March 18, 2013
Credit: U.S. Navy
Bradley Perrett Melbourne, Australia
Is an electronic attack aircraft a combat aircraft? Not according to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), which is classifying its forthcoming squadron of Boeing EA-18G Growlers as a support force distinct from its air combat units.
Its move is raising the possibility that the 12 electronic attack aircraft will add to its fast-jet fleet instead of substituting for part of it—although the move may not persuade the government to pay for more fast jets than it has planned.
The defense department, assessing the possibility of buying a second batch of 24 Boeing Super Hornets, is considering the type in all three of its versions, says a spokeswoman: the F/A-18E single-seater, F/A-18F two-seater and the EA-18G two-seat electronic attack configuration. A senior air force officer says -Es are unlikely to be acquired, however.
The U.S. Joint Strike Fighter Program Office, meanwhile, is assuring Australia that it can rely on achieving initial operational capability with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning in 2020. That implies that more Super Hornets will not be needed.
The F-35 software set due for delivery to Australia and other non-U.S. buyers will by 2020 have been in service for five years with the U.S. Marine Corps, project chief Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan said at the Australian International Airshow near here late last month. So Australia should not have great concerns.
The country wants to introduce F-35s into service in 2018, says Lockheed Martin F-35 executive Stephen O'Bryan, adding that by then 400 of the aircraft should have been delivered. The Australian authorities must still worry that F-35 deliveries will not occur in time to replace 71 F/A-18A/B Hornets that will run out of life around 2020.
Canberra last decade adopted a plan to order about 100 fighters to replace the Hornets and two squadrons of F-111 strike bombers that were usually kept at an operational strength of 24, but were retired in 2010. Until last year, all 100 new aircraft were supposed to be F-35s; 24 Super Hornets ordered as stop-gap F-111 replacements in 2007 had been earmarked for replacement by the last batch of F-35s.