New Delhi: Two Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets, on lease from the US Navy, have arrived in India to showcase their ski-jump from the shore-based test facility (SBTF) at INS Hansa in Goa and project their capabilities to operate from Indian aircraft carriers, ThePrint has learnt.
Sources in the defence and security establishment said Monday that the two aircraft arrived on 20 May and will be undergoing a series of drills starting this week.
The two aircraft have been borrowed by Boeing from the US Navy and have undergone mechanical and software changes for the demonstration.
The visit by the Super Hornets comes close on the heels of a similar trip by its competitor Rafale M of Dassault Aviation in January to impress the Navy, which is looking at about 26 multi-role deck-based fighters for its aircraft carrier.
While the Navy currently operates the MiG-29K from the INS Vikramaditya, it is looking at getting a new set of fighters as India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier gets set to be commissioned in August this year.
Besides the ski-jump capability, Boeing executives will also be briefing Indian Navy officers about the aircraft’s capabilities, specially vis-à-vis Rafale.
The aircraft will perform ski-jump take-off with and without a payload. The payload will include two dummy Harpoon missiles.
Boeing first demonstrated STOBAR (short take-off but arrested recovery) jump for the Indian Navy in 2020 at its own testing facility in the US.
Carrier-based fighters mainly come in three categories — STOVL (short take-off and vertical landing), STOBAR and CATOBAR (catapult take-off but arrested recovery).
STOBAR, STOVL and CATOBAR are systems used for the launch and recovery of aircraft from the deck of an aircraft carrier.
STOBAR carriers have elevated decks, called ‘ski-jumps’, to help the aircraft take off. The CATOBAR is a catapult-based launch system that allows carriers greater take-off rate and velocity. These are more advanced than the STOBAR system.
While American carriers use CATOBAR, the Indian carriers — INS Vikramaditya and the indigenous one under construction — employ STOBAR. Therefore, validation of the STOBAR capability by the Navy was a basic requirement.
What Boeing has over Rafale
Sources explained that Boeing’s contention is that its single-seater and twin-seater are both capable of operating from the aircraft carrier, unlike Rafale M, whose twin-seater operates from the shore.
Another aspect that Boeing is pushing for is interoperability. The US firm says the Super Hornets are compatible with systems and platforms that the Indian Navy already operates or has acquired — MH-60 Romeo anti-submarine helicopters, P-8I Poseidon long-range maritime aircraft.
The aircraft, which can carry more anti-ship missiles than the Rafale M, will become more potent with all assets talking to each other and giving a holistic view of the zone of operations, Boeing has said.
Sources said that, based on the performance of both the aircraft — Rafale M and Super Hornets — the Navy will go for one that is most compatible with the overall growth plans.
In 2020, the then Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh said that the force may pursue joint acquisition of fighters with the IAF.
This is what works in favour of the Rafale, which is already operated by the Indian Air Force. Sources said that since the IAF is looking at more fighters, a joint acquisition by the force and the Navy will result in a cheaper deal.
The Super Hornets were one of the contenders for the original medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) programme of the IAF, which was eventually won by the Rafale.
Boeing is now planning to offer its new and upgraded F-15 Eagle II for the IAF’s plan to acquire 114 multi-role fighter aircraft (MRFA), something that Dassault Aviation is also eyeing to bag.
(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)