|Jared Owens From: The Australian March 27, 2010 12:00AM
AUSTRALIAN air power has taken "a quantum leap forward" with the delivery of five F/A-18F Super Hornets yesterday.
The five jets - the first of 24 - will tide the air force over until the arrival of the stealthy, fifth-generation F-35 joint strike fighter.
They are the first new Royal Australian Air Force jets since 1985 and will be based at the Amberley air base, west of Brisbane.
Speaking at the Super Hornets' official arrival yesterday, US Navy Rear Admiral Mark Skinner said the jets delivered new levels of "range, payload, lethality and survivability".
He said Australia now had the same war-fighting capability as the US Navy, the world's fourth-largest air force.
Defence Minister John Faulkner yesterday said the aircraft was "a superb dog fighter" and "will test any modern air defence system".
"It can detect and track multiple targets with longer range and improved resolution," he said.
"The crew can conduct simultaneous and independent operations to prosecute air and ground targets, manage early warning systems, transfer data to joint users and co-ordinate joint functions in the battle space."
The $50 million Super Hornet - which can reach speeds of up to 1900km/h - boasts an array of state-of-the-art weaponry, including Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
The jet is also fitted with an anti-radiation missile and laser-guided bombs.
But Wing Commander Glen Braz, who has trained in the new aircraft, said its "heart" was in its advanced sensors and communications systems.
"I have flown in the original Hornet, and I'm simply blown away by what the Super Hornet brings," he said.
"In a nutshell, we are now truly multi-role."
The Super Hornets will replace the RAAF's ageing F-111 strike bombers, which were ordered in 1963 and will be retired this year.
But federal MP and former defence scientist Dennis Jensen said the Super Hornet was actually a backward step in Australia's capability, lacking the manoeuvrability of the F-111.
"You can be tens of kilometres apart," Dr Jensen said yesterday.
"(In an F-111) you still have the option to engage if the conditions are favourable or disengage if the conditions aren't favourable."
He said the Super Hornet also failed to match comparable aircraft - such as the Russian-built Sukhoi Flanker - for speed, since it could not cruise at supersonic speed without using its afterburn.