F-35A Lightning II

Q. No. 3 Squadron has stopped flying the F/A-18A Hornet, what’s happened to the planes? Do we have less fighter aircraft available to protect Australia as we change over to the F-35A?

A. All of No. 3 Squadron’s F/A-18A Hornets have been pooled and are now being flown by the other legacy Hornet squadrons, though mostly at No. 77 Squadron. No. 77 Squadron is scheduled to retire their Hornets next in 2020/2021 after No. 3 Squadron reaches Initial Operating Capability with the F-35A. Essentially, we will have more fighter aircraft available during the transition but about the same number of pilots.

Q. What does Initial Operating Capability mean?

A. It is a term used to describe the situation when a squadron or unit has enough trained people and equipment to undertake its job in the Air Force. To parse the phrase – the unit is ‘capable to operate’. For a fighter squadron, Initial Operating Capability (IOC) means the squadron is ready to go to war. This makes IOC an important milestone.

Q. We received the legacy F/A-18A Hornets in the 80s, are they too old to successfully go up against enemy aircraft?

A. The F/A-18A Hornet is an older airframe but over the last 30 years we’ve been upgrading the engines, the avionics, the electronics and other systems that help us target the enemy during wartime. The legacy Hornets squadrons still work well. They spent more time in the Middle East than the newer Super Hornet squadrons and deployed thousands of weapons over thousands of missions just in the last few years. It remains very capable.