A land-based version of the Hornet known as the F-18L was also planned. Since it did not have to carry any equipment for carrier-based operations, the F-18L was expected to be significantly lighter and better-performing than the carrier-based version. Although no orders had actually been received, it was anticipated that the F-18L would be an attractive proposition for those foreign air forces who wanted and could afford an aircraft with greater capabilities than those of the F-5.
As part of the original partnership arrangement between McDonnell Douglas and Northrop, it had been agreed that McDonnell Douglas would be the prime contractor for the carrier-based F-18A version of the Hornet, with Northrop being the prime contractor for the F-18L land-based version. The partnership between these two aerospace giants did not always go smoothly, and strains between the two corporations began to show almost immediately. In particular, a major disagreement arose over sales of the F-18L. It seemed that whenever foreign purchasers showed an interest in acquiring the land-based version of the F-18, McDonnell would immediately mount an active sales effort, putting the carrier-based McDonnell F-18 in direct competition with the land-based Northrop F-18L. Northrop management became very unhappy about what it perceived to be McDD's violation of the terms of their agreement, and in October 1979, a series of lawsuits was launched, with Northrop claiming that McDonnell was unfairly using Northrop technology developed for the F-18L to sell its own F-18A abroad. Northrop also charged that McDonnell was trying to sell Israel a version of the F-18 that competed directly with the Northrop F-18L. Northrop asked the courts to restrain McDonnell from trying to sell to any foreign government any version of the F-18 which took advantage of Northrop technology to the detriment of the latter company. The case dragged on in the courts for years, and was not settled until April of 1985. At that time, it was agreed that McDonnell Douglas would be prime contractor for all existing and future versions of the Hornet, and Northrop terminated all work on its F-18L land-based version.