On March 5th, the Australian Department of Defense announced that it would sell 46 retired F/A-18 Classic Hornet fighter jets to a private military contractor – Air USA.
The Classic Hornet aircraft will be used to provide training services to the United States Air Force and will be prepared over the next three to four years.
Minister for Defence Industry, the Hon Melissa Price MP, said the work will provide employment certainty for workers in the NSW Hunter region.
“The work to prepare these aircraft and components for sale will provide 24 direct industry jobs while Air Force transitions from the Classic Hornet to the F‑35 Joint Strike Fighter,” Minister Price said.
“This highlights the strong performance of the region’s defence industry in servicing and maintaining the Classic Hornets over the past 30 years.”
“Apart from the jobs directly supported by the work at RAAF Base Williamtown, more defence industry jobs are expected to be created across Australia through repair and overhaul work on aircraft servicing components.”
The RAAF Classic Hornet fleet is being progressively retired as the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter is introduced into service. The Morrison Government has now taken delivery of 20 Joint Strike Fighters, out of a total order of 72.
Beginning in 1981, Australia ordered a total of 57 single-seat F/A-18As and 18 two-seater F/A-18Bs from American aviation company McDonnell Douglas, which later merged with Boeing. Four of these jets were subsequently lost in crashes over the years.
Of the remaining 71 Hornets, Australia agreed to sell 25 to Canada in 2017. Canadian authorities decided to buy these jets to supplement the Royal Canadian Air Force’s own CF-18 Hornet fleet as an interim solution while the country continued to look to acquire an all-new fleet of fighter jets, a saga that you can read about in more detail in these past War Zone pieces. The U.S. government, which still exercises export controls over the jets, approved that deal the following year.
The Australian Department of Defense does say that Air USA plans to use the aircraft it does receive for air combat training in the United States, which could include sorties as part of the huge adversary air support deal the U.S. Air Force concluded in 2019.
The entire multi-part contract was worth an estimated $6.4 billion, though the exact amounts that each of the seven firms who got hired actually received is unclear.
Air USA isn’t the only one to have made plans to acquire additional combat jets in preparation to meet the requirements of this contract. Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) and Draken both purchased second-hand fleets of French-made Mirage F1s, while the latter company bought an additional number of ex-South African Cheetahs, a Mirage III derivative.
TacAir bought a group of former Royal Jordanian Air Force F-5E Tiger II jets, which it then upgraded into its F-5AT Advanced Tiger configuration.
As of January, Top Aces was still in the process of taking delivery of 29 F-16A Viper fighters from an unknown source, possibly Jordan.
All of these companies are part of a contract to be an aggressor in US Air Force training exercises.
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