Ukraine Studying Condition Of Australian F/A-18 Hornets

In a follow-up to our feature on how Australia’s surplus upgraded F/A-18 Hornets could be well suited for reequipping Ukraine’s war-torn air force, The War Zone has confirmed that Ukraine is indeed exploring if the jets could be a fit for its very pressing needs. 

“We are at the early stage studying the technical characteristics and operability of the aircraft,” Vasyl Myroshnychenko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia, told The War Zone Wednesday afternoon.

RAAF F/A-18 Legacy Hornet sits running in a shelter. (RAAF)

While Myroshnychenko told us that “Ukraine has not officially requested the Hornets” just yet, buzz about RAAF Hornets possibly heading to Kyiv has been building.

“High-level international negotiations are continuing between Australia, Ukraine, and the United States over the fate of the decommissioned fighter aircraft, in what could become this country’s largest-ever single transfer of military equipment to a foreign power,” the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) wrote last week.

A day earlier, the Australian Financial Review posited a similar idea, saying that the Biden administration “is favorably disposed to the idea of gifting Ukraine the F/A-18s.”

The Biden administration “would certainly be open to this process and assess it on its merits if Australia requests it,” a U.S. official told The War Zone Wednesday. 

However, the official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss this process, is “not aware of any negotiations the U.S. is involved in” regarding the Hornets. “We are not sure how serious the idea is right now or how flushed out it is.”

The Biden administration has “certainly heard about the idea, but we have not been approached by the Australians,” said the official. 

Told that the Ukrainians have yet to formally request the Hornets but are in the process of assessing their condition, the official said “that makes sense. Why request a third-party transfer if you haven’t been asked?”

The Biden administration “certainly wants Ukraine to get airplanes,” the official said, adding that last month’s decision by President Joe Biden to allow Ukrainian pilots to be trained on F-16s shows that “we are supportive of that.”

But “without knowing how serious this is, it’s hard to weigh in on the details too much,” the official said.

After the upgraded FA/-18A/Bs were retired in 2021, Texas-based adversary air contractor RAVN Aerospace (then called Air USA) entered into an agreement to purchase up to 46 of the multi-role fighters. They are currently housed at RAAF Base Williamtown in varying states of airworthiness.

Sources familiar with the negotiations told ABC that “RAVN Aerospace is willing to ‘on-sell’ the Hornets to Ukraine but first requires approval from the White House given the fourth-generation fighters have American intellectual property.”

The War Zone understands that if the jets don’t get transferred to another party, and soon, they will be shredded.

RAVN has declined to officially comment on the matter.

RAAF F/A-18 Hornet pilots discuss their mission after landing at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. (Royal Australian Air Force photo by Cpl. David Gibbs)

Next month, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is expected to unveil a new package of military support for Ukraine, ABC reported, “but a senior government official played down suggestions the F/A-18s would be part of the announcement.”

As noted earlier, the concept of RAVN turning over its Hornets to Ukraine is something we first broached back in April. Our in-depth report looked at the many advantages and disadvantages of such a proposition, as well what it could mean for Ukraine.

Considering what is happening in Ukraine, and the country’s extreme need for Western fourth-generation fighter capabilities, having dozens of upgraded F/A-18s in good condition just languishing in storage seems like a remarkable missed opportunity. With this in mind we set out to get to the bottom of the status of the Hornets and what could be possible not just in terms of providing fighters for Kyiv’s cause but also rapidly training pilots and ground crews to support that cause.

You can read more about that in our deep dive here.

Australia’s ability to consider such a transfer is only possible because it transitioned to more modern F/A-18F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers, and F-35 Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters. The RAAF’s first squadron of F-35s became operational in 2021. The RAAF says it expects all 72 of its F-35s to be fully operational this calendar year. Two dozen Super Hornets and a dozen Growlers round-out the RAAF’s tactical jet inventory.

Australia’s current tactical jet stable. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Hailey Haux)

If the RAAF Hornet transfer were to become a reality, a “Hornet coalition” for Ukraine, akin to the one being formed over the Vipers, is not unthinkable, either. Like Australia, there are a number of nations that will be transitioning from the Hornet to the Lightning in just a few years time. This would allow Ukraine to continue Hornet operations well into the next decade with spare airframes, parts, and expertise.

Finland has 62 F/A-18C/D multirole fighter jets and 64 F-35s on order. Canada recently finalized a deal to purchase F-35As to replace its fleet of CF-18 Hornets. In 2021, Switzerland selected the F-35 to replace the Swiss Air Force’s existing fleet of 30 ‘legacy’ F/A-18C/D Hornets. Spain will be concluding Hornet operations in the coming years as well. Other international opportunities exist, too. This includes Kuwait’s notoriously healthy F/A-18C/D fleet that is being replaced, and possibly U.S. examples, as well.

While all this remains in the discovery stages at this time, at least publicly, we have seen other advanced weapons acquisitions for Ukraine ramp up drastically if the powers that be come together on the subject.

The optics of shredding capable jets that are well suited for Ukraine’s needs while the country is begging the world for 4th generation fighter capability would be abysmal, regardless.

We will certainly keep an eye on this as it develops.

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Howard Altman Avatar

Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.