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Thread: There is nothing super about this Hornet

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    There is nothing super about this Hornet

    Peter Criss
    March 15, 2007


    The recent announcement by the Defence Minister, Brendan Nelson, that Australia will spend $6 billion to buy 24 Block II Super Hornets to fill a perceived, or self-generated, capability gap raises more questions than it answers.

    How was such a decision reached when the Department of Defence is adamant that it did not ask for, or recommend, the aircraft? If the department did not provide the critical operational and engineering evaluations to underpin and justify such a significant impulsive buy, who did? Moreover, will the Super Hornet be capable of filling the role of the aircraft it replaces? And the final question is: at what cost, in human resources and national engineering capability terms, does this "interim, gap-filling" aircraft come?

    While some of those questions can be answered fully only by the minister and his closest civilian advisers, others can be answered using unclassified information. One need go no further than a statement made by Philip Coyle, the former director of operational test and evaluation at the Pentagon, when giving evidence before a subcommittee of the US Senate Armed Services Committee on March 22, 2000.

    The report is damning of the Super Hornet in areas critical to Australia's operational requirements, while praising it for its improved aircraft carrier capabilities when compared to the original Hornet - something not high on our list of essential criteria.

    Three sentences on page eight of the report say it all: "The consequences of low specific excess power in comparison to the threat are poor climb rates, poor sustained turn capability, and a low maximum speed. Of greatest tactical significance is the lower maximum speed of the F/A-18E/F since this precludes the ability to avoid or disengage from aerial combat. In this regard, the F/A-18E/F is only marginally inferior to the F/A-18C/D, whose specific excess power is also considerably inferior to that of the primary threat, the MiG-29."

    Forget about the new Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker family of Russian fighters proliferating across the region: all Hornet variants are acknowledged in the report as being no match for even the older MiG-29s. Space precludes quoting the report's comments on the multitude of other areas where the Super Hornet is inferior to the 1970s-designed and 1980s-built original F/A-18 aircraft. Admittedly the Block II Super Hornet has a new radar and some electronic components not in the version Coyle gave evidence on, but the fundamental airframe and performance remain unaltered: it is heavier, slower, larger and uglier (its radar signature did not measure up to expectations) than the normal Hornet.

    There is nothing super about this Hornet; perhaps "Super Bug" is a better descriptor. Evidently the underwing aero-acoustic environment and resulting vibrations are so violent that some weapons are being damaged in transit to the target on a single flight - dumb bombs are fine in that environment but not long-range missiles containing sophisticated and relatively delicate components.

    As for its gap-filling ability, the first question is whether there is a gap at all. The high-speed, low-level catastrophic failure that Nelson predicts the F-111 is going to suffer in the near future is laudable only if true.

    Perhaps the minister or one of his minders can explain why the F-111 wing being tested at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation has passed 30,000 hours of fatigue testing without failure. The F-111 fleet averages about 6500 hours after some 33 years in service. Is this "justification spin" more about being "worried about what it is that we do not know", as a parliamentary committee was told recently by a senior air force officer, rather than sound reasoning based on professional engineering advice from experienced structural specialists?

    My fear is the former. Certainly, with the Super Hornet carrying half of some of the weapons, half the distance, at half the speed of the aircraft it is replacing, one has to hope and pray that the minister has not been misled. Worse still, we must wonder whether he has gone off prematurely without ensuring the rigorous engineering and operational evaluation process that is so essential to justifying spending $6 billion has been scrupulously followed and all options carefully and fairly evaluated.

    The old saying that a person who shoots from the hip is bound to blow off some toes rings in my ears. Presumably ministerial staff have procured a wheelchair as a part of their contingency planning - purely for "gap-filling" reasons, of course.

    Peter Criss is a retired RAAF air vice-marshal, former air commander of Australia and one of Australia's most experienced fighter/strike pilots
    .

    any comments?

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    How long can the RAAF get spares for the F-111? How up to date is thier ecm nowadays, maintence hours vs flight hours etc. Even if the airframe is good, is everythign else up to par? There might indeed be a gap.

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    Isn’t there a post on this very forum that shows that the RAAF is being killed by the cost per hour on the F-111 due to the sky rocketing cost of spares?

    Still if the points about the range of the Hornet are true, that is rather a problem. The RAAF should just buy some typhoons off the RAF and have done with it.

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    very true Varsity - im sure we could sell them 24 eurofighters and deliver them sharpish.
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    Hi,

    I am a bit surprised about this story on the poor performance of the SuperHornet. I must admit I am not an aviation expert at all, however I have spent some spare time reading about different aircraft, and I had the impression that the SH was considered a very good a/c, with good avionics and radar, low RCS (considering that it's a 4.gen and not a VLO a/c like F-22 or F-35) and capable of carrying a decent payload at acceptable ranges.

    I thought that the somewhat lesser agility and speed compared to other a/c would be more than compensated for by improved radar, reduced rcs, better avionics and better a2a missiles?

    Or did I miss something?

    L

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    Senior Contributor Stitch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Loke View Post
    Hi,

    I am a bit surprised about this story on the poor performance of the SuperHornet. I must admit I am not an aviation expert at all, however I have spent some spare time reading about different aircraft, and I had the impression that the SH was considered a very good a/c, with good avionics and radar, low RCS (considering that it's a 4.gen and not a VLO a/c like F-22 or F-35) and capable of carrying a decent payload at acceptable ranges.

    I thought that the somewhat lesser agility and speed compared to other a/c would be more than compensated for by improved radar, reduced rcs, better avionics and better a2a missiles?

    Or did I miss something?

    L
    Loke, I think your assessment is accurate; I think this is another example of US-bashing, which seems to be the favorite international sport these days.
    "There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. Remember Scrooge, time is short, and suddenly, you're not there any more." -Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge

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    It's by Peter Criss. That should tell you about the veracity of his reports. He has an ax to grind. He was the one that wanted Su-30 Flankers but was shot down and he's been after it ever since.

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    An interesting viewpoint. I can understand his argument though...the F/A-18E/F is not really a replacement for the F-111. If they truly wanted to replace those birds and the mission profile they serve, they might have bought F-15E's or the Su-34.

    If the Super Hornet is not going to be fulfilling the same profile as the F-111's, then what's the point? To have a reduced capability or changed mission profile, or to add on to the more general fighter/strike capabilities of their current F/A-18 force? I guess they have to decide if the F-111's mission is worth keeping or changing, and what capabilities they want their fighter force to have as a whole.

    As for the Super Hornet, I think it is a damn fine plane. Yah fair enough it's not the fastest fighter, not the longest ranged fighter, and doesn't carry to biggest warload. But the range and payload are greatly increased over the Hornet, which are arguably its two biggest weaknesses. On the plus side, it's apparently a maintainers dream, and it's got some of the best avionics/radar equipment going. I agree with the point about the SH's speed, but not the manoeuvrability. I've seen the SH many times, and I would argue it's probably the most manoeuvrable plane coming out of the 'teen' series. It can 'point its nose' like nothing else I've ever seen (haven't seen the F-22A, EF-2000, or any Russian fighters).

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    The original Hornet has longer range and better manueverability than the Super Hornet.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stitch View Post
    Loke, I think your assessment is accurate; I think this is another example of US-bashing, which seems to be the favorite international sport these days.
    You are quite at liberty to see it that way if you want to. My take is different. The man who commanded the Royal Australian Air Force deserves at the least to be listened to. He was one of their most experienced strike fighter pilots and he was in the position where he could judge what equipment was needed to fulfil the tasks likely to be undertaken by his force.
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  11. #11
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    Senior Contributor JA Boomer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Blademaster View Post
    The original Hornet has longer range than the Super Hornet.
    That's quite frankly untrue.

    As for the manueverability, it depends what your talking about, I've seen the Super Hornet do things the Hornet can not. But being smaller and lighter, the Hornet can probably turn faster and tighter.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JA Boomer View Post
    That's quite frankly untrue.

    As for the manueverability, it depends what your talking about, I've seen the Super Hornet do things the Hornet can not. But being smaller and lighter, the Hornet can probably turn faster and tighter.
    From what I've read, the Hornet does have an advantage in ferry range of a couple hundred miles. But combat radius is another game entirely.

    Regarding maneuverability I will for the nth time quote wabpilot:
    Quote Originally Posted by wabpilot View Post
    The F-18A-D are vastly more maneuverable than their contemporary opponents making WVR engagements usually a lopsided affair. The F-18E/F continues that superiority, yielding only to the F-22 and being comparable to the Rafale, Typhoon and Grippen.
    Last edited by ArmchairGeneral; 15 Aug 08, at 21:47.
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    Senior Contributor JA Boomer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ArmchairGeneral View Post
    From what I've read, the Hornet does have an advantage in ferry range of a couple hundred miles. But combat radius is another game entirely.
    Really? I'm very surprised by this. The SH has larger engines (which I assume use more fuel) and is bigger/heavier, but I would have thought the significant increase in internal fuel capacity would give it further range than the Hornet in almost any conditions (including ferry).

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    Should range be high up as a debate issue for any aircraft capable of air-to-air refueling?
    Last edited by GAU-8; 16 Aug 08, at 04:54.

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