The Indian Navy has launched a global search for maritime fighter jets it plans to operate from future aircraft carriers and is awaiting response from top military contractors on what they have to offer.
The navy wants 57 multi-role carrier-borne fighters (MRCBF) and the potential order could get bigger with an option clause to buy more jets. The hunt for new deck-based fighters comes at a time when the navy is left with just a solitary aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, following the decommissioning of Viraat on Monday.
The navy issued a request for information for the multi-billion dollar MRCBF project in January, giving aircraft manufacturers a four-month deadline to respond.
By May, the foreign firms have to answer queries on technical parameters, budgetary estimates, likely level of indigenisation, transfer of technology and schedule of deliveries after a contract is inked.
French, Swedish, Russian and American firms are likely to compete for the project to equip India’s future carriers: Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC)-I or Vikrant being built at Kochi and IAC-2, which is in a conceptual stage.
The navy has rejected the naval version of the light combat aircraft. It wants a twin-engine fighter with a stronger airframe and landing gear to operate from a flight deck with high-tempo flying cycles.
Cockpit and avionicsF/A-18 Super Hornet:
Te cockpit in the F/A-18E/F is equipped with a touch-sensitive control display and a larger multi-purpose liquid crystal colour display, which shows tactical information, two monochrome displays and a new engine fuel display.
“The Super Hornet has 11 weapon stations.”
The Rafale’s glass cockpit was designed around the principle of data fusion â€“ a central computer intelligently selects and prioritises information to display to pilots for simpler command and control. Some special cockpit features : hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS)-compatible configuration, direct voice input (DVI) system, wide-angle holographic head-up display (HUD) system, integrated modular avionics (IMA), called MDPU (modular data processing unit).
Radar and sensorsF/A-18 Super Hornet:
The Super Hornet is equipped with the APG-73 radar manufactured by Raytheon. The APG-73 radar has an upgraded processor with increased speed and memory capacity in comparison to the AN/APG-65, which was installed on the earlier builds of the Hornet.
The modes of the APG-73 include air-to-ground tracking, air-to-air velocity search mode, range while search and track while scan.
Raytheon’s AN/APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) fire control radar increases the F/A-18’s air-to-air target detection and tracking range, and provide higher resolution air-to-ground mapping at longer ranges.
F/A-18F aircraft is also fitted with the Raytheon SHARP multi-function reconnaissance pod, which replaces USN Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod (TARPS).
SHARP is capable of simultaneous airborne and ground reconnaissance and has sensors manufactured by Recon/Optical Inc.
The Rafale is typically outfitted with the Thales RBE2 passive electronically scanned multi-mode radar. Thales claims to have achieved unprecedented levels of situational awareness through the earlier detection and tracking of multiple air targets for close combat and long-range interception, as well as real-time generation of three-dimensional maps for terrain-following and the real-time generation of high resolution ground maps for navigation and targeting.
The RBE2 AA active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar is planned to replace the existing passively scanned RBE2. The RBE2 AA is reported to deliver a greater detection range, improved reliability and reduced maintenance demands over the preceding radar. By early 2014, the first Air Force front-line squadron will receive Rafales equipped with the AESA radar; the French Navy is slated to receive AESA-equipped Rafales from 2013.
To enable the Rafale to perform in the air supremacy role, it includes several passive sensor systems. The front-sector electro-optical system or Optronique Secteur Frontal (OSF), developed by Thales, is completely integrated within the aircraft and can operate both in the visible and infrared wavelengths. The OSF enables the deployment of infrared missiles such as the MICA at beyond visual range distances. It can also be used for detecting and identifying airborne targets, as well as those on the ground and at sea.
EnginesF/A-18 Super Hornet:
The aircraft’s power is provided by two F414-GE-400 turbofan engines from General Electric. The engines are an advanced derivative of the GE F404 engines installed on the Hornet.
The air inlets have been enlarged to provide increased airflow into the engines.
Each engine provides 22,000lb thrust, with afterburn giving a maximum speed in excess of Mach 1.8.
The structural changes to the airframe on the F/E variant of the aircraft increase the internal fuel capacity by 3,600lb, a 33% higher fuel capacity than the F-18C/D variant.
This extends the mission radius by up to 40%.
The Rafale is fitted with the Snecma M88 engine, capable of providing up to 50 kN (11,250 lbf) of dry thrust and 75 kN (16,900 lbf) with afterburners. The M-88 enable the Rafale to supercruise at speeds of up to Mach 1.4 while carrying a loadout of six MBDA MICA air-to-air missiles. As of 2007, a thrust vectoring variant of the engine designated as M88-3D was also under development.
Deep Strike: Both aircraft have similar combat radii, and any significant differences in ferry ranges or the like may benefit the Rafale based on using figures from the ground based Rafale C instead of the carrier based Rafale M. Both aircraft are capable of mounting up to five external fuel tanks. Dassault and Boeing have both studied the potential of adding CFT capability as well. Whatever the case, both aircraft can be described as having more than sufficient range.
With both aircraft being more or less tied for range, we have to look at their long range air-to-ground weaponry. Namely, stand-off missiles, also know as ALCMs. The Rafale equips the impressive SCALP EG (also known as the Storm Shadow) missile, which can deliver a 450kg warhead about 500km away. The Super Hornet’s new AGM-158 JASSM-ER (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range) delivers a similar sized warhead, but can do so at roughly twice the range. This give the Rhino a significant advantage here.
Payload: French Air Force versions of the Rafale have a remarkable 14 hard points capable of handling 20,900lbs of ordinance. Of these, four (two wingtip, two flush with the rear fuselage) are usually dedicated to air-to-air missiles, leaving 10 hard points for fuel, bombs, or air-to-ground missiles. The Rafale is capable of handling nuclear ordinance as well.
The Super Hornet is capable of handling a slightly lower, but still impressive 17,750lbs worth of weapons. It is slightly more limited in how it carries it however, with only 11 total hard points, including two wingtip missile rails and two conformal hard points built for the AIM-120 AMRAAM.
With more payload capability combined with additional hard point options, the Rafale wins this round. Advantage: Rafale
Close-air-support: The Rafale and the Super Hornet are both easy to handle at lower speeds and altitudes. As carrier capable aircraft, they have to be. Picking a winner here is difficult, as both aircraft have similar weapon capability, but without a “killer app” like the Brimstone missile. The Rafale might have Brimstone capability in the future, but nothing is certain at the present. What the Rafale does have is the option to equip both rocket pods and a twin 30mm gun pod to supplement its built in 30mm GIAT 30 cannon.
The Super Hornet’s most impressive weapon in the close-air-support arsenal is the precision SDB II (Small Diameter Bomb) which carries a 250lb warhead for minimal collateral damage.
With both fighters being incredibly competent for close-air-support, this one ends up as a draw. Advantage: Tie
First-look, first-kill: Again, these different-looking fighters have remarkably similar capability. Both have similarly sized AESA radars and, with the F/A-18E/F’s fuel tank/IRST in place, both aircraft have modern IRSTs. Neither aircraft is truly “stealth” but both have reduced radar signatures compared to older fighters.
Comparing the aircraft’s EW and countermeasures pose a similar challenge. The Rafale has its famous SPECTRA, which looks to become more impressive in the future. Two infra-red sensors on either side of the tail fin will give the Rafale pilot a near 360 degree view of the airspace. Not to be outdone, Boeing is contemplating installing the EA-18G’s sensors (but not jammers) on the Super Hornet. This would enable the Super Hornet pilot to detect radio emissions not normally detected.
Beyond-Visual-Range: While both aircraft have a theoretical top speed of Mach 1.8, the Rafale is faster where it counts. Capable of supercruise, the Rafale is just as comfortable going supersonic as is it is subsonic. It that was not enough, the Super Hornet gets considerably draggy when weapons and fuel tanks are mounted. Both aircraft have similar service ceilings, but the Rafale has a much higher rate of climb and can get there much faster. If both aircraft are considered to have similar BVR missiles, than the Rafale has a clear advantage by being able to add more energy to them through speed and altitude.
Then, there is the real kicker. The Rafale will soon be cleared for the MBDA Meteor, while the Super Hornet will stick with the AMRAAM for the foreseeable future. While one could argue about the effectiveness of both missiles’ guidance systems and the like, the big difference here is the Meteor’s ramjet engine. While the ranges might be listed as similar, the Meteor’s ramjet gives it more flexibility and a much larger “no-escape-zone”.
Even without the MBDA Meteor, the Rafale has a clear advantage in long-range combat. It is faster and it climbs better. In air combat, speed + altitude = energy, and energy is life.
Within-visual-range: Assuming both aircraft have IRSTs and decent WVR missiles, like the AIM-9X Sidewinder or the MBDA MICA IR, this one gets a little tougher to call. The Rafale is the acrobat of the two, with better wing loading numbers, a higher thrust-to-weight, and higher g–load numbers. To put it quite simply, it is more agile than the Rhino.
Good thing for the F/A-18E/F that it has its vaunted “nose authority”. This enables it to conduct high AoA (angle of attack) maneuvers and point its missiles where they need to go. The Rhino has the better aim, but the Rafale is the tougher target. Advantage: Tie (if only the Rafale had an HMD!)
Air-to-air winner: The Boeing Super Hornet was originally intended to replace both the F-14 Tomcat and the A-6 Intruder. Clearly, some air-to-air compromise needed to be made, but the developers seem to have erred more towards the ground attack role. While the Super Hornet is an acceptable air-superiority fighter, it does not have the same balanced approach as the Rafale. As France’s sole front line fighter, the Rafale cannot have any glaring weaknesses. It succeeds in this regard with the exception of one minor detail, a HMD. Even without the HMD, the Rafale is fast enough, agile enough, and powerful enough to handle the Super Hornet. Winner: Rafale
Versatility: The Rafale is marketed as an “Omnirole” fighter, and with good reason. It seems to be equally adept at either the strike or air-superiority roles. While other fighters may be better at one role or the other, the Rafale is possibly the most balanced solution out there. With the carrier capable Rafale M, alongside a choice of either single-seat or two-seat versions, the Rafale can handle just about any role given to it.
Logistics: With a carrier version available, the Rafale should have no problem adapting to rough landing strips or the like. It fuels up using the “probe-and-drogue” aerial refueling system, much like Canada’s current CF-18s. In all, the Rafale would be an easy aircraft to live with… If you do not mind your parts and weapons supply coming strictly from France.
The Super Hornet can go anywhere and do just about anything the CF-18 does. It is slightly larger, but other that that its logistics are the same, if not better. It uses standard American NATO weaponry. Considering that the USN operate the Super Hornet all over the world, it is pretty soon that wherever you are, parts can be made available. Advantage: Super Hornet
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