Warplanes: Foreign Upgrades for F-18s


October 30, 2005: The F-18 Hornet has been in service in a number of countries, including Canada (90 CF-18A, 39 Cf-18B), Australia (55 AF-18A, 16 AF-18B), Finland (57 F-18C, 7 F-18D), Kuwait (32 F-18C, 8 F-18D), Malaysia (8 F-18D), and Spain (59 EF-18A, 12 EF-18B). One thing that has happened is that some of these countries are customizing these F-18s - giving them a much more powerful sting.

One of the upgrades has been from Spain. The Spanish air force adding the Taurus KEPD 350 missile. This is a system that uses GPS guidance for precision attacks, while also adding imaging infra-red guidance for the terminal phase of its attack, making it a potent anti-ship weapon as well. It has a range of 350 kilometers and delivers a 1,080-pound MEPHISTO warhead onto its target. The MEPHISTO is intended as a hard-target penetrator. This will enable the F-18s to fire at ships and other targets well out of the range of most surface-to-air missiles, and the missiles only cost about $675,000 each, compared to over $1 million for the shorter-range Storm Shadow/SCALP.

Australia is also upgrading its F-18s. This upgrade is to add the Joint Direct Attack Munition to the weapons on these Hornets. JDAM is also GPS-guided, making it capable of landing within fifty feet of its target in any weather - or when a battlefield is obscured by smoke. JDAM can be dropped from up to 24 kilometers away from a target. This is within the range of some surface-to-air missiles (usually systems like the SA-6). This system is also cheap, coming in at about $18,00 per tail kit, which is usually strapped onto a bomb (usually the Mk 84 general-purpose bomb or the BLU-109 hard-target penetrator). Australia is also considering the KEPD 350 system in a competition with the JASSM and the SLAM-ER to equip the Australian Hornet force with a long-range standoff missile.

The F-18 has been in service for 25 years. In that time, it has been getting newer and more powerful stingers to inflict on the enemies of the countries it has served with. The Spanish and Australian upgrades are not the first for the F-18s in service around the world, nor will they be the last. - Harold C. Hutchison (hchutch@ix.netcom.com)


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