The classic F/A-18A Hornets currently doing their stuff in Exercise Pitch Black are still considered the most advanced of their type even at 30 years of age.
Despite their ageing bodies and dramatic advances in aviation technology since they were made, the F/A-18A hornets are regarded as “brilliant”, Wing Commander Mick Grant, the commanding officer of 75 Squadron said.
During Exercise Pitch Black, the Aussie war machines are being flown alongside some of the premier jets from around the world.
The F/A-18A Hornet’s engines and electronic systems have been kept updated, Wing Commander Grant said.
“The avionic suites are probably the most advanced of the Classic fleet in the world,” he said.
Despite their sterling service to the Australian military, the attack mainstay of the RAAF is to be phased out and replaced by a stealthy F-35.
More than a billion dollars is being spent at the Tindal RAAF Base preparing for the arrival of the new US-made fighter jets in the next few years.
“We need to keep up with new peers and evolve ahead of others,” Wing Commander Grant said.
“The new F-35 is a new generation, the key to the F-35 is everything inside is integrated, it is a stealth platform.”
Come 2021, the Classic Hornets will have been retired and the new generation will be in full force.
Currently Pitch Black is going “exceptionally well,” Wing Commander Grant said.
With up to 86 jets in the air space at any one time, it is busy.
But Australia’s second to none training has meant exercises throughout Pitch Black operations have been successful.
“The benefit of Pitch Black… is really about getting as many aircraft in the airspace at any one time,” Wing Commander Grant said.
“The sheer volume of platforms in the air space makes it complex.
“And then we go and do it at night time, which just adds another degree of complexity.
“We do fly with night vision goggles, but in reality they do not turn night into day,” he said.
The darkness makes it harder to stay in formation, he said.
“You need that absolute flying discipline to make sure that we are all missing each other, while we are being tactically effective, and that is a challenge for everyone.”
American Lieutenant Colonel Tuck Compton, headquartered in Japan, has brought over 217 Marines to participate in Pitch Black.
He said Pitch Black success comes down to the training of the individual, not the type of jet.
“It comes right down to the individual. You can never show up and think you’ve got it because you have a better airplane, you always have to show up with the idea that the other fella has been training hard, and you better train hard too.”
Flying Hornets with multinational friends and allies in the Top End has provided premier ranges to carry out exercises, he said.
“Airspace in Japan is more constrained.
“Here it is a different population density and much less air traffic.
“It is a fabulous place to train.”