The Hornet went to battle for the first time in 1986. From the USS Coral Sea, the F/A-18A flew against Libyan aircraft. Later, following terrorist bombings in Berlin, the Hornet led successful ship-to-shore air strikes against missile bases in Libya and SAM missile sites around Tripoli and Benghazi.
But its proving ground was the Gulf War and Operation Southern Watch. More than 210 U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Canadian F/A-18 Hornets were engaged in Operation Desert Storm. More than 6,000 targets were hit by Hornet aircraft flying a variety of missions from fleet air defense, to reconnaissance, to suppression of enemy ground forces. The F/A-18 aircraft delivered 18 million pounds of ordnance, clocked more than 30,000 flight hours and averaged 1.2 sorties each per day or about 11,000. Throughout Desert Storm, the aircraft averaged 90 percent readiness. Hornets completed 95 percent of scheduled sorties and missed none for maintenance reasons.
The Hornet also proved survivability during the conflict. It was able to take direct hits from surface-to-air missiles, recover, land and be quickly repaired to fly again the next day. Altogether, two were lost in combat and three to non-combat accidents.
On the first Desert Storm combat mission, two Hornet aircraft carrying four 2000-pound bombs each encountered a pair of MiG-21 fighters. The Hornet pilots shot down the MiGs and went on to complete their bombing runs.
The Hornet also was flown to help win the peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina.