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Air Power Australia
Air Power Australia


Nelson's Super Hornets deal poses poll puzzle By The Canberra Times

11 March 2007

Brian Toohey

(c) 2007 The Canberra Times

THE US Airforce must be starting to wonder what's wrong with its planes.

The RAAF is about to buy another US Navy plane. Rather, Brendan Nelson is about to buy it. The Defence Minister drove the decision he announced last week to buy 24 US F-18 Super Hornets for a whopping $6billion. The RAAF and the Defence Department would have preferred to wait until next year to see if the Super Hornet is really needed.

They want to stick with the original proposal to buy a single plane, the Joint Strike Fighter, to replace the RAAF's existing F-111s and F/A-18 Hornets. At this stage, they insist the JSF, which they regard as superior to the Super Hornet, will be delivered to the RAAF in 2013 without the need to go to the trouble and expense of buying a ''stop gap'' plane. (And probably getting fewer JSFs.) Although the Hornet is also a US navy plane, there are big differences from the Super Hornet. Despite some commonality, the Super Hornet will be based at Amberley in Queensland which has no facilities for the existing Hornets. Oddly enough, the Hornets will be fitted with the US's advanced long-range maritime and land-attack missile called JASSM which is better than the missiles supplied with the Super Hornet.

A number of outside observers have been puzzled by the choice of the Hornet in the 1980s for the RAAF. The head of strategic planning for the Israeli airforce (who can't be named) has told this writer that the US airforce F-16, or F-15, would have been a better choice than the Hornet.

Although the Super Hornet is only operated by the US Navy and appears over-priced, it is by no means a bad plane. But the extra weight, and other design limitations imposed by the need to land on carriers, means that no one else is expected to buy it other than Nelson. Governments are normally reluctant to spend $6billion if there's no pressing need to do so. After all, $16billion is already committed to buying the JSF and another $3billion for upgrading the existing Hornets to fill any air combat gap if the JSF is delayed a little longer.

How Nelson has convinced John Howard that spending $6billion on a plane that neither the RAAF nor Defence want at this stage will be electorally popular, is a mystery.

Dr Carlo Kopp, MIEEE, SMAIAA, PEng
Defence Analyst and Consulting Engineer
Editor: Air Power Australia @ http://www.ausairpower.net