Boeing pitches Super Hornets for Indian Navy

Gave classified briefings to Indian Navy on the capabilities of the aircraft after demonstration earlier this year, says top Boeing official

August 24, 2022 10:10 pm | Updated August 25, 2022 12:20 am IST - NEW DELH

An F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet lands on the deck of the U.S. Navy USS Ronald Reagan in the South China Sea on November 20, 2018.

An F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet lands on the deck of the U.S. Navy USS Ronald Reagan in the South China Sea on November 20, 2018. | Photo Credit: AP

Pitching its F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet fighter as the best solution for the Indian Navy to operate from its aircraft carriers, aircraft manufacturer Boeing on Wednesday announced a road map to significantly expand its investments in line with the ‘Make in India’ initiative and also to transfer advanced technologies to Indian industry if its jet is selected. The Navy is expected to choose between the F-18 and the French Rafale for procurement of around 26 jets in the next few months.

“As part of this effort, Boeing anticipates $3.6 billion in economic impact to the Indian aerospace and defence industry over the next 10 years, with the F/A-18 Super Hornet as India’s next carrier-based fighter. The economic impact would be over and above Boeing’s current offset obligations and plans in the country,” said Alain Garcia, vice-president, India business development, Boeing Defence, Space, Security and Global Services on Wednesday.

He noted that the F/A-18 E/F has been designed from its inception as a carrier-based fighter for high-loading, high-stress operations, and the Block-III will bring advanced, next-generation capabilities that will help the Indian Navy meet emerging and future threats. “The particular threats the Indian Navy started looking at, guess who is also developing capabilities against those type of threats, the U.S. Navy... Its something the Indian Navy would benefit from,” Mr. Garcia said.

Earlier this year, both the F/A-18 and the Rafale conducted demonstrations from the Shore Based Test Facility in Goa to showcase their compatibility with Indian carriers. Stating that they exceeded all requirements put forth by the Navy during the operational demonstration, Mr. Garcia said post the demonstration they gave classified briefings on the capabilities of the aircraft. Based on the data collected, we submitted them to the Navy based on their request and also a paper on the F/A-18 indigenisation road map, he stated.

As a trusted partner of India’s aerospace sector for more than 75 years, Boeing has made significant investments in India’s aerospace and defence industry and will continue to do so, said Salil Gupte, president, Boeing India. “Our investments span the entire spectrum of local manufacturing, engineering and R&D, and training and skilling to help build a robust Aatmanirbhar Bharat in aerospace and defence. The selection of the F/A-18 Super Hornet for India will help boost investments in India’s defence industry.”

Elaborating on this, Mr. Gupte said Boeing plans to build on its existing industrial base with continued investments in India across five pillars. These include supply chain development and manufacturing, engineering and technology transfer, long-term support and training, infrastructure investments, and contributions of the Hornet Industry Team, comprising of General Electric, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon. The new plan builds on Boeing’s sourcing of $1 billion annually from 300 suppliers on parts, assemblies and services from India, he stated.

“The Block III Super Hornet we are offering to the Indian Navy has the most advanced and critical capability. With its open architecture design and continuously evolving capability suite, the Super Hornet will outpace current threats, facilitate rapid capability insertion and has unmatched affordability,” said Steve Parker, vice-president and general manager, Bombers & Fighters, Boeing defence, space & security. 

“Boeing is making investments in advanced technologies and capabilities on our Block III Super Hornet and the F-15EX today so we will be ready for the future. The Indian Navy will benefit from these investments for decades to come,” Mr. Garcia said. We believe we have discriminating capabilities for the Indian Navy over the competitor, he added.

Each fighter brings certain advantages while having some limitations. For instance, Rafale-M does not have a twin seater trainer while its acquisition would mean commonality with the 36 Rafale jets of the Indian Air Force. On the other hand, the F/A-18 is a dedicated carrier-based jet with over 800 aircraft having been delivered till date.

Super Hornet is powered by General Electric GE-414 engine which is from the same family of engines powering the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft. We have developed an India-specific version of the GE-414 for the LCA-MK2, said Satya Prakash from GE Aviation, adding this could also become the engine for the indigenous fifth generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) under development.

Noting that, if selected, the contract would be an Inter-Governmental Agreement between India and the U.S., Mr. Garcia said that typically the deliveries start in 36 months while stating that depending on the requirements of Indian Navy, this could be speeded up a bit. The current production rate of F/A-18s is 24 aircraft per year.

With the first indigenous carrier Vikrant likely to be commissioned next week, the procurement has gained urgency as the Navy is short of aircraft to operate from both its carriers. INS Vikramaditya, the only carrier currently in service, operates the Mi9-29K aircraft.

While 45 aircraft were originally contracted from Russia, their availability has been a major problem and won’t fill the requirements of both the carriers once Vikrant is commissioned, Navy officials had stated earlier.

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