This Is Our First Look At A Kuwait Air Force Super Hornet In Its Frontline Paint

Kuwait’s first F/A-18E is now undergoing testing at St. Louis in its service colors.

BRYAN BAISLEY

An F/A-18E Super Hornet fighter for the Kuwait Air Force is now flying from Boeing’s St. Louis, Missouri, facility wearing its frontline paint scheme. That service is in the midst of a major modernization drive, which includes the acquisition of Eurofighter Typhoons, as well as Super Hornets.

The accompanying photos, which Scramble was among the first to notice, were captured by Bryan Baisley, whose Instagram page is well worth checking out. The Super Hornet was making multiple touch-and-goes at the airfield — which Boeing shares with Lambert International Airport — on September 25, 2020. 

The single-seat F/A-18E wears the Kuwait Air Force (KAF) serial 803 and the U.S. Navy Bureau Number (BuNo) 169708. It’s the first of 22 F/A-18Es that are on order for the Gulf state, together with six twin-seat F/A-18Fs. 

This is not the first Kuwaiti Super Hornet we’ve seen on a test flight. Previously, on July 2, 2020, one of the F/A-18Fs under construction for that country, with the BuNo 169731, was noted flying at St. Louis, but was still wearing primer paint and was yet to receive its KAF serial.

The Kuwaiti Super Hornets are an interesting hybrid. Often erroneously referred to as Block III jets, the standard for the KAF is actually somewhere between the existing Block II and the Block III that’s now in production for the U.S. Navy.

BRYAN BAISLEY

In the past, Boeing officials have been slightly coy about the exact equipment fit of the Kuwaiti jets. As reported by The War Zone back in May 2018, Dan Gillian, Vice President of Boeing’s F/A-18 program, said there would be at least some overlap between the KAF fighters and the U.S. Navy’s Block III jets and that they would be the most advanced versions of the aircraft to date when they rolled off the production line.

More recently, it emerged that the Kuwaiti order had actually helped fund parts of the Block III program and the KAF’s jets will receive some of the same upgrades, such as the Elbit Systems wide-area cockpit displays. 

The KAF fighter force currently operates F/A-18C/D Hornets, which it acquired in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. These fighters equip two frontline squadrons and an operational conversion unit at Ahmed al Jaber Air Base. Total deliveries comprised of 32 single-seat F/A-18Cs and eight two-seat F/A-18Ds. To date, one Kuwaiti F/A-18C has been lost in a crash, which occurred on September 21, 2003, while another damaged in a separate incident was reportedly rebuilt. 

DOD

A Kuwaiti F/A-18C on exercise in the United States in 1993.

Of all the ‘legacy’ Hornets, the surviving Kuwaiti F/A-18C/Ds are among those in the best condition, and in the past, both Canada and Malaysia have expressed interest in buying them. They are also some of the most colorful, wearing a unique three-tone camouflage scheme, notably absent from the Super Hornet seen here.

BRYAN BAISLEY

A potential Kuwaiti Super Hornet deal worth up to $10.1 billion was announced by the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on November 17, 2016, notifying Congress that U.S. State Department approval for the purchase had been granted. At that time, the order was expected to comprise up to 32 F/A-18Es and eight F/A-18Fs, which would have been a one-for-one replacement of the existing Hornets.

The full scope of the original package, as outlined by the DSCA, was as follows:

32 F/A-18E aircraft, with F414-GE-400 engines; 8 F/A-18F aircraft, with F414-GE-400 engines; 8 spare F414-GE-400 engines and 24 engine modules; 41 AN/APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radars; 44 M61A2 20mm Gun Systems; 45 AN/ALR-67(V)3 Radar Warning Receivers; 240 LAU-127E/A Guided Missile Launchers; 45 AN/ALE-47 Airborne Countermeasures Dispenser Systems; 12 AN/AAQ-33 SNIPER Advanced Targeting Pods; 48 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS); 45 AN/ALQ-214 Radio Frequency Counter-Measures Systems; 45 AN/ALE-55 Towed Decoys; 48 Link 16 Systems; 8 Conformal Fuel Tanks; and 14 AN/ASQ-228 ATFLIR Systems; ARC-210 radio (aircraft); Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) systems; AN/AVS-9 Night Vision Goggles (NVG); Launchers (LAU-115D/A, LAU-116B/A, LAU-l 18A); Command Launch Computer (CLC) for AGM-88; ANAV/MAGR GPS Navigation; Joint Mission Planning System (JMPS); aircraft spares; Aircraft Armament Equipment (AAE); support equipment; aircrew/maintenance training; contractor engineering technical service; logistics technical services; engineering technical services; other technical assistance; contractor logistics support; flight test services; storage and preservation; aircraft ferry; Repair of Repairable (RoR); support systems and associated logistics; training aides and devices; spares; technical data Engineering Change Proposals; avionics software support; software; technical publications; engineering and program support; U.S. Government and contractor engineering; technical and logistic support services.

At the time, the DSCA stated that the acquisition of the F/A-18E/Fs would allow for greater interoperability with U.S. forces, providing benefits for training and possible future coalition operations in support of shared regional security objectives. It also noted that the Super Hornets would initially supplement and eventually replace the KAF’s legacy F/A-18C/Ds, which have in the meantime been upgraded with AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods and new weaponry, including Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) and AIM-120C-7 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs).

BRYAN BAISLEY
BRYAN BAISLEY

On March 30, 2018, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that Boeing had been awarded a contract worth up to $1.16 billion to produce and deliver 22 F/A-18Es and six F/A-18Fs for Kuwait by 2022. This deal covered long-lead non-recurring engineering required to develop a baseline configuration for the Kuwait jets as well as long-lead items including radar warning receivers and aircraft armament. 

Three months later, on June 27, 2018, Boeing received a $1.5-billion contract for the production and delivery of the 28 Super Hornets for Kuwait.

Before the potential Super Hornet buy was even announced, however, Kuwait had signed a contract on April 5, 2016, for the purchase of 28 Typhoons, in a deal between the Kuwait Ministry of Defense and Italy’s Finmeccanica, acting as the Eurofighter prime contractor. This deal covers 22 single-seat and six twin-seat aircraft — the same force composition as chosen for the Super Hornet. The Typhoon contract includes training of an initial eight KAF instructor pilots, plus ground personnel, with the Italian Air Force and an upgrade of infrastructure at Ali Al Salem Air Base in Kuwait.

EUROFIGHTER

An artist’s impression of a Kuwaiti Typhoon.

Kuwait’s Typhoons will be the first to combine the Captor-E active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar with Phase Enhancement P3Eb software, including compatibility with MBDA’s Storm Shadow and Brimstone missiles and other air-to-surface weapons. Kuwaiti Typhoons will also use the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod.

Although relatively small, the KAF is well equipped and trained. It also has recent combat experience, having supported the Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention in Yemen, conducting airstrikes against Houthi rebels. With the receipt of its new Super Hornets, the Kuwait Air Force will be in even better shape to tackle a wide range of regional threats.

Contact the author: thomas@thedrive.com