After conducting detailed capability studies and simulation analysis, US aerospace manufacturer Boeing has said that it is confident that the F/A 18 Super Hornet Block III can safely operate from Indian aircraft carriers, with a `significant’ weapons payload.
The Super Hornet is in contention for an Indian Navy requirement of 57 new fighter jets to operate from its carriers, with the French Rafale M expected to be its main competitor. The new jets are required to operate from the under construction INS Vikrant that is expected to start its sea trials at the earliest by 2020.
A senior Boeing executive told ET that talks are on with both the navy and the airforce (which has a requirement for 116 new fighter jets under Make in India) and that the Super Hornet would in the near future demonstrate its capability to take off from a ski jump.
The Indian Navy is facing a unique problem in replacing its Russian origin MiG 29K fighter jets that have been saddled with technical issues. The INS Vikramaditya as well as the under construction Vikrant are designed as ski jump carriers – in which an aircraft takes off with the assistance of an elevated ramp.
However, the twin engine aircraft available for this task globally are designed for flat top carriers with the help of a catapult that gives them a boost for the take-off phase. Boeing however says that according to its internal studies the Super Hornet will be able to operate from the ski jump without any modifications to either the carrier or the jet itself.
“We have answered queries from the Indian Navy and the simulation analysis is done. At some point we will also take off from a US Navy ski jump. We feel very comfortable that we will pass the requirements with a meaningful and significant payload,” Dan Gillian, Program Manager F/A-18 at Boeing says.
The US company says that with 116 of the F/A 18 Block III jets on order from the US Navy, the program will have a production run for the next 15 years. It has also promised to build a world class production line for the fighter jets in India if selected for the twin contracts.
Boeing is looking to leverage its partnership with Indian manufacturers Mahindra and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited to present a proposal under the Make in India initiative. “HAL has built airplanes for years and Mahindra too has manufacturing knowhow. A public private partnership will bring it together and we will build a brand new first class facility in India. It will help India build its next plan for the advanced multirole combat aircraft as well,” Gillian says.
While a timeline is tough to assign, the Indian Navy would require to induct the jets for its second aircraft carrier under construction by 2020-22 while the air force is desperately looking for replacements to the MiG jets by 2025. At present, the air force and navy procurement plans are being processed independently, even though at least two jets – Rafale and F/A 18 – are common to both competitions.