In order to ensure the use of the 25-year-old F/A-18C/Ds until the delivery of the new F-35A combat aircraft, these are subject to a extension of the service life. New work was completed in the past year, such as the introduction of updated aircraft software and a radio system with new encryption technology. In the current state of planning, the new F-35A combat aircraft will be delivered gradually over a period extending from 2027 to 2030 and they will be able to fulfill their mission in the early 2030s. The F/A-18C/D Hornet type combat aircraft are to be used until the 2030s for the protection and defense of Swiss airspace.
To avoid any shortcomings in the fulfillment of these tasks, the Parliament instructed the DDPS to carry out the project “Extension of the service life of the F/A-18 combat aircraft” at a cost of 450 million Swiss francs. The partial 6,000 flight hour per aircraft certification project should be largely completed as planned by the end of 2023. The measures required for continuing airworthiness – such as additional inspections – can then be defined. The remaining work will be carried out in such a way that the availability of the air fleet is not reduced if possible and that the service and training of the Swiss Air Force is ensured.
The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet is a twin-engine, carrier-capable, multirole combat aircraft, designed as both a fighter and attack aircraft (hence the F/A designation). The Swiss Air Force purchased 26 C models and eight D models. Aircraft were delivered from January 1996 to December 1999. Three D models and one C model had been lost in crashes as of 2016. On 14 October 2015, an F/A-18D crashed in France during training with two Swiss Air Force Northrop F-5s in the Swiss/French training area EURAC25; the pilot ejected safely. In late 2007, Switzerland requested to be included in the F/A-18C/D Upgrade 25 Program, to extend the useful life of its F/A-18C/Ds.
RUAG is responsible for key parts of the service life extension program, including a partial aircraft structural inspection and remediation project. These delays are attributed to the complexity of this high-level technical work and to the aging of the aircraft, resulting in increased maintenance operations. RUAG Aerostructures also has a significant work share in the wings of the Boeing F/A-18 with the aileron and trailing edge flaps. In the course of time several other countries have also acquired the Hornet such as Switzerland; this aircraft is deployed exclusively from land air bases.