Boeing fighter shows it can operate off Indian carriers: demonstrates ski-jump take-off - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 17 July 2022

Boeing fighter shows it can operate off Indian carriers: demonstrates ski-jump take-off

The acquisition of a capable, long-range carrier-borne fighter will be critical for India’s naval power projection in the Indian Ocean Region


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 18th July 22


In an important demonstration of its ability to operate from Indian aircraft carriers, a US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet roared down the runway of the Indian Navy’s shore-based test facility (SBTF) in Goa and got airborne at the end, leaping off the “ski-jump” that equips the decks of Indian aircraft carriers.


“Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet successfully completed operational demonstration tests at Indian Naval Station Hansa in Goa, India, showcasing its ability to effectively and safely operate off Indian Navy carriers,” announced The Boeing Company on Friday.


The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which operates as the primary fighter on all 11 US Navy aircraft carriers, is one of the leading contenders in the Indian Navy’s tender for 57 multi-role carrier-based fighters (MRCBF). A strong challenger is the naval version of the French Rafale fighter – called the Rafale Marine.


With clear inadequacies in the Russian MiG-29Ks that India bought to operate off the INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant, and a power shortfall in the naval version of the Tejas fighter, the acquisition of a capable, long-range MRCBF will be critical for India’s naval power projection in the Indian Ocean Region.


Establishing the Super Hornet’s credentials further last week, Boeing and the US Navy successfully demonstrated the ability of the latest Super Hornet variant – the Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet – to control three unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from a manned fighter.


The combination of fighter and UAVs was flight-tested while carrying out “manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T).” In this mode, a Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet acts as a mothership that remotely commands and controls three UAVs.


“The software development, connectivity to the fighter and the flight tests were completed in less than six months. Manned-unmanned teaming is a key capability for the US Navy,” announced Boeing in a media statement on Friday.


During the test flights, F/A-18 pilots entered commands into a tablet, which were processed and transmitted to the UAV’s through the Block III fighter’s hardware. “The UAVs executed all commands given by F/A-18 pilots during tests over a two-week period,” said Boeing.


“This successful MUM-T demonstration represents a significant step toward the Navy’s vision for Distributed Maritime Operations. It highlights the potential of unmanned concepts to expand and extend the Navy’s reach,” said Scott Dickson, Boeing’s director for Multi-Domain Integration. 


“As part of a Joint All-Domain Command and Control network, teams of UAV conducting ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) missions, led by the latest Super Hornets, equipped with network-enabled data fusion and advanced capabilities, would provide warfighters across the Joint Force with significant information advantage,” said Boeing.


Boeing system engineers connected Block III’s adjunct processor, known as the Distributed Targeting Processor – Networked (DTP-N), with a third-party tablet to team with the UAVs. The software development, tablet connection to the fighter and all flight tests were completed in less than six months. 


“Block III Super Hornet is executing its guarantee of hardware – installed today – that is ready to receive the software of the future,” said Ben LeGrand, Boeing director of Mission Systems. “Block III Super Hornet will integrate third-party systems and software with minimal modifications.”


With the largest digital touch screen in any fighter cockpit, the Super Hornet claims to be an industry leader in the development and installation of the hardware and processing power needed for future digital capabilities and growth. 


Using an analogy from American football, Boeing says: “Future fighter pilots will be the quarterback of the skies, orchestrating commands and controlling UAVs from the integrated Block III touch-screen cockpit… Block III Super Hornet is the bridge to the future and is a risk reducer for the Navy that is delivering on teaming, networking and interoperability now.” 

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