Military Aviation

Rafale Vs F/A-18 Super Hornet: which one between Rafale and ‘Rhino’ is the better multirole fighter aircraft?

A lot of people have a misconception of F/A-18 Super Hornet being older. If anything the Super Hornet Block III is a more modern design than Rafale.

In December 2000, the French Naval Aviation (Aéronavale), the air arm of the French Navy, received its first two Rafale M fighters. On May 18 the following year, the squadron Flottille 12F, which had previously operated the F-8 Crusader, became the first squadron to operate the Rafale after it was officially re-activated prior to the delivery of the sixth Rafale.

The Rafale M is the only non-US fighter type cleared to operate from the decks of US carriers, using catapults and their arresting gear, operating alongside US Navy’s squadrons flying the Boeing F/A-18E/F which soon will receive the latest variant of the Rhino (as the F/A-18E/F is dubbed by its aircrews), the Super Hornet Block III.

But which is the better between the Rafale and the Super Hornet Block III?

‘First, a lot of people have a misconception of F-18 Super Hornet being older,’ Abhirup Sengupta, an aviation expert, explains on Quora. ‘If anything the Super Hornet Block III is a more modern design than Rafale, you can see it in the cockpit, F-18E having bigger 19″ touchscreen display that can be configured based on mission.

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‘In air-air, Rafale’s Meteor gives it longer range than even AIM-120D. The ramjet provides longer burn-time and therefore, greater NEZ. Both AIM-9x and MICA IR use Imaging IR seekers and have similar off-boresight capabilities.’

Sengupta continues;

‘The Super Hornet has a bigger and more powerful radar. The APG-79 is about 60% bigger than RBE2-AA which would equate to substantial difference in performance.

‘Both have capable Integrated EW suites with their own advantages. The F-18E is one of the few 4th gen. capable of using its AESA radar for EW operations and the ALQ-214(v)4 has greater RF coverage today.

‘That being said, Meteor’s ramjet is a major advantage in air combat and will give Rafale considerable advantage until AIM-260 JATM becomes operational.

‘In air-ground, Rafale is mostly limited to French weapons which are expensive and not as versatile. For instance, HARMs give F-18E far better ability to target enemy radars.

‘The AGM-88E HARMs, JSOW, GBU-53 Storm Breaker and LRASM along with ability to carry decoys like MALD-J give F-18E much better strike capability overall, especially in SEAD role.’

Sengupta concludes;

‘There’s not a large difference in their overall performance. The F-18 Super Hornet’s major advantage is that it provides similar performance at much lower cost.

‘With Meteor Rafale is more potent in air combat until 2022 while Super Hornet is a better multirole platform. With AIM-260 it’ll be a different game where Super Hornet can fully exploit its superior radar.’

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Photo credit: Sheldon Rowley and Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan T. Beard / U.S. Navy

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.

View Comments

  • what are you talking?? Rafale will eat hornet at any altitude with any payload in a dog fight. Apart from that its RB AESA radar is superior to hornets APG 79 AESA in many aspects especially in relation to EW warfare which is best in the world in it's class "Spectra". The OLS passive IRST system gives distinct edge to Rafale in BVR which is absent is hornet and has to be installed if required as an extra exterior add-on. Rafale also has a better information fusion and display cockpit along with an extra screen dedicated to SPECTRA EW suite, Rafale also has greater range and can carry more payload compared to hornet. Block 3 or 4, doesnt matter, the basic design is the same, it's like saying that MIG-35 is a completely different design but it's not, it's just little bigger with some minor changes, also the AIM-9X is not as good as MICA as a dog fighting missile and yes, Rafale is also configured to carry nuclear payload which Hornet is not and will never be! So, bye bye Hornet, although you are cheaper but I dont think Navy should buy Hornet which fires AMRAAM 120-D as it's primary long range missile which we know it's not amongst the best in it's class!

  • First off the Rafale-M is a great aircraft. BUT for Naval Strike role the Block3 Hornet is superior. The Hornet is Nuke Strike Capable. Germany just bought a squadron for that role “ Germany ‘Approves’ Nuclear-Capable F/A 18 Super Hornets, EW Aircraft EA-18G Growlers To Modernize Fleet ” . Second, the AIM260 missiles are already being tested on F-22 & soon on F-18’s. It’s far superior to French Meteor. Third, the flexibility of available proven weapons, feasible cost & procurement put the Rafale at a disadvantage. Fourth, the superior radar partnered with AIM -260 makes it a better fleet defender; keeping the fleet out of missile range is imperative. Fifth, Maintenance, the cost of maintenance & parts availability directly corresponds = To Available Flight Ready Aircraft. Rafale is a great plane, but Hornet Block3 checks all the boxes.

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