Along with the Sukhoi Su-30MKM, the leading power of the Malaysian Air Force currently relies on eight McDonnell Douglas F/A-18D Hornets.

To enhance the squadron’s combat capabilities, the Malaysian F/A-18D Hornet fighters recently underwent a comprehensive upgrade. The Malaysian Government took delivery of eight F/A-18D Hornets in 1997 and since then Boeing has been providing engineering and logistics support, pilot training and technical publications support for the fleet at the RMAF base in Butterworth, Malaysia.

The origins of the Malaysian F/A-18Ds date back to the 1990s. At that time, it was in danger of falling behind its rival, the Republic of Singapore Air Force, which was then introducing General Dynamics F-16A/B Fighting Falcon, under a major modernisation plan. Malaysia’s most potent fighter at that time was the Northrop F-5E and F-5F Tiger II but the RMAF also had a requirement for an all-weather, multi-role aircraft. The Government subsequently elected to purchase eight Hornets and also acquire the much cheaper MiG-29N from Russia. Delivery of the Hornets spanned from March to August 1997.

F/A-18D Malaysia
F/A-18D Malaysia

To extend its life, in December 2011, Boeing announced it had won a major contract for the design, development and installation of retrofit kits for the Malaysian Hornet fleet, intended to enhance navigation, targeting and situational awareness. Included in the upgrade were a colour moving map cockpit display, enhanced Identification Friend or Foe capabilities and the addition of a Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System. Software was also to be upgraded to the then-current 25X configuration. Work was completed in 2015. In 2017 the Hornet celebrated 20 years of operational service with the RMAF.

The modernization included the integration of four primary elements, such as Boeing’s Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System, the super-agile, thrust-vectoring AIM-9X Sidewinder heat-seeking air-to-air missile, Global Positioning System guidance kits for the GBU-31, -32, -38 and -54 Joint Direct Attack Munitions “smart” bombs, and the Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared pods for the strike mission.

Malaysian military officials say the upgrade has given the RMAF Hornet a “quantum leap in capability”. Accordingly, The upgrades will ensure the Hornet’s dominance in the modern battle space against a broad spectrum of airborne and surface threats for years to come.


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