Two Boeing F/A-18 Fighters Arrive In Goa To Demonstrate Compatibility For Operations From Indian Aircraft Carriers
Two Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets arrived in Goa on Monday to demonstrate their capability to take off from a ski-jump platform of the kind that Indian aircraft carriers have.
The battle for the Indian Navy's lucrative fighter jet deal entered a new phase as Boeing's two F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet arrived in Goa on Monday (23 May) to start flying from the shore-based test facility at INS Hansa to demonstrate their capabilities to operate from Indian aircraft carriers.
The aircraft will showcase their ability to take off from a ski-jump platform of the kind that Indian aircraft carriers have.
F/A-18 fighters are already in service with the US Navy, which uses it from its nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. Unlike India's two carriers, which use ski-jump (short take-off but arrested recovery or STOBAR) to help aircraft take off from their decks, US carriers use catapult-assisted take-off (catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery or CATOBAR).
To be considered by the Indian Navy as a replacement for its MiG-29K fleet, Rafale M will have to demonstrate the ability to take off in the STOBAR setting.
The Super Hornet has already demonstrated the capability, Boeing says. An F/A-18 fighter took off using a ski-jump platform constructed at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland in August 2020.
The F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III, Boeing says, will give the Indian Navy unique and differentiated capability in the form of an advanced, combat-proven, multi-role naval fighter that is fully compatible with the Indian Navy carriers. Making a strong pitch for F/A-18, vice president of Boeing's India Business Development Alain Garcia has said the aircraft has been specifically designed from its inception for carrier operations and will meet the performance requirements of the Indian Navy.
"This has been proven by our successful ski-jump tests conducted in 2020 and extensive simulation studies. Additionally, we will also prove that further with operational demonstrations in India in May and June," Garcia told the Press Trust of India in an interview in April.
"With the latest Block III configuration, the Super Hornet is suited to protect India's maritime interests, and we anticipate the Super Hornet and P-8I will open up opportunities for greater interoperability between the two navies for a secure Indo-Pacific," he said.
Rafale-M, the other fighter in the race for the Indian Navy deal, has already undergone testing at the shore-based facility at INS Hansa earlier this year.
In service with the French Navy, the fighter is operated from the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which also uses the CATOBAR arrangement like the US Navy's nuclear supercarriers.
Unsatisfied with the performance of its MiG-29Ks, the Indian Navy has expressed interest in buying new fighters for its carriers. Moreover, with the induction of Vikrant in August this year (2022), the Indian Navy will have two aircraft carriers but not enough fighters to keep both warships operational, experts have pointed out.
In 2017, the navy had said it would buy 57 new fighters for its air arm. However, the number has now been cut to 36 because India is developing its own deck-based fighter aircraft — Twin-Engine Carrier-Based Deck Fighter or TEDBF — and due to financial constraints.
Experts say Dassault's Rafale-M has an edge over Boeing's F/A-18 as the Indian Air Force has already inducted two squadrons of the fighter, has set up maintenance facilities and may contract for Rafales in the next few years. India's rapidly expanding defence partnership with France, which also has a significant presence in the western Indian Ocean, will also be considered when New Delhi decides on the procurement of fighters.
The navy has also aligned its requirements with those of the Indian Air Force, which could see both buying fighters from the same manufacturer to ensure, among other things, economies of scale.
If Rafale-M is selected for procurement, the Indian Navy may ask Dassault to lease it four to five fighters to make aircraft carrier Vikrant operational after it is commissioned into the navy this year, the Hindustan Times had reported in January.
With inputs from PTI
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