Just weeks ago, The Boeing Company’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet carrier-deck fighter demonstrated its ability to get airborne from a ski-jump, using the standard launch system that Indian Navy aircraft use. With the French Dassault Rafale fighter having already proved its ability in a similar operational demonstration, these two fighters are going toe-to-toe to convince India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) that their fighter has the teeth to best suit India’s defence requirements.
Addressing a media gathering in New Delhi, Boeing officials divulged plans to indigenise components and sub-systems, strengthening the company’s Make-in-India claims and building on a successful track record of contributing to India’s indigenous aerospace and defence ecosystem.
“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 Salil Gupte, President of Boeing India.
Boeing already exports a range of defence and aerospace components worth over $1 billion each year from production lines in India. The firm employs close to 4,000 people in India, with another 7,000 working in its supply chains.
Boeing sources from more than 300 local companies of which a quarter are Indian firms.
The company points out that these figure will rise significantly if India chooses the Super Hornet for both its indigenous aircraft carriers, Indian Navy Ship (INS) Vikrant and the still-to-be-sanctioned INS Vishal.
The Indian Navy has tendered for 26 fighters, but projects a long-term requirement of 57 carrier-deck fighters. Of these, eight are to be twin-seat variants.
“The Block III Super Hornet we are offering to the Indian Navy has the most advanced and critical capability. Boeing is investing 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,” said Gupte.
Boeing says it will also leverage investments made in the Boeing India Engineering & Technology Center (BIETC), which has a pool of 3,000-plus engineers and innovators in Bengaluru and Chennai to drive growth and innovation, and advance work in materials, manufacturing technologies and methods, and the “Digital World.”
Notwithstanding its employment generation figures, Boeing’s central argument rests on the Super Hornet’s credentials as the world’s premier carrier deck fighter.
“Designed from its inception as a carrier-based fighter for high-loading, high stress operations, the Super Hornet Block III will bring advanced, next-generation capabilities for the Indian Navy,” said Steve Parker, who oversees bombers and fighters for Boeing Defence.
The Indian Navy is learning the aircraft carrier ropes from the US Navy, which is widely regarded as the world’s premier exponent of carrier operations.
Driving cooperation on aircraft carrier design is an Indo-US joint working group on aircraft carrier technology cooperation (JWG-ACTC). It has functioned for over a decade to optimise cooperation. The group looks for ways to enhance the efficiency of India’s aircraft carrier, such as getting fighters to take off quickly (the sortie generation rate), the best way of getting aircraft and weapons up onto the deck, what sort of catapult the carrier should have, its arresting gear and how the systems are inter-workable with the Super Hornets that fly off a US carrier.
Should the Super Hornet be selected, there are other components that can be installed on a carrier to enhance inter-operability with other US Navy systems. These include a precision landing system called Magic Carpet that is built into the Super Hornet as a standard capability, and is designed to assist the pilot in landing on an aircraft carrier.
Magic Carpet reduces the pilot’s workload enormously. In the normal course, the pilot would be making about 300 corrections to the landing gear in about 15-18 seconds. That is reduced to one-third with a Magic Carpet. Even the most difficult night landings start feeling benign. Boeing claims it has shown it to the Indian Navy as part of its operational demonstration – it is so precise that it engages the third wire every time, causing wear and tear on only that wire.