is End near for the F/A-18 Super Hornet ?

In the first months of this year, the US Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornets, deployed from the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), carried out offensive air operations against Houthi sites in Yemen. This event underlined the Super Hornet’s combat capability. However, this aircraft model’s operating cycle is gradually approaching its twilight, although “gradually” is the keyword.

Boeing’s continuity at the forefront of manufacturing the multirole fighter aircraft for aircraft carriers suggests that production plans are still in progress despite the forecast to end production post-2027. Recently, Boeing signed a contract with the US Navy worth $1.3 billion to acquire 17 new Super Hornets, concluding months of negotiations over the cost of these twin-engine aircraft. However, the search for new buyers has not borne fruit.

Mark Sears, vice president of Boeing’s fighter division, commented in an interview with Breaking Defense that, after participating in several unsuccessful international tenders in recent years, talks for future F-18 contracts with the Navy are at a standstill.

Given this situation, Boeing will adjust the production rate from two units per month to one and a half, redirecting the personnel in charge of the Super Hornet production line in St.

Louis is moving towards other company projects, such as the F-15EX, the T-7A trainer, and the MQ-25 aerial refueling system. Despite the reduction in production rate, Sears anticipated an increase in personnel at these facilities, ruling out the possibility of layoffs once production of the F/A-18 Super Hornet was completed.

“The decline in production presents challenges as complex as those of its increase, especially in the aerospace manufacturing sector. We are aware of the challenges that await us in meeting the deliveries of these aircraft,” said Sears, evidencing Boeing’s preparation and adaptability in the face of changes on the horizon of its aeronautical production.

The Super Hornet Legacy: Beyond the End of Production

Is End near for the F/A-18 Super Hornet ?

The cessation of manufacturing of the F/A-18 Super Hornet does not mark the definitive end of the program. This aircraft, an advanced, larger and optimized version of the original F/A-18 Hornet, entered active service in 1999. Since then, it has remained a fundamental pillar of US Navy operations, serving as a key piece in his arsenal for over twenty-five years.

The latest Super Hornet models are expected to continue flying for decades to come. To maintain the relevance and effectiveness of the F/A-18 Super Hornets already in service, a significant upgrade of the existing fleet to the Block III version is planned. This modernization process is scheduled to end in 2030.

According to reports from the Naval Air System Command, delivery of the final 17 Block III aircraft is scheduled to begin in the winter of 2026 and conclude in the spring of 2027. This contract, valued at $1.3 billion, includes not only the aircraft but also a set of technical data essential for the maintenance and continued operation of the platform.

“The technical data set has been a crucial component in the negotiations; “It is critical to maintaining the operational readiness of our naval aviation and post-production sustainment,” explained Rear Admiral John Lemmon, senior tactical aircraft program officer, at the time of the agreement announcement.

“The Super Hornet remains a dominant element of our carrier air wing and will continue to provide an outstanding combat capability well into the 2040s.” With the approval of Congress, the US Navy has received specific funds to acquire this batch of F/A-18 Super Hornets Block III, representing an expanded and technologically advanced version of the F/A-18 Hornet multirole fighter-bomber capable of operations from aircraft carriers.

Evolution and specifications: The jump from the F/A-18 to the Super Hornet

Is End near for the F/A-18 Super Hornet ?
F/A-18 Super Hornet

The F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, the result of the merger between Boeing and McDonnell Douglas in 1997, represents a significant evolution with the production of two main variants: the single-seat F/A-18/E and the two-seat F/ A-18/F.

This technological advancement was introduced into service in 1999, taking over from the F-14 Tomcat and marking the second major evolution of the F/A-18 program, designed to master the full spectrum of air missions: from air supremacy and escort to reconnaissance, aerial refueling, close support, suppression of enemy defenses and precision attacks in day and night conditions.

The E and F models of the Super Hornet are twin-engine, medium-wing, high-performance, multi-mission tactical fighters intended to replace the F/A-18C and D variants as the latter reach the end of their operational life cycle. As a culmination of the development of the original F/A-18, the Super Hornets offer a 20% larger fuselage, allowing them to carry 33% more internal fuel.

F/A-18 Super Hornet: A 21st Century Force Multiplier

Is End near for the F/A-18 Super Hornet ?
F/A-18 Super Hornets and an EA-18G Growler operating from the USS Ronald Reagan in the South China Sea.

The Super Hornet’s performance as a multi-role attack aircraft has been enhanced by the integration of various external equipment, while its networking capabilities have allowed it to carry out highly specific missions. Acting as a “force multiplier”, its versatility has allowed it to face a wide range of operational challenges at sea.

In her hunter role, she has provided escort and air defense for the fleet against enemy air threats, and in attack mode, she has been instrumental in force projection, interdiction, and close and extended air support.

The F/A-18E/F continues to meet the Navy’s escort and interdiction needs, expanding its mission spectrum to include Forward Air Controller (Airborne) and aerial refueling, demonstrating its ability to replace the S-3 Viking as a tanker plane.

Significant improvements to the F/A-18E/F include an increase in range and adaptations for aircraft carrier operations, ensuring its critical role in confronting advanced 21st-century threats.

The introduction of the latest Block III upgrade, currently in testing and evaluation phases, promises to extend the useful life and operational range of the platform, incorporating an advanced cockpit, reduced radar cross-section and improved network infrastructure.

Boeing delivered two F/A-18 Block III Super Hornet units for testing to the US Navy in June 2020, with mass production planned following successful testing and an ongoing contract to supply 78 F/A aircraft. -18 Block III. The Navy’s Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron, which has operated the F/A-18 Hornet since 1986, began its transition to the Super Hornet in 2020, ushering in a new era for this iconic aerial demonstration team.