Boeing’s Super Hornet fighter completes testing in India - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 20 July 2022

Boeing’s Super Hornet fighter completes testing in India

Rafale fighter also passed testing in January, but does not have twin-seat variant, which the Indian Navy requires


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 21st July 22


After successfully demonstrating its ability to land on, and take off from, the ski-jumps that equip India’s two aircraft carriers, The Boeing Company (Boeing) is confident that the aircraft it is offering – the F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III – is in pole position to win the Indian Navy’s tender for initially 26, increasing to 57, multi-role carrier-based fighters (MRCBF).


“Even though the Super Hornet was initially designed to operate from a catapult-launch environment, the jet is so powerful that it is able to easily achieve ski-jump launches again under its own power with heavy payloads,” said Alain Garcia, Boeing’s defence head in India.


Challenging Boeing’s Super Hornet in the MRCBF race is the naval version of the French Rafale fighter – called the Rafale Marine. However, the Rafale Marine has only a single-seat version, while the Indian Navy requires both single-seat and twin-seat variants.


A two-seat fighter offers several unique advantages, such as mission flexibility, higher fleet utilization and the ability to carry out high workload missions that require a second crew member. Furthermore, a twin-seat fighter can also be used as a trainer. 


“The competitor (the Rafale Marine) does not offer a two-seat, carrier-capable platform. So the fact that we can offer a two-seat platform that is carrier capable gives a lot of flexibility from a training perspective and a mission perspective to the Indian Navy,” said Garcia.


In January, the Rafale Marine had undergone tests at the “shore based test facility” (SBTF) in Goa to demonstrate its ability to operate off India’s two aircraft carriers – INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant. Now it was the turn of the Super Hornet.


During the testing in Goa, two US Navy F/A-18E/F Super Hornets completed multiple ski-jumps, roll-in and fly-in arrested landings, as well as performance flights, in a variety of weights in the air-to-air, air-to-ground, and air-to-surface configurations, meeting the Indian Navy’s test requirements, Boeing announced on Wednesday.


“With the Super Hornet Block III, the Indian Navy would not only get the most advanced

platform but would also benefit from tactics, upgrades and knowledge related to the

naval aviation ecosystem that the US Navy offers,” Garcia said. 


Boeing announced on Wednesday that the Super Hornet tests in Goa had been preceded by internal testing in 2020 at Naval Air Station, Patuxent River, Maryland. That had included eight ski-jump take-offs, in various weights and configurations, and had demonstrated the Super Hornet’s ability to operate from a “short take-off but arrested recovery” (STOBAR) aircraft carrier.


The Super Hornet Block III is the US Navy’s premier fighter, with over 800 aircraft delivered around the world and over 2.5 million flight hours logged. The US Navy intends to retain the Super Hornet in service till beyond 2035.


Towards this end, multi-billion-dollar investments have been made to increase the Super Hornet Block III’s airframe life to 10,000 hours, from 6,000 hours in the Block II, reduce the radar cross-section, and incorporate an advanced cockpit with a large area display.


Published figures reveal that the Super Hornet Block III has the lowest cost per flight hour of all the US military’s fighter aircraft. It has been designed, ground up, for carrier operations and requires no modifications for operating on the deck, hangar and lifts of Indian carriers.


The F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III uses the General Electric F-414 engine, which is from the same family that powers the Tejas Mark I fighter and could go on to power its Mark 1A and Mark 2 versions. This commonality will result in efficiencies of scale, reducing the cost of engines, which amount to one-third the cost of a fighter aircraft.


  1. Ajai, correction - the Tejas Mark 1 is powered by the F 404 and not the F 414, the F-18 is.

  2. Right you are, Subho. And that's why I said, "from the same family that powers the Tejas Mark 1 fighter"... I didn't say "the same engine that powers the Tejas Mark 1".

  3. anonymous!!
    alter ego, second self, scarlet pimpernel - they sought him here, they sought him there, they sought him everywhere.....

  4. Beyond reporting on the recently concluded trials of the Rafale M and F/A-18 one wishes the handful of folks like Ajai Shukla who have the capabilty to elevate the discourse to a strategic level pen an article that covers the following issues
    1. What is the use of the MoD, IDS and DMA if they cannot take an integrated and consolidated view of India's fighter acquisitions. If the IAF's pending requirements of 114 fighters, a carryover of the cavalier decision to acquire only 36 Rafales in an ad hoc manner, as well as the Navy's original requirement of 57 aircraft was consolidated, the domestic manufacture of Rafales should have been a no brainer.
    2. Whar is the use of ToT-based "Make in India" slogans, if the PMO and MoD cannot dangle the carrot of 180 odd aircraft to acquire the much coveted jet engine tech from Safran, that the US has denied India
    3. If a Navy centric view was to be taken, why not acknowledge that a 3rd carrier and its airwing is inevitable . Why not attempt a real masterstroke by negotiating with the US a multi-year, multi-product "purchase" of 57 F/A-18s, 4-6 E2D Hawkeyes, 60 MH60R, 12 MQ-9 Sea Guardians, 12 P-8Is. Plus EMALS and AAG tech that was being negotiated with the US for the carrier. Would the US still deny India jet engine tech? Still might, but this time the US would have a lot to lose if the buy was made conditional on tech transfer.

    Bottomline, with another piecemeal buy India is again missing out on an opportunity to create a military aviation industrial base, especially the holy grail of jet engine tech. What "strategic autonomy" does India actually have if "Made in India" TEDBF and AMCA still fly with imported engines?

    Meanwhile, the keyboard warrior level discussion will continue - Whether Rafale M or Super Hornet has better AESA radar, or how carriers are stitting ducks and India should buy 100 missile boats armed with 8 BrahMos each for that money.



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