The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has operated McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighter aircraft since 1984. The Australian Government purchased 75 “A” and “B” variants of the F/A-18 in 1981 to replace the RAAF’s Dassault Mirage III fighters. The Hornets entered service with the RAAF between 1984 and 1990, and 71 remain in operation as of 2017. The other four Hornets were destroyed in flying accidents during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
RAAF Hornets were first sent on a combat deployment as part of the Australian contribution to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. During the invasion, 14 Hornets flew patrols over Iraq, as well as close air support sorties to assist coalition ground forces. RAAF F/A-18s also provided security for the American air base at Diego Garcia between late 2001 and early 2002, and have protected a number of high-profile events in Australia. Between 2015 and 2017 a detachment of Hornets was deployed to the Middle East and struck ISIL targets as part of Operation Okra.
Since 1999 the RAAF has put its Hornets through a series of upgrades to improve their effectiveness. However, the aircraft are becoming increasingly difficult to operate and are at risk of being outclassed by the fighters and air-defence systems operated by other countries. As a result, the RAAF will begin to retire its F/A-18s in the late 2010s, and the last aircraft will leave service in the early 2020s. Under current Australian Government planning they will be replaced by 72 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters. The Australian Government has offered the Hornets for sale once they are no longer needed by the RAAF, and the Canadian Government announced its intention to purchase 18 in December 2017.
In addition to the F/A-18A and F/A-18B Hornets, Australia has purchased 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets, with deliveries beginning in 2009. On 3 May 2013, the Australian Government announced that it will buy 12 new-build Growlers to supplement the existing Super Hornet fleet. Australia took delivery of the first of 12 Growlers on 29 July 2015, with the delivery of the remaining jets expected by 2017. In March 2015 six F/A-18As from No. 75 Squadron were deployed to the Middle East as part of Operation Okra, replacing a detachment of Super Hornets.