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F/A-18E/F "Super Hornet" Deployment

The Navy planned to procure a minimum of 460 Super Hornets. As part of the Quadrennial Defence Review (QDR) production of the Super Hornet was cut from 1000 to 548 units. Production of the aircraft commenced in FY 1997, at which time it was expected to attain initial operational capability (IOC) in FY 2001. Twelve aircraft were funded in FY 1997; procurement numbers increase to 20 in FY 1998, 30 in FY 1999, and reach a final maximum rate of 48 per year in FY 2001. These numbers could vary depending on the progress of the Joint Strike Fighter Program.

As of mid-2002 the Navy had a contract for 222 F/A-18s, of which about 100 had been delivered under a $8.9 billion contract. The Marine Corps, which also flies Hornets, decided not to buy the Super Hornet. As of late March 2002 the Pentagon was reviewing a proposal to cut JSF production by 400 aircraft and limit the Navy's F/A-18E/F acquisition to 460 aircraft versus 548. The JSF reductions would be split about equally between the Marine Corps STOVL and the Navy's carrier versions.

In fiscal year 2002 the Department of the Navy announced a new Tactical Aviation Integration Plan, whereby the Navy and Marine Corps concluded that they would be able to achieve their missions with fewer aircraft and units by operating as a combined force. The Plan reduced the total number of aircraft they plan to buy from 1,637 to 1,140 -- 88 fewer F/A-18E/F [from 548 to 460] and 409 fewer Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.

The Navy's first F/A-18E Super Hornet fleet squadron at Naval Air Station (NAS) Lemoore, CA, received its "safe for flight" certification in June 2001. This certification meant that Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 115, the "Eagles," was ready to train as an operational squadron in preparation for the Navy's first operational deployment of Super Hornets in the summer of 2002 with the USS Abraham Lincoln battle group and Carrier Air Wing 14. The squadron successfully completed a comprehensive series of inspections and reviews of its training, maintenance and safety programs. With an inventory of six aircraft, a full compliment of pilots and a complete administrative structure, VFA-115 was capable of operating autonomously. The first operational cruise of Super Hornet, F/A-18 E, was with VFA-115 onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) on July 24, 2002, and saw initial combat action on Nov. 6, 2002, when they participated in a strike on hostile targets in the "no-fly" zone in Iraq. In response to hostile acts against coalition aircraft monitoring the southern no-fly zone, Operation Southern Watch aircraft, including the Super Hornets from the Abraham Lincoln, used precision-guided weapons to target two surface-to-air missile systems (SAM), and a command and control communications facility. VFA 115 embarked aboard Lincoln expended twice the amount of bombs as other squadrons in their airwing (with 100 % accuracy) and met and exceeded all readiness requirements while on deployment. The Super Hornet cost per flight hour is 40% of the F-14 Tomcat and requires 75% less labor hours per flight hour.

In August 2002, the Navy issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for public comment on the introduction of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet strike-fighter to bases on the East Coast. The DEIS evaluated the environmental consequences for the proposal to provide facilities and functions to support the home basing and operation of 10 Super Hornet fleet squadrons (130 aircraft) and one Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) (32 aircraft) on the East Coast of the United States.

The preferred alternatives for basing combinations were: 1) Either six fleet squadrons and the Super Hornet FRS at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana, and four squadrons at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point, or 2) Eight squadrons and the Super Hornet FRS at NAS Oceana, and two squadrons at MCAS Cherry Point. Additionally, the Navy was proposing to build an outlying landing field (OLF) either in Craven County or Washington County, NC.

In July 2003 Atlantic Fleet Commander, Adm. Robert J. Natter recommended the Secretary of the Navy base eight Super Hornet squadrons (96 aircraft) and one Fleet Replacement Squadron (24 aircraft) at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va., and two squadrons (24 aircraft) at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina. The second preferred alternative recommends basing six squadrons at NAS Oceana and four at MCAS Cherry Point. Both alternatives recommend construction of an Outlying Landing Field (OLF) in Washington County, NC, for use in practicing aircraft carrier landings.

Introduction of the F/A-18 E/F aircraft on the East Coast of the United States was initially projected began in 2004 for completion by 2008. In fact, the transition from the F-14 Tomcat to Super Hornet reached the halfway point in 2004 and the process was completed in 2006. To minimize the impact on the operational mission, older model F/A-18 and F-14 squadrons transitioned to an F/A-18 E/F squadron upon return from deployment. Typically, aircraft squadrons deployed to a carrier for approximately 6 months through the year. When the squadrons are not deployed, they are stationed at their home airfield, and perform a sequence of training exercises to prepare for carrier deployment. Each aircraft squadron rotates through this training and deployment cycle, which would allow for full introduction of the F/A-18 E/F aircraft over a four-year period.

In 2005 CVW-5 added a second squadron of Super Hornets in Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 27. The VFA-27 "Royal Maces" replaced their older C and D model Hornets with the new one-seat Super Hornet E model this winter to increase the air wing's complement of Super Hornets that were introduced last year by the VFA-102 "Diamondbacks." VFA-102 flies the two-seat Super Hornet F model.

The Naval Air Sysytems Command (NAVAIR) F/A-18 Program signed a second multi-year procurement contract for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and a contract for system design and development (SD&D) of the EA-18G airborne electronic attack aircraft with the Boeing Company 29 December 2003. The multi-year contract, valued at approximately $8.5 billion, includes a total of 210 aircraft over five years. Under the terms of the contract, the Navy will purchase 42 aircraft in fiscal years 2005 through 2009. Deliveries for aircraft purchased will begin in fiscal year 2007. By signing a multi-year contract, the Navy will save more than $1.1 billion, and deliver cost-wise readiness and dominant maritime combat ability to the U.S. Naval Fleet.

By the end of 2010, 10 F/A-18E/F squadrons -- five F/A-18 E squadrons and five F/A-18 F squadrons -- were to operate on aircraft carriers in the Atlantic Fleet area of responsibility. Each squadron will consist of 12 or 14 aircraft, depending on whether the squadron comprises the single-seat version (F/A-18E) or the two-seat version (F/A-18F). In addition, the Navy will introduce one Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS), which does not deploy but is used to train replacement aircrew for the fleet squadrons. The F/A-18E/F FRS squadron will consist of 32 aircraft. The net result of the transition will be a decrease in the number of personnel and fighter aircraft assigned to the Atlantic Fleet.

By 2009 the oldest Super Hornets had logged 3200 to 3800 flight hours, and Navy officials hope to extend that to 9000 hours. The Navy twice has extended the life of the F/A-18 fighter jets to a maximum of 10,000 hours of service to help bridge the gap until the Joint Strike Fighter comes online.

In June 2009 the House Armed Services Committee supported procurement of additional F/A-18E/F aircraft to mitigate the naval strike-fighter inventory shortfall and believed that procurement of additional F/A-18E/F aircraft through a multi-year procurement contract is more cost effective and prudent than procuring new aircraft through an annual contract or applying $25.6 million of additional fiscal resources per aircraft to extend the service life of the F/A-18A through D fleet. Therefore, the committee included a provision in title I of this Act that would authorize the Secretary of the Navy to enter into a multi-year procurement contract for the purchase of additional F/A-18E/F and EA-18G aircraft and also included a provision in title X of this Act that expressed a sense of Congress that the Department of the Navy should maintain no less than ten carrier air wings with no less than 44 strike-fighters each. Additionally, the committee directed the Director of the Congressional Budget Office to submit a report to the congressional defense committees by February 2, 2010, that evaluates the operational effectiveness and costs of extending and modernizing the service-life of F/A-18A through D aircraft to 10,000 flight hours versus procuring, either through an annual or multi-year procurement contract, additional F/A-18E/F aircraft beyond the current program of record.



Aircraft Type

Number of Aircraft

F/A-18 E


F/A-18 F


F/A-18 E/F FRS






Aircraft Type

Number of Aircraft

F/A-18 C






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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:30:43 ZULU