On the Block

Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet is at the forefront of its defence business strategy in India

Mihir Paul

Boeing’s defence business in India has seen colossal growth in the last few years. With procurement efforts for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy boldly picking up speed in 2018, Boeing, in 2019, brings some alluring additions to their ongoing offers to sweeten the deals further.

Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet

In the context of the MRCA 2.0 programme, the second iteration of the multi-role fighter aircraft competition for the IAF, Boeing is fielding its Block III variant of the F/A-18 Super Hornet multi-role fighter. While the IAF has been looking for a capable multi-role fighter since the first MRCA competition back in 2007, with the entire competition being scrapped in favour of only 36 Rafales as an ‘emergency purchase’, now the IAF is eagerly looking forward to the progression of MMRCA 2.0 to increase its diminishing squadron strength.

Boeing’s F/A-18 Block III is one of the contenders along with six other Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) that had responded to the ministry of defence’s (MoD’s) new Request for Information (RFI) for 110 multi-role fighter aircraft (MRCA 2.0) back in April 2018. Boeing is now fielding the F/A-18IN, a customised Indian version based on the F/A-18 E/F. The twin-engine F/A-18 E/F is considered as an all-weather fighter and attack aircraft which can also be carrier launched. The F/A-18 E/F is based on F/A-18 C/D variants. The Super Hornet Block has a new larger airframe and has seen extensive avionics upgrades, and extensive action in Middle Eastern conflicts in the last two decades. The variant being offered to India, with a ‘Make in India’ provision, will be an ‘Advanced Super Hornet’ (F/A-18IN Block III) with a new AESA radar. The F/A-18IN, based on the F/A-18E/F, is already in operation with the US Navy and is currently being built for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Raytheon’s APG-79 AESA radar is being offered on the aircraft. There will be a limited Transfer of Technology (ToT) on the radar, up to the level approved by the US government. However, Raytheon has stated that the level of ToT offered would be compliant with the MoD’s Request for Proposal (RFP) requirements. This is also the first time the Super Hornet is being offered for production in a foreign country. Earlier for MRCA 1.0, Boeing was offering the same F/A-18IN but with one caveat, it was the Block II variant. Now Boeing is pitching the more advanced Block III variant which definitely makes the Super Hornet a worthy contender in MRCA 2.0.

On February 21, during Aero India 2019, Boeing held a press conference for outlining its civil aviation and defence business strategy for the upcoming years. During the press conference, vice president, international sales, Boeing Defence Systems, Thomas Breckenridge made the case for Boeing manufacturing fully indigenous F/A-18 Super Hornets in India for MRCA 2.0 and the Indian Navy’s procurement programme for a carrier-based fighter for the upcoming indigenous aircraft carriers. Breckenridge asserted that the Block III variant of the F/A-18 Super Hornet being offered to India is one of the most combat proven fighters in the United States fighter aircraft inventory and is already serving as the US Navy’s frontline fighter and will continue to do so for many decades to come.

Breckenridge, while explaining progression to the Block III variant, said, “This evolution represents some revolutionary capabilities including longer range, improved stealth performance, data fusion, and integrating new sensors to name a few. This will be a transformative capability for the United States and for customers around the world as the Block III and F-35 work together to serve as frontline fighter force for decades to come.”

Explaining why the Super Hornet is the right choice for MRCA 2.0, Breckenridge asserted that the Block III is the ‘stealthiest aircraft amongst the contenders’ and comes with a multitude of improvements over the earlier variants. Some of the improvements he mentioned were – new conformal fuel tanks to provide additional range and reduce drag, new Open Architecture and computing infrastructures, India System Integration, and a swanky new touchscreen interactive flat panel display which allows the pilot to interact with the images and HUD (Heads-up-display) elements just like an iPad.

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