The decision to buy 12 more Super Hornets (in this case EA-18G ‘Growler’ electronic warfare models) which was announced today essentially consolidates the initial decision made in 2006 by the Howard Government. And it’s been made for much the same reason—the schedule slippages we’ve seen in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program have meant that the RAAF was facing a decade of reliance on increasingly aged ‘classic’ Hornets. I wrote on The Strategist in October last year that ‘logic of the situation is increasingly pointing to a further Super-hornet buy’. Simply put, buying more Super Hornets retires much of the risk associated with relying on 1980s jets to form the bulk of our air combat capability. And buying Growlers off the production line rather than taking half of the existing 24 off line for conversion means that the RAAF will have their most capable aircraft continuously available.
The downside to this decision is that the RAAF will be operating a mixed fleet of Super Hornets and F-35s for the entire 2020s, with the operating cost hit of two sets of fixed costs. That will be offset to some extent by a reduced buy of F-35s—now 72 rather than the 100 that had been pencilled in. The overall capability in the late 2020s will probably be less than might have been the case had we persevered with the full transition to the F-35, but the capability between now and the mid 2020s will be higher. And future governments can always revisit the air combat fleet size and composition if circumstances demand it.
Andrew Davies is senior analyst for defence capability at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist. Image courtesy of Department of Defence.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly designated the Growler aircraft EF-18G.