29 Agustus 2012

Super Hornet Set to Serve for Decades

29 Agustus 2012

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet (photo : Aus DoD)

SUPER Hornet aircraft are likely to serve the RAAF for decades, rather than providing an interim capability, a leading defence analyst says.

Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) budget program director Mark Thomson says the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets will provide the RAAF with combat capability from the retirement of the F-111 until the arrival of the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

On Friday, Defence Minister Stephen Smith said 12 of the 24 Super Hornets would be equipped as Growlers, giving the RAAF a very advanced electronic warfare capability of a kind the US only fielded in 2009.

Dr Thomson says on top of the $1.5 billion price tag, the RAAF will face ongoing and substantial ownership costs.

"More importantly, by taking the Growler option the government has dispensed with the fiction that the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets are only an interim fix pending the arrival of the F-35," he said in ASPI's The Strategist blog.

Dr Thomson says, assuming the JSF purchase goes ahead, the RAAF will be operating two fleets of combat aircraft for the next couple of decades, having to spend twice as much on the fixed cost of fleet operations.

He says the RAAF must be worried, as long-term plans to buy up to 100 JSF aircraft must be in jeopardy.

"The most optimistic outcome is that long-term additional cost of operating two fleets will be funded by purchasing fewer F-35 aircraft," he said.

"Say goodbye to 100 aircraft."

More worrying still is the prospect someone will crunch the numbers and come up with the obvious alternative - cancel JSF entirely and use the substantial savings for an all-Super Hornet fleet, he said.

"Sure, the F/A-18E/F does not have the technical performance (promised) by the F-35, but it's good enough for the US Navy to be taking new deliveries at the moment," he said.

"Moreover, a larger fleet of slightly less capable aircraft would be better to have in many circumstances."

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