USMC deploys legacy Hornets to Saudi Arabia

Boeing F/A-18C/D Hornets and personnel assigned to the US Marine Corps’ (USMC’s) Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 (VMFA-115) ‘Silver Eagles’ have deployed to Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB), Saudi Arabia, to support combat operations under US Central Command (USCENTCOM) and train alongside regional allies.

USMC F/A-18C/D Hornets fly over PSAB 23-12-21 (VMFA-115) [USAF/Senior Airman Jacob B Wrightsman]
A flight of three USMC-operated legacy Hornets - comprising two single-seat F/A-18Cs and one two-seat F/A-18D - from VMFA-115 'Silver Eagles' fly over Prince Sultan Air Base following their arrival in Saudi Arabia on December 23, 2021. USAF/Senior Airman Jacob B Wrightsman

VMFA-115 arrived at the Saudi base on December 23, 2021, bringing with it a full squadron’s worth of legacy F/A-18C/D Hornet multi-role fighters. Using PSAB as a strategic operating location, the unit will help US and coalition forces to “span the full range of combat effectiveness, while maximising regional capabilities in regard to mutual security concerns,” according to US Central Command (USCENTCOM).

This will likely be one of the (if not the) last deployment that the unit will conduct with the legacy Hornet, given that it is scheduled to transition to the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter in FY2023 – becoming the third USMC unit to adopt the new type.

Lt Col Tim Miller, the commander of VMFA-115, said: “Strategically from this location, we enhance the Combined Forces Air Component Commander’s flexibility and available assets to fluidly move around the theatre. We bring a long- and short-range strike and defensive counter-air capability that bolsters the credible combat power that we look to project in concert with our partners and allies to further stabilise this region.”

USMC F/A-18D Hornet at PSAB 23-12-21 (VMFA-115) [USAF/Senior Airman Jacob B Wrightsman]
A two-seat F/A-18D Hornet from VMFA-115 taxis by after arriving at Prince Sultan Air Base on December 23, 2021. A full squadron's worth of legacy Hornets has been deployed to USCENTCOM's area of responsibility to enhance regional security and conduct integrated training and operations with local partner and allied nations in the region. USAF/Senior Airman Jacob B Wrightsman

Since the ‘Silver Eagles’ arrived at PSAB in December, the unit has been fully immersed in the day-to-day operations at the Saudi base. It has also been building partnerships with local US Air Force (USAF) units and allied nations.

Miller continued: “From day one, interoperability has been outstanding, we’ve had the ability to fully integrate into combat operations. Our interoperability is everything, as a joint force and as a coalition. We are absolutely in sync with the joint forces here, as well as our partner and allied nations in theatre.

“Our presence here underscores the US’ desire to be an indispensable partner in the region. We are here to enhance the deterrence, enhance the training opportunities with our partner nations and, if required, we are 100% ready to fight,” he added.

USMC F/A-18C/D Hornets at PSAB 23-12-21 (VMFA-115) [USAF/Senior Airman Jacob B Wrightsman]
Several F/A-18C/D Hornets sit on the flightline at Prince Sultan Air Base after arriving in Saudi Arabia from Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Beaufort in South Carolina on December 23, 2021. Note that VMFA-115's special schemed F/A-18C (BuNo 165201 'VE-01') - which has the US national flag painted on both of its vertical stabilisers - is among the deployed aircraft, as seen here. USAF/Senior Airman Jacob B Wrightsman

The arrival of VMFA-115 in Saudi Arabia ultimately provides USCENTCOM forces with a significant asset that enhances the credible combat airpower in the region. Col Jason Smith, commander of the 378th Expeditionary Operations Group (EOG), said: “This sends a clear and unequivocal message to the region. Our resolve remains very strong about the peace and security of the Middle East. We are willing to defend it, if needed.

“We are a joint force through and through, we don’t do any major operations without our joint force. It’s imperative that we work together and train together because we will undoubtedly fight together,” he concluded.