Boeing pushes hard for Indian fighter aircraft contracts - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 23 August 2020

Boeing pushes hard for Indian fighter aircraft contracts

Looks to Super Hornet for Indian Navy and IAF; new F-15EX also a possibility for the IAF

Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th August 20

US aerospace major, Boeing, which accounts for most of the $18-billion worth of weaponry that Washington has sold India since 2005, is pressing hard to win a $7-8 billion Indian Navy contract for 57 aircraft carrier-borne fighters.

Boeing has begun testing its flagship naval fighter, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which it intends to offer the Indian Navy,to prove it can operate from any of the Indian Navy’s three carriers: the in-service INS Vikramaditya; Vikrant, which is to be commissioned by 2022; and INS Vishal, which is still on the drawing board.

“Boeing and the US Navy are in the beginning phases of operating an F/A-18 Super Hornet from a ski jump at Naval Air Station Patuxent River to demonstrate it is STOBAR compliant for the Indian Navy,” states Boeing. 

In STOBAR (short take off but arrested recovery) aircraft carrier operations, fighters get airborne by flying off a “ski-jump” like slope at the end of the flight deck. The aircraft land back by snagging their tail hooks on arrestor wires spread across the deck, which drag them to a halt. Both INS Vikramditya and Vikrant are STOBAR carriers.

US Navy aircraft carriers and their aircraft such as the Super Hornet are, however, built for “catapult assisted take off but arrested recovery” (CATOBAR). In this, on-board aircraft are accelerated to take-off speed by a steam or electro-magnetic catapult, doing away with the need for a ski-jump. INS Vishal is being built as a CATOBAR carrier.

Proving that the Super Hornet can operate off both STOBAR and CATOBAR carriers would enhance India's fleet commonality and economy.

Before commencing ski-jump tests, Boeing says the Super Hornet has completed more than 150 computer simulations. “While our assessment has shown the Block III Super Hornet is very capable of launching off a ski jump, this is the next step in demonstrating that capability,” said Boeing.

The shore-based ski-jump at Patuxent River was built to test the F-35B Lightning II – the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the Joint Strike Fighter. India, too, has built a similar shore-based facility in Goa for testing the naval version of the Tejas fighter.

The Indian Navy began the acquisition of 57 multi-role carrier borne fighters (MRCBF) in 2017 by issuing a Request for Information (RFI) about “day and night capable, all weather, multi-role, deck based combat aircraft, which can be used for air defence, air-to-surface operations, buddy refuelling, reconnaissance [and] electronic warfare missions from Indian Navy aircraft carriers.”

The 2017 RFI specifically asks vendors whether the fighter they are offering is capable of STOBAR as well as CATOBAR operations. 

The quest for a MRCBF is rooted in the navy’s disappointment over the unreliable performance of 45 MiG-29K/KUB fighters that it procured from Russia along with INS Vikramaditya.

The need for a MRCBF was made even more urgent by delays in developing a naval version of the indigenous Tejas light fighter. The navy assessed that the single-engine fighter could not carry enough weaponry, or fuel payload, to allow it to operate effectively off a carrier. Naval planners, therefore, have rejected the Tejas Mark 1 and stated they want a heavier, more powerful, twin-engine fighter that India can develop only by 2025.

The formal MRCBF tender is still awaited but industry analysts believe the contenders will be: The Super Hornet, the MiG-29K/KUB and navalised versions of the Rafale and Gripen E, called the Rafale Marine and Sea Gripen, respectively.

Ironically, Boeing’s thrust in the MRCBF procurement comes at a time when a stressed defence budget has placed a question mark over the acquisition of a third carrier. The Indian Air Force (IAF) argues that shore-based air power is more effective than carrier-based fighters, and costs less. The tri-service chief, General Bipin Rawat, who prioritises expenditure between the three services, has expressed reservations over spending heavily on an aircraft carrier and its air wing.

Boeing could also offer the Super Hornet in the ongoing IAF procurement of 114 medium fighters, achieving economy of scale by taking the numbers up to 171 aircraft. Saab will seek similar benefits, while Dassault – which has already sold India 36 Rafales and would also compete in both these tenders – would garner even greater benefits of scale.

Meanwhile, Boeing is also weighing restricting the Super Hornet offer to the Indian Navy, while offering the IAF its upgraded F-15EX fighter. Pratyush Kumar, who oversees the F-15 programme, confirmed last month that Boeing had requested the US government for a marketing licence to commence discussions with New Delhi about the F-15EX. However, Boeing will only decide whether to offer the Super Hornet or the F-15EX once the IAF defines the specifications of the fighter it wants.


  1. We had jaguar mirages and sea harrier in 1985. Will we once again create the same logistical nightmare by buying f16 f18 rafale etc etc

    Just buy the RAFALES for the airforce and the naval version and close the 114 fighter tender

  2. there is always a sub text behind the text.
    as every commercial attache in 'chanakya puri' knows the first rule of vending to raisina hill and the big cheez of al hind is that we love being flattered. while in the rest of the world flattery is regarded as excessive and insincere praise, given especially to further one's own interests, for us as a feringee advised in the US of america's san francisco chronicle while briefing those readers preparing for business with desis - "Flattery gets you almost everywhere in India, especially when it comes to working liaisons, as most members of the business community [would it be incorrect to include two star, three star babus as well as civil service babus, and our netas as very powerful members of our extended business community] are charmed by a few well-chosen words of praise."
    so this is the driver behind rossell india being gilded by boeing.
    wasn't it the poet virgil who wrote "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes"

  3. NSR says ---

    This is a battle proven Naval fighter bomber and its latest Block III will be fearsome one...
    E-18 Growler will wreak havoc on enemy ships and naval bases...

    F/A-18E/F carries future generation LRASM which goes up to 500 km and carries a 1000 kg blast fragmentation bomb in it to destroy or disable even aircraft carriers...

    India can upgrade Mig-29Ks to Mig-29UPGs or even better and gift them to IAF toovercome the fighter shortages...

    F/A-18E/F Block III would be a great fit for India and they can produce them in India and may be even IAF can buy a few foir themselves...

  4. When it comes to acquisition of critical platforms, the Indian defence establishment behaves as if it has all the time in the world and that we are located in the most peaceful corner of the planet. There is (was!) absolutely no sense of urgency to get things moving. Even for procurement of basic items like sniper rifles, assault rifles, ATGMs, ballistic helmets, bulletproof vests required at the field level, the level of procrastination is galling. For big ticket items like fighters, submarines, minesweepers, early warning aircraft, naval helicopters, pardon us but we are yet to select from the catalogs! So, when the PLA or the Pakistan Army decide to play mischief, we run around everywhere showing our desperation and evident lack of planning. One is sorry to say but this complete absence of cohesive vision for defence procurement (and the resultant shortages) is one of the factors which embolden our adversaries.

  5. Its ridiculous that the Navy is considering the so-called "Sea-Gripen" which as of today is no more than a concept on paper. On the other hand, there is a proposal ready to develop the twin-engined N-Tejas, for which the Navy is not doing anything.

    India has probably the only dubious distinction to entertain foreign "paper tigers" while neglecting indigenous proposals. So, the Indian Navy is willing to fund the Swedish military-industrial complex to develop the Sea Gripen, but is not willing to entertain DRDO's proposal to develop the twin-engine N-Tejas.

    Shouldn't naval fighter jets have been on the list of 101 import embargos ?

  6. STOBAR, CATOBAR and STOVL - very informative, thanks. Good thing I've watched Top Gun about 30 times to makes sense of these. How about embedding some videos in these articles to clarify the point further?


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