The McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18 Hornet was designed for aircraft carrier duty and was the first tactical aircraft designed to carry out both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. The US Marines ordered it as an F-18 fighter and the Navy as an A-18 attack aircraft. It can switch roles easily and can also be adapted for photoreconnaissance and electronic countermeasure missions.
Hornets entered active duty in January 1983. In 1986, Hornets on the USS Coral Sea flew their first combat missions. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, while performing an air-to-ground mission, Hornets switched to fighter mode and destroyed two Iraqi MiG-21s in air-to-air combat, then switched back to attack mode and successfully completed their air-to-ground mission. From October 2001 to August 2021, US Navy F/A-18s Hornets and Super Hornets provided around-the-clock battlefield coverage in the Afghanistan Theater of operations, where strike fighters were also tasked for some unusual missions.
‘In the war in Afghanistan, a section of Hornets was trolling around the mountains when the pilots were switched over to a ground controller,’ Tim Hibbetts, former US Navy F/A-18 Hornet pilot, recalls on Quora.
‘It turned out to be a few troops (unidentified type, strangely) who were watching a guy way across the gorge, scrambling pretty quickly. They asked the Hornets if they could help stop the guy. In short order, they had him on the infrared sensors (you can tell he was carrying something that looked like a rocket launcher). A few minutes later they zipped in with a 500-pound, laser-guided bomb.
‘A bomb used to take out tanks and buildings.
‘The footage was pretty dramatic (and definitive). The Hornet drivers were thanked for their efforts and flew home.’
‘There were a few other similar instances, many involving vehicles. Today’s common airborne sniper is the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. Those dudes are popping lone gunmen all over the place.’
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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