Boeing’s Super Hornet Pitch

Says if chosen, the naval fighter will have economic impact of USD 3.6 billion in a decade on Indian defence industry

A FORCE Report

New Delhi: Flanked by India business heads of GE, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman, and accompanied by colleagues Steve Parker and Alain Garcia, Boeing India president Salil Gupte made a sweeping presentation on August 24, placing Boeing as a company that is not only making in India, but making in India for the world.

This vaunted position will be the foundation of its Aatmanirbhar Bharat strategy for India’s defence industry through which one single programme—the F/A-18 Super Hornet for the Indian Navy—would have an economic impact of USD 3.6 billion over a decade. This is well beyond the investment the company will be required to make in the Indian defence industry as part of its offset obligations in case the Super Hornet wins the naval fighter programme.

The Aatmanirbhar Bharat strategy, according to Gupte, would stand on three pillars of manufacturing, engineering and sustainment—all of which is already happening in India. Even without the Super Hornet programme, Gupte said Boeing has the “broadest defence supply chain base in India among all OEMs” (original equipment manufacturers).

“It is not just about the numbers,” he said, “but the breadth of our engagement with the Indian industry. We have 300 Indian industry partners, a large number of whom are MSMEs.”

Gupte added, “As a trusted partner of India’s aerospace sector for more than 75 years, Boeing has made significant investments in India’s aerospace and defence industry and will continue to do so. Our investments span the entire spectrum of local manufacturing, engineering and R&D, and training and skilling to help build a robust Aatmanirbhar Bharat in aerospace and defence.” “The selection of the F/A-18 Super Hornet for India will help boost investments in India’s defence industry,” he stressed.

Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet is one of the contenders for Indian Navy’s tender for 26 Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters (MRCBF). The navy had originally envisaged procuring 57 fighters. The other contender is Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, 36 of which have been procured in a government-to-government deal for the Indian Air Force. Both fighters recently underwent operational demonstration at the Indian Navy’s shore-based test facility (SBTF) in Goa.

Following the demonstration, “which exceeded all requirements put forth by the Indian Navy,” according to the vice president, India Business Development, Boeing Defense, Space & Security and Global Services, Alain Garcia, Boeing produced a white paper on the economic impact the Super Hornet would have on the Indian defence industry. While the press conference was to underscore the Super Hornet’s ability to uplift the indigenous defence manufacturing, in the background was the idea of the Indian Navy’s interoperability with the US Navy.

With the naval forces being the fulcrum of the US-led QUAD, interoperability between the US and Indian navies will be important. A commonality of platforms and equipment would go a long way in ensuring that. Garcia suggested this when he pointed out that since the US Navy flies F/A-18 Super Hornets, if the Indian Navy was to select it, it would become part of that family. But one big impediment to this family would be Indian Navy’s lack of networking across land, air, surface and undersea. Given that a platform is only as effective as its ability to communicate in real time, how can Super Hornets accrue the same advantages to the Indian Navy as they do to the US Navy?

To the FORCE question on creation of multi-domain, hardened networks by which the Indian Navy’s potential Super Hornet could communicate with not just the surface stations, but also other platforms—aerial, surface and subsea– Garcia said the US government has offered to help the Indian Navy create such networks. They are waiting for the Indian government to accept this offer, he said.

Even if the Super Hornet did not come with these attendant benefits, the fighter has a few discernible advantages over its competition. One, the Indian Navy already operates Boeing’s P-8I, which will give the fighter a commonality of weapons with the long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Two, the Super Hornet has foldable wings, which will make them a snug fit on the aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant. Three, the Super Hornet also comes in a twin-seat variant, which will be desirable as a trainer.

Four, as vice president and general manager, Bombers & Fighters, Boeing Defense, Space & Security, Steve Parker pointed out, “The Block III Super Hornet we are offering to the Indian Navy has the most advanced and critical capability. With its open architecture design and continuously evolving capability suite, the Super Hornet will outpace current threats, facilitate rapid capability insertion and has unmatched affordability.” Moreover, “Boeing is making investments in advanced technologies and capabilities on our Block III Super Hornet and the F-15EX today so we will be ready for the future. The Indian Navy will benefit from these investments for decades to come,” he said.

But the biggest advantage of the F/A-18 Super Hornet is the industrial and the governmental prowess that backs it. And the press conference was meant to underscore that fact. Consider this.

  • Boeing India employs 4,000 employees directly. Its suppliers across the country employ an additional 7,000 people.
  • It has created a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) capability for P-8I in India in addition to sustainment and training facility for the Indian Air Force’s C-17 fleet. In fact, the US Air Force designed two hangars for the IAF’s C-17s, which were built by L&T.
  • Its joint venture with Tata, called Tata Boeing Aerospace Limited, based in Hyderabad, manufactures aerostructures for the Apache attack helicopters for customers worldwide.
  • Boeing has already made foreign direct investment (FDI) of USD 200 million, which includes a 43-acre state-of-the-art engineering and technology campus under construction in Bengaluru. This campus will be among the largest Boeing-owned facilities outside the US.
  • Even though the delivery timeline is 36 months from the signing of the contract, if the government of India so desires, Garcia said Boeing can work with the US government to compress the timelines.
  • Depending upon the final numbers of the naval fighters and the Indian government’s requirements, Gupte said Boeing was capable of supplying ready to fly fighters or manufacturing them in India.

Despite these advantages, Boeing is pulling all stops to reach the finishing line, and in quick time. Senior director, business development, GE Aviation, Satya Prakash mentioned that while the Super Hornet is powered by GE’s F-414 engine, which has logged more than five million hours, a variation of that F414-INS6 has been selected by Indian Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) to power the Mk2 version of the LCA Tejas.

“The same engine can also be used for the AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft),” Satya Prakash said. The AMCA is India’s ambitious underdevelopment 5th Generation fighter.

Both Raytheon, which supplies the AESA radar and avionics to the Super Hornet, and Northrop Grumman, which makes 40 per cent of its fuselage, referred to their history of working in India and reiterated their commitment to Aatmanirbhar Bharat, with India Managing Director, Northrop Grumman International, Gyanendra Sharma even naming their Indian partner for the project. “Dynamatics will be our in-country lead for the Super Hornet fuselage,” Sharma said.

The final word though was Parker’s. According to him, “Fighters have been the core of Boeing’s DNA for more than 80 years. To press on with that strong heritage, our investments in multi-domain operations, manned-unmanned teaming, autonomous systems and other capabilities will position us for the future and will keep our customers at the cutting edge of air defence.”

Can there be a promise more tantalising than this?


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