Monday, December 5, 2022

Advantage Super Hornets: Is Boeing’s ‘Maverick Marketing’ Helping F-18 Jets Overcome Rafale Challenge For Indian Navy Deal?

The most-awaited Tom Cruise movie ‘Top Gun Maverick’ is all set to hit the big screen. The movie will see the actor flying a F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet as a seasoned naval aviation test pilot.

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The movie has expectedly received an unprecedented promotion and grabbed the global media limelight, and so has Boeing’s ‘powerful but non-selling‘  F-18 Super Hornets, which have hit rough weather in the last many years, losing to competitors like Lockheed, Saab, Rafale, etc.

Call it a coincidence or a well-planned marketing strategy, the timing of the promotion and the release of the movie is quite intriguing, especially in India. As the film hits the theatres later this week, the Block III variant of Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet undergoes extensive trials by the Indian Navy at a static facility in Goa.

Boeing is competing against Dassault Aviation’s Rafale-Marine warplanes. The going has been tough for Boeing as the Indian Air Force (IAF) already operates the Rafale fighters to great satisfaction. And most defense officials and aviation experts have labeled the Rafales as the favorite to win the contract.

Boeing must convince Indian officials that an essentially ‘non-selling alternative’ could be best suited for its new aircraft carrier.  This is where the  Hollywood heartthrob Tom Cruise piloting the F-18 Super Hornet in the movie ‘Top Gun’ could come into the picture.

It is worth pondering whether the actor, with its awe-inspiring stunts as a Naval pilot of Super Hornets besides the extraordinary promotion of the movie, could boost the appeal of F-18s, as New Delhi is very close to finalizing the deal.

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MAVERICK’S Super Hornet F/A-18E “Top Gun” by REVELL – Via YouTube

Even before the film hits the theatres after two years of pandemic-related restrictions, there have been recorded leaks on telegram groups and torrents – the excitement in India is palpable.

Two ‘variants’ of the F-18 Super Hornets are set to take India by storm – one on screen and the other at INS Hansa naval station in Goa, with the Indian Navy, watching its performance like a hawk.

Can Tom Cruise Revive Boeing’s Fortunes? 

Even though the F-18 Super Hornet is considered one of the most lethal and combat-proven aircraft in the US arsenal, there have been few buyers for this fighter jet. The US Navy itself had announced in 2020 that it would stop buying the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets starting in FY22.

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The Block III variant has since received some appreciation, with the first operational aircraft of the Super Hornet being delivered to the US Navy in September last year. However, finding more customers in the foreign market would decide the fate of this aircraft.

Even though more than 700 F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets are in service today, only Australia and Kuwait have purchased the fighters.

In 2010, Boeing announced a “Super Hornet International Road Map” highlighting a set of potential enhancements to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet to boost its exports. Despite all efforts, Boeing has lost major export deals to Lockheed Martin (F-35), Dassault Aviation (Rafale), and Saab (Gripen).

Given the backdrop of disheartening losses for Boeing, the release of the ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ with one of the world’s most renowned actors promoting US Navy fighters with deadly stunts could boost its dwindling reputation and possibly its sales.

Even though it has been widely understood that Boeing’s offer is more cost-effective, the Indian Navy is reluctant to make it a single-vendor competition. Speculations were earlier rife that the Indian Navy was exploring the option of getting some Rafale-M on lease.

“The Super Hornet and the Rafale (M) both fit in within the requirements of the Indian Navy. Now, of course, they do have to pass certain tests which would ensure their compliance with the requirements of INS Vikrant (slated to be officially commissioned this August).

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File Image: F-18

Rafale was built around the 2000s and hence features more advanced tech when compared to the F-18 and MiG 29. Also, Tom Cruise flying a F/A super hornet in the movie may have set eyes rolling on the fighter jet, although it is to be noted that he never did pilot the aircraft. Cruise failed to obtain clearance from the US Navy, which is a no-brainer considering what’s at stake”, Prashant Prabhakar, an aviation analyst, told The EurAsian Times.

“When India carries out an evaluation of aircraft, we do it very professionally and don’t get carried away with Tom C. or anyone else. More than 50% of shots are computer-generated trick photography. It hopefully wouldn’t impress the Indian Navy, Air Marshal P.K Barbora (retd) told the EurAsian Times.

However, it is also pertinent to note that Hollywood has been the most powerful instrument of America’s ‘soft power,’ creating movies that have set narratives that continue to echo to this day. It is probably Boeing’s time to tap into the potential of the cinema that it believes could be a saving grace for its Super Hornets that essentially have no buyers.

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Tom Cruise as Pete Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick (via Twitter)

Tom Cruise is not only bringing his breathtaking aviation scenes to screen but also putting the F-18 Super Hornet back in the limelight, a place where its manufacturer Boeing believes that it deserves to be.

Aviation fans and military watchers are excited to see the actor perform risky stunts on a supersonic fighter jet, one of the best in the US Navy. The trailer has already left the fans wanting more of the dogfighting scenes for which Cruise and others underwent months of training.

But, a coincidence as it may be, is the world and the Indian Navy watching?

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