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Sting for the Ukrainian Air-Force

 The pressure to send western fighter aircraft to Ukraine has mounted for months. Even from the evasive answers of the politicians and officials in the know, we can deduce that some decisions have been made and at least the US and UK are training Ukrainian pilots for undisclosed aircraft types. The most often talked about fighter models are the Swedish Gripen, American F-16 and European Tornadoes and Typhoons, with an honorary mention going for the French Mirage 2000. 

Spanish Air-Force EF-18M (Photo by:TOMAS DEL CORO)

All of the aforementioned planes in all of their versions would be more capable than the current Ukrainian air force inventory that is rapidly reaching the end of their service life. But there is one additional option that is available in decent numbers and is very well suited for Ukrainian use: F-18 Hornet.

While the US Navy and parts of the USMC have already phased out their legacy Hornets in favor of the more capable and especially longer ranged Super Hornet, there are still a considerable amount of airframes in the US inventory. The Royal Australian Air-Force has also recently retired its F-18A/B fighters, with last units transitioning away from the type in 2021.

In its original form the F-18A/B is an excellent multirole fighter capable of using a wide variety of US made air-to-air missiles, long range anti-ship missiles and ground attack munitions. It was designed to be operated from the US Navy carriers and as a land based fighter from various forward air bases by the United States Marines.

The capabilities required for aircraft carrier operations like tailhooks and foldable wings are also very useful when operating from dispersed temporary airbases and highway landing strips. The Finnish Air-force has perfected the use of the F-18C/D models from such bases against the expected Russian opposition. The Finnish operating model also includes ready tactics for operating within the range of Russian electronic warfare and anti-aircraft systems.

While Finland is not in a position to donate any of its 62 Hornets to Ukraine, it could provide significant training and logistics aid. Finland trains ground crews from conscripts and thus it has already planned the training programs for rapidly creating the required support personnel.

Another country that is possibly retiring its F-18 Hornets is Spain. The Spanish air-force operates two standards of F-18 fighters. They are already replacing their US Navy vintage F-18A+/B+ fighters with Eurofighter Typhoons. The single seater F-18A+ and two-seater F-18B+ have been upgraded close to the later US spec F-18C/D (seating options respectively). While the airframes are worn out, they still have enough life in them to do what they were designed to do, kill some Russians flying cold war era fighters.

The more radically modernized Spanish EF-18M Hornets haven’t been retired yet, but there has been talk about their replacement within the 2025-2030 timeframe by Typhoons. EF-18M has been thoroughly upgraded as barring the AESA radar and shorter range they are otherwise equal to the F-18E/F Super Hornets. 

The EF-18M has two more tricks up its sleeve that even the Super Hornet can’t do. It has been integrated with the Meteor BVRAAM and Taurus KEPD350 cruise missiles that allow the EF-18M to punch much farther against both air and ground targets than either the F-16 or Mirage 2000.

While the writer isn’t knowledgeable enough to state what fighters would be optimal for the Ukrainian Air Force or can he predict what options are politically viable, the legacy F-18 Hornets would be viable for the role.

The most important thing at the moment is that Ukraine can get any fighters as soon as possible to augment its rapidly wearing fleet of Migs and Sukhois. 


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