Australia to sell Hornets to aggressor contractor

The Australian government has announced that it will sell up to 46 of its retired legacy F/A-18A/B Hornets to ‘Red Air’ combat training company, Air USA.

The announcement was made by the Australian Department of Defence (DOD) on March 5, adding that personnel at RAAF Base Williamtown, New South Wales, will service and prepare the aircraft before they are transferred to Air USA over the next three to four years. 

RAAF F/A-18A [Commonweath of Australia, Department of Defence/CPL Craig Barrett] #1
RAAF F/A-18A Hornet - serial A21-16 (c/n 368/AF16) - in flight. This aircraft sported a special tail scheme to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of No 2 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), based at RAAF Base Williamtown. Commonweath of Australia, Department of Defence/CPL Craig Barrett

Hon Melissa Price MP, Australia’s Minister for Defence Industry, said: “The work to prepare these aircraft and components for sale will provide 24 direct industry jobs while [the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)] transitions from the ‘ lassic' Hornet to the F-35. This highlights the strong performance of the region's defence industry in servicing and maintaining the classic Hornets over the past 30 years.”

 “Apart from the jobs supported by the work at RAAF Base Williamtown, more defence industry jobs are expected to be created across Australia through repair and overhaul work on aircraft servicing components," Price added.

Air USA – based from Quincy, Illinois – is one of six ‘Red Air’ companies that will provide dissimilar air combat training (DACT) to the US Air Force (USAF) through a US$6.4bn contract awarded by the service in October 2019. Employing up to 46 Hornets will increase Air USA’s capability to provide this training to USAF pilots, along with augmenting its already established fleet of Aero Vodochody L-59 Super Albatros, BAE Systems Hawks, and Dassault-Breguet-Dornier Alpha Jets. The Hornets will provide high-end training in DACT, being a born and bred fighter and a big step up in performance over the L-59, Hawk and Alpha Jet.

F/A-18A/B Hornet [Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence/CPL Jessica de Rouw] #1
A pair of RAAF legacy Hornets take to the air at the Australian International Airshow, held at Avalon Airport, Victoria, in 2019. Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence/CPL Jessica de Rouw

The RAAF’s legacy Hornet fleet is currently being phased out as Australia takes delivery of its F-35A Lightning II multirole stealth fighters. The air arm has taken ownership of 20 F-35s from a total order of 72.

As of March 2020, the RAAF has 24 single-seat F/A-18A Hornets and four two-seat F/A-18Bs in service. The nation also has a total of 40 Hornets in storage – comprising of 28 F/A-18As and 12 F/A-18Bs. In total, the RAAF operated 57 F/A-18As and 18 F/A-18Bs since it entered service in 1984. Australia plans to have fully withdrawn the legacy Hornet from operational service by 2022.

The RAAF is also transferring 25 Hornets to Canada to augment the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)’s fleet of CF-188A/Bs. The deal was agreed in 2017 and the first two were delivered in February 2019.