The F/A-18 Hornet and the F/A-18 Super Hornet are both twin-engine, supersonic, all-weather, carrier-capable, multirole fighter jets of the United States Navy and Marine Corps. The original F/A-18 Hornet was first introduced in the 1980s, while the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a larger and more advanced version of the original Hornet, first introduced in the late 1990s.
The F-18 Hornet and the F-18 Super Hornet are both manufactured by McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing) and Northrop (now part of Northrop Grumman).
McDonnell Douglas was originally the prime contractor for the F/A-18 Hornet, responsible for the design, development, and production of the aircraft. Northrop was a subcontractor on the program, responsible for the development and production of the aircraft’s radar and avionics systems.
When McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in 1997, Boeing became the prime contractor for both the F/A-18 Hornet and the F/A-18 Super Hornet. Northrop Grumman continues to provide avionics and radar systems for both aircraft as a subcontractor to Boeing.
The F/A-18 Hornet and the F/A-18 Super Hornet are both powered by two General Electric F404 turbofan engines. The F404 is a afterburning turbofan engine, which provides both thrust for supersonic flight and high fuel efficiency for long-range flight.
The F404-GE-402 engine, which is used in the F/A-18 Hornet, provides a thrust of 16,000 pounds-force each engine. The F404-GE-402 engine is no longer in production, but many F/A-18 Hornet still in service are using remanufactured or rebuilt versions of this engine.
The F/A-18 Super Hornet, on the other hand, uses the newer F404-GE-402 Enhanced Engine, which provides a thrust of 17,700 pounds-force each engine. This engine is an improved version of the F404-GE-402, with an increase in thrust and improved fuel efficiency, which allows the Super Hornet to fly farther and carry more weapons than the Hornet.
The F/A-18 Hornet and the F/A-18 Super Hornet are both capable of supersonic flight, but they have different maximum speeds.
The F/A-18 Hornet has a maximum speed of around 1,190 mph (1,915 km/h) or Mach 1.8 at sea level, and a maximum speed of around 1,190 mph (1,915 km/h) or Mach 1.6 at 40,000 ft (12,190 m).
The F/A-18 Super Hornet is more advanced than the F/A-18 Hornet and has a higher maximum speed. It has a maximum speed of around 1,190 mph (1,915 km/h) or Mach 1.8 at sea level, and a maximum speed of around 1,190 mph (1,915 km/h) or Mach 1.8 at 40,000 ft (12,190 m).
It’s worth noting that the maximum speed of both aircrafts are limited by their structural design and aerodynamics, but it could also be limited by the aircraft’s weapons load, fuel state and altitude.
4. Payload Capacity
The F-18 Hornet and the F-18 Super Hornet have different payload capacities.
The F-18 Hornet has a payload capacity of around 13,700 pounds (6,200 kg), which includes a variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, as well as external fuel tanks. It can carry a variety of air-to-air missiles such as AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM, as well as air-to-ground weapons such as the AGM-84 Harpoon and AGM-88 HARM.
The F-18 Super Hornet has a much larger payload capacity than the F-18 Hornet. It can carry up to 17,750 pounds (8,050 kg) of weapons and external fuel tanks. It can carry the same weapons as the F/A-18 Hornet, but also can carry newer and more advanced weapons such as the JDAM GPS-guided bombs, the JSOW and the JASSM cruise missiles. Additionally, the Super Hornet has a larger internal fuel capacity, which allows it to fly farther with a greater weapons load than the Hornet.
5. Combat Roles
The F/A-18 Hornet is primarily used for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. It can engage enemy aircraft in air-to-air combat using its radar and a variety of air-to-air missiles, such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM. It can also strike ground targets with a variety of air-to-ground weapons, such as the AGM-84 Harpoon and AGM-88 HARM. Additionally, the Hornet can be used for reconnaissance and electronic warfare missions.
The F/A-18 Super Hornet is an advanced version of the Hornet, with improved range, payload capacity, and electronic warfare capabilities. It can perform the same missions as the Hornet, but also has the ability to carry newer and more advanced weapons, such as the JDAM GPS-guided bombs, the JSOW and the JASSM cruise missiles. It also has the ability to carry out air-to-air refuelling using its buddy-store system.
Both the F/A-18 Hornet and the F/A-18 Super Hornet are used by the US Navy and other countries for a wide range of combat roles, including air defense, strike, reconnaissance, and electronic warfare.
Both aircrafts have a digital fly-by-wire control system, which allows for precise and responsive control of the aircraft.
The F/A-18 Hornet has a high thrust-to-weight ratio, which allows it to perform high-g maneuvers and maintain energy during aerial combat. It also has a high angle of attack capability, which allows it to engage in close-in dogfighting with other aircraft. The Hornet also has a large wing area, which provides lift and stability during high-g maneuvers.
The F/A-18 Super Hornet is an improved version of the Hornet and has even better maneuverability. It features a larger wing area and improved thrust-to-weight ratio than the Hornet, which allows it to perform high-g maneuvers with a greater weapons load.
The main differences in design between the F/A-18 Hornet and the F/A-18 Super Hornet are:
- Size: The F/A-18 Super Hornet is approximately 20% larger than the F/A-18 Hornet, with a longer fuselage, larger wing area and taller tail-fin.
- Engine: The F/A-18 Super Hornet is powered by the newer F404-GE-402 Enhanced Engine, which provides greater thrust and improved fuel efficiency than the F404-GE-402 engine used in the F/A-18 Hornet.
- Radar and Avionics: The F/A-18 Super Hornet has an advanced radar and avionics system, which includes a more powerful radar, an improved electronic warfare suite, and a new cockpit with larger displays and more advanced controls.
- Aerodynamics: The F/A-18 Super Hornet features an improved aerodynamics design with larger wing area and flaperon, which gives it better maneuverability and low speed handling.
- Stealth: The F/A-18 Super Hornet has stealth features that reduce its radar cross-section, making it less visible to radar, compared to the F/A-18 Hornet.
Overall, the F/A-18 Super Hornet is an improved version of the F/A-18 Hornet, with better performance, longer range, greater weapons capacity, and advanced avionics and stealth features.
8. Operational History
Some of the most notable operations that the Hornet has been involved in include:
- Operation Desert Storm: The Hornet was used extensively by the Navy and Marine Corps during the first Gulf War, where it flew air-to-air and air-to-ground missions against Iraqi targets.
- Operation Southern Watch: The Hornet was used to enforce the no-fly zone over southern Iraq during the 1990s.
- Operation Iraqi Freedom: The Hornet was used during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent operations to strike ground targets and provide air defense.
On the other hand, the Super Hornet has been used in several operations including:
- Operation Enduring Freedom: The Super Hornet flew combat missions in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan, providing air defense and striking ground targets.
- Operation Odyssey Dawn: The Super Hornet flew combat missions in support of coalition forces during the intervention in Libya, providing air defense and striking ground targets.
- Operation Inherent Resolve: The Super Hornet is being used in the current ongoing conflict against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, providing air defense, reconnaissance and striking ground targets
Both the F/A-18 Hornet and the F/A-18 Super Hornet have proven to be highly capable and reliable aircrafts throughout their operational history, and are still in use today.
In general, the cost of the F/A-18 Hornet is lower than the cost of the F/A-18 Super Hornet due to the Super Hornet being a more advanced and capable aircraft with a larger size, more advanced systems and stealth features.
As an example, in the late 1990s, the unit cost of the F/A-18 Hornet was around $29 million, while the unit cost of the F/A-18 Super Hornet was around $57 million.
Currently, the unit cost of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet ranges from $70-80 million, depending on the configuration. The US Navy has recently procured the Super Hornet at $122 million for a package deal of aircrafts and support equipment.
It’s worth noting that these figures are just rough estimates and can vary depending on the specific requirements of the customer and the quantity of aircrafts being procured.
Some of the countries that currently use or have used the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet include United States, Canada, Australia, Spain, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Switzerland.