Legacy Hornet and Super Hornet

Congressional Budget Office found that the Super Hornet is aging faster than the Legacy Hornet

By Dario Leone
Feb 10 2023
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A report by the Congressional Budget Office found that the Super Hornet fleet has lower availability rates when compared to F/A-18C/D Legacy Hornet aircraft of the same age.

A report comparing the availability and use of the US Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter with their predecessor, the F/A-18C/D Legacy Hornets, has recently been released by the US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) (CLICK HERE to read the full report).

According to Alert 5, the report measures availability as the percentage of time an aircraft can be flown on training or operational missions and use as the number of hours flown on those missions, expressed as average monthly flying hours per aircraft.

Both types of Hornets experienced sharper and steeper drops in availability compared to the rest of the Navy’s fleet, the report found out. Compared to the Legacy Hornet, the Super Hornet, being a newer aircraft, on average has a higher availability rate. But the Super Hornet fleet has lower availability rates when compared to F/A-18C/Ds of the same age. For instance, Super Hornet availability at age 10 was 18 percentage points lower than F/A-18C/D availability at the same age, comparable to F/A-18C/D availability at age 20.

Based on these it can be said that the age has had a more adverse effect on the Super Hornets than their predecessors.

Flying hours cannot explain the difference in availability between the two types of aircraft the report says. The monthly flying hours of Super Hornets only slightly exceeded those of F/A-18C/Ds in the early years of operation, but by age 10, Super Hornets were flying for fewer hours per month than their predecessors.

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CBO extended the comparison of Super Hornet availability and use to include other Department of the Navy (DoN) fighter and attack aircraft: EA-18Gs Growlers, AV-8B Harriers and F/A-18A/Bs. Designed to jam an enemy’s transmissions and attack an enemy’s air defenses, EA-18Gs are similar to F/A-18E/F Super Hornets except with electronic warfare equipment installed. Given their added complexity, it is perhaps not surprising that EA-18Gs have had lower availability rates and have flown fewer hours per month than Super Hornets. Super Hornets have had lower availability rates, but have also been flown more, than AV-8Bs. Super Hornets have been flown more than F/A-18A/Bs were flown.

CBO also compared Super Hornet availability rates and flying hours with those of various US Air Force (USAF) fighter and attack aircraft (F-22As, F-16A/Bs, F-15A/Bs, F-16C/Ds, F-15Es, F-15C/Ds and A-10s). The data used to calculate Air Force aircraft availability and flying hours come from that service’s Reliability and Maintainability Information System (REMIS). Except for F-22s in their early years, USAF fighter and attack aircraft have had higher availability rates than have Super Hornets. (F-22s had lower availability rates in their first 10 years than any other Air Force aircraft CBO analyzed for this comparison.) F-22s and other Air Force fighter and attack aircraft generally have flown fewer hours per month, on average, than Super Hornets, a finding that echoes previous CBO research showing that the Navy flies its fighter and attack aircraft more hours per month than the Air Force flies its aircraft.

The availability rates of Super Hornets may continue to decline as the fleet ages, as has been observed for many fighter and attack aircraft, the report concludes. Nevertheless, since some fleets have had stable availability rates for extended periods, the Navy could take steps to increase or stabilize the availability rate of the Super Hornet by increasing maintenance funding.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy

F/A-18F model
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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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