The first European customer for the Hornet was the air force of Spain, the Ejercito del Aire Espanol.
Spain did not join NATO until May of 1982, but even before that date the Spanish government had issued a requirement for a new fighter/attack aircraft that would replace its fleet of F-4C Phantoms, F-5 Freedom Fighters, and Mirages. In response to the announced requirement, the US government initially offered Spain an interim loan of 42 ex-USAF F-4E Phantoms, followed by the sale of 72 F-16s. However, the F-18 entered the competition in 1980, offering the benefit of a twin-engine safety margin.
In December of 1982, Spain announced that they had selected the Hornet, and made plans to order 72 single-seaters and 12 two-seat versions. However, this proved more than the Spanish government could afford, and the order was reduced to only 60 Cs and 12 Ds on May 31, 1983. An option was taken for 12 additional Hornets, but due to budgetary restrictions, they were not taken up.
As part of an offset agreement reached with Spain, Construcciones Aeronauticas SA (CASA) at Gefale is responsible for the maintenance of EdA Hornets. CASA is also responsible for major overhauls of Canadian Hornets based in Europe, as well as the Hornets of the US 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean.
The Spanish Hornets are sometimes referred to as EF-18A and EF-18B, the "E" standing for "Espana" (Spain) rather than for "Electronic" as would normally be the case for an official Department of Defense designation. They have local EdA designations C.15 and CE.15 respectively. Serial numbers are C.15-13 thru C.15-72 and CE.15-1 thru CE.15-12 respectively.
The first EdA Hornet, EF-18B CE.15-01, was presented in a formal ceremony at St Louis on November 22, 1985, and made its initial flight on December 4. The first few two-seaters were sent to Whiteman AFB in Missouri, where McDonnell Douglas personnel assisted in the training of the first few Spanish instructors. The first two-seater was flown to Spain on July 10, 1986. By early 1987, all 12 two-seaters had been delivered to Spain, after which the single-seaters were delivered. A total of 60 EF-18As and 12 EF-18Bs were delivered to Spain, the last planes being delivered in July of 1990.
The Hornet serves with Escuadron 151 and Escuadron 152 of Ala de Caza 15 at Zaragoza-Valenzuela and with Escuadron 121 and Escuadron 122 of Ala de Caza 12 at Torrejon de Ardoz. First was Escuadron 151, which was declared combat-ready in September of 1988. In EdA service, the Hornet operates as a all-weather interceptor 60 percent of the time and as a fighter bomber attack day and night for the remainder. In case of war, each of the four front-line squadrons is assigned a primary role--121 is tasked with tactical air support for maritime operations, 151 and 122 are assigned the all-weather interception role, and 152 is assigned the suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) mission.
Spain has ordered 80 Texas Instruments AGM-88 HARM antiradiation missiles and 20 McDonnell Douglas AGM-84 Harpoon anti-shipping missiles. The Spanish Hornets carry the Sanders AN/ALQ-126B deception jammer and on the last 36 aircraft, Northrop AN/ALQ-162(V) systems. For air-to-ground work, EdA Hornets carry low-drag BR and Mk 80 series bombs, Rockeye II cluster bombs, BME-300 anti-airfield cluster bombs, BEAC fuel air explosive bombs, GBU-10 and GBU-16 Paveway II laser bombs, AGM-65G Maverick air-to-surface missiles and AGM-88 HARM antiradiation missiles. In the air-to-air mission, EdA Hornets carry the 20-mm M61A1 cannon, AIM-9L/M Sidewinders and AIM-7F/M Sparrows. The Sparrows will be supplemented from late 1995 onward by AIM-120 AMRAAMs. Spanish Hornets can carry AN/ALE-39 chaff/flare dispensers, ALR-167 radar homing and warning systems and ALQ-126B Jammers which have been supplaneted in most of the aircraft by the more advanced ALQ-162. EdA Hornets can carry the AN/AAS-38 Nite Hawk FLIR/laser designator pod on the port fuselage stores station. Air refuelling for the Spanish Hornets is provided by KC-130Hs from Group 31 and Boeing 707TTs from Grupo 45.
In 1993, plans were announced for the EdA's fleet of EF-18A/B Hornets to be upgraded to F/A-18C/D standards. McDonnell Douglas was to rework 46 of these planes, with the remainder being upgraded by CASA. Most of the changes involved computer improvements and new software, although some changes were required to the weapons delivery pylons. Following the rework, the planes were redesignated EF-18A+ and EF-18B+.
Worried about a "fighter gap" opening up early in the next century because of delays in the Eurofighter 2000 program, Spain has gone in search of additional fighter aircraft. Spain has acquired some additional Mirage F1s from Qatar and France. The USAF has offered Spain 50 surplus F-16A/B Fighting Falcons and the US Navy has offered about 30 F/A-18As. These F/A-18s had the advantage in the contest, since Spain already operates the Hornet, and in late 1995 the Spanish government approved the purchase of 24 US Navy surplus F/A-18A/Bs. This marked the first sale of US Navy surplus Hornets. There is a separate deal for new F404-GE-400 engines, which were being contracted for directly from General Electric.
The US Navy surplus Hornets were intended to equip the 211 Escuadron of Grupo 21 based at Moron. 211 Escuadron had been operating the F/RF-5A, but these planes had been phased out of front-line service and transferred to Ala 21, while the Moron-based unit was teporarily equipped with CASA C-101 Aviojets. The first six were delivered in late 1995. They bore EdA serials C.15-73 to C-15-78 (being ex US Navy BuNos 161936, 162415, 162416, 162426, 162446, and 162471 respectively). The remainder will follow at a rate of six per year until 1998. After a period of service, they will be retrofitted in Spain and later subjected to a mid-life update
With the withdrawal of USAFE and Canadian squadrons from Europe, Spanish F-18s (and Mirage F1s) have been in demand for NATO exercises and are frequent visitors to air bases in Europe and the UK. In 1994, eight EF-18s participated in a Red Flag exercise at Nellis AFB in Nevada. Eight EF-18s participated in Deny Flight operations out of Aviano, Italy beginning in December of 1994. On May 25, they received their first taste of combat when they participated in in an attack against a Serb ammunitions depot near Pale.
The Hornet is extremely popular with its EdA crews and is reportedly a pure joy to fly, stable and yet highly maneuverable and with good acceleration. By 2002, six Spanish Hornets had been lost in accidents. This is the best safety record of any EdA fighter that ever served, and as good if not better than that of any other F/A-18 operator.
Spanish Air Force EF-18 Hornets have flown Ground Attack, SEAD, combat air patrol (CAP) combat missions in Bosnia and Kosovo, under NATO command, in Aviano detachment (Italy). They shared the base with Canadian and USMC F/A-18s. Over Yugoslavia, eight EF-18s, based at Aviano AB, participated in bombing raids in Operation Allied Force in 1999. Over Bosnia, they also performed missions for air-to-air combat air patrol, close air support air-to-ground, photo reconnaissance, forward air controller-airborne, and tactical air controller-airborne. Over Libya, four Spanish Hornets participated in enforcing a no-fly zone.
C.15-13 McDonnell Douglas EF-18A Block 18 Hornet C.15-14/C.15-16 McDonnell Douglas EF-18A Block 20 Hornet C.15-17/C.15-21 McDonnell Douglas EF-18A Block 21 Hornet C.15-22/C.15-30 McDonnell Douglas EF-18A Block 22 Hornet C.15-31/C.15-39 McDonnell Douglas EF-18A Block 23 Hornet C.15-40/C.15-45 McDonnell Douglas EF-18A Block 24 Hornet C.15-46/C.15-47 McDonnell Douglas EF-18A Block 25 Hornet C.15-48/C.15-52 McDonnell Douglas EF-18A Block 26 Hornet C.15-53/C.15-57 McDonnell Douglas EF-18A Block 27 Hornet C.15-58/C.15-64 McDonnell Douglas EF-18A Block 28 Hornet C.15-65/C.15-66 McDonnell Douglas EF-18A Block 29 Hornet C.15-67/C.15-70 McDonnell Douglas EF-18A Block 30 Hornet C.15-71/C.15-72 McDonnell Douglas EF-18A Block 31 Hornet
C.15-73 Ex F/A-18A-11-MC BuNo 161936. To Spain in 1995. C.15-74 Ex F/A-18A-15-MC BuNo 162415. To Spain in 1995. C.15-75 Ex F/A-18A-15-MC BuNo 162416. To Spain in 1995. C.15-76 Ex F/A-18A-15-MC BuNo 162426. To Spain in 1995. C.15-77 Ex F/A-18A-15-MC BuNo 162446. To Spain in 1995. C.15-78 Ex F/A-18A-16-MC BuNo 162471. To Spain in 1995. C.15-79 Ex F/A-18A-11-MC BuNo 161940. To Spain in 1996 C.15-80 Ex F/A-18A-11-MC BuNo 161944. To Spain in 1996 C.15-81 Ex F/A-18A-12-MC BuNo 161949. To Spain in 1996 C.15-82 Ex F/A-18A-16-MC BuNo 162456. To Spain in 1996 C.15-83 Ex F/A-18A-16-MC BuNo 162461. To Spain in 1996 C.15-84 Ex F/A-18A-16-MC BuNo 162465. To Spain in 1996. C.15-85 Ex F/A-18A-12-MC BuNo 161951. To Spain in 1996 C.15-86 Ex F/A-18A-11-MC BuNo 161939. To Spain in 1999 C-15-87 Ex F/A-18A-12-MC BuNo 161950. To Spain in 1999. C-15-88 Ex F/A-18A-12-MC BuNo 161953. To Spain in 1999. C-15-89 Ex F/A-18A-15-MC BuNo 162421. To Spain in 1999. C-15-90 Ex F/A-18A-16-MC BuNo 162474. To Spain in 1999. C.15-91 Ex F/A-18A-11-MC BuNo 161926. To Spain in late 1999/early 2000. Crashed into sea Feb 11, 2003 off coast of Gran Canaria while on approach to base at Gando after a fuel fire. Pilot ejected safely and was rescued. C.15-92 Ex F/A-18A-11-MC BuNo 161935. To Spain in late 1999/early 2000. C.15-93 Ex F/A-18A-12-MC BuNo 161954. To Spain in late 1999/early 2000. C.15-94 Ex F/A-18A-12-MC BuNo 161958. To Spain in late 1999/early 2000. C.15-95 Ex F/A-18A-13-MC BuNo 161977. To Spain in late 1999/early 2000. C.15-96 Ex F/A-18A-13-MC BuNo 162444. To Spain in late 1999/early 2000.
CE.15-1/CE.15-2 McDonnell Douglas EF-18B Block 17 Hornet CE.15-3/CE.15-4 McDonnell Douglas EF-18B Block 18 Hornet CE.15-5/CE.15-8 McDonnell Douglas EF-18B Block 19 Hornet CE.15-9 McDonnell Douglas EF-18B Block 20 Hornet CE.15-10/CE.15-12 McDonnell Douglas EF-18B Block 21 Hornet