Boeing Frontiers
July 2003
Volume 02, Issue 03
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Integrated Defense Systems

How about a HUG?

Upgrade improves interoperability of Australian Hornets


Thanks in part to an upgrade program started five years ago, Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18s were able to play a significant role in coalition operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Australia sent 14 F/A-18As from 75 Squadron ("the Magpies") to support coalition forces as part of what Australia dubbed Operation Falconer. The 14 F/A-18s flew more than 670 sorties, including 350 combat sorties, without a loss.

Such support would not have been possible without new technology from Boeing Integrated Defense Systems installed in the jets as part of the Hornet Upgrade (HUG) program. The HUG program was essential to modernize this fleet of A- and B-model aircraft so their crews could communicate successfully with their allied partners, a critical component in the integrated battlespace.

The first phase of the upgrade improved communication, navigation and interoperability to enable the Australian F/A-18s to communicate easily with other coalition aircraft, such as U.S. Navy F/A-18s.

In the first few days of coalition military operations in Iraq, a patrolling Australian Hornet was called on to engage a ground target. The Hornet was able to "swing-role" to attack an identified military ground target with a GBU-12, a 500-pound laser-guided bomb.

Royal Australian Air Force Cpl. Dan Graham arms a missileThis marked the first actual use of weapons in a conflict for the Australian fighter force since the Korean War. The Hornet pilots themselves praised the upgrade and credited it with making them more effective.

"The ease of operation and flexibility of use of this communications suite, which regard as the best of any fighter aircraft in theater, assisted in reduced pilot workload in a complex and busy Command and Control environment and afforded more situational awareness to the pilot," said Wing Commander Mel Hupfeld, commanding officer of 75 Squadron. "One of our pairs, having been on Defensive Counter Air Combat Air Patrol for five hours, was re-tasked to a time-sensitive target. They were able to speak effectively with a controlling agency on secure radio to locate and identify the target to employ a GBU-12. This engagement punctuated the versatility of this multi-role aircraft and emphasized why this capability suited the coalition's needs in this campaign."

HUG enhanced the Hornets' capabilities, but that was only part of the story, Australian officials said.

"All 14 of our F/A-18s have undertaken predetermined strike missions against ground targets leading to Baghdad from the south, as well as providing close air support to coalition ground forces," said Chief of the Air Force Air Marshall Angus G. Houston. "In many respects, it was probably the best of the old Hornet aircraft in theater because of the upgrade we had given it. Of course, our pilots are very well-trained, are highly skilled and used it to maximum effect."

The HUG program is the most significant upgrade to the RAAF aircraft since they were delivered between 1985 and 1990. Australia leads the international Hornet community in updating its fleet.

The program, divided into several phases, ultimately will modernize all 71 of the Hornets in the Australian fleet. The jets that flew missions in Iraq also were retrofitted with the APG-73 radar, which improves targeting and navigational capabilities, as part of Phase 2.1 of the program.

Boeing IDS is currently developing Phase 2.2 upgrades that will add more advanced systems and capabilities, such as the Joint Helmet Mounting Cueing System and advanced color displays. Boeing IDS administers the HUG program, with all installation work being completed at RAAF Base Williamtown, near Newcastle, in New South Wales, Australia.


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