U.S. and Australia plan to send 41 retired RAAF’s F/A-18 Hornets to Ukraine

The retired F/A-18s are sitting in a hangar at the Williamtown RAAF base outside Newcastle.

Australia should send Ukraine our 41 retired RAAF jets instead of letting them “sit in a shed and rot”, reported Sky news.

“We’ve got no further use for them and the US has suggested that perhaps we could ship them to Ukraine to help them with their war, of course against Russia,” he said.

“It seems like a no-brainer to me; we’re not going to use them.”

Australia, the US and Ukraine are discussing sending 41 Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18 Hornets to Kyiv helping fulfil part of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s request for fighter jets, rather than sending them to the scrapheap as planned.

The US, which recently gave permission to other Western allies to supply Ukraine with advanced fighter jets, including US-made F-16s, is favourably disposed to the idea of gifting Ukraine the F/A-18s.

Washington’s approval is needed because it owns the intellectual property on the jets that have been retired by the RAAF and which are being replaced by F-35s, of which Australia has ordered 72.

The retired F/A-18s are sitting in a hangar at the Williamtown RAAF base outside Newcastle and unless sent to Ukraine, will either be scrapped or sold to a private sector aviation company, RAVN Aerospace, to use in the US as “enemies” for military aviators to train against

Robert Potter, an Australian security expert advising the Ukrainian government, confirmed negotiations were underway, but a specific deal is yet to be finalised.

“However, the United States and Ukraine have an active and specific interest in the acquisition of fourth generation fighters for the Ukrainian Air Force,” he said.

“Australia operates a large stockpile of retired planes which are otherwise scheduled for destruction.

“There are multiple formal approvals required to conclude a procurement of these planes, but it is likely an idea whose time has come.”

A separate source close to the discussions agreed it made no sense to destroy perfectly good aircraft that he said could be operational within four months and used to help repel the Russian invasion.

While a handful of planes would only be good for cannibalising parts, the vast bulk would take little work to be brought up to flying condition and have a couple of years left on their airframes. The Australian Hornets are in good shape because they didn’t operate at sea.

Ukrainian pilots and ground crew could be quickly brought up to speed to operate the Hornets with Ukrainian language training manuals to be produced.

And with an influx of western fighters to help Ukraine, that would include ex-Hornet pilots.

Defense Minister Richard Marles, who met his Ukrainian counterpart on the sidelines of the weekend’s Shangri-La defence summit in Singapore, declined to comment, but his office pointed instead to comments he made at the weekend about Australia’s next contribution to the war effort.

“There are specific requests that Ukraine has made of us, I am not going to go into the details of those, but we are working through them with the government of Ukraine,” he said.

”Being there for as long as it takes means that we will have another iteration of support for Ukraine, that won’t be long before we announce that, obviously, we’re in conversation with Ukraine about how we can best contribute, as we are in a conversation with both the UK, the US and other allies about the best kind of contribution we could make.

“The starting point here is that we see what’s at issue in the war in Ukraine is really the sanctity of the global rules-based order itself.”

After initial resistance to President Zelensky’s request for used American fighters, US President Joe Biden at the G7 summit in Japan two weeks ago gave the green light to western allies to supply Kyiv with fourth generation fighters such as the Hornets and F-16s (which the RAAF does not operate).

Experts said there are several reasons why the Australian Hornets would help make a difference.

First, the Hornets would play an important role in defending Ukrainian civilians. Western air defence systems such as Patriot missiles are doing an effective job stopping the worst of Russia’s nightly bombardments of major cities, but there are still gaps, with less built-up areas lacking those systems.

Hornets flying around could be used to intercept and shoot down enemy missiles.

With their twin engines, the Hornets have a much greater chance of survivability if they were damaged. A pilot can land on one engine, and Ukraine cannot afford to lose pilots. And the Hornets are better suited than other fourth-gen jets to the rougher airfields of Ukraine.

Australia going first with an initial delivery of fighter jets would give the Americans (and other nations) cover to provide hundreds from its own fleet of F/A-18s.

It could also be a bad look for Australia if it were not prepared to give up ageing planes at the same time the Americans are preparing to share the crown jewels of their military, nuclear-powered submarines with Australia when the US doesn’t really have them to spare.

To prevent the risk of escalation, Australians (and the Americans) could make clear that the Hornets could only fly within Ukrainian airspace, warning if they were used to bomb Russia, the allies would stop maintaining the aircraft, effectively grounding them.

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