US aerospace giant Boeing has confirmed that it has been testing the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet fighter jets for the Indian Navy’s requirements of a carrier-based fighter.
The trials have been a part of demonstrations for the Indian Navy to demonstrate that the aircraft is fully capable of operating from the ski-jumps of the Indian aircraft carriers, namely the INS Vikramaditya and the in-development INS Vikrant.
Boeing has been repeatedly pitching its F-18 jets for the Indian Navy’s requirement of a new deck-based fighter for its future aircraft carrier INS Vikrant.
In an interview given to an Indian defense page, Dan Gillian, VP of the Super Hornet program had said – “We’ve done a lot of simulation work with the Indian Navy to better understand their requirements and we fill comfortable that the Super Hornet can operate from all their carriers, both the ones fielded today and the ones in the future… We think we can move around the deck, be very mission capable with a relevant weapons load-out and fuel load-out to give the Navy what they need… The Super Hornet as built today can operate from Indian carriers.”
Currently, the Indian Navy operates MiG-29K fighter jets from its aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, which uses a STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) configuration instead of the CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) configuration on which the F-18 generally operates.
The MiG-29Ks are the latest versions of the Russian MiG-29 which have strengthened airframes compared to the original air force variants for carrier-based operations, along with advanced radars, avionics, and the obvious addition of an arrestor hook.
Earlier, the Indian Navy’s MiG-29Ks had been said to be plagued with issues revolving around engine and maintenance, following which an RFI was issued to acquire 57 new deck-based aircraft to replace the MiG-29K. The primary contenders chosen were the Dassault Rafale M and the Boeing F/A-18 EF Super Hornet.
The issue raised by the Indian Navy was that the F-18s had been operated earlier from CATOBAR aircraft carrier, which, however, would not be able to launch from a STOBAR configured carrier with a capable amount of payload.
Boeing, responding to these issues has claimed that the aircraft is fully capable of operating with the Indian Navy’s carriers and has confirmed that it has been testing the aircraft from ski-jump at its testing facility at Patuxent River.
Speaking to The War Zone, Justin Gibson, the Boeing spokesperson said “Boeing and the U.S. Navy are in the beginning phases of operating an F/A-18 Super Hornet from a ski jump at Naval Air Station Patuxent River to demonstrate it is STOBAR compliant for the Indian Navy”.
Asserting the aircraft’s compatibility with Indian carriers, he further said “Boeing completed an extensive analysis and more than 150 flight simulations on F/A-18 compatibility with Indian aircraft carriers, and while our assessment has shown the Block III Super Hornet is very capable of launching off a ski jump, this is the next step in demonstrating that capability. More details will be released upon the conclusion of the test demonstration.”
With the current orders and delivery of Dassault Rafales last month, the favor and economy of cost might shift the interest towards the French aircraft. The recent indigenization program also opens the possibility of the procurement of the naval variant of LCA Tejas, for which it has shown the capability of operating when it successfully landed and took off from the INS Vikramaditya earlier this year.