‘We don’t need your flying trash’: Misunderstanding scuttles transfer of 41 Australian Hornets to UA

F/A-18 Hornet
F/A-18 Hornet

A senior Ukrainian Air Force official refused an offer from two Australians to receive 41 of the country’s decommissioned F/A-18 Hornet fighters, bluntly stating that "we do not need your flying trash," reported the Australian Financial Review on Jan. 30.

This statement effectively killed the deal, highlighting a stark misunderstanding between Australia and Ukraine amid Ukrainian pilots' desperate attempts to evade Russian aircraft.

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The incident occurred as Ukraine was navigating the challenges of avoiding Russian fighters, revealing a significant miscommunication between the two nations.

Australia stands as the world’s seventh-largest military spender based on purchasing power, according to the Lowy Institute. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese claimed that Australia is among the top military aid donors to Ukraine outside NATO.

Nevertheless, the relationship between two countries’ military has been strained by reluctance from Australian Defence Ministry to fulfill Ukraine's requests for surplus equipment. This includes the MRH-90 Taipan helicopters, which were already being dismantled when Ukraine requested them in December.

Unlike many other countries, Australia has chosen not to reopen its embassy in Kyiv, diminishing direct contact between the nations.

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Ukraine's government, including President Volodymyr Zelensky and his advisors, sends mixed signals about its military needs, complicating negotiations.

The idea of Australia providing Hornet fighters was initially proposed in March last year, and by two months later, news emerged that the U.S. government was "favorably disposed" towards the transfer of the aircraft, which had been in service with the Royal Australian Air Force since 1984 and were retired in 2021.

The Hornets, designed for aircraft carriers, have robust landing gears suitable for Ukraine's war-damaged runways, enabling them to take off and land on short strips.

Ukraine, however, began discussions with the U.S. and European governments for the less robust F-16 Fighting Falcons, fearing the logistical challenges of operating two types of foreign fighters simultaneously.

The F/A-18 Hornet: an overview

Reports surfaced on June 6 that Australia and the U.S. were discussing the transfer of 41 F/A-18 Hornets to Ukraine, to be replaced by the more modern F-35s. Dozens of old but serviceable F-18s would likely be available for export as Australia, Canada, Switzerland, and Finland transition to the F-35 fighters, Politico reported.

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The F/A-18 Hornet, an American carrier-based multi-role fighter developed in the 1970s, serves as the primary combat aircraft of the U.S. Navy and is also operated by several European and Asian countries.

It has been deployed in military operations against Libya, Iraq, and Yugoslavia.

Classified as both a fighter and attack aircraft, the Hornet has been in service since 1983, with a combat radius of about 1000 km.

It is capable of employing a wide range of armaments, including unguided Hydra 70 and Zuni rockets, air-to-air missiles like the AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9 Sidewinder, air-to-ground missiles such as the AGM-88 HARM and Taurus, the AGM-84 Harpoon, unguided bombs like the Mark-80 series, CBU-87, and precision-guided munitions equipped with the JDAM system.

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