Why is there so little love for the F-18 Super Hornet?

Military aircraft - Post cold war aircraft, including for example B-2, Gripen, F-18E/F Super Hornet, Rafale, and Typhoon.
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Fox1

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Unread post15 May 2006, 02:21

The Super Hornet suffers in public opinion (much of which is pretty "uninformed") simply because it is not a snazzy 5th generation stealth fighter like the F-22. However, that doesn't mean it is bad by any means.

It isn't an F-22. But it is still a pretty damn slick fighter and much more capable than the F-14 it replaced. I would have to label it as a 4th Generation + fighter, as this isn't just an enlarged version of the F-18C we are talking about here. It is afterall a very technologically sophisticated and pretty stealthy aircraft in it's own right. And it manuevers well.

With a very low RCS (that will get lower with the Block 3 upgrade), a good AESA radar and the AIM-120D or future ramjet radar guided missiles, it will be able to see and fire at the latest Flankers before they can see and fire at it. And unlike the F-22, the Super Hornet costs about $60 million each, meaning we can buy a good number of them.

Again, I would have rather had a version of the F-22 probably, if a naval version could have been created that wouldn't have bankrupted the nation. But the F-18E/F is a nice substitute. It also upgrades our carriers when it comes to the strike role, as it gives added range and payload over the F-18C and it also can carry more A2G ordnance and a wider variety than the F-14.

The Super Hornet I would rate among the top 3 fighters in the world. It isn't as capable as an F-22. But it's better than anything the enemy has right now. The Super Hornet is probably pretty comparable to the Typhoon in many aspects. It certainly has more in common with the Typhoon than the F-22, in that it was designed from the outset as a multi-role fighter, capable of being both a good fighter and strike aircraft. It makes good sense for the USN, since they are limited in the number of aircraft they can haul around onboard a carrier. If you had instead gone with a pure air superiority fighter making up one or two squadrons aboard the carriers, our strike capacity would have been seriously reduced.

The biggest complaint I have had against the Super Hornet is that it's relatively underpowered. Below 10,000 ft, it isn't even capable of cracking Mach 1 even when flying in a clean configuration. But if you add upgraded engines capable of producing 25% more thrust (just such an upgraded version of the GE F414 is suppose to be avialable in about 2-3 years) and reduce the RCS of the aircraft even further, then you are going to end up with a plane that is probably equal in overall capability to the EF-2000, which is IMHO only 2nd to the F-22 in terms of abilility. The EF-2000 may still be a slightly better WVR dogfighter. But the greater stealth of the F-18E/F (especially Block 3 versions) will even things out overall. In BVR, it will own Flankers. And WVR, given the helmet mounted sight and AIM-9X, will also be more than capable of holding it's own against any jet fighter that flies.

So I don't understand why the F-18E/F is so hated by so many. It appears to me that it's a pretty decent aircraft right now and will only get better as time goes and upgrades are made.
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Roscoe

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Unread post15 May 2006, 13:55

Hated? Nor really. Disrespected? Absolutely! They took a sub-par fighter, redesigned it from scratch, and gave it the same name (albeit now a "C" model) to slide it trough Congress as an "upgrade".

Now, that said, it is a great naval fighter. The constraints of flying off a boat are much tougher than non-naval aviators can typically comprehend. Besides the structural "trauma" of cats and traps, the corrosion environment is a nightmare, the ability to get spares or do repairs quickly is greatly diminished, and the "bingo" fuel load is significantly higher than in land-based aircraft due to the mobility of the "airfield" and the higher probability that an approach will result in a "go around"...couple that with a lower fuel load dictated by being heavier and the range gets shortened dramatically.
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CheckSix

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Unread post15 May 2006, 14:07

Its problem is, it is slow and has pure acceleration, but a good instantaneous turnrate and good low speed characteristics, owing to its configuration.
Even with uprated engines it will never meet the acceleration of typhoon, let alsone F-22.

So tomcat drivers get a slower aircraft with less range. (maybe not with 5 fueltanks). No wonder they don't like it. Foreigners are more likely to by F-15E derivats than the SH because of flight performance.

Besides speed and acceleration, SH is maybe the most capable jet in active duty.
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Fox1

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Unread post15 May 2006, 16:16

Again, I am not exactly saying the aviators that fly it dislike it. It mainly seems to be the armchair pilots that speak out so strongly against it. Most of the USN people I have talked to about the SH seem to like it and they certainly don't seem at all concerned that it isn't up to the task of fleet defense. Sure, it has a couple of weak points. But that's true of nearly every aircraft. Still, despite these, it seems to be a great all around aircraft. Sure, it may not have a great top speed nor dramatic acceleration. But I think if I had to choose between fast top speed or good low speed handling, I'd take the low speed handling everytime. Since most dogfights take place below Mach 1, I think an emphasis on good low speed handling characteristics is appropriate.

BTW, I can't see how getting engines with 25% more thrust would not at least make the SH very respectable in terms of top speed and acceleration. I realize the design isn't exactly geared toward max speed, but upgraded powerplants should definately help. Look at the difference in performance of the F-14A vs the F-14D with upgraded engines.

So combine it's good handling with the APG-79 radar, the AIM-120D (or future ramjet radar guided A2A missiles), the AIM-9X with helmet mounted sight and top notch aircrews flying and directing them and you have an aircraft I would not want to have to contend with in any conventional fighter that takes to the skies. It may not be as sexy as the F-22 or have the following of folks who grew up loving the F-14 and F-15 and just can't let them go, but it seems to me the F-18E/F has the stuff it needs to be a great asset to the USN or other nations who choose to place it into service. I just thought I'd start a thread giving this underappreciated workhorse a little love. Hehe.
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Guysmiley

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Unread post15 May 2006, 16:36

It's not a bad jet, I think some of the ill-will is more disappointment because it isn't really a "next gen" fighter and yet it's all the Navy is getting.
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Unread post15 May 2006, 21:36

I think the biggest negative mark against it is that it's replacing the F-14. Whole lotta people fell in love with the big cat over the past 30 years and don't want to see it go or replaced by something that isn't a 100% improvement all around.
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Roscoe

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Unread post15 May 2006, 23:04

Fox1 wrote:But I think if I had to choose between fast top speed or good low speed handling, I'd take the low speed handling every time. Since most dogfights take place below Mach 1, I think an emphasis on good low speed handling characteristics is appropriate.


If we're talking true fleet defense, the issue is getting there fast with a load of missiles. Problem is the SH + AIM-120 doesn't have nearly the capability that the TC + Phoenix combo had in that regard. Yes, a SH will usually wax a TC in a furball, but that isn't what the TC was designed for. That said, the big bad bear isn't coming over the pole anytime soon, nor will the ROE ever likely allow a true BVR shot like the TC/Phoenix was designed for. So the SH/AMRAAM combo may be better in overall capability within the realm of likely usage.

Fox1 wrote:BTW, I can't see how getting engines with 25% more thrust would not at least make the SH very respectable in terms of top speed and acceleration. I realize the design isn't exactly geared toward max speed, but upgraded powerplants should definitely help. Look at the difference in performance of the F-14A vs the F-14D with upgraded engines.


First, the difference in airframe weight between the F-14A and the F-14D was negligible compared to the drastic increase in the SH from the basic model. Remember, the SH is something like 10% bigger in linear terms. That equates roughly to a 33% increase in weight. That eats a lot of that thrust increase.
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TC

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Unread post16 May 2006, 04:18

Bingo. Lightndattic has it spot on. Most of the Super Hornet disses come from these pukes who hold "Top Gun" as an aviation bible, and never spent a single day working on the flightline. They think the F-14 is the end-all, do-all fighter, and can't stand the thought of the Tomcat being removed from service.

I must say, I was sold on the concept of the Super Hornet from day one. It is smaller than the Tomcat, more powerful, costs less to operate, can fire a wider array of weapons, can perform a wider variety of missions, has more weapon stations, can out-climb, out-accelerate, and out-turn the Tomcat, and has modernized radar, and avionics. What isn't a better deal here?

As an aside, I was truly amazed after watching the F model demo flight recently. Square Loop...bitchin' 8)

Beers and MiGs were made to be pounded!
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FDiron

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Unread post16 May 2006, 09:21

I dont like the Super Hornet because it has such poor range.

681 mi (1095 km) on hi-hi-hi interdiction mission with 4× 1,000 lb (454 kg) bombs, 2× AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, and 2 drop tanks, or 173 miles combat, on 135-minute maritime air superiority mission with 6 AAMs and 3 drop tanks (1,095 km / 278 km)
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Unread post16 May 2006, 11:14

Well, let me add my :2c:

There is little love for the Superbug mostly among aviation enthusiasts and "armchair pilots" as sombody said earlier. The reason is mostly psychological. the F/A-18 E/F isn't as "cool" as the Tomcat. Its job description isn't by far as glamorous (e.g. tanker or CAS) as that of the pure interceptor.

Just look at the Viper. What do you like most, an earlier "clean" model or the recent "bomb trucks" such as Block 60 or Sufa, full of humps, bumps and antenna fairings.

The endless threads about the Superbug versus XYZ in close ACM are just useless. The only serious and realistic threat scenario against it in the next 5-10 years are PLAAF/PLANAF's Su-30MKK/MKK2.

Oh, and range shouldn't be a problem as long as you have in-flight refueling capabilities, unless somebody is messing up the tankers. But if that hppens, it means that the SH are already downed.
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MKopack

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Unread post16 May 2006, 11:43

RoAF wrote:Oh, and range shouldn't be a problem as long as you have in-flight refueling capabilities, unless somebody is messing up the tankers. But if that hppens, it means that the SH are already downed.


My concern is that the Super Hornets ARE the tankers. How much of your capabilities are degraded if a good portion of your interceptor and attack aircraft must be dedicated each mission to a pure support role, especially for missions that are a longer range from the boat?

CheckSix wrote:So tomcat drivers get a slower aircraft with less range. (maybe not with 5 fueltanks). No wonder they don't like it.


On the other hand, four Super Hornets (even if two are dedicated tankers) on the flight deck beat four Tomcats on the hangar deck any day. The SH is definatly more maintenance friendly than the old 'Cat could ever hope to be.

Mike
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RoAF

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Unread post16 May 2006, 13:06

MKopac wrote:
My concern is that the Super Hornets ARE the tankers. How much of your capabilities are degraded if a good portion of your interceptor and attack aircraft must be dedicated each mission to a pure support role, especially for missions that are a longer range from the boat?

I know they are the tankers. But if the S-3 is retired, there would be more SH on the deck replacing them, right?
After all, those tanker Hornets will be drawn out of the usual complement of an embarked squadron (12 planes as far as I know) or the number of the squadron will increase to say 14-16 planes (once the S-3 is off the deck) so you can use 2-4 planes as tankers and still have (max) 12 planes for combat? The latter variant would make sense.
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Unread post16 May 2006, 16:03

As was mentioned earlier in the thread, when the navy gets a new type, the way you do air defence has to change as well. You are limited by what your new type can or cannot do. There was a deficiency, hence the Super Hornet.
You also change the way you defend the CBG. More emphasis on AEGIS, ship deployment in terms of positioning your assets.

Ok, the Hornet is no F-14, which gave the CBG a bigger air cover umbrella, but then you change the way you do business.....

The Hornet is a far better multi-role type than the Tomcat could ever have been. Flexibility, maintainability and AVAILABILITY of your aircraft is the name of the game.
Did a USN carrier ever have 2 FULL serviceable squadrons of Tomcats available, ready to launch? What was the range of the F-14 with a full load of 6 heavy Phoenix missiles compared to the SH? Did a USN carrier ever carry over a hundred Phoenix rounds at about $100 million the lot to equip ALL the F-14s. Another thing about the Phoenix, would it have worked as advertised?
In that famous test where 6 missiles were fired at 6 different targets, the targets were VERY inviting, emitting very favorable "come and get me" signals to the Phoenix radar. Seemed like a PR stunt to me. Point is the F-14 wasn`t designed to fight Flankers, it was designed to fight bombers like the Backfire, TU-160 etc...I think at stand off ranges, the SH would do ok against Flankers with AESA and AMRAAM.

On range and gas, the SH may be lacking here, but again, you don`t put your fleet 30NM from the nearest Flanker land base! The score on gas can be evened up. Flanker users don`t have massive air refueling assets.
OK, I am that armchair pilot but that is the way it looks to me...

I would think the Hornet is much more reliable. I know in the early days, as with many new aircraft, the Hornet got the title, Hangar Queen. I think times have changed.

The biggest threat to your CBGs is not from the air, it is from quiet SSKs that are VERY difficult to detect. The USN has an acknowledged gap in detection/training to counter that threat...I don`t think the Super Hornet is the navy`s biggest problem and has got bad press....
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Unread post16 May 2006, 21:42

I happen to like the Super Hornet for some odd reason. Maybe because it's the scorned child (according to people in forums) of the loser of the LWF competition. :roll: I happen to see it as probably the most advanced strike aircraft in the world. Compared to an A-7 or even an A-6E, it has trememdous payload and delivery options. I think where most people are sore is that it ended up being sold as a replacement for the F-14. I'll miss the Tomcat but I can't hate the Vapor Bug too much.
All I know is what I hear from people who actually operate it, work on it and employ it. And since I have no training in tactics or weapons systems etc, it would be arrogant for someone like me to say "The SH sucks in _____ role." unless I had proof and documented sources. So for now, I'm gonna take my cameras to the airport and wait for a Super to come by with the burners lit, streaming vapor and its nose to the sky.

Besides, if my mother likes it, it can't be that bad!
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Unread post22 May 2006, 22:37

The new-build Tomcats (Attack Tomcat 21 etc.) they had on the boards would have been a better aircraft but with today's budgets you wouldn't be getting as many of those as you can get Super Hornets.
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