After a six-year evaluation period, on October 20, 1981, the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) announced that they had selected the F-18 Hornet as the replacement for the Dassault Mirage IIIO. The Hornet was selected over its rival, the F-16, by virtue of its ground-attack avionics, BVR missile capability, and twin-engined safety. This choice was made before the Hornet had achieved IOC with any US service.
The initial order was for 57 single seaters and 18 two-seaters. The single seater is sometimes listed as AF/A-18A, the two-seater as AF/A-18B, with the A standing for "Australia", although these designations are not official DoD designations. As part of the Australian Hornet deal, a complex offset arrangement was arranged, with as much as 40 percent of the components being manufactured in Australia. McDonnell was to be responsible for the manufacture of the first few examples, with the Government Aircraft Factory (later renamed Aerospace Technologies of Australia, or ASTA) at Avalon, Victoria being responsible for the assembly of the remainder out of parts supplied by both US and Australian factories. There was to be extensive local input, with ASTA being responsible for final assembly, as well as the manufacture of forward fuselage installations, trailing edge flaps, and shroud assemblies, radome assemblies, and all transparencies. Dunlop Aviation Australia was to make the wheel and brake assemblies as well as the airspeed indicator. Software was to be done by Computer Sciences Australia, and electronic components were provided by Morris Productions, Philips, Thorn EMI Electronics Australia, and Standard Telephones and Cables. The F404 turbofans were to be built under license by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, with the radar and other avionics being built by British Aerospace Australia, Ltd.
In May of 1984, McDonnell shipped components for the first two AF/A-18As to Avalon. The first two fully-assembled Hornets for Australia were manufactured by McDonnell in St Louis, and were handed over on October 29, 1984. These were both two-seat AF/A-18Bs. They were retained at St Louis for training until May 17, 1985, when they were transferred to RAAF Williamtown. The remaining planes on the order were all assembled in Australia. The first Australian-assembled Hornet was flown on February 26, 1985 and was delivered on May 4. The first completely all-Australian Hornet took off on its maiden flight on June 3, 1985. The RAAF jets were given a 'duplicate BuNo' that corresponds to its nearest 'cousin' on the US based production line (ie, same block standard, same engineering changes, etc), for the purposes of parts ordering/communication with McAir and USN. This creasted a lot of confusion, because the duplicate BuNo that was assigned was exactly the same BuNo that was assigned to a US Navy aircrat.
The Australian Hornet deletes the catapult launch equipment, has a conventional ILS/VOR, has landing lights, is equipped with a fatigue recorder, and has an added high-frequency radio for long-range communications, but is otherwise identical to the Navy/Marine Corps version. Australian Hornets are fully compatible with the AGM-65 Maverick air-to- surface missile and the AGM-84 Harpoon anti-shipping missile. In addition, it is equipped so that it can carry a reconnaissance pod in place of the internal cannon.
Deliveries to the RAAF began on Oct 29, 1984. The 57 single-seat AF/A-18As are Block 14 to 28 aircraft, and are assigned RAAF serials A21-1 through A21-57. The 18 two-seat AF/A-18Bs were assigned RAAF serials A21-101 through A21-118. Production shifted to the F/A-18C/D standard in FY1986, with the use of a modified Flight Incident Recorder and Monitor System, provision for AIM-120 AMRAAM, improved fuel systems, and an Airborne Self-Protection Jammer. The last example was delivered by ASTA on May 16, 1990.
First to receive the Hornet was No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit based at RAAF Williamtown in New South Wales, which began training Hornet pilots in the summer of 1985. Hornets currently serve in the air defense role with No 3 and No 77 Squadrons at RAAF Williamtown in New South Wales and with No 75 Squadron in the ground support role at RAAF Tindal in the Northern Territory near Darwin. In 2006, Australia had 71 Hornets in service, after four were lost in crashes.
Almost immediately after the delivery of the last Australian Hornet, ASTA began an upgrade program for the Hornet fleet, bringing them all up to the operational equivalent of the F/A-18C/D. This included provision for carrying the AIM-120 AMRAAM, which has yet to be utilized. New mission computers, armament control processor, stick-top controls to enhance HOTAS capabilities, data storage and data transfer equipment, a revised flight management system, improved electronic countermeasures equipment, and target designation capability have all been incorporated. RAAF Hornets have added the ability to integrate a Northrop AN/ALQ-162 radar jammer and to carry the new Loral AN/AAS-38 Nite Hawk FLIR pod equipped with Laser Target Designator/Ranging equipment that make it possible for the Hornet to do its own target marking for precision delivery of laser-guided weapons.
23 examples had provision for reconnaissance systems, with provision for the nose-mounted gun to be interchangeable with a sensor pallet. Sensor systems that are available are KA-56 3-inch panoramic camers, KS-87 6-inch side oblique camers, KA-93 24-inch sector panoramic cameras, and KS-87 12-inch split vertical cameras.
Some of the two-seat Australian Hornets were provided with night-attack capability, with the configuration being quite similar to that of the USMC Night Attack aircraft. These include night vision goggles, modified cockpit lighting, modified HUD displaying FLIR information, and digital color map display for both cockpits. However, the FLIR is the AAS-38 rather than the AAS-50.
Currently the RAAF F/A-18s are armed with the AIM-7M Sparrow and the AIM-9M Sidewinder missiles, but the Sidewinder will shortly be replaced by the Matra/BAe ASRAAM. There are also plans to replace the Sparrow with the AIM-120 AMRAAM beginning in 2001.
Future plans are to upgrade the AN/APG-65 radar to AN/APG-73 standards and to upgrade the F-404-GE-400 turbofans to -402s. The navigation system will be upgraded to an EGI INS with embedded GPS. AN/ARC-210 jam-resistant communications systems will be provided. Electronic warfare software packages will be fitted and mission computers will be added. These changes should keep the RAAF Hornets operational until the year 2015.
Two A models and two B models have been lost in crashes. A21-104 was lost in November 1987, and A21-41 was lost in a midair collision with A21-29 (A21-29 landed safely at Tindal) in August 1990. A21-41 was lost in June 1991, and A21-106 was lost in May 1992.
In 2001, Australia deployed four Hornets to Diego Garcia in an air defense role during coalition operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan. In March of 2015, four Hornets were deployed to the Middle East as part of Operation Okra, in support of operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)
The Hornets are scheduled to be retired and replacec by the F-35 Lightning II.Australia has also purchased 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets, with deliveries beginning in 2009.
A21-1/A21-3 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18A Block 14 Hornet A21-4/A21-7 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18A Block 15 Hornet A21-8/A21-11 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18A Block 16 Hornet A21-12/A21-18 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18A Block 17 Hornet A21-19/A21-21 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18A Block 19 Hornet A21-22/A21-27 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18A Block 20 Hornet A21-28/A21-32 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18A Block 21 Hornet A21-33/A21-36 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18A Block 22 Hornet A21-37/A21-40 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18A Block 23 Hornet A21-41/A21-44 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18A Block 24 Hornet A21-45/A21-49 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18A Block 25 Hornet A21-50/A21-53 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18A Block 26 Hornet A21-54/A21-56 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18A Block 27 Hornet A21-57 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18A Block 28 Hornet
A21-101/A21-107 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18B Block 14 Hornet A21-108/A21-112 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18B Block 18 Hornet A21-113/A21-114 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18B Block 19 Hornet A21-115/A21-116 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18B Block 22 Hornet A21-117/A21-118 McDonnell Douglas AF/A-18B Block 23 Hornet