The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet is a twin-engine carrier-based multirole fighter aircraft. The F/A-18E single-seat variant and F/A-18F tandem-seat variant are larger and more advanced derivatives of the F/A-18C and D Hornet. The Super Hornet has an internal 20 mm gun and can carry air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface weapons. Additional fuel can be carried with up to five external fuel tanks and the aircraft can be configured as an airborne tanker by adding an external air refueling system.
Designed and initially produced by McDonnell Douglas, the Super Hornet first flew in 1995. Full-rate production began in September 1997, after the merger of McDonnell Douglas and Boeing the previous month. The Super Hornet entered service with the United States Navy in 1999, replacing the Grumman F-14 Tomcat since 2006, and serves alongside the original Hornet. The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), which has operated the F/A-18A as its main fighter since 1984, ordered the F/A-18F in 2007 to replace its aging F-111 fleet. RAAF Super Hornets entered service in December 2010.
The Super Hornet traced its history back to the earlier 1980s, when an early version was marketed by McDonnell Douglas as Hornet 2000. The Hornet 2000 concept was an advanced version of the F/A-18 with a larger wing and a longer fuselage to carry more fuel and more powerful engines. The study for the Hornet 2000 was officially announced by McDonnell Douglas on 11 January 1988.
At the same time, the U.S. Naval Aviation faced a number of problems. The McDonnell Douglas A-12 Avenger II program, intended to replace the obsolete Grumman A-6 Intruder and LTV A-7 Corsair II, had run into serious problems and was canceled. During this time, the end of the Cold War resulted in military restructuring and budget cuts. With no clean-sheet program in the works, the Navy considered updating an existing design a more attractive approach. As an alternative to the A-12, McDonnell Douglas proposed the "Super Hornet" (initially "Hornet II" in the 1980s) to improve early F/A-18 models, and serve as an alternate replacement for the A-6 Intruder. At the same time, the Navy needed a fleet defense fighter to replace the canceled NATF, which was a proposed navalized variant of the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor.
The Super Hornet was first ordered by the U.S. Navy in 1992. The Navy would also direct that this fighter replace the aging F-14 Tomcat, essentially basing all naval combat jets on Hornet variants until the introduction of the F-35C Lightning II. The Navy retained the F/A-18 designation to help sell the program to Congress as a low-risk "derivative", though the Super Hornet is largely a new aircraft. The Hornet and Super Hornet share many design and flight characteristics, including avionics, ejection seats, radar, armament, mission computer software, and maintenance/operating procedures. In particular the initial F/A-18E/F retained most of the avionics systems from the F/A-18C/D's configuration at the time.
The Super Hornet first flew on 29 November 1995. Initial production on the F/A-18E/F began in 1995. Flight testing started in 1996 with the F/A-18E/F's first carrier landing in 1997. Low-rate production began in March 1997 with full production beginning in September 1997. Testing continued through 1999, finishing with sea trials and aerial refueling demonstrations. Testing involved 3,100 test flights covering 4,600 flight hours. The Super Hornet underwent U.S. Navy operational tests and evaluations in 1999, and was approved in February 2000.
The Navy considers acquisition of the Super Hornet a success with it meeting cost, schedule, and weight (400 lb, 181 kg below) requirements. Despite having the same general layout and systems, the Super Hornet differs in many ways from the original F/A-18 Hornet. The Super Hornet is informally referred to as the "Rhino" to distinguish it from earlier model "legacy" Hornets and to prevent confusion in radio calls. This aids safe flight operations, since the catapult and arresting systems must be set differently for the heavier Super Hornet. (The "Rhino" nickname was earlier used by the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, retired from the fleet in 1987.)
The U.S. Navy currently flies both the F/A-18E single-seater and F/A-18F two-seater in combat roles, taking the place of the retired F-14, A-6 Intruder, Lockheed S-3 Viking, and KA-6D. An electronic warfare variant, the EA-18G Growler, will replace the aging EA-6B Prowler. The Navy calls this reduction in aircraft types a "neck-down". In the Vietnam War era, the Super Hornet's capabilities were covered by no less than the A-1/A-4/A-7 (light attack), A-6 (medium attack), F-8/F-4 (fighter), RA-5C (recon), KA-3/KA-6 (tanker) and EA-6 (electronic warfare). It is anticipated that $1 billion in fleet wide annual savings will result from replacing other types with the Super Hornet.
In 2003, the Navy identified a flaw in the Super Hornet's under wing pylons, which could reduce the aircraft's service life unless repaired. The problem has been corrected on new airframes and existing aircraft will be repaired starting in 2009.
After initial fleet integration began, Boeing upgraded to the Block II version of the aircraft, incorporating an improved Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, changing to larger displays, integrating joint helmet mounted cuing system, and replacing many aircraft avionics. The Block II configuration has the avionics and weapons systems that were being developed for the proposed production JSF version of the Boeing X-32. As part of the Block II configuration, new-build aircraft received the APG-79 AESA radar beginning in 2005; earlier production aircraft will have their APG-73 replaced with the APG-79. In January 2008, 135 earlier production aircraft were to receive the AESA radar via retrofits.
In early 2008, Boeing discussed the development of a Super Hornet Block III with the U.S. and Australian military, featuring additional stealth capabilities and extended range; a long-term successor is to be developed under the Next Generation Air Dominance program. Development of an improved F414 engine with better resistance to foreign object damage, and a reduced fuel burn rate began in 2009. Work is also being done on possible performance improvements to increase thrust by 20%. 
Boeing is studying a centerline pod, which will have four internal stations for two AIM-120 AMRAAMs and two 500 lb Joint Direct Attack Munitions in a similar fashion to the Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle's Conformal Weapons Bays, but with less stealth.  Other improvements include a chin mounted IRST and all aspect missile and laser warning, in the same fashion as the F-35. A next-generation cockpit is also under development which has a very large 19 in x 11 in touch-sensitive display.
Boeing has offered India and other international customers the Super Hornet "International Roadmap", which includes conformal fuel tanks, enhanced engines, an enclosed weapons pod (EWP), a next-generation cockpit, a new missile warning system, and an internal infra-red search and track (IRST) system.   Three EWPs could be carried, one belly mounted and one under each wing, for a total combat load of up to 12 AMRAAMs and 2 Sidewinders. By holding the weapons in the streamlined pods the aircraft can reach higher speeds and altitudes, which can increase the standoff ranges of the weapons.
In the future, air-to-air target detection using Infrared Search and Track (IRST) in the form of a passive, long range sensor that detects long wave IR emissions will be an option with a unique solution. This new device will be a sensor built into the front of a centerline external fuel tank. Operational capability of this device is expected in 2013. On 18 May 2009, Lockheed Martin announced it had been selected by Boeing to conduct the technology development phase of this sensor. Lockheed Martin was awarded a contract to develop the IRST on 22 November 2011. Boeing has been issued a contract to develop a new mission computer in November 2011.
The Super Hornet is largely a new aircraft. It is about 20 percent larger, 7000lb heavier at empty weight, and 15000lb heavier at maximum weight than the original Hornet. The Super Hornet carries 33 percent more internal fuel, increasing mission range by 41 percent and endurance by 50 percent over the "Legacy" Hornet. The empty weight of the Super Hornet is about 11000lb less than that of the F-14 Tomcat which it replaced, while approaching, but not matching, the F-14's payload and range.
The Super Hornet, unlike the previous Hornet, is designed so it can be equipped with an aerial refueling system (ARS) or "buddy store" for the refueling of other aircraft, filling the tactical airborne tanker role the Navy had lost with the retirement of the KA-6D and Lockheed S-3B Viking tankers. The ARS includes an external 330USgal tank with hose reel on the centerline along with four external 480USgal tanks and internal tanks for a total of of fuel on the aircraft. 
The forward fuselage is unchanged but the remainder of the aircraft shares little with earlier F/A-18C/D models. The fuselage was stretched by to make room for fuel and future avionics upgrades and increased the wing area by 25%. However, the Super Hornet has 42% fewer structural parts than the original Hornet design. The General Electric F414 engine, developed from the Hornet's F404, has 35% additional thrust over most of aircraft's flight envelope.  The Super Hornet can return to an aircraft carrier with a larger load of unspent fuel and munitions than the original Hornet. The term for this ability is known as "bringback". Bringback for the Super Hornet is in excess of .
Other differences include rectangular intakes for the engines and two extra wing hard points for payload (for a total of 11). Among the most significant aerodynamic changes are the enlarged leading edge extensions (LEX) which provide improved vortex lifting characteristics in high angle of attack maneuvers, and reduce the static stability margin to enhance pitching characteristics. This results in pitch rates in excess of 40 degrees per second, and high resistance to departure from controlled flight.
Survivability is an important feature of the Super Hornet design. The U.S. Navy took a "balanced approach" to survivability in its design. This means that it does not rely on low-observable technology, such as stealth systems, to the exclusion of other survivability factors. Instead, its design incorporates a combination of stealth, advanced electronic-warfare capabilities, reduced ballistic vulnerability, the use of standoff weapons, and innovative tactics that cumulatively and collectively enhance the safety of the fighter and crew.
The F/A-18E/F's radar cross section was reduced greatly from some aspects, mainly the front and rear. The design of the engine inlets reduces the aircraft's frontal radar cross section. The alignment of the leading edges of the engine inlets is designed to scatter radiation to the sides. Fixed fanlike reflecting structures in the inlet tunnel divert radar energy away from the rotating fan blades.
The Super Hornet also makes considerable use of panel joint serration and edge alignment. Considerable attention has been paid to the removal or filling of unnecessary surface join gaps and resonant cavities. Where the F/A-18A-D used grilles to cover various accessory exhaust and inlet ducts, the F/A-18E/F uses perforated panels that appear opaque to radar waves at the frequencies used. Careful attention has been paid to the alignment of many panel boundaries and edges, to direct reflected waves away from the aircraft in uniformly narrow angles.
It is claimed that the Super Hornet employs the most extensive radar cross section reduction measures of any contemporary fighter, other than the F-22 and F-35. While the F/A-18E/F is not a true stealth fighter like the F-22, it will have a frontal RCS an order of magnitude smaller than prior generation fighters.
Initially, the Super Hornet's avionics and software had a 90% commonality with that of the F/A-18C/D fleet at the time. Differences include a touch-sensitive, up-front control display; a large liquid-crystal multipurpose color display; and a fuel display. The Super Hornet has a quadruplex digital fly-by-wire system, as well as a digital flight-control system that detects and corrects for battle damage. Initial production models used the APG-73 radar, later replaced by the APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA). The AN/ASQ-228 ATFLIR (Advanced Targeting Forward Looking InfraRed), is the main electro-optical sensor and laser designator pod for the Super Hornet. The communications equipment consist of an AN/AR-210 VHF/UHF radio and a MIDS low volume terminal for HAVE QUICK, SINCGARS and Link 16 connectivity.
The defensive countermeasures of Block I aircraft includes the AN/ALR-67(V)3 radar warning receiver, the AN/ALE-47 countermeasures dispenser, the AN/ALE-50 towed decoy and the AN/ALQ-165 Airborne Self-Protect Jammer (ASPJ). Newer Block II aircraft replace the ALQ-165 with the AN/ALQ-214 Integrated Defensive Countermeasures (IDECM) system which consists of internally mounted threat receivers and optional self-protection jammers. The interior and exterior lighting on the Block II has also been changed to allow the air crew to use night vision goggles (NVG). The older ALE-50 decoys are being replaced by ALE-55 towed decoys, which can transmit jamming signals based on data received from the IDECM. The improved AN/ALQ-214 jammer was added on Super Hornet Block II.
The Super Hornet Block II configuration includes the new APG-79 AESA radar; it enables its crew to execute simultaneous air-to-air and air-to-ground attacks. The APG-79 also provides higher quality high-resolution ground mapping at long standoff ranges. The AESA radar can also detect smaller targets, such as inbound missiles and can track air targets beyond the range of the Super Hornet's own air to air missiles. VFA-213 became "safe for flight" (independently fly and maintain the F/A-18F) on 27 October 2006 and is the first Super Hornet squadron to fly AESA-equipped Super Hornets.
The first Super Hornet upgraded with an aft cockpit Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) was delivered to VFA-213 on 18 May 2007. The JHMCS provides multi-purpose aircrew situational awareness including high-off-bore-sight cuing of the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile. The Shared Reconnaissance Pod (SHARP) is a high-resolution, digital tactical air reconnaissance system that features advanced day/night and all-weather capability. The Multifunctional Information Distribution System low volume communication terminal is being upgraded with the MIDS-JTRS system, which will allow a tenfold increase in bandwidth as well as compatibility with the Joint Tactical Radio System standards. Initial operational capability is planned for January 2011.
The Super Hornet achieved initial operating capability (IOC) in September 2001 with the U.S. Navy's Strike Fighter Squadron 115 (VFA-115) at Naval Air Station Lemoore, California. VFA-115 was also the first unit to take their F/A-18 Super Hornets into combat. On 6 November 2002, two F/A-18Es conducted a "Response Option" strike in support of Operation Southern Watch on two surface-to-air missile launchers at Al Kut, Iraq and an air defense command and control bunker at Tallil air base. One of the pilots, Lieutenant John Turner, dropped 2000lb JDAM bombs for the first time from the Super Hornet during combat.
In support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq War), VFA-14, VFA-41 and VFA-115 flew close air support, strike, escort, SEAD and aerial refueling sorties. Two F/A-18Es from VFA-14 and two F/A-18Fs from VFA-41 were forward deployed to the . The VFA-14 aircraft flew mostly as aerial refuelers and the VFA-41 fighters as Forward Air Controller (Airborne) or FAC(A)s. On 6 April 2005, VFA-154 and VFA-147 (the latter squadron then still operating F/A-18Cs) dropped two 500lb laser-guided bombs on enemy insurgent location east of Baghdad.
On 8 September 2006, VFA-211 F/A-18F Super Hornets expended GBU-12 and GBU-38 bombs against Taliban fighters and Taliban fortifications west and northwest of Kandahar. This was the first time the unit was in combat with the Super Hornet.
During the 2006–2007 cruise with, VFA-103 and VFA-143 supported Operations Iraqi Freedom, Enduring Freedom and operations off the Somali coast. Alongside "Legacy Hornet" squadrons, VFA-131 and VFA-83, they dropped 140 precision guided weapons and performed nearly 70 strafing runs.
In 2007, Boeing proposed additional F/A-18E/Fs to the U.S. Navy in a multi-year contract. In 2008, it was reported that the Navy was considering buying additional F/A-18 Super Hornets to bridge a "strike-fighter" gap.  As of October 2008, Boeing had delivered 367 Super Hornets to the U.S. Navy.
On 6 April 2009, Defense Secretary Gates announced that the Department of Defense intends to acquire further 31 F/A-18s in FY2010. Congressional action has requested that the DoD study a further multi-year contract in order to avoid a projected strike fighter shortfall. The FY2010 budget bill authorizes, but does not require, a multiyear purchase agreement for additional Super Hornets. 
On 14 May 2010, it was reported that Boeing and the US Department of Defense reached an agreement for a multi-year contract for an additional 66 F/A-18E/Fs and 58 EA-18Gs over the next four years. The latest order for 124 aircraft will raise the total fleet count to 515 F/A-18E/Fs and 114 EA-18Gs. However the Navy is already 60 fighters below its validated requirement for fighter aircraft and this purchase will not close the gap. The deal was finalized on 28 September 2010 for a multi-year contract said to save $600 million (over per year contracts) for 66 Super Hornets and 58 Growlers and to help deal with a four-year delay in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
On 3 May 2007, the Australian Government signed a contract to acquire 24 F/A-18Fs for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), at a cost of A$2.9 billion, as an interim replacement for the aging F-111s. The total cost with training and support over 10 years is A$6 billion (US$4.6 billion). The Super Hornets were ordered to replace the F-111, which was retired in December 2010, pending the delivery of the F-35 Lightning II.
The order remains controversial, with critics including some retired senior RAAF officers. Air Vice Marshal (ret.) Peter Criss, a former Air Commander Australia, said he was "absolutely astounded" that the Australian government would spend $6 billion on an interim aircraft. Criss has also cited evidence given by the US Senate Armed Services Committee that the Super Hornet Block I specific excess power is inferior to the MiG-29 and Su-30, which are already operated, or have been ordered, by air forces in South East Asia. Air Commodore (ret.) Ted Bushell stated that the F/A-18F could not perform the role that the Australian government had given it, and the F-111 airframe design would remain suitable for the strategic deterrent/strike role until at least 2020. Some critics have claimed that the decision to buy the F/A-18F merely serves to ease the sale of additional Super Hornets to Australia, should the F-35 program "encounter more problems".
A review of the purchase was announced on 31 December 2007, by the new Australian Labor government, as part of a wider review of the RAAF's combat aircraft procurement plans. The main reasons given were concerns over operational suitability, the lack of a proper review process, and internal beliefs that an interim fighter was not required. On 17 March 2008, the Government announced that it would proceed with plans to acquire all 24 F/A-18Fs. Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon said that the Super Hornet was an "excellent aircraft". However, Fitzgibbon also indicated that costs and logistical factors contributed to the decision: retirement of the F-111 had occurred in haste and was "irreversible", meaning that the F/A-18F was "the only aircraft" that could "meet the small delivery window", and "cancelling the Super Hornet would bring significant financial penalties and create understandable tensions between the contract partners."
The Block II package aircraft offered to the RAAF include installed engines and six spares, APG-79 AESA radars, Link 16 connectivity, LAU-127 guided missile launchers, AN/ALE-55 fiber optic towed decoys and other equipment. The Government has also sought US export approval for Boeing EA-18G Growlers. On 27 February 2009, Fitzgibbon announced that 12 of the 24 Super Hornets would be wired on the production line for future modification as EA-18Gs. The additional wiring would cost A$35 million. The final decision on conversion to EA-18Gs, at a cost of A$300 million, would be made in 2012.
The first RAAF Super Hornet was completed in 2009 and first flew from Boeing's factory in St. Louis, Missouri on 21 July 2009. RAAF pilots and air combat officers began training in the USA in 2009, with No. 1 Squadron planned to become fully operational with the F/A-18F in 2010. The RAAF's first five Super Hornets arrived at their home base, RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland, on 26 March 2010. These initial aircraft were joined by six more aircraft on 7 July 2010. With the arrival of another four aircraft in December 2010, the first RAAF F/A-18F squadron was declared operational on 9 December 2010.
The RAAF may need to buy additional Super Hornets to fill the gap in its air defense because of F-35 development delays.
The United States Marine Corps has avoided the Super Hornet program and their resistance is so high that they would rather fly former Navy F/A-18Cs that have been replaced with Super Hornets. This is said to be because they fear that any Super Hornet buys will be at the cost of the F-35B STOVL fighters that they intend to operate from amphibious ships. As a concession, the Marine Corps has agreed to eventually equip five Marine fighter-attack squadrons (VMFA) with the F-35C carrier variant to continue to augment Navy carrier air wings as they currently do with the F/A-18C.
Boeing offered Malaysia the Super Hornets as part of a buy-back package for its existing F/A-18 Hornets in 2002. However, the Super Hornet procurement was halted after the government decided to purchase the Sukhoi Su-30MKM instead in 2007. But RMAF Chief Gen. Datuk Nik Ismail Nik Mohamaed indicated that the RMAF had not planned to end procurement of the Super Hornets, instead saying that the air force needed such fighters.
Boeing has delivered Super Hornet proposals to the Danish and Brazilian governments in 2008. The Super Hornet is one of three fighter aircraft in a Danish competition to replace 48 F-16s.  In October 2008, it was reported the Super Hornet was selected as one of three finalists in Brazil's fighter competition. Brazil has put forward an initial requirement for 36 aircraft, with a potential total purchase of 120 examples.  In 2008, the Danish Air Force had been offered the Super Hornet, however to date no order has been placed.
For India's ongoing MMRCA competition, Boeing offered a customized variant called F/A-18IN which included Raytheon's APG-79 AESA radar. In August 2008, Boeing submitted an industrial participation proposal to India describing partnerships with companies in India. The Indian Air Force (IAF) extensively evaluated the Super Hornets and conducted field trials in August 2009. However, in April 2011, the IAF rejected F/A-18IN's bid in favor of Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale.
The House version of the Fiscal 2010 Defense Authorization Bill includes language that advises the USAF to consider adopting Super Hornets in order to avoid a gap in the nation's air defenses while the JSF ramps up.
On 1 August 2010, The Sunday Times reported that the British government was considering canceling orders for the F-35 Lightning II and buying the Super Hornet for its Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers instead. It is claimed that this would save the UK defence budget about £10 billion. An industry source has suggested that the Super Hornet could even be skijump launched without catapults.
Boeing complained that the "stealth characteristics" of the Super Hornet were ignored in Canada's sole source selection of the F-35.
In April 2012, Canada is reviewing its plans to procure the F-35 and may consider buying the F/A-18 Super Hornet instead.
Each United States Navy squadron has a standard unit establishment of 12 aircraft.