Australia enthused about Super Hornet; but CISMOA essential for buying - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 12 November 2016

Australia enthused about Super Hornet; but CISMOA essential for buying

By Ajai Shukla
Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), Amberley
Brisbane, Australia
Business Standard, 12th Nov 16

There is remarkable commonality between the Australian and Indian militaries in the high-tech US aircraft they have chosen. Both operate the C-17 Globemaster III and the C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft. Both are users of the CH-47F Chinook heavy lift helicopter. India was a launch customer for the P-8I Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMA), and now Australia has followed suit. The first Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Poseidon will land here on Wednesday.

Now, with the Indian Air Force (IAF) initiating the international procurement of twin-engine fighters, airpower experts are watching to see if New Delhi buys the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which is already the mainstay of the RAAF. The F/A-18 --- an earlier version called the Hornet and the new, redesigned and upgraded Super Hornet --- was developed by Boeing to operate off US Navy aircraft carriers.

The RAAF, however, operates them off land bases. The IAF will do the same if it chooses the Super Hornet over its rivals --- the Rafale, produced by Dassault of France, and the Typhoon, offered by Eurofighter. The Indian Navy would consider the Super Hornet only much later, when its second indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vishal, is being built in the 2020s.

Boeing, keen to dispel the impression that the Super Hornet is primarily a naval fighter, has invited Business Standard to interact with the RAAF about their Super Hornet fleet.

We enter the RAAF base of Amberley after an hour-long drive from Brisbane.

Group Captain Glen Braz receives us. Braz commands 82 Wing, which includes all of Australia’s 24 Super Hornets; from next year, he will also get a dozen F/A-18G Growlers --- an electronically amped-up variant of the Super Hornet that accompanies fighters into combat to blind and confuse enemy radars and sensors.

Braz explains that the RAAF, which is in line to receive the fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter was constrained to buy Super Hornets. Given the F-35’s continuing developmental delays, Canberra assessed it needed a stopgap to “de-risk” the current decade. The decision was taken to buy 24 Super Hornets to supplement the RAAF’s 71 older Hornets.

I was lucky enough to land the first Super Hornet on Australian soil in early 2010”, says Braz.

The group commander says the RAAF quickly realised that they had not bought a mere upgrade of the Hornet, but an entirely new, significantly more capable “Generation 4.5” fighter that was only a little short of the F-35.

“While the Super Hornet looks like a [older version] Hornet, smells like a Hornet and flies a bit like a Hornet, the capability inherent in this aircraft is very remarkable and very different in that of the classic Hornet”, explains Braz. The RAAF promptly decided to extend the Hornet’s service life into the 2030s.

Braz believes the crucial differentiator between the Super Hornet and other fighters is its airborne electronically scanned array (AESA) radar --- Raytheon’s APG-79. This is a multi-tasking radar, with one segment tracking enemy fighters and directing missiles onto them; another focused on identifying and striking ground targets; and a third part jamming enemy sensors.

“You can switch instantly between air-to-air and air-to-ground mode; or between different weapons systems in the air-to-air mode. You can have four different weapons solutions on the same aircraft in seconds. It is a versatile and highly efficient fighting system”, enthuses Braz.

The game, he explains, is all about seeing the enemy first and striking him at long ranges.

To achieve this, the RAAF has twin-seat Super Hornets, the pilot in the front seat flying the aircraft, while the weapons systems officer in the rear seat engages targets and exchanges data with other friendly aircraft through a coded digital link that connects every element in the battle-space.

The IAF uses a similar two-pilot system in the Sukhoi-30MKI, but without such an effective data link, or AESA radar. Other countries are now bringing AESA radars into service, but the US still enjoys a technological lead of a decade.

The RAAF also likes the Super Hornet’s capability to mount fuel tanks, and act as a mid-air refueller. In a battle-space infested with enemy fighters, where an unarmed refueller aircraft could not survive, an armed Super Hornet can do the refuelling, extending the range of other fighters in a deep strike mission.

The induction of the Growlers next year is poised to multiply the Super Hornets’ effectiveness with formidable electronic warfare capability. The RAAF’s E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft would control the aerial battle, data-linking the Super Hornets, Growlers, Poseidons and, when they enter service, the F-35s.

Braz is particularly pleased about the Super Hornet’s “spiral upgrade programme” with the US Navy, for which the RAAF pays a share. This ensures that avionics and hardware upgrades carried out on US Navy Super Hornets are immediately shared with the RAAF.

For India, a decision to buy the Super Hornet would involve signing the Communications Interface and Security Memorandum of Understanding (CISMOA), an equipment security agreement with the US that New Delhi has steadfastly resisted. US law requires key elements of the data networks to be protected by CISMOA.

Asked whether Australia accepted US safeguards on CISMOA-protected equipment, such as the positioning of US inspectors on Australian fighter bases, Glen Ferguson, Boeing’s maintenance manager, accepted that was essential.

“We comply with all the US requirements for safeguarding sensitive equipment. In many cases, we exceed the US requirements. It is in our own interest to do so”, Ferguson said.

(The correspondent visited RAAF Amberley as a guest of The Boeing Company)


  1. Can you explain how the Super Hornet will serve better than a few extra numbers of LCA. Looking at both specs from wiki, the only notable difference that I can see is the combat load of 6000 kg vs 4000 kg.
    Otherwise the local breed can match stride to stride with the foreign stallion.

  2. For pur second aircraft carrier f35 is a better choice. Else rafale will do.

  3. This is exactly the risk...under garb of various treaties like CISMOA which we dont require at all the U.S will post inspectors round the clock at our bases to keep a watch on our movements and capabilities of our forces....remember how the U.S SEALS during the raid to capture OBL in abbotabad were informed of the takeoffs of pakistani F 16's from their bases by the american CIA and other inspectors stationed there.We have to buy selectively only the equipment that suits without so many preconditions...I think we should buy GRIPEN E that gives us flexibility and independance rather go for legacy fighters like F 16 /F 18 which tie us to U.S blackmail..If we can get french rafale to start production in india, it will be in our best interests..else GRIPEN E is the second best option

  4. India has already signed an agreement to upgrade its Sukhois to Super Sukhoi specification which includes AESA radars. Why increase one more variant in the fleet, India can simply buy more SU-30MKI or Rafales.

    India is going to start manufacturing FGFA , THE NUMBERS CAN BE INCREASED instead of introducing one more aircraft type .

    The Indian Airforce need not be a museum of fighter aircrafts.

  5. IAF during the MMRCA selection period said they are reducing no of fighter types in its fleet to justify the 123 MMRCA buy, now after inking the Rafale deal why are we atleast taking about another another twin engined fighter. Why is this Make In India government not supporting indigenous Tejus, so that at-least after 2030 we have a homegrown twin engine fighter.

  6. Ajay,

    Explain me one transformation please. You were a harsh critic of St. Anthony when he was defence minister and you criticised MMS government on defence issues with vigour. Often you buttressed them with effective data. You also have a center-right bent when it comes to military issues.

    Then, how come you have become an anti-BJP government intellectual? What brought this transformation and is it irrevocable?

  7. I am getting this feeling that on one pretext or the other, these experts are plotting against LCA.

    IAF has ordered (or made to order) 120 LCA Jets. Work with SAAB on version 1A and then improve from thereon. No need to order these expensive foreign toys and get yourself tangled in web.

    For sure, we are not fighting a two-front war in near future. Even if we do, we have other means to handle that.

  8. If India is strategically important to US can't they change laws to accommodate it like the nuclear waiver ?

  9. Dear Editor,

    WHile focus on big ticket Jets is very nice. I would kindly encourage you to cover smaller but more pertinent items in terms of acquisition

    - Status of Infantry Equipment Assualt Rifles and Body Armour from MKU and TATA. Infantry modernization topics.
    - Status of Induction of Artillery Guns Tracked, Wheeled etc.
    - Status of Various Helicopters being acquired Such as Apache,Chinook,LCH,LUH, Medium Lift Helicopter
    - Status of FICV,LSV,Arjun Mk 2 development and weight reduction (perhaps possible cooperation with Samsung Techwin who made Black Panther 2 MBT),NAG ATGM development, HELINA, development.
    - Induction and USage of IRNSS in the Army and Airforce, status of Network eccentricity.
    - OFB Modernization
    - status of induction of parachuting equipment of Airborne Forces, what are our Air expeditionary capabilities.

    Apart from these could you also cover articles related to

    - Higher defence reforms (CIDS, formation of joint Special forces command, formation of Cyber command)
    - RMA in Troops training, Officer training, battle field simulation. Territorial Army reforms.

    - perhaps even a piece on the reforms on the Pakistan army in terms of equipment or organizational. (I feel we are too inward looking and dont focus and study the enemy enough in the civilian domain) Perhaps a review of the Rah e Raast operation or the latest Zarb e Azb operation. Or even an update on Pakistan's Nation wide police modernization complete with Digitization of police records and setting up of modern policing infrastructure.

    Im sure every one of your readers will agree that they like your research and detail oriented articles even though many may not subscribe with views. BUT Please change the topics, we are sick and tired of only dicussing big ticket items namely fighter jets.

    Time to broaden the Broadsword. : )

  10. Just order 60-80 more su-30mkis.
    Mirage,mig29 & jaguar are already being upgraded. All 3 will last till 2030s.
    80 tejas & 36 rafale have already been ordered. Just order a 6-8 more squadrons of Rafale once delivery of first trench starts in 2019.
    Add to this the bae/hal combat hawk which will likely enter full scale production by the 2020.

    Iaf by 2030 will consist of

    040 fgfa
    340 su30mki
    180 Rafale f3r
    080 Tejas
    160 combat hawks

    40-60 mig29upg
    40-50 mirage2000
    60-80 jaguar D3

    The jaguars,mirage & migs can then be replaced by the fgfa & tejas mk2 in the next 5 years.

    No need to buy either f16 or gripen or f18 at all.

    The IAF is already an aviation ZOO. No need for bringing in newer species of exotic birds.

  11. are not a good defence journalist. You are very naive and lazy and incompetent. You have to work really hard to overtake Shiv. BTW your analysis of Defence matters is unintelligent. Though I cannot expect more from a journalist who is just a civilian university graduate and not a rank officer.


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