The Indian Navy’s multirole carrier borne fighter (MRCBF) contest just got a little hotter with Boeing today making it a point to amplify and detail the F/A-18E/F Block III Super Hornet’s ‘full compatibility’ with India’s current and future aircraft carriers. The company asserted today that the aircraft requires ‘no modifications’ to operate ‘with meaningful weapons loadouts’ from the ski-jump of the INS Vikramaditya, Vikrant-class and follow on aircraft carriers, adding a dimension of intrigue and intensity to a contest that is widely being seen as a direct dogfight with the Dassault Rafale. We’ll go into the significance of today’s comments in a moment, but first, here’s a quick video where we catch up with Boeing’s Vice President on the Super Hornet programme, Dan Gillian.
Now, here’s how the state of play adds up as Livefist sees it:
- Boeing has dismissed reports that the F/A-18 is too big for the hangar elevators on the INS Vikramaditya and the under-construction Vikrant class aircraft carrier. The company confirmed today that the Block III Super Hornet requires no modifications for full operations on either of these carriers. Discussions are currently ongoing with the Indian Navy. What appears unclear is if the dimensional clearances in the elevators are too small for comfortable deck handling. If no modifications are imposed on both the aircraft and the shaft systems of the carrier elevators, how much of a trade off would it be for other parameters, including turnaround and sortie generation? A bit of a grey call right now.
- The emphasis on ski-jump operations compatibility — a capability that Boeing’s rival Dassault also claims on the Rafale — only amplifies the distance from an Indian Navy decision on whether its new class of aircraft carrier (IAC-2) will employ CATOBAR (steam or electro-magnetic) or a ski jump like the Vikramaditya and Vikrant.
- If both the Super Hornet and Rafale both claim full operations capability from a ski-jump carrier, any technical toss-up would have to be between on weapons payload, cost per flight hour and range. Data on payload and range capabilities of either aircraft in ski jump operations remains unavailable (or unreleased). Boeing claims, however, that it has the lowest cost per flight hour of ‘any frontline fighter’.
- Does the emphasis on ski-jump compatibility indicate a recognition that the Indian Navy could potentially simply exercise the option to purchase more MiG-29K fighters going forward? That doesn’t seem likely, given (a) the MRCBF contest is specifically borne from the Indian Navy’s need for a higher performance fighter, and (b) the Indian Navy contest will necessarily have synergies with the Indian Air Force’s future requirements.
- Boeing says it is looking forward to putting into action what it has done in detailed simulations since at least 2008. The last time anything close to this capability happened was when a legacy F-18 Hornet took off from a ski-jump in the eighties.
- Boeing sees recent reports of the IAF’s interest in doubling its order for Rafales to 72 aircraft as ‘positive’. Why? That’s answered in the video below with Boeing India chief Pratyush Kumar, the man driving the company’s continued performance in the Indian market, the latest win being the Indian Army’s imminent contract for six AH-64E Apache helicopters as part of options on the original IAF deal for 22.