Super Hornets: Industry Support for the RAAF's Rhinos

The Commonwealth has allocated AS$2.5 billion over a period of 10 years to provide support and sustainment for the introduction of 24 F/A-18F Block II+ Super Hornets with the Royal Australian Air Force.

10th Feb 2010


Super Hornets: Industry Support for the RAAF's Rhinos

The Commonwealth has allocated AS$2.5 billion over a period of 10 years to provide support and sustainment for the introduction of 24 F/A-18F Block II+ Super Hornets with the Royal Australian Air Force.

The first four of these Super Hornets for the RAAF are expected to arrive on the 26th March this year - thereby introducing a new era of fast jet air defence within Australia. Over 400 Super Hornets have been built with the United States Navy being the largest operator of this type. The operation of the Super Hornet is expected to bridge any emerging technological gap between the RAAF’s Classic F/A-18A/B HUG Hornets, the pending retirement of the F-111C and bridge any capability gap until the arrival of the F-35A Lightning II.

The Super Hornet is to be home based at RAAF Base Amberley which is located South West of Brisbane, Queensland. RAAF Amberley is the largest operating airbase in Australia and is the present home of the soon to be retired F-111C. Many F-111 crews will transfer and become operators of the duel seat 4.5 generation F/A-18F.

With a strength of two squadrons, the 24 Super Hornets like any top end combat fast jet requires substantial support not only for their airframes yet also for their wide variety of systems, sensors and weapons. Whilst Australia has extensive experience operating the F/A-18 A/B Classic the F model Super Hornet is a very different aircraft at approximately 20% larger and with 42% less structural components, new engine and radar type. In addition stealth or low observability has also been incorporated into the design - amongst other significant leaps in technology. The introduction of this modern aircraft type means that a wide range of new and emerging technologies are required to be established and existing enhanced to support to sustain and maintain the Super Hornet.

Boeing, the original equipment producer of the Super Hornet, is set to provide sustainment support at RAAF Base Amberley. The company, which already supports the F-111C at Amberley, will integrate local expertise with experiences gained with supporting the United States Navy Super Hornet fleet. Boeing’s local subsidiary, Boeing Defence Australia will provide the engineering, logistics and intermediate level maintenance capabilities, integrated with the US Navy’s support systems, to the Super Hornet fleet under contract. Prior to the arrival of the first aircraft, Boeing Defence assisted with establishing support for a range of tasks such as Information Technology, field service tasks and installation assistance.

Boeing Defence Australia

Boeing Defence Australia will have a team of approximately 74 employees working on the Super Hornet support contract. The contract has been let for an initial three year period.

Maintenance and management of the Super Hornets is expected to be a combination of both RAAF and contractors. Operational Level Maintenance will be carried out by RAAF technicians whilst the deeper levels of maintenance will be performed by contractors. Engineering authority, operational level maintenance and flight training will be retained within Defence. Boeing US has an contract with the US Navy to support the Super Hornet known as F/A-18 Integrated Readiness Support Team (FIRST) which has been modified to meet Australian requirements. The Australian contract is valued at approximately AS$20 million per annum for Boeing Defence Australia.

Defence is working towards completing approximately AS$117 million of facilities works at RAAF Base Amberley to prepare for the arrival of the Super Hornet. During 2009, an initial cadre of RAAF aircrew and maintenance crew completed

Super Hornet training with the United States Navy at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California.

TAE

Having a wealth of experience supporting the RAAF with a well-established facility responsible for providing maintenance and support for the F-111C General Electric TF30-P-109 engine, they are well placed to continue this with the Super Hornet. Each Super Hornet is equipped with two very modern and efficient General Electric F414-GE-400 engines of which the Commonwealth has purchased 54 - of which 48 are installed in aircraft and six are spares.

In December 2008, TAE signed a 10 year contract with GE, the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) of the F414 engine that powers the aircraft. GE has been contracted as the Prime by Defence Material Organisation and TAE has been sub-contracted to provide Deeper Maintenance, Engineering and Logistics to support both the Super and Classic (F404) Hornet fleets of engines. It has previously provided support for the F-111 TF30-P-109 engines

The particular roles and responsibilities that have been awarded as support contracts for TAE include Engineering services, Logistics (Warehousing) and Deeper Maintenance for F414 engines at RAAF Amberley. GE has provided initial F414-type technical training to TAE Engineering and Technician staff and TAE is currently working with Defence and GE for provision of specialist technical F414-type training in the USA for identified TAE technicians.

The F404/F414 engine contract is for Contractor only support; however both TAE and GE are very supportive of embedded RAAF technical staff if the need arises. There are expected to be RAAF junior Engineering Officers embedded within TAE at RAAF Amberley. Additionally, GE has Field Service Engineers embedded within TAE to assist with technical matters including technical support to RAAF to ensure specific information and experience is passed on.

A joint effort by both TAE and GE has been undertaken to ensure that enough technical expertise is in place, both within our own staffs but also within the RAAF operational squadrons to support the Super Hornet. TAE have approximately 110 staff supporting the Classic and Super Hornet engine fleets.

Raytheon

Raytheon have provided the APG-79 Active Electronic Scanned Array (AESA) radar, Infra Red Jammer and a number of missiles for the RAAF Super Hornet.

This includes the AIM-120 AMRAAM active radar guided missiles, AIM-7 Sparrow radar guided long range missile, AIM-9X Sidewider infra red seeking missile, Harpoon anti ship missile, AIM-120-C7 and AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapons (JSOWS). Support for these systems will be progressively refined as the RAAF gains greater operational experience and knowledge of these different items of hardware and software. However, this support is subject to a number of International Traffic In Arms Regulations (ITARs) constraints.

The Super Hornet is provided with a robust radar system, mixture of weapons and supported training aides as largely provided by Raytheon. At the time of writing the Commonwealth and Raytheon are still in the process of negotiating contracts terms and conditions to specify roles and responsibilities. This is furthermore combined with the delicate nature of disclosure relating to capability and the air superiority edge provided by many of the systems found on the Super Hornet and the necessary requirement to be discreet. Defence is also in the process of negotiating a contract with Raytheon Australia for training device maintenance and provision of aircrew instruction services.

Half of the 24 Super Hornets ordered for the RAAF will be pre-wired for possible later conversion to EF-18G Growler electronic warfare or jamming and suppression configuration. This possible future role for the Super Hornets provides another layer of lethality for the RAAF, which in turn will require additional training and support when or if this capability is fully embraced.

The Growler will provide electronic standoff and escort jamming known as Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD). Current design sees the electronics stored on a pallet system where the M61 20mm cannon would usually be and in two small wingtip pods. This is a minimal conversion of the aircraft, which still retains 9 weapons stations and basically continually operates in the same manner as a Super Hornet with the exception of the Airborne Electronic Attack role.

There is little doubt that the introduction of the Super Hornet will provide modern, state of the art interoperability with Allied and Coalition forces, and address many concerns relating to regional proliferation of modern and sophisticated fast jet aircraft as well as air defence systems.

Whilst a new phase for our nation’s air defence is set to commence the first wheels down on the runway at RAAF Base Amberley does not mean that Australia has an effective capability. All things going a solid and well-developed capability is expected to be achieved by December 2012. The reality is that the arrival of the first Super Hornets is another milestone achieved towards obtaining a modern and effective deterrent, and force multiplier. The next stages will include the further development of Australian specific tactics, the establishment of seamless rigor in training and support. Overall, this capability cannot be achieved without the fundamentals of support and training as provided by local industry as well as international assistance.

The first Lightening II is expected to be delivered around 2014 with an envisaged fleet of at least 72 aircraft to replace Classic and eventually the Super Hornet as well. The skills acquired, technologies transferred and the sustainment of local industry occurring now with the support of the 24 RAAF F/A-18F Block II+ Super Hornet is timely in already preparing for future introduction of the 5th generation F-35 for the RAAF of the future.
 

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