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October 20, 2017
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F/A-18 SUPER HORNET Best Choice for India: Boeing

October 2017
 

In an interview, Thomas Brecknridge, Vice President Golbal Sales – India, Boeing Defense, Space & Security, outlines what would make the F/A-18 Super Hornet the ideal fit for India’s naval and air force requirement.

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Q. What capabilities should the naval carrier air wing look for today?

A. The importance of carrier aviation cannot be understated – in particular to a country like India with a large coastline covering more than half its borders. The Indian Air Force is focused on protecting the north, but with coastlines covering much of India’s east, south, and west, the need for a strong carrier air wing is clear.

Mobility is key for both the current and future fight. The carrier air wing of today and tomorrow has become a mobile network that houses aircraft that can serve as extended nodes on an integrated network. The future fight is about who is best networked to gather and share the intelligence to carry out the most effective mission quickly – efficiently – and effectively.

The future carrier air wing will need to do it all… find – target – track – engage – and assess in a kinetic and non-kinetic manner.

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As such, when I think about next generation carrier aircraft that operate off US or Indian Navy carriers, I think about two key attributes – networked and survivable. The next generation of aircraft, will need to connect into a network, plugging into an information stream shared across its fleet. This means integrated and varied sensors, large computers, big data networks, and advanced displays to help aircrew manage all of the available Information.

Survivability is often confused with stealth, but stealth is just one element. Next generation aircraft will need to balance stealth with lethality – rails at range. Future fights will require increased magazine depth and sophisticated air to air sensors to deal with advanced threats. Survivability means that future fighters need to have increased range to push the threat further away.

Another aspect of survivability is reliability, especially in a ship board environment. Carrier aircraft need to be tough, easy to launch, easy to land, and easy to maintain. This is increasingly important in a time when deployments are longer and farther away than ever before. Ease of maintenance will only become more important as sensors and systems continue to grow in sophistication and complexity.

To maximize its naval presence, the Indian Navy needs an aircraft to operate off carrier decks that is networked and survivable. The future of carrier aviation is being part of the networked fight – being a smart node on the network. It’s about being able to let pilots gather information, crunch it locally and pass it to their partners in the sky and other assets.

Q. Boeing has stated that it has responded to the Indian Navy’s RFI for carrier borne fighters. What is the status of that competition till date?

A. We have responded to the Indian Navy’s RFI requirement and look forward to having discussions with the Indian Navy on their fighter requirement. The F/A-18 Super Hornet is the world’s preeminent carrier-capable multirole aircraft. It is a combat proven, supersonic fighter jet with a defined US Navy flight plan to outpace threats into the 2040s.

Q. Why do you believe the Super Hornet can meet these requirements?

A. The F/A-18 is the most modern and capable aircraft on the US Navy’s carrier decks today. In fact, the Block II Super Hornet reached initial operating capability in 2007. The F/A-18 Super Hornet was designed from day one for carrier operations and is the world’s preeminent carrier capable aircraft. It is a combat proven, supersonic, all weather multirole fighter jet with a defined US Navy flight plan to outpace threats into the 2040s.

Q. What role will the F/A-18 Super Hornet play vis-à-vis the F-35 in US Navy inventory and what is the future growth potential of the fighter?

A. The Super Hornet will be on the Navy’s carrier decks well into the 2040s – being three-fourths of the Navy’s strike fighter capacity into the 2030’s and no less than half the carriers striking force into the 2040’s.

The next generation of Super Hornet aircraft comes into the US Navy and potentially international customers to fulfill its role as the next-gen airplane in a complementary way with the F-35. Those two airplanes are going to work together on the carrier decks for the US Navy, well into the 2040s.

On May 23rd, the President of the United States sent his 2018 fiscal year budget to Congress, and included in that budget was a requirement for 80 Super Hornets over the next 5 years to address its strike fighter shortfall. Also in that budget request was funding for Block 3 capabilities to ensure the air wing has the capabilities needed to win in the 2020s and beyond.

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That gives us a great opportunity to continue the Programme which is evolutionary capability development from a risk perspective of low risk change that delivers revolutionary performance. We are excited to be building airplanes at a current production rate based on the US Navy demand and some other international customers which takes us into the 2020s. Our current production rate is two per month. We have built and can build up to four airplanes per month so we have lots of capacity.

Q. Share with our readers why the F/A- 18 Super Hornet from a capabilities perspective would be a good fit for the Indian Navy?

A. Introduced in 2007, the F/A-18 Super Hornet Block II is the world’s preeminent carrier capable aircraft. The F/A-18 Super Hornet was designed from day one for carrier operations and is the world’s preeminent carrier capable aircraft. It is a combat proven, supersonic, all weather multirole fighter jet with a defined US Navy flight plan to outpace threats into the 2040s. Every Super Hornet to the US Navy has been delivered on cost and on schedule.

With designed-in stealth, an AESA radar and many other advanced technologies that is ideal for mission requirements of the naval aviator, the F/A-18 Super Hornet is the most advanced aircraft of its kind in operation today and will provide operational benefits to the Indian Navy’s existing and future force structure.

For example, every Super Hornet has a buddy refueling capability that can extend time on station, range, and endurance. Additionally, the Super Hornet can provide close and deep air support through the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar targeting data and reliable data links.

The Advanced F/A-18E/F Super Hornet’s multi-mission capabilities include battle-space situational awareness, counter stealth targeting, greater range and increased acceleration, improved survivability and reduced signature and room for growth.

The Super Hornet’s benefits of being a twin-engine aircraft help provide the warfighter a margin of safety that does not exist in a single-engine platform. A single-engine aircraft is likely lost due to engine malfunctions or loss of thrust while a twin-engine platform can lose an engine and still safely return to the carrier.

With multi-role capabilities, advanced technologies with room to grow and low acquisition and sustainment costs, the Super Hornet is the clear choice for India.

Q. Boeing has said that as a twin engine fighter, the cost to operate F/A-18 Super Hornet over its lifecycle is still cheaper than a single engine fighter. Please elaborate.

A. The F/A-18 Super Hornet not only has a low acquisition cost, but it costs less per flight hour to operate than any other tactical aircraft in US forces inventory. As a twin engine fighter, the Super Hornet costs less to operate than single engine fighters. Part of its affordability is because the Super Hornet is designed to need far less maintenance, which translates into the high mission availability it is known for.

Ease of maintenance (supportability) results in lower maintenance man-hours per flight hour. Plus, the Super Hornet does not require any scheduled Depot-Level maintenance and the engine does not require any scheduled maintenance between overhauls.

Further, Boeing’s active production line and robust supply chain allow the company to offer the most affordable platform.

This low cost of operation, low maintenance requirements and twin-engine based survivability allow the Super Hornet to fly to and back from harsh environments.

Q. Will the F/A-18 be able to operate off all three aircraft carriers – INS Vikramaditya, Vikrant and the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier-2 and be STOBAR compliant?

A. The Super Hornets are fully compatible with the Indian Navy’s aircraft carriers. Extensive simulation has shown that the Super Hornet is capable of conducting STOBAR operations with a meaningful weapons and fuel load.

Q. Has the IAF expressed any interest in a twin engine fighter?

A. We understand there is a demand for twin engine fighters for the Indian Air Force as they retire their Jaguars, MIG and Mirage aircraft. We are having ongoing discussion with the IAF, Indian Navy and India’s Ministry of Defence on the best way for India to meet its fighter needs while building an indigenous industrial base. We believe our capabilities, our very low operating cost and growth potential make us a great fit for the Indian Air Force as well.

Q. The Super Hornet is said to be a navy fighter. How much of a fit will it be for the Indian Air Force?

A. Take a look at the decks of our Navy’s aircraft carriers and the Royal Australian Air Force’s fleet and you’ll see advanced, combat-proven strike capability. The Super Hornet is the multi-role solution for the Navy and international air force customers. The Royal Australian Air Force operates 24 Super Hornets and 12 Growlers. Seven air forces around the world use the Hornets.

The F/A-18 Super Hornet brings the latest generation of technologies to the warfighter. The AESA radar in particular is an expediential leap in technology needed for current and future missions. The Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infrared system, Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System, Multifunctional Information Distribution System, advanced high capacity computer system, and state-of-the-art cockpit provides the warfighter with intuitive situational awareness and capability now and far into the future.

The Super Hornet is highly capable across the full mission spectrum and is a true multi-role aircraft, able to perform virtually every mission in the tactical spectrum, including air superiority, day/night strike with precision guided weapons, fighter escort, close air support, suppression of enemy air defenses, maritime strike, reconnaissance, forward air control and tanker missions.

It has the right level of stealth, the right sensors and the right weapon capabilities for the IAF’s missions.

Q. What are the capabilities of the F/A-18 Advanced Super Hornet?

A. The Super Hornet is a platform that is continuously evolving to outpace future threats. Every two years Boeing and its industry partners along with the US Navy work on delivering new capabilities to the fighter. Critical mission systems such as the radar, mission computers and sensors continue to evolve to match up to the mission profiles of the future.

To address the capabilities needed in the air wing as early as the 2020s, Boeing has also developed the Block III Super Hornet to complement existing and future air wing capabilities. Block III is the same aircraft as Advanced Super Hornet.

The Advanced F/A-18E/F Super Hornet’s multi-mission capabilities include battle-space situational awareness, counter stealth targeting, greater range and increased acceleration, improved survivability and reduced signature and room for growth.

The Block III Super Hornet will come online at the same time as the F-35. In the 2020s, three Super Hornet squadrons and one F-35 squadron may form the airwing of carrier fleets. Currently, in the US Navy three out of four, and in most cases all four squadrons based off aircraft carriers, are Super Hornet squadrons.

These advanced capabilities can be both built into new aircraft and incorporated into existing aircraft, allowing maximum ability to field these capabilities quickly and affordably. Block III Super Hornet is built from the same airframe as Block II, providing low risk development and maintaining the lowest operating costs of any US tactical fighter. While Boeing demonstrated advanced Super Hornet capabilities in flight in 2013, the package of upgrades has evolved to best complement F-35, EA-18G and E-2D as they will be operating together in the air wing well into the 2040s.

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Key features of Block III Super Hornet include enhanced network capability, longer range with low-drag, stealthy conformal fuel tanks, long-range detection with Infrared Search & Track, enhanced situational awareness with a new Advanced Cockpit System, improved signature with low observable next generation radar cross section for increased survivability and 9,000+ hour life for reduced life cycle costs by incorporating design changes into production aircraft based on lessons learned from the Service Life Analysis Programme.

A significant design evolution is the addition of Conformal Fuel Tanks. Mounted on the shoulder of the Block III, conformal fuel tanks extend the range of the Block III by 100 nautical miles which is significantly larger range when compared to the Block II. Conformal Fuel Tanks also free up the space occupied by a centerline drop-tank. This means that the Air Force and the Navy have an additional hard-point to carry more air-to-air or air-to-ground weapons.

Modern and next-generation aircraft have a large amount of data available through their sensors. The Super Hornet Block III comes equipped with Distributing Targeting Processor Network (DTP-N) and Tactical Targeting Network Technology (TTNT). These are basically a computer and a big data platform that work together to aid in even more efficient movement and management of data within assets.

The Advanced Cockpit System is a next-generation use interface, which simplifies the interpretation and projection of a large quantity of information for the aircrew – both in the front and rear cockpit – making it easy to interface and manage an information network.

The Block IIIs sensors along with the APG- 79 AESA Radar coupled to DTP-N and TTNT systems plots information on the Advances Cockpit System making it easy for aircrews to view and manage information.

Even though the Super Hornet Block II is a stealth aircraft, Boeing has made a few signature improvements to reduce the Radar Cross Section (RCS) of the Block III to make it even stealthier.

Q. What is Boeing doing to make the F/A- 18 Super Hornet retain its technological edge as a 21st century fighter?

A. The Super Hornet is continuously evolving to outpace future threats. Boeing and the US Navy have laid out and maintained a robust spiral development approach to the Super Hornet that provides updates to the aircraft’s subsystems and software every two years to outpace threats for decades to come. The future insertion of conformal fuel tanks will reduce weight and drag while expanding range of the Super Hornet. As part of this development path, the enhanced GE 414 engine offers an opportunity for collaboration with Indian firms to use in the LCA and future AMCA.

Q. Tell us about Boeing’s Make in India offer on F/A-18 Super Hornets?

A. Boeing has had a presence in India for more than seven decades and is committed to expanding that partnership by producing Super Hornets in India, further developing India’s aerospace ecosystem. Boeing’s proposed ‘Make in India’ plans for the Super Hornet are not about moving a production line but rather building an entirely new and state-of-the-art production facility that can be utilized for other Programmes like India’s Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) Programme.

Boeing is prepared to bring its global scale and supply chain, its best-in-industry precision manufacturing processes, as well as the company’s unrivaled experience designing and optimising aerospace production facilities to bear in both expanding India’s aerospace ecosystem and helping realize the Make in India vision. The approach addresses the infrastructure, personnel training, and operational tools and techniques required to produce a next gen fighter aircraft right here in India.

Boeing will work closely with Indian industry to ensure they have the very latest technologies, applying lessons learned from the current Super Hornet production line. The Programme envisages transitioning airframe and subsystem manufacture to Indian industry in a deliberate way, representing extraordinary opportunity for technology insertion and growth within India’s aerospace industry.

Boeing will partner with Indian industry to develop the right capabilities as efficiently and cost effectively as possible to integrate these suppliers into the global supply chain. Boeing and its current industry partners are having robust discussions with suppliers in India about building Super Hornets. Currently over 60,000 people from 800 suppliers across 44 states are part of the supply chain supporting the Super Hornet. This includes suppliers who manufacture parts for the Super Hornet in India.

With advanced technologies and multi-role capabilities, the Super Hornet is perfectly suited to meet the needs of the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force now and in the future.

We understand the Indian Air Force also has a need for additional twin engine aircraft as they retire their Jaguars, MiGs and Mirage aircraft. We are having ongoing discussion with the IAF, IN and MoD on the best way for India to meet its fighter needs while building an indigenous industrial base.

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