Boeing’s Super Hornet under tests for the use of Indian Navy



The American aircraft major, Boeing, has signed on a lucrative tender with the Indian Navy. They have agreed to acquire 57 multi-role carrier-based fighters (MRCBFs), worth an estimated $7 billion.

The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which Boeing is offering, is designed to take off from US aircraft carriers with the help of a catapult that accelerates the aircraft to take-off speed. However, the current Indian Navy carriers, INS Vikramaditya and INS Virat, are built based on Russian design philosophy, which launches without a catapult. But Boeing confirmed that the Super Hornet can take off on such design.

“The STOBAR, or ‘Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery’ test program for F/A-18 Super Hornet was conducted at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Maryland, US,” Boeing stated.

The Indian and US navies coordinate closely in the Indian Ocean region and the two defense ministries set up a joint working group for aircraft carrier cooperation in 2015. US navy designers have helped in framing specifications for India’s proposed third carrier, which will launch its aircraft using a catapult, American style.

‘We have been working closely with the Indian Navy on the performance requirements for the MRCBF program. The ski jump (trial) concluded goes a step further and will help validate the past studies conducted by us on the ability of F/A-18 Super Hornet to operate effectively from the ski jump,’ said Boeing.

Boeing has already built for the US navy more than 570 Super Hornets and 160 Growlers — the Super Hornet variant equipped for electronic warfare. Now, it is developing an improved version called the Block III, which will start delivery next year.

Ankur Kanaglekar, who is heading the Super Hornet’s campaign in India, says India will get the latest Block III fighters, with major improvements over the current variant.

First, the F/A-18 Super Hornet will be offered to India in both a single-seater (E-variant) and two-seater (F-variant) configuration, with both being carrier compatible.

The two-seater variant will allow Indian pilots to fly advanced missions that benefit from a second pilot. Block III incorporates five major capability improvements. It has a longer airframe life of 10,000 hours, compared to the 6,000 hours of Block II.

It has ‘conformal fuel tanks’ that are built into the aircraft, increasing internal fuel carriage. It is less visible to enemy radar and has advanced networking architecture that allows digital interworking with the Indian Navy’s P-8I Poseidon maritime aircraft and other US-origin aircraft.

Finally, Kanaglekar underlined that the US-India defense partnership would get a boost from having the Super Hornet on Indian carriers.

‘Built around Super Hornet, the two navies can potentially collaborate on operational readiness, carrier integration, technologies, pilot training, and development,’ he said.

The US navy has already contracted for 78 Block III Super Hornets, and Boeing has delivered the first two flight test aircraft this year. The delivery of operational fighters to the US navy will begin next year.