Monday, June 6, 2016

RCAF Super Hornets - Difference between CF-18 and F/A-18 Super Hornet

With today's announcement that the Liberal Government will purchase an undisclosed number of Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets as an interim replacement to Canada's CF-18 Hornet fleet; there have been a number of questions as to the differences between Canada's current Hornet's versus the new proposed "Super Hornets."

The Royal Canadian Air Force's current fleet of CF-18s were adapted from the American McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18 A/B variant.  In 1977, the Canadian government identified the need to replace the NATO-assigned CF-104 Starfighter, the NORAD-assigned CF-101 Voodoo and the CF-116 Freedom Fighter (also known as the CF-5).  The Canadian government originally purchased 138 CF-18s that were almost identical to the American F/A-18s with a few exceptions. The undercarriage of the CF-18s were painted with a false canopy - something the US Marines later adapted. 

The CF-18s were originally produced between 1982 and 1988. Of the original 138 purchased, the RCAF has 77 remaining. As of January 2016 - each CF-18 has flown close to 6,000 hours. The earliest models of the fleet are approaching 40 years of age; and with life-extension plans to keep them flying until 2025; the entire fleet will be older than 40. 

Boeing took over McDonnell-Douglas and developed the F/A-18 into the F/A18 E/F Super Hornet. The aircraft took its maiden flight in 1995, and went into service in 1999. While the two aircraft appear remarkably similar; it is actually a completely new air-frame - despite having 90% of its avionics in common with its older siblings.

The Super Hornet has 25% larger wings; is capable of carrying 33% more fuel; has 41% longer mission range; 35% more thrust; and 50% more endurance. The Super Hornet also has the ability to carry a heavier back-load; which increases the ordinance available. 

While the Super Hornet is obviously a larger aircraft that the CF-18 Hornet; its radar cross section is actually smaller - but it is still not "Stealth."
Simple scale version of the F/A-18 C/D (also based on the A/B which the CF-18s are modeled on) versus the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet
The purchase of Super Hornets as an interim replacement is not a new idea. The Royal Australian Air Force purchased 24 Super Hornet's as a stop-gap measure until the F-35 Lighting is delivered; and so they can begin retiring some of their aging F-18's. The RAAF also purchased 12 EA-18 Growler aircraft ( a ground attack variant of the Super Hornet). The US Marines also ordered more Super Hornets while they wait for the F-35.

Here is a thought:  If Canada intends on future deployments of CF-18s against ground insurgencies (Kosovo, Iraq (1999), Libya, and Iraq (2014/16) perhaps a purchase of EA-18's should also be considered. This would mean fewer fighters could be purchased in any future purchase; and Canada could easily maintain a medium fleet of ground attack aircraft and a medium fleet of fighter aircraft instead of one large fleet of multi-role aircraft.