The original single-seat F/A-18 Hornet was the United States's first strike-fighter. It was designed for traditional strike applications such as interdiction and close air support without compromising its fighter capabilities. In its attack mode, it is used for force projection, interdiction and close and deep air support. In its fighter mode, the F/A-18 is used primarily as a fighter escort and for fleet air defense, supplementing the F-14 Tomcat. F/A-18 Hornets were flown by the U.S. Navy's Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron beginning in 1986.
The F/A-18 demonstrated its capabilities and versatility during Operation Desert Storm, shooting down enemy fighters and subsequently bombing enemy targets with the same aircraft on the same mission, and breaking all records for tactical aircraft in availability, reliability, and maintainability. The aircraft's survivability was proven by Hornets taking direct hits from surface-to-air missiles, recovering successfully, being repaired quickly, and flying again the next day.
The F/A-18 is a twin engine, mid-wing, multi-mission tactical aircraft. The F/A-18A and C are single seat aircraft. The F/A-18B and D are dual-seaters. The B model is used primarily for training, while the D model is the current Navy aircraft for attack, tactical air control, forward air control and reconnaissance squadrons.
The newest models, the single seat E and two-seat F Super Hornets, carry over the name and design concept of the original F/A-18 but are in fact different aircraft with a new, 30% larger airframe. The Super Hornet has a stretched fuselage and larger wings, leading-edge extensions, and horizontal tails; the GE F414 engines are a more powerful development of the F/A-18's F404; the avionics suite is upgraded but broadly similar. The E/F began when McDonnell Douglas proposed an enlarged Hornet to replace the cancelled A-12 project. (The ambitious and very expensive A-12 design was to have been a stealthy replacement for the US Navy A-6 and US Air Force attack aircraft.) Congress was unwilling to fund a "new" aircraft, however the proposed F/A-18E could be represented as a mere upgrade, and a $3.8 billion development contract was signed in December 1992. The first of the new aircraft was rolled out at McDonnell Douglas September 17, 1995, and the Super Hornet is currently in production.
All F/A-18s can be configured quickly to perform either fighter or attack roles or both, through selected use of external equipment to accomplish specific missions. This "force multiplier" capability gives the operational commander more flexibility in employing tactical aircraft in a rapidly changing battle scenario. The fighter missions are primarily fighter escort and fleet air defense; while the attack missions are force projection, interdiction, and close and deep air support.
The F/A-18C and D models are the result of a block upgrade in 1987 incorporating provisions for employing updated missiles and jamming devices against enemy ordnance. C and D models delivered since 1989 also include an improved night attack capability.
Apart from the US Navy, US Marine Corps and NASA, F/A-18 is used by the armed forces of: Australia (Royal Australian Air Force), Kuwait (Al Quwwat Aj Jawwaiya Al Kuwaitiya), Switzerland (Kommando der Flieger und Fliegeabwehrtruppen), Finland (Suomen Ilmavoimat, F-18C/D interceptor variant), Malaysia (Tentera Udara Diraja Malaysia), Canada (Canadian Armed Forces, designation CF-188 and CF-188B), Spain (EjÚrcito del Aire, designation C.15).
General Characteristics, C and D models
General Characteristics, E and F models
See also: F-18 Hornet, Comparison of 2000s fighter aircraft