.

December 2018 - Lockheed Martin has been contracted for development of an Infrared (IR) search-and-track system upgrade regarding the existing US F/A-18 E- and F-model Super Hornet fleet (as part of the "Block II" upgrade program).

February 2019 - The Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon are in the running to replace German Air Force PANAVIA Tornado fighter-bombers.

March 2019 - It was announced that Boeing was awarded a three-contract to upgrade seventy-eight E- and F-model Super Block II Hornets to the Block III standard to help extend their operational service lives.

August 2019 - The United States Navy is looking to improve performance from the their in-service EO/IR targeting pods serving with F/A-18E/F and EA-18G Super Hornet models. An option to completely replace the pods is also under consideration.

November 2019 - The Super Hornet (E- and F-models) have been announced as a contender for the Canadian fighter aircraft requirement - going head-to-head with the Lockheed Martin F-35A "Lightning II".

January 2020 - The United States Navy has flown F/A-18E/F models with upgraded InfraRed (IR) sensors based around the Lockheed Martin InfraRed Search & Track (IRST) pod under development. Its development is part of the F/A-18E/F Block III upgrade.

February 2020 - Three F/A-18 Super Hornets have been dispatched to potential customer Finland as the nation looks to succeed its aging fleet of F/A-18 Hornet multirole fighters with another Western type.


Active, In-Service
1 or 2
[ 615 Units ] :
Boeing Corporation / McDonnell Douglas - USA
National flag of Australia National flag of Canada National flag of Kuwait National flag of Qatar National flag of United States Australia; Canada (possible); Kuwait (announced); Qatar (announced); United States
- Fighter
- Interception
- Ground Attack
- Close-Air Support (CAS)
- Electronic Warfare (EW)
- Navy / Maritime
- Aerial Refueling
- Reconnaissance (RECCE)
60.07 ft (18.31 m)
44.69 ft (13.62 m)
16.01 ft (4.88 m)
(Showcased structural dimension values pertain to the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet production model)
Empty Weight:
30,565 lb (13,864 kg)
47,003 lb (21,320 kg)
(Diff: +16,438lb)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet production model)
2 x General Electric F414-GE-400 turbofan engines developing 22,000 lb of thrust with afterburner.
(Showcased powerplant information pertains to the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet production model)
Maximum Speed:
1,187 mph (1,911 kph; 1,032 kts)
Service Ceiling:
49,213 feet (15,000 m; 9.32 miles)
Maximum Range:
680 miles (1,095 km; 591 nm)
44,890 ft/min (13,682 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
1 x 20mm M61A1 "Vulcan" Gatling-style internal cannon.
2 x AIM-9 "Sidewinder" missiles on wingtip launchers.

Mission-specific ordnance limited up to 17,750lb may include any of the following:

AIM-9 "Sidewinder" air-to-air missiles.
AIM-120 AMRAAM - air-to-air missiles.
AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
AGM-88 HARM anti-radiation missiles.
SLAM-ER missiles.
AGM-65 "Maverick" air-to-surface missiles.
LAU Multiple Rocket Pods.
AGM-154 JSW (Joint Standoff Weapon) bombs.
Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) bombs.
B61 Nuclear Dumb Bomb.
Paveway Laser-Guided Bombs (LGB).
Mk 80 General Purpose Bombs.
Mk-20 "Rockeye II" Cluster Bombs.
Mk 20 CBU Cluster Bombs.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet production model)
F/A-18E "Super Hornet" - Single-seat improved Hornet model replacing Grumman F-14 Tomcat.
F/A-18F "Super Hornet" - Two-seat improved Hornet model replacing F-14 Tomcat.
EA-18F "Growler" - Electronic Warfare Model of the "Super Hornet" line replacing the Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowler.
F/A-18E/F "Advanced Super Hornet" - Proposed stealthy variant of 2013; conformal fuel tanks; centerline weapons pod; revised cockpit; initiative abandoned.
F/A-18 Next-Gen Super Hornet (Block III) - Advanced Super Hornet model to operate alongside F-35C USN aircraft; stealth coating; advanced cockpit with larger screens and improved interaction; more powerful data processor; conformal fuel tanks for improved range; IRST sensor; improved communications and inter-aircraft data processing; expected deliveries to begin in 2020.

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