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HomeUSBoeing F/A-18 Super Hornet vs Dassault Rafale: A Fighter Jet Showdown

Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet vs Dassault Rafale: A Fighter Jet Showdown

Summary Rafale M is an aircraft carrier-based variant of the Dassault Rafale.
F/A-18 Hornet a versatile Navy jet evolved to F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA Growler for diverse missions.
Rafale success growing with foreign sales to countries seeking alternatives to US and Russia.
The F/A-18 Super Hornet and the French Rafale are both excellent fighter jets. The Rafale is also one of the few fighter jets to come with a naval variant to operate off aircraft carriers. It is pointless to say which is “better” as that depends on the force in question’s requirements, which variant of the fighter jets, what those aircraft are armed with, etc.
Both the F/A-18 Super Hornet and the French Rafale are excellent 4.5th-generation fighter jets in their latest iterations—although the Navy is now starting to look beyond the Hornet to the F-35C. The Rafale M will be the fighter jet of the French Navy for many years to come.
French Rafale vs US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet
Manufactured by Dassault Aviation, the French Dassault Rafale is marketed as the world’s only “omnirole” fighter jet. This versatility may be partly due to French constraints and export considerations. The French need a Swiss Knife of fighter jets to do everything, whereas the US Navy has the luxury of developing more specialized aircraft (such as the EA Growler).
Photo: Dassault
The French Rafale is built for air superiority, interdiction, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, anti-ship strike, nuclear deterrence, and other missions. It has grown into a 4.5th-generation fighter and is a popular Western fighter jet, especially with countries looking for an alternative to the US and Russia’s fighter jets.
F/A-18 Super Hornet: Rafale M Empty weight: 32,081 lbs 23,400 lb Wingspan: 44 ft 8.5 in 35 ft 9 in Powerplant: 2× General Electric F414-400 turbofans 2× Snecma M88-4e turbofans Thrust each: 13,000 lbf without afterburner 11,250 lbf without afterburner Ferry range: 2,070 miles 2,300 miles Missiles (air-to-air): AIM-7 Sparrow, AIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-260 JATM MBDA Meteor, Magic II, MBDA MICA Hardpoints: 11 13 (navy version)
The F/A-18 is the US Navy’s primary fighter jet. It has evolved greatly over the years. The F/A-18F Super Hornet and the specialized electronic warfare fighter, the EA Growler, are thoroughly updated and much more capable than the original F-18 Hornets.
Related Top 5 Missions Of The F/A-18 Hornet Multirole Fighter Jet The F/A-18 is an extremely capable family of multirole fighter jets able to fulfill a broad range of missions for the Navy.
As an export aircraft
Overall, the export success of the F/A-18 Hornet/Super Hornet/Growler and the French Rafale have been somewhat comparable. While the F/A-18 was built for the US Navy, it has also proved popular in the export market, with Finland, Australia, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain, Canada, and Switzerland purchasing the jet. Some of these countries (like Finland and Australia) are retiring their older F/A-18s.
Photo: USN
However, if the Super Hornet is to be considered separately, then only Kuwait and Australia have ordered it. It is unclear why international orders are low. It could be because the Super Hornet is optimized for the US Navy requirements or because it is being out-competed by the fifth-generation F-35 (among other reasons).
In recent years, the Dassault Rafale has become a very popular jet. Some 234 Rafales of all variants have been built for the French Navy and Air Force (some of these have been sold to other countries like Greece and Croatia). Notable foreign purchases of (new) Rafales include Egypt (55), India (36), Qatar (36), Greece (12), UAE (80), and Indonesia (42).
Photo: VanderWolf Images | Shutterstock
More and more countries are purchasing French Rafales; Greece is looking to purchase more, while Serbia is negotiating to purchase them. To meet the rising demand, Dassault has stated it will ramp up production (only 13 were built in 2023).
As a Navy fighter
France operates the world’s only non-American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle. So, France has built the Rafale with a Navy variant – the Rafale M. It has modifications so that it can operate off CATOBAR-equipped aircraft carriers, including a strengthened airframe, a large tailhook, and other modifications. It is the only non-US fighter jet that is cleared to operate off the decks of American aircraft carriers.
Photo: Dassault Aviation
As the F/A-18 is “the” US Navy’s carrier-based fighter, it is “the” world’s carrier-based fighter jet of the modern era (until the F-35C reaches a critical mass). The US Navy is starting to phase out (or perhaps down) the F/A-18 in favor of the F-35C fifth-generation fighter jet. This is a long process as aircraft carriers need to be retrofitted and certified to operate the F-35C.
US Navy (F/A-18 family): Marine Corps (F/A-18 family): French Navy Rafale M In active combat service: 532 143 41 Special mission: 153 0 0 Used as fighter trainers: 241 48 0 On order: 65 0 12 Total 991 191 53
According to WDMMA, the US Navy operates 379 F/A-18E/Fs (with another 63 on order), 153 EA-18G Growlers with another 2 on order, and 149 F/A-18A/Cs. The Navy has now placed what are expected to be its final orders for the Super Hornet (meaning that as Rafale production ramps up, Super Hornet production will soon ramp down).
The Marine Corps operates 143 F/A-18A/C/Ds. The Navy also operates 241 F/A-18s of various modifications as trainer aircraft, while the Marines have another 48 as fighter trainers.
Photo: Eliyahu Yosef Parypa | Shutterstock
France is listed as having 41 Rafale Ms in service, with another 12 on order (none used for training or special missions). This means there are around 1,117 F/A-18 family fighter jets in service, but only 41 Rafale Ms operate off a single aircraft carrier.

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