Thom Breckenridge, Vice President, International Sales, Strike, Surveillance & Mobility, Boeing Defense, Space & Security, spoke to India Strategic magazine about F/A-18 Super Hornet and why its Block III configuration would be a game changer for India and the Indian Navy.
Q. Boeing has indicated interest in the Indian Navy’s Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters requirement. Could you elaborate on Boeing offer?
A. We responded to the Indian Navy’s RFI for 57 aircraft and have been in discussions with them about our offer. We are confident that our offer for India provides the best capability with the Block III configuration, unrivalled growth potential, superior economics in platform and lifecycle costs, and a commitment to partner with India to build its aerospace ecosystem leveraging our supply chain, engineering workforce and innovation and technology investments. Multiple conversations have also taken place between the two governments on the F/A-18. The opportunities for collaboration between the two navies on the naval aviation ecosystem, carrier integration, training and technology are very compelling, and the F/A-18 could be the lynchpin of that cooperation.
Q. Boeing has been talking about the Super Hornet Block III? What aspects will be offered to the Indian Navy?
A. The F/A-18 Block III configuration will be a transformative capability for India, adding capability upgrades that include enhanced network capability, longer range, reduced radar signature, an advanced cockpit system and an enhanced communication system. The fighter’s life also will extend from 6,000 hours to 10,000 hours. This evolution represents some revolutionary capability upgrades including improved stealth performance, data fusion, and integrating new sensors.
As a fighter with the right amount of stealth to meet its mission needs, the F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III comes with a series of other enhancements that include conformal fuel tanks that will provide over 100 miles of additional range and reduce drag on the airplane; open Architecture and large new computing infrastructure for large data correlation and fusion; and a new 10 x 19-inch flat panel display. In addition, there will also be opportunities for integration of India-specific systems depending on those customers’ preferences, with companies here in India building avionics and systems for Indian airplanes today.
Current and future air battles will be won or lost based on how soon you see the adversary, how difficult is it for the adversary to track you, how effectively can you network with other friendly assets such as fighters and AEW&C capability, how soon can you launch weapons and how soon can you egress out. The investment gone into Super Hornet Block III in sensors, radar and electronic warfare is in line with the philosophies of the leading navy and air forces of the world. India would benefit greatly by tapping into this expertise.
Furthermore, these system improvements create opportunities for us to bring Indian innovation to bear in delivering capability to India. An example could be developing software applications and writing new software for a fighter for instance.
Q. When will Block III deliveries start for the US Navy?
A. Last year, the US Navy awarded Boeing a three-year contract award for 78 F/A-18 Block III Super Hornets – a multi-year deal that will play a vital role in the US Navy’s fleet modernisation efforts. In addition, Boeing will deliver Block III Super Hornets to the US Navy through at least 2033 through its Service Life Modification programme. The first Block III test jets will deliver early this year, with the first full-up Block III aircraft being delivered in early 2021.
Today the Super Hornet serves at the frontline for the US Navy and it will continue to do so for decades to come. It is combat-proven with a defined US Navy flight plan to outpace future threats. The F/A-18 has more than 10 million flight hours demonstrating capabilities on every type of mission and will be in the US frontline service through sustained support and upgrades for decades to come.
Q. Why do you believe the Super Hornet will meet the Indian Navy’s requirements for a carrier borne fighter?
A. The F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III offers the Indian Navy a 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 and would boost the growing maritime and defence relationship between the United States and India.
Designed as a carrier-based fighter for high- loading, high stress operations, the F/A-18E/F Block III Super Hornet requires minimal support equipment. These operational requirements have allowed for nearly two decades of naval operations in all weather conditions and long duration deployments flying all types of mission profiles.
Super Hornet Block III is fully compliant with and ideally suited for the Indian Navy’s carrier deck. It is also compatible with air refuelling tankers operated around the world.
The F/A-18E/F Block III Super Hornet can act as a force multiplier for the Indian Navy as it interfaces with assets such as the P-8I. The Super Hornet was originally conceived as a leading part of a larger naval operating theatre, and can fit that role within the evolving Indian Navy capabilities.
Q. Boeing has talked about survivability and offering two variants to the Indian Navy. What is the rationale for this?
A. With both one-seat and two-seat variants, Super Hornet aligns directly with the Indian Navy’s training philosophy and mission. Both configurations are capable of performing all missions from the carrier. Additionally, the two seat ‘F’ model is able to provide training capabilities which matches with the Indian Navy’s concept of operations (conops) for carrier qualifications of fighter pilots. The ‘F’ model also allows for flying complex or heavy-integration missions that would benefit from the additional aircrew.
Q. Please elaborate on the lifecycle cost and services approach that Boeing will take with the F/A-18.
A. Not only does it have an affordable acquisition cost, but the Super Hornet costs less per flight hour to operate than any other tactical aircraft in US forces inventory, including single engine fighters, that is in production today. With today’s US Navy fleet of more than 560 Super Hornets, the maintenance needs are predictable and well understood. Add that to the lowest Navy tac air cost per flight hour, the Block III Super Hornet is a next-generation fighter that can affordably perform the vast majority of missions.
For the F/A-18 campaign for India, beyond manufacturing, Boeing has proposed a “By India – For India” sustainment programme, building on the company’s eight decades of history in the country and leveraging existing programmes and growing supply chain capabilities. India’s Super Hornets will be serviced and upgraded in partnership with the Indian Navy as well as India and US based partners throughout the lifecycle of the aircraft. This will further enable its growth and develop advanced expertise in maintenance, resulting in higher availability of the aircraft, at competitive pricing and reduced risk for the Indian Navy.
Q. Defence trade is an area on the upswing between India and the US. Your thoughts?
A. The defence cooperation environment between the two governments has changed considerably in the last few years and you see more cooperation in areas such as joint military exercises, technology transfer, collaboration through co-production, Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) and the renewal of the defence agreement for another 10 years by the US Congress. Collaboration and engagement via the DTTI Carrier Working Group will facilitate the exchange of ideas related to carrier operations and the potential for consulting on future design.
Maritime security in the context of the military-to-military relationship has significant potential and is the surest foothold to advance the broader security agenda and realise the value of being Major Defence Partner in the near-term. The Malabar military exercises and the revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, the Quad, are a natural fit for collaboration. The utilisation of the P-8 fleet for missions in the Indian Ocean region is another way.
There is strong potential for Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet to be an anchor of maritime cooperation between the two navies. With the Super Hornet being the frontline fighter for the US Navy, cooperation between the two navies in naval aviation can result in the sharing of upgrades and knowledge. The F/A-18 can unlock the potential of cooperation in naval aviation, with the sharing of best practices in modern naval aviation systems, carrier integration know-how, services and training and weapon systems. Further, the F/A-18’s integration with Indian carriers would demonstrate India’s commitment as a ‘Major Defence Partner’ and the ‘Asia Pacific Reassurance Initiative,’ serving as an important symbol of the new relationship between the United States and India.
Q. Has there been any interest in the F/A-18 Super Hornet from other countries?
A. In addition to India, international interest in the Super Hornet remains high and includes Finland, Switzerland, Canada and Germany, who recently down selected the Super Hornet over the competition.
With orders of 106 additional Block III orders being built for the US Navy and Kuwait Air Force, Super Hornet will be in service for decades to come with high mission readiness rates.
Source: India Strategic
Click to read article at Source Transformative Capability for Indian Navy with F/A-18 Block III: Boeing